Category: Blast from the past

Blast from the past: Sealink’s Hengist & Horsa

29 April 2012 marks 40 years to the day since the launch of Sealink’s Hengist and Horsa, the purpose-built ferries delivered in the summer of 1972 by the naval shipyard in Brest. The sister ships saw service, primarily from their Folkestone home, until the final closure of the Folkestone-Boulogne route at the end of 1991. Thereafter, both forged remarkably successful new careers in the Aegean, where they remain in year-round operation as the Agios Georgios (Ventouris Sea Lines) and Penelope A (Agoudimos Lines).

A third, slightly modified, later sister, the Senlac, was scrapped in 2010.

In this entry we take a look back at the ships’ British careers through Sealink promotional material produced over their near two decades of service.

The building dock in Brest showing the lower hull of the Hengist.

The building dock in Brest showing the lower hull of the Hengist.

One of the SEMT-Pielstick main engines is craned into place.

One of the SEMT-Pielstick main engines is craned into place.

The Horsa and Hengist near to the launch date.

The Horsa (left) and Hengist.

The cover of the shipyard's brochure commemorating the Hengist, Horsa and Senlac.

The cover of the shipyard's brochure commemorating the Hengist, Horsa and Senlac.

Cover of a menu for lunch and dinner as served on the Hengist's three-day trials. Main courses included 'Cabillaud à la portugaise' and 'Jambon braisé à la Florentine'.

Cover of a menu for lunch and dinner as served on the Hengist's three-day trials. Main courses included 'Cabillaud à la Portugaise' and 'Jambon braisé à la Florentine'.

The equivalent for the Horsa: 'Poulet à l'Américaine' and 'Côte de porc sautée' were the highlights.

The equivalent for the Horsa: 'Poulet à l'Américaine' and 'Côte de porc sautée' were the highlights.

The brand-new Hengist.

The brand-new Hengist.

Contemporary coverage of the Hengist's press voyage.

Contemporary coverage of the Hengist's press voyage.

The Horsa arriving at Boulogne.

The Horsa arriving at Boulogne.

An aerial view of the car ferry terminal at Folkestone, with one of the sisters on the berth. This image dates from after the construction of the first section of the Hotel Burstin (the tall white building on the far right) in 1974/75 but before the demolition of the frontage of its predecessor, the old Royal Pavilion hotel, in whose grounds the rather brutal 'Burstin' had been built.

An aerial view of the car ferry terminal at Folkestone, with one of the sisters on the berth. This image dates from after the construction of the first section of the Hotel Burstin (the tall white building on the far right) in 1974/75 but before the demolition of the frontage of its predecessor, the old Royal Pavilion hotel, in whose grounds the rather brutal 'Burstin' had been built.

The introduction of the Hengist and Horsa also saw the start of freight runs from Folkestone to Oostende.

The introduction of the Hengist and Horsa also saw the start of freight runs from Folkestone to Oostende.

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The standard Sealink restaurant menu for continental traffic in 1972 - as served in the A Deck restaurant when the Hengist and Horsa entered service.

The standard Sealink restaurant menu for continental traffic in 1972 - as served in the A Deck restaurant when the Hengist and Horsa entered service.

A photoreport of a trip to Boulogne on the Horsa in the 1975 Sealink brochure.

A photoreport of a trip on the Horsa in the 1975 Sealink brochure.

The ships starred in a spot the difference competition run by Sealink in regional newspapers in 1979 - nearly 30,000 people entered.

The ships starred in a spot the difference competition run by Sealink in regional newspapers in 1979 - nearly 30,000 people entered.

By 1986, the Folkestone-Calais and Folkestone-Oostende sailings had ceased and Folkestone was left with sailings only to Boulogne. The Hengist and Horsa were paired with the Vortigern until that ship's sale in early 1988.

By 1986, the Folkestone-Calais and Folkestone-Oostende links had ceased and Folkestone was left with sailings only to Boulogne. The Hengist and Horsa, now in white Sealink British Ferries livery, were paired with the Vortigern until that ship's sale in early 1988.

