12:30 HEYSHAM - DOUGLAS
May 26, 2007
There is something about the TT Festival for ship enthusiasts even if they are not the slightest bit interested in motorcycle racing. Its a sort of symbiotic relationship. The bikers stretch the capabilities of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company which results in interesting movements and charters which keep the enthusiasts happy!
This year I arranged a fairly short notice trip, booked in the first week of May, to Douglas. Surprisingly I found that there was still car space available I also managed to get a reasonably priced fare which I wasn't expecting, given the close proximity of my booking to the TT Festival.
There wasn't much choice when it came to available sailings for anyone travelling out on May 26, which also coincided with the start of the schools' Summer mid-term break, things were bound to be busy!
Therefore, I ended up with a ticket travelling out on the 14:45 "charter ship" sailing from Heysham which had a 18:15 arrival time in Douglas.
However, a few days before the sailing I found I was one of the 5,000 "lucky" passengers who had their sailings changed.
Unlike some who found themselves being sent to a different port my point of departure remained at Heysham. The only change was that departure was brought forward from 14:45 to 12:30 and the vessel would now be SUPERSEACAT TWO which was scheduled to arrive in Douglas at 15:15. In not a bad arrangement as far as I was concerned as I would now get several hours more on the island.
However, SUPERSEACAT TWO had not been in the best of health just prior to the TT Festival. Once again transmission problems had resulted in her operating on reduced power and this was probably behind the decision to switch her to the shorter Heysham route. On May 19 she had been prowling round the Liverpool Bar on only two engines and managed one of her slowest ever Douglas to Liverpool sailings!
I set off for Heysham in good time and arrived a the port around 10:30. Things were rather busy but well organised. I was directed to join a queue which stretched back down the approach road and a "Lady" sticker was placed on the windscreen. This might suggest when these stickers were made that someone intended the LADY OF MANN t be around for much longer than she actually was. Well she wasn't there in person but I am sure she was in spirit!
After a relatively short time the queue started moving forward to the recently relocated check-in booth as one came closer to the booth it wasn't too clear if one had to collect one's boarding cards as quite a lot of bike riders were walking over to the window and queuing up. Whilst I was still wondering if I should go and get the boarding cards a member of Steam Packet staff came over and asked for my ticket and went and collected the cards for me,
Within a few minutes I was driving across the station concourse and through the usual waiting area to be marshalled in an area between #1 and #2 link spans. A refreshment van had been provided for those who required sustenance.
MERCHANT BRILLIANT, which had arrived at around the same time as I arrived at Heysham was by now discharging at linkspan #2.
SUPERSEACAT TWO was berthed at #3 linkspan - the former Navire span which used to be located on the south side of Edward Pier, Douglas.
There were already a number of cars there, but as mine was the first Blue Riband car, I was asked to start another line. Already assembled was a large number of bikers with an assortment of machines and from a range of countries. Probably the most distant being some bikes with Australian number plates and Australian identity plates - not something one usually sees in the UK given the distances involved. What was also interesting was two of these "Aussie" bikes also had "Kernow" - Cornwall stickers which may suggest they belonged to Australian Cornish Community. Bringing a bike from the other side of the world for the TT must surely be a sign of true enthusiasm!
After a while this first batch of bikes were waved forwards and directed to SSC2. After these had boarded another batch were sent down from the holding position on the unused north platform of Heysham Station. After a while these were directed on board. Then another batch were sent down. This process was repeated a number of times. During this time a small coach brought several loads of foot passenger to the ship.
By 12:00 it was looking doubtful SSC2 would be away on time. The BEN-MY-CHREE arrived and positioned herself on the new #1 linkspan.
However, I was eventually called forward first and led the rest of the cars down after the last of the bikes were loaded. All the bikes had been gathered together in the forward lower car deck.
As it turned out SSC2 managed to get away at 12:42 just 12 minutes behind schedule. Waiting off Heysham was RR ARROW which is on charter to Norfolk Line. A fairly uneventful crossing followed in pleasant weather. SAGA MOON was observed to the north inbound for Heysham at around 14:00.
As SUPERSEACAT TWO approached Douglas it looked as though, we would arrive on schedule at 15:15 despite the vessel operating on reduced power.
However, we reduced speed significantly, the reason for this soon being apparent - RIVERDANCE was leaving the harbour with a charter freight sailing bound for HEYSHAM. Just visible to the south was EMERAUDE FRANCE heading for Douglas with a somewhat delayed 11:30 sailing from Liverpool.
Once she had cleared SSC2 moved into the harbour and berthed at Victoria Pier at around 15:28 with discharge taking place soon after. There was just enough time to disembark and drive round to Douglas Head to photograph the arrival of EMERAUDE FRANCE on Edward Pier.
All in all it was a good crossing with everything appearing to be well organised given the large numbers of motor cycles and passengers being carried.
My return crossing on the BEN-MY-CHREE was on Monday evening May 28. After observing the BEN-MY-CHREE arrive with another heavy load of passengers from Douglas Head I made my way down to the Sea Terminal arriving at around 18:30. In contrast to the large numbers of inbound vehicles the outward sailing looked as though it would be quite light. Though a large contingent of Italian bikers appeared shortly before loading commenced. Strange that they should be returning so soon whilst most of the bikers were still arriving - but perhaps they had just visited for the TT100 Re-enactment which had taken place at St. Johns earlier that day?
On the Victoria Pier SUPERSEACAT TWO sat closed up and ready for sea. It had appeared on the list of sailings that she would operate a 20:00 sailing - but obviously this wasn't going to happen with all traffic being placed on the BEN.
With vehicles loaded promptly the BEN managed to get away at 19:40, slightly ahead of schedule. Fortunately a lack of fellow Blue Riband passengers meant that I managed to secure one of the front seats in the Blue Riband lounge. Since the lounge was redesigned early last year, if one cannot get a one of the front seats the view is somewhat restricted. It was much better when separate armchairs were provided rather than the aircraft style centre seating.
A quiet crossing followed an unidentified Stena vessel could be seen heading in from the north west bound for Fleetwood. Another ship possibly RR ARROW was observed heading west bound, but by now the light was starting to go. At 22:05 MOONDANCE passed out bound for Warrenpoint.
Shortly afterwards a stewardess arrived to close the BR lounge curtains. I had a little bit of a doze for 30 minutes or so - then I took a peek through the window. Heysham didn't appear that far off and it looked as though an on time arrival of around 23:00 would be possible. Getting a drink I sat back and after while felt the ship make a fairly sharp to starboard which I equated to her rounding the "wood work" at Heysham, opening the blind slightly revealed that the BEN had made a turn but we were now facing Heysham again which was some distance off.
No announcement was made as to the cause of the delay and it wasn't until around 23:50 that the BEN-MY-CHREE berthed at Heysham. Again no apology was made for the late arrival - perhaps they were hoping no one would notice. It wasn't until the following day that it became apparent that the Heysham #3 linkspan had failed and there was obvious pressure on the linkspan. Perhaps that was why SSC2 did not operate the 20:00 sailing with passengers and vehicles - but crossed from Douglas light later in the evening?
Apart from a niggle at not being informed of the delay in arriving at Heysham on Monday everything appeared to be working fine and my experience of travelling during the 2007 TT period was a positive one. Though others may have different tales to tell especially if the fast craft start showing signs of stress!