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Norfolk Line:  Birkenhead - Dublin Revisited

Photographs  John H. Luxton 2006

Earlier this year I posted a Voyage Report concerning my first ever voyage on the original Vikings which have now transferred to the Dublin service. My comments were none too favourable and I drew less than favourable comparisons the much lamented DAWN MERCHANT and BRAVE MERCHANT.

After a period of eight weeks or so had elapsed it was interesting to go back and reappraise my original comments and it would be fair to say I returned from my trip with a more positive attitude towards the service which DUBLIN and LIVERPOOL VIKING provide. It was also interesting to make comparisons between DUBLIN and LIVERPOOL VIKING. My previous round trip had been on LIVERPOOL VIKING both ways.

22:00 BIRKENHEAD - DUBLIN  July 26

I arrived at the Twelve Quays fairly early around 18:45. On driving into the terminal I noted that the road layout had been changed. The Car Parking area appears to have been enlarged - which is good news for anyone wishing to travel as foot passengers on the Belfast or Dublin routes.

The marshalling lanes for private cars and light commercials now run around the front of the terminal building to reach the check-in booths. Freight traffic has acquired a separate compound further to the north. Once consequence of this change appears to have effected the small food kiosk which is now located in the freight compound behind what appeared to be a locked turnstile.

This means drivers of cars and light freight vehicles now have to queue up at the turnstile and someone has to come and feed them through the fencing zoo style - all probably in the grounds of security of course!

Check in opened around 19:30 and I noted that there had also been a change in the marshalling arrangements for Dublin bound traffic. I am not sure if this is permanent or just as a result of the late running of MERSEY VIKING.

On my previous two departures from Twelve Quays Belfast and Dublin Cars were marshalled in the same compound near the terminal buildings with drivers being given destination "danglies" to hang from their rear view mirrors.

This time the Dublin bound traffic was assembled much nearer the river. DUBLIN VIKING was already on Twelve Quays south berth, though MERSEY VIKING was only just approaching the north berth. As she berthed a large customs / police complete with sniffer dog reception committee assembled on the exit route from the ship right in front of the outbound traffic.

Why they assembled in the open is not known, just a few yards away is what appears to be a "rummage" shed for checking inbound vehicles. A few disembarking cars were stopped as what appeared to be IDs were checked.

Private cars commenced boarding DUBLIN VIKING around 20:30 and as with my previous trip cars were diverted down onto deck two after following the foot passenger boarding bus down onto the landing stage. The top of what looked like a Guinness Tanker could be seen down on deck one. For those who remember the old Guinness ships, it should be remembered that since the closure of Guinness' London Brewery once again the "black stuff" comes from Dublin and LIVERPOOL and DUBLIN VIKING can be considered to be the  "Guinness Boats" successors.

Unlike my previous Dublin - Birkenhead sailing I made sure I remembered all the stuff I needed to take out of the car! On ascending the lift to deck 5 I obtained my cabin key and immediately noted an interesting difference between DUBLIN and LIVERPOOL VIKING. DUBLIN VIKING does not have that strange church pew style wooden bench across the windows which look out onto the weather deck. Instead there are moveable seats.

I was allocated cabin B43 an outside forward facing cabin below the bridge. It was well presented and unlike my previous trip on DUBLIN VIKING there were no nasties - such as a soiled floor - awaiting in the shower / toilet. However, the fixed upper bunks still annoy on these ships especially when the cabins are only occupied by one or two persons.

Passengers were soon called for dinner around 21:00 and there was a good spread of food I opted for gammon for the main course which was fine - though it was noted that as with DUBLIN VIKING the gravy is kept uncomfortably close to the custard!

I ordered a bottle of wine with the meal - the little Filipino waiter tried very hard serving the wine - surely he would have been much better in more palatial surroundings though. He earned his tip! In passing I will comment that Norfolk Line, like it's predecessor Norse Merchant continues to keep a fair selection of reasonably priced wine on board.

By the time I had concluded dining it was going dark - it was around 22:10 and DUBLIN VIKING was moving off Twelve Quays. Wandering outside I noticed a lot of fresh paint and DUBLIN VIKING looked much cleaner than LIVERPOOL VIKING had done on my previous trip in May.

Running down the channel the remains of daylight streaked across the northern horizon just crying out to be photographed. The wide flat top to the open deck passenger rail around the front of the ship makes an ideal camera platform for photography at low shutter speeds.

Ahead of DUBLIN VIKING could be seen CELTIC STAR and in the river the tug TRAFALGAR awaiting the inbound freighter HERMES which passed near Crosby.

I wandered inside and after a quick drink decided it was time for bed given the likelihood of a very early call - 03:50 on DUBLIN VIKING in May! As I commented at the time it did appear unnecessarily early. I slept soundly from around 23:00 to 04:10. I though it strange that someone had not been around banging on the cabin doors by now. So I lay and waited - at 04:20 I heard a light weight hand bell being rung around the accommodation corridors - it was certainly a much more welcome and more gentle wake-up call and one had had an extra half hour in bed!