One final high profile appearance in marketing material was this image of the Horsa on the cover of early editions of the 1986 Sealink brochure.

One final high profile appearance in marketing material was this image of the Horsa on the cover of early editions of the 1986 Sealink brochure.

1991 Folkestone-Boulogne ferry guide - the route closed at the end of the year.

1991 Folkestone-Boulogne ferry guide - the route closed at the end of the year.

Blast from the past: St George

On May 18 1966 Stanley Raymond, Chairman of the British Railways Board, held a press conference at Harwich Parkeston Quay where he announced a massive investment plan including a complete redevelopment of the port and a new car ferry operation on the traditional route to the Hook of Holland – to be serviced by two new vehicle ferries. In addition a pair of cellular container ships were to be built to operate to Zeebrugge from a new container terminal adjacent to the ferry port. Mr Raymond explained that Parkeston Quay, with its rail-roro-container interchange, would become a showpiece which we expect people will come from all over the world to see.

The two container ships became the Seafreightliner I and Seafreightliner II and had careers at Harwich stretching into the 1980s although they never appeared to have the success that had been hoped for. Of the two ships for the Harwich-Hook car ferry operation one was ordered by the BRB’s traditional Dutch operating partner, the Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland (SMZ), with the other to the BRB’s own account. Whilst the two ships had a common basic specification, as delivered they were notably divergent in appearance. The Dutch Koningin Juliana had her design details finalised by Danish naval architects Knud E Hansen (KEH) who produced an attractive if very slightly conservative-looking car ferry – early renderings were a little more racy, more in line with KEH’s normal output, but it appears SMZ rather resisted this approach. The British vessel meanwhile, built at Swan Hunters on the Tyne, took the name St George and would become a valuable reference ship both for her naval architects, Tony Rogan and Don Ripley of the BRB, and also interior designers Ward & Austin.

It is the St George we will focus on in this posting, but the historical context and wider Harwich scene deserve a mention in passing. Prior to 1968 the Harwich-Hook of Holland route operated on a pattern established just after the War where the Dutch ships maintained day crossings in either direction with overnight sailings provided by steamers of the Eastern Region of British Railways. The most recent ships of each company – the futuristic-looking Koningin Wilhelmina and the elegant but more traditional Avalon – had been introduced as recently as 1960 and 1963; nonetheless the decision was made to completely overhaul the operation and the two new, drive-through, car ferries were to essentially replace all four existing vessels.

Whilst the traditional passenger ferries such as the Amsterdam were able to carry cars, the crane loading procedures were slow and complicated.

Whilst the traditional passenger ferries such as the Amsterdam (below) were able to carry cars, the crane loading procedures were slow and complicated.

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Changeover: A page from the 1968 BR Car Ferry guide. Note the references to the short-lived Harwich-Oostende car ferry operation as well as to DFDSs Harwich-Esbjerg service, both of which utilised the two new portal linkspans at Parkeston Quay. DFDS would have been a logical and non-competing associate to the Sealink consortium but this cross-promotion petered out in the early 1970s.

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An early model of the St George, before the new funnel design was finalised following wind tunnel testing.

A later artists impression with the final design elements all in place.

And an aerial view of the finished product in her original livery, before the later application of the Sealink title to the hull.

An advert for Van der Horst, a supplier who worked on the ships Ruston main engines. The machinery came in for much adverse comment over the years but Rogan and Ripley, whilst admitting problems, noted that the four-engine layout ensured the ship never lost a sailing. Vibration was however a recurrent and unresolved issue throughout the ships BR career.

The front cover of an inaugural brochure for the St George - erroneously however the ship depicted appears to be the Winston Churchill of DFDS, seen on her normal berth, the western of the two portal linkspans.

An approximation of this image would have been more appropriate: the St George on the eastern berth with the container terminal visible in the background.

An early proposal for the Harwich redevelopment with the two linkspans and the Winston Churchill in the foreground and a circular office block in the background. The final scheme was completed in 1971 to a rather different design - including covered walkways direct to the ships. Prior to this foot passengers had to brave the elements as below.

Another view of the St George on the berth at Harwich.

Another view of the St George on the berth at Harwich. Visible on the edge of the ship's raised bow visor is the five pointed star of the Great Eastern Railway, a marking which had been a feature of British Harwich ships for a century - the St Edmund of 1974 discontinued this tradition.

The St George entered commercial service on 17 July 1968 - delays to the arrival of her Dutch counterpart meant that initially she operated only night sailings but ultimately both ships would operate day and night, the St George maintaining the morning crossing from Harwich and the overnight return. Although there have been massive changes in company structure, size of ship and nature of operation in the past 42 years it is notable that this simple pattern of operation is retained to this day on Stenas latest two massive superferries.

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Returning to the inaugural brochure - the new motorway was opening up new possibilities for motorists.

First Class facilities were to the stern and Second Class forward.

First Class facilities were to the stern and Second Class forward.

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Moving on board and here is a view of the ships car deck during loading. The centre section, between the twin engine casings, was able to accommodate freight vehicles and coaches whereas the wings were car-height only with cabins on the deck above.

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The centre section was also fitted with mezzanine decks of a unique type whereby each panel was able to be used as a ramp rather than, more conventionally, just the end panels.

A De Luxe cabin depicted in the introductory brochure - these were located amidships on A Deck, the lower of the main passenger decks. Beneath the vehicle deck (C Deck) were crew and some Second Class cabins whilst along the sides at mezzanine level (B Deck) were First Class cabins (aft) and Second Class (forward) with some interchangeable rooms in between. Some of the four-berth outside Second Class cabins at this level were convertible to six-person day cabins.

One of the cabins De Luxe on the newly delivered ship.

One of the cabins De Luxe on the newly delivered ship.

Inboard of the cabins De Luxe was the First Class entrance.

Inboard of the cabins De Luxe on B Deck was the First Class entrance (above and below).

Moving forward, the Second Class entrance lounge was distinctly less opulent.

Moving forward, the Second Class entrance lounge was distinctly less opulent. In the background is one of the two Second Class reclining seat lounges (also below); their first class equivalent was right aft on this deck.

Right forward was the Second Class Smokeroom

Right forward was the Second Class Smokeroom; the bay seating is a typical Ward and Austin finish of the period but inboard the furniture and lino flooring gives something of a Working Mens Club impression.

Moving upstairs to Boat Deck, forward was the Second Class Lounge which included this oval section forward.

Moving upstairs to Boat Deck, forward was the Second Class Lounge which included this oval section. Similar in concept and style to the 1969-built Vortigerns forward cafeteria this became the ships most recognisable interior and is seen, above, as conceived and, below, as realised. The armchairs were supplied by Hille and bench seating sourced locally from Robson of Newcastle.

Just aft of the Second Class lounge was the Second Class cafeteria.

Just aft of the Second Class lounge was the Second Class cafeteria.

Separated from Second Class by the galley, towards the stern of Boat Deck was the First Class restaurant and tea lounge (the centre sections of which are seen above and below). The brochure notes rather suggestively, 'the luxury hotel setting of the Restaurant and Tea Bar is very stimulating - and not only to the appetite!', which perhaps explains the adoring gaze of the female passenger, far right.

The outer wings of the restaurant had a slightly more formal air and were fitted with light wood panelling.

The outer wings of the restaurant had a slightly more formal air. 'As a romantic touch that adds to the sense of occasion, British Rail have revived the custom of offering the ladies a flower of their choice on entering the restaurant'.