When I arrived on deck 5 on Thursday around 04:40 I was greeted by the purser, a cheerful Scottish lady who I think used to be on DAWN MERCHANT some years ago. I commented to her that it was interesting to note that we were given and extra 30 minutes before being called compared to my previous experience on LIVERPOOL VIKING -  she laughed and said she couldn't possibly comment on how LIVERPOOL VIKING was run! So perhaps she had probably had received similar comments before?

After breakfast I wandered outside to see NORBAY sail past and also CELTIC STAR which we had overtaken during the night. DUBLIN VIKING was secure at the Norfolk Line terminal around 05:06. The freight traffic appeared to clear quite quickly and deck 2 was opened up to free the cars. In no time I was through Dublin well before the rush hour and making my way onto the Cork road.

22:00 DUBLIN - BIRKENHEAD - July 31

I arrived at the Dublin terminal a while before the Norfolk Line check in booth opened - and was only second car in the queue. Something which I didn't note on my previous trip due to the fact that the check-in booths were already open when I arrived was the fact that booth #2 still retains its Irish Sea Express signs! Whilst the Steam Packet appeared quick to remove all traces of Irish Sea Express from the Liverpool terminal within a couple of days, Dublin Port has proved much less swift in removing evidence of this short lived operation.

Alongside at the Norfolk Line berth LIVERPOOL VIKING was waiting. At 20:10 SAGA MOON which was on the adjacent berth departed on her overnight sailing to Heysham. Quite a low number of private cars for this sailing mustered at Dublin for this Monday evening sailing, though there were a number of vans. When boarding commenced the ritual of following the security van followed, with foot pax accommodated in the van.

Leaving the marshalling compound to enter the Norfolk Line Terminal necessitates the crossing of the main access road to the Dublin Passenger Terminal building. It was interesting to note that two small traffic signals had recently been installed - but were not yet in use to stop vehicles on the access road whilst cars cross to the Norfolk Line terminal.

This time all private vehicles were directed up onto the weather deck which was quite lightly loaded with just driver accompanied rigs standing under the accommodation area.

I picked my cabin key up and again was allocated a forward facing starboard side cabin - B41 this time. Again it was well presented. A spent a while wandering around outside and it was interesting to note that quite a lot of cleaning and painting had been going on since my last sailing on LIVERPOOL VIKING, about three quarters of the decking had been given a fresh coat of green paint and quite a lot of other touching up had been done. LIVERPOOL VIKING certainly looked a lot better than last time.

Dinner was served from around 20:30. There was a different variety of main courses including an unusual pancake warp with spiced mincemeat inside. It was unusual and tasted quite good. I also noted that this time the gravy was kept away from the custard! - Sorry to keep going on about this!

ULYSSES slipped away whilst I was dining at 21:00,  followed 15 minutes later by STENA ADVENTURER. Later NORBAY passed by and LIVERPOOL VIKING followed her out just after 22:00.

After dinner I wandered down to the shop and picked up an excellent Norfolk Line body warmer complete with lost of pockets - ideal for the photographer and a snip at just 9.95!

I went and fetched a drink from the bar, and sat in the reception area. Fortunately the kids who had been occupying the "waste of space" play area had gone off to bed. Standing up I forgot about the unattached seat lashing in this area and nearly tripped over it!  Something that hasn't been fixed - surprising really as it is rather a hazard.

Another good sleep followed but then silence was broken at 03:50 exactly with a heavy rapping on the door! After breakfast there was a bit of a wait whilst LIVERPOOL VIKING berthed at Twelve Quays south - arriving at 05:00. As no cars were down on deck two all drivers were able to return to the vehicles at the same time, though it took some time to remove the drops which had been placed around the private cars on the return trip.

Driving off it was interesting to note that after the reception committee which met inbound vehicles off the late arriving MERSEY VIKING there were no vehicle / passenger checks and everyone drove straight out of the terminal and I was back home by 06:00.

I am glad I was committed to undertaking the second round trip with Norfolk Line by having made two reservations back in March. It enabled me to sample DUBLIN VIKING and it also gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate my previous comments.

These were partly due to having been so used to DAWN and BRAVE MERCHANT the older Vikings and their rather different layout came as something of a shock! There appeared to be fewer passengers travelling this time than back in May when I travelled at the beginning and end of the UK mid-term break this probably made the ships feel more spacious.

I would still, however, have some reservations about undertaking day time sailings on the DUBLIN and LIVERPOOL VIKING given the fact that there is very limited seating and virtually all of that is confined to the main bar area.

However, I am warming to the Norfolk Line Viking experience and will come back for a repeat - at least when an overnight sailing is required. Though I still wonder why one gets half an hour more sleep on DUBLIN VIKING!

However, whilst one might have still some niggles still about the ships - one can't fault the crew both the "local" and overseas crew members do try very hard to please and they are a credit to the company.

View down Crosby Channel at 22:40 on July 26 from the bow of DUBLIN VIKING


Bulker HERMES passes by DUBLIN VIKING at 22:46 on July 26, 2006.


From the bow of LIVERPOOL VIKING just after 22:00 in the Liffey Fairway before the outside deck lights were extinguished.


Passing North Bull Lighthouse at 22:10


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