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The galley was 'equipped with every modern device to enable it to perform culinary miracles with micro-wave ovens, infra-red grills and three stage refrigerators'. 'Harwich-Hook really cares about meals and takes time and trouble to prepare them to the most appetising - even succulent - standards. There's a wide variety of dishes on offer and you can enjoy restaurant service with trained, efficient and courteous stewards ready to obey your every wish'. Here, a menu from 1969 shows the items - which, yes, may even be succulent - that were available on the British ships.

Right aft was the First Class Smokeroom .

Right aft was the First Class Smokeroom above and below.

A corner of the First Class smokeroom.

A corner of the First Class smokeroom. This bar was 'the place for anything from a glass of milk or an aperitif to a liqueur' with 'Steward-service to give you that luxury hotel feeling'.

An afternoon arrival at the Hook of Holland.

An afternoon arrival at the Hook of Holland.

The St George was sold out of Sealink service in 1984 becoming the Patra Express of Ventouris Ferries for whom she operated Adriatic itineraries. Re-engined in 1988, she left Greece in March 1990 under the name Scandinavian Sky II for Immingham where a prolonged refit kitted her out for use as a casino ship in the USA. Under the successive names Scandinavian Dawn, Discovery Dawn, Island Dawn and Texas Treasure she saw out her days before finally the St George went for scrapping in 2008. Her Dutch half-sister, the Koningin Juliana, was displaced by the new Prinses Beatrix in 1978 and after several years in a supporting role eventually passed to NAVARMA (Moby Lines) in 1985. Operating from Livorno to Bastia as the Moby Prince she collided with a tanker off the Italian port in 1991, the disastrous subsequent fire killing all but one of the 142 people on board.

The St George as Scandinavian Dawn.

The St George as Scandinavian Dawn.

Blast from the past: Appia

The Appia of 1961 was the first car ferry of the Italian state-controlled operator Adriatica. She joined the equally new Greek (Hellenic Mediterranean Lines)-owned Egnatia on a ground-breaking joint service from Brindisi to Corfu, Igoumenitsa and Patras, the Adriatic’s first proper car ferry operation. The ships, which proved a great success, took their names from the two Roman roads which, on their respective sides of the sea, connected Rome with Constantinople (Istanbul). We will return to the Egnatia and HML at a later date – unlike their Greek counterparts, Adriatica still exists, in a much denuded form, as a small and seemingly unwanted division of Tirrenia. The failure of either operator to properly build on the early success of the Egnatia and Appia has to be viewed as something of a tragedy given the possibilities that existed in the Adriatic market, as exemplified today by the modern and heretofore broadly profitable services of relative newcomers like Minoan Lines, ANEK and Superfast.

The Appia was as far removed as can be imagined from the current speedy leviathans yet, at her introduction, she was fairly revolutionary – Italy’s first drive-on international car ferry. Her inaugural brochure proclaims “a new, comfortable and fast means of conveyance; she is the answer to the requirements of modern tourism, of which motoring is so great a part. The crossing between Brindisi and the west coast of Greece takes approximately eight hours and can be made in comfort at remarkably little expense.

“If desired the crossing can be extended to take in the sea trip between Igoumenitsa and Patras – this trip, always made in daylight hours, is of the greatest interest, the island scenery being unfailingly beautiful”.

The ship in size and speed seems quite puny now – her two Fiat diesel engines providing a 17 knot service speed which powered her 706 overnight passengers on the 19 and a half hour (with a following wind) through crossing to Patras.

A pre-construction imagining of the Appia...

A pre-delivery imagining of the Appia...


... and the real thing as delivered.

... and the real thing as delivered.

Later Adriatica brochures would detail her onboard delights: “a one class ship with dayroom, bar, restaurant, swimming pool, lido, snack bar, promenades and sun decks. There is also an information service on board, a shop, automatic dispensers of hot and cold drinks and – an entirely new idea – telecinema equipment which transmits to various parts of the ship normal television programmes, films and live entertainments and reportage. No effort has been spared to make the passenger comfortable, the decor especially demonstrates the designers’ desire to capture the holiday mood, without sacrificing any elegance or convenience.”

That decor was very slightly more staid than might have been expected had the Appia been built slightly further into the ’60s but it was not unattractive and the traditional Italian pegboard ceilings and polished linoleum floors could be found throughout. The ship’s nicely-detailed circular swimming pool featured an eminently photographable water slide which slotted in between a gap in the mainmast. Cabin space was for just 200, the balance of her passenger load being accommodated on deck or in the various reclining seat lounges, the largest being located just beneath the bridge. The relatively small vehicle deck (for up to 100 cars) had cabins running alongside at the upper level leaving a small centreline area astern for up to six coaches to be carried in an area aft of a very wide centre casing.

The ship's tightly-packed car deck, which would prove restrictive in the ship's later years.

The ship's tightly-packed car deck, which would prove restrictive in the ship's later years.

Astern on the lower of the main passenger decks, Deck C, was the main restaurant, as conceived (above) and completed (below).

Astern on the lower of the main passenger decks, Deck C, was the main restaurant, as conceived (above) and completed (below).

The restaurant was linked to the lobby, amidships, by this starboard-side arcade.

The restaurant was linked to the lobby, amidships, by this starboard-side arcade.

The main C Deck lobby.

The main C Deck lobby.

On the deck above, B Deck, forward was this large observation saloon filled with reclining seats.

On the deck above, B Deck, forward was this large observation saloon filled with reclining seats.

Astern on this deck was the “Sala Soggiorno” or Living Room, seen here as visualised in the inaugural brochure.

Astern on this deck was the “Sala Soggiorno” or Living Room, seen here as visualised in the inaugural brochure.

The same area as completed.

The same area as completed.

Aft on A Deck, the outside decks were served by this lido bar.

Aft on A Deck, the outside decks were served by this lido bar.

A pre-delivery image of the ship's shapely swimming pool and slide, aft on A Deck.

A pre-delivery image of the ship's shapely swimming pool and slide, aft on A Deck.

The pool in use mid-crossing.

The pool in use mid-crossing.

The ship offered seven "Deluxe" two-berth cabins with private facilities including a full bath as well as one suite on C Deck, complete with private sitting area with TV and radio, as seen here.

The ship offered seven 'Deluxe' two-berth cabins with private facilities including a full bath as well as one suite on C Deck, complete with private sitting area with TV and radio, as seen here.

The sleeping area of one of the deluxe cabins.

The sleeping area of one of the deluxe cabins.

The bulk of the ship's cabin accommodation comprised Pullman-style rooms without facilities, which could be converted to night (above) or day (below) use.

The bulk of the ship's cabin accommodation comprised Pullman-style rooms without facilities, which could be converted to night (above) or day (below) use.

Unloading in Brindisi.

Unloading in Brindisi.

The Appia gave Adriatica loyal service for over 30 years, finally being sold to Indian interests in 1992 who briefly operated her as the Fibi before she headed to Alang for scrapping in 1995.

Her famous operators still had a few good years left, but their final conventional purpose-builds for the international services, the incredible trio of flops the Palladio, Sansovino and Laurana, were a dangerous warning sign that all was not well. Ships and time-honoured routes were quickly shed as the operation lost its independence and fell under a seemingly disinterested Tirrenia management in Naples. In 2010, the year in which perhaps Adriatica’s most famous ship, the ex-Ausonia, finally headed for scrap, there are further serious doubts about the future of the sole remaining service, from Bari to Durres in Albania, of what is now simply Tirrenia’s Divisione Adriatica.

Blast from the past: Antrim Princess

The Stranraer-Larne route was always at the forefront of the story of car ferries around the British Isles, with the very first drive on/drive off ship to serve open waters from these islands being introduced there as far back as 1939 in the shape of the first Princess Victoria. That vessel was a war casualty, but was soon replaced by a virtual repeat, the second-named Princess Victoria of 1947. The sad loss of this ship with 133 lives in the January 1953 storms did not deter the route’s ultimate owners, by this stage British Railways (through the Caledonian Steam Packet), from investing further significant amounts in new tonnage in due course. It is quite remarkable that, despite the booming traffic from Southern England to the continent, over the twenty-three years including and after the introduction of the Caledonian Princess in 1961 until privatisation in 1984, no BR/Sealink ports received more purpose-built British ships than Stranraer and Larne with, in succession, the Antrim Princess (1967), Ailsa Princess (1971) and Galloway Princess (1980).

The Antrim Princess joined the Caledonian Princess and chartered Stena Nordica at Stranraer - in the end the new ship replaced the former vessel, with the 'Nordica' remaining on charter for a further three and a half years. The two existing vessels are shown here in a 1966 brochure.

The Antrim Princess joined the Caledonian Princess and chartered Stena Nordica at Stranraer - in the end the new ship replaced the former vessel, with the 'Nordica' remaining on charter for a further three and a half years. The two existing vessels are shown here in a 1966 brochure.

All the listed ships were notable in their own ways, but the Antrim Princess, built by Hawthorn, Leslie on the Tyne, stands out as a landmark for British Rail ferry design. Although the Princesses Victoria had been motor ships, based on the preferences of the original designers and owners (the LMS), since nationalisation in 1948 British Railways had consistently chosen steam turbine propulsion. The ‘Antrim’ broke the mould in this respect, and was also the first drive-through BR vessel, complete with lifting bow visor, although in this she followed the lead of the futuristic Stena Nordica which had served on charter to the CSP since 1966. The car deck was full-height for lorries throughout and featured mezzanine decks on either beam – an interesting and possibly unique solution for a ship with a centre casing, presumably requiring motorists wishing to access the accommodation to walk along the mezzanines, down the ramps, across the main vehicle deck and up through the stairwells on the centreline. As with the Caledonian Princess the ship had cattle pens located aft on Lower Deck (beneath, but accessed from, the vehicle deck).


Although the ship was clearly designed with car and road freight traffic at the forefront, she retained a two-class layout on board, reflecting in part the railway aspect of her operations and the connecting trains that met sailings at either port. She has been noted as being slightly less opulent than the Caledonian Princess, clearly a move towards the robust but still elegant designs produced by Ward & Austin through the 1970s. The passenger saloons were spread across the Shelter Deck, with Second Class towards the stern – right aft a Tea Room, aft lounge and amidships a cafeteria (port) and bar (starboard). The First Class spaces comprised an oval-shaped lounge forward, with a restaurant (port) and bar tucked in just astern. Berths for 66 were available, mostly beneath the car deck on either side of the engine room (First Class forward and Second Class aft), and, in line with existing practice, passengers booking these on late night or early morning crossings were permitted to stay on board overnight either before or after the crossing.

Some of the decor presaged that of later Sealink ships, particularly the Vortigern whose dramatic Britannia Bar was in many ways a tidied-up repeat of the Antrim Princess’ Second Class Bar with rather more expensive furnishings. The oval-shaped First Class lounge meanwhile had an echo in the shape of the Vortigern’s minimalist forward cafeteria.

The Second Class Bar, as completed.

The Second Class Bar, as completed.

The functional Second Class cafeteria.

The functional Second Class cafeteria.

First Class restaurant.

First Class restaurant.

The vehicle deck, with the retractable mezzanine deck seen stowed to the side.

The vehicle deck, with the retractable mezzanine deck seen stowed to the side.

The Antrim Princess served at Stranraer until 1985 when she was displaced by the St David and transferred, on charter, to the Isle of Man Steam Packet, later being renamed Tynwald. Then, in 1990, the ship was sold to Linee Lauro for Italian service as the Lauro Express. Later serving on services to North Africa, the confusing break up of Lauro’s ferry operations saw the ship pass to the related Medmar in 2003. Subsequently renamed Giuseppe D’Abundo, the ship passed for scrap in 2007.

An early visualisation of the St George.

An early visualisation of the St George.

As a postscript, whilst discussing the Antrim Princess in their book Designing Ships for Sealink, naval architects Don Ripley and Tony Rogan noted that, “the onset of modern diesel machinery brought about a necessary change in funnel design and after much internal discussion… a new shape was evolved and proved in wind tunnel tests which were carried out at Swan Hunter’s for the [new Harwich-Hook of Holland car ferry] St George but used to devise the geometry also of the Antrim Princess’ funnel.” This connection with the St George is an interesting point, as the latter ship throughout her planning stage was shown with a combined funnel/mast, similar to the Antrim Princess but without the upper part of the exhaust stack which gave it the distinctive ‘fireman’s helmet’ look. The mast section was ultimately dispensed with entirely on the ‘George’, and all subsequent ships with this signature look followed the Harwich ship’s refined version in one way or another, save for the ‘Antrim’s half sister, the Ailsa Princess. Interestingly, as the Lauro Express, the ex-‘Antrim’ featured modified original safety plans with a funnel design not dissimilar to that originally proposed for the St George suggesting that the final design as used was a late adjustment.

Lauro Express plan - with BR funnel.

Lauro Express plan - with BR funnel.

Blast from the past: SNCF’s Compiègne

Launching day: 7 March 1958.

The day of the launch: 7 March 1958.


Most of the ships coming under the category on this blog of ‘the pioneer car ferries’ date back to the 1960s. Although this is 30+ years after the appearance of the first proper international car ferries, in the form of ships like the Kronprinsessan Ingrid (1936) or the first Peter Wessel (1937), it is perhaps fair to say that it was in this decade that the car ferry truly flowered. It became not only visually recognisable to its modern form, albeit much smaller, but its usage also broadened massively; the sheer volume of car ferries constructed around the world in this decade are testament to changing times – to the car ownership boom and to the ability to take and desire to have international motoring holidays.

From a British perspective, we have seen this in previous entries relating to the Norwind/Norwave, Viking I & II, Munster and Free Enterprise. The latter ship was an interesting example of an independent operator getting the formula right and it has often been noted that the ‘railway’ ships against which she competed were old fashioned. This is true only to a degree – the British railway ships, until the later years of the decade, certainly fit this description. The ships of SNCF, the French railways, were slightly different. Certainly, a vessel like the beautiful Côte d’Azur of 1951 was very much a classic passenger steamer, but the fleet also included the distinctively modern, Danish-built, train ferry Saint-Germain and, dating back to three years before the Free Enterprise, the car ferry Compiègne.

The Compiègne was a radically different ship to anything else sailing around the British Isles upon her introduction. It is almost difficult to believe she entered service the year before British Railway’s much more traditional-looking Maid of Kent of 1959, although actually the ships bear some comparison – broadly similar in dimensions, capacities, service speed and intended operations they were remarkably different solutions to a similar design brief. The Maid of Kent was in many ways an enlarged, beautified version of the Lord Warden of 1952, whilst the Compiègne instead owed more in appearance to the Saint Germain of the same year. The French ship looked – and in many respects was – a much more advanced vessel than the Maid of Kent, whose steam turbine propulsion in particular dated her and whose more classic lines were perhaps a concession to criticism of the slightly ungainly aspects of the Lord Warden.

The Rouen-built Compiègne introduced a number of firsts to Cross Channel traffic, many of them technical advances which would be replicated in ships throughout the following decade. Controllable pitch propellers circumvented the traditional means of ship control via the engine room telegraph and meant the vessel could be manoeuvred directly from the bridge whilst she also had a pair of bow thrusters which bringing the ship alongside and moving off the berth. The vessel was also all welded in construction, rather than riveted.

One area where the ship was not significantly different to the Maid of Kent was in the arrangement of the vehicle deck, being a stern-only loader with a central casing, fixed mezzanines forward and space in the after part of the garage for the carriage of a limited number of high sided vehicles.

The new Compiègne alongside at Calais Gare Maritime with the Invicta astern.

The new Compiègne alongside at Calais Gare Maritime with the Invicta astern.

When the ship entered service in June 1958, she was deployed on the Calais-Dover route. In those days, British Railways operated their car ferries on the Dover-Boulogne crossing and the French ship was therefore placed into direct competition on the Calais run with Townsend Car Ferries whose converted frigate Halladale was nearing the end of her operational life and would be replaced with the Free Enterprise in 1962.

After 1970, the Compiègne was seen more frequently at Boulogne and she remained in service on the Channel for well over twenty years overall. Sold to Strintzis in 1981, she operated on a number of Adriatic and then Aegean services before becoming a pilgrim ship in the Red Sea. Abandoned for many years in Alexandria, she amazingly survives to this day in poor condition as the Al Ameerah.

Inaugural brochure

Inaugural brochure

The initial timetable was not particularly intensive, being one round trip a day, rising to two at weekends and on Fridays in the Summer. Most of the year however she would sit in Calais for 19 hours each day.

The initial timetable was not particularly intensive, being one round trip a day, rising to two at weekends and on Fridays in the Summer. Most of the year however she would sit in Calais for 19 hours each day.

A British Railways brochure featuring the Compiègne's modern passenger saloons which seem to present a severe contrast to the illustrated motor vehicles . The ship's vehicle deck can also be seen with its fixed ramps and space for cars only on two levels at the forward end.

A British Railways brochure featuring the Compiègne's modern passenger saloons which seem to present a severe contrast to the illustrated motor vehicles . The ship's vehicle deck can also be seen with its fixed ramps and space for cars only on two levels at the forward end.


More interior views, including the restaurant, aft, are shown alongside this cutaway view. The vehicle deck and unloading scenes are from the British ships Maid of Kent and Lord Warden respectively.

More interior views, including the restaurant, aft, are shown alongside this cutaway view. The vehicle deck and unloading scenes are from the British ships Maid of Kent and Lord Warden respectively.


Blast from the Past: THE NEW North Sea Ferries (1987/88)


Hull-based North Sea Ferries are my “local” ferry operator, yet childhood holidays never involved a crossing with them. This is slightly curious – I wonder why we would have ignored Kenneth Williams’ sage advice to motor along the “clear roads” (of the ’62!) to Yorkshire’s East Coast, preferring instead to drive down to the traditional ports of England’s Southern coast.

It can certainly be grim up north, nowhere more so than Kingston Upon Hull but I’m not sure this would have been enough to deter us from using the port there – although most Yorkshire folk west of Goole would probably rank it as a genuine consideration. NSF in the early ’80s though just seemed to be stuck somewhat in the 1970s and very slightly out of step with the times as Thatcher’s Britain evolved.

NSF themselves seem to have come to the same conclusion and here is some evidence from their contemporary publicity material. As late as 1985, NSF brochures were distinctly 1970s in tone; the on board images are a delight for anyone interested in ferry design of 30 and 40 years ago – a cornucopia of orange, brown and wood-effect panelling, the Norland and Norstar of 1974 were, as built, probably the grooviest things sailing from Britain. For about six months maybe. The changing cycles of fashion seems to have dated them quite horribly, and the fanfare which accompanied the launch of the new Norsea and Norsun in 1987 spoke not just of new tonnage, but of a completely new image for their operators.

The company took the opportunity to lengthen and completely refurbish the ’70s ships just after the new vessels entered service – leaving in the interregnum the tantalising prospect of sailing one way to Hull on the 1980s superferries and back to the Continent on the vintage but tiny 1960s Norwind or Norwave. The contrast the 1988 brochure presents to that of just three years earlier is startling – a distinct 1980s aesthetic has taken over, and the word “new” is everywhere.

At around the same time, northern department store chain Lewis’s had rebranded as “THE NEW Lewis’s” in a similar attempt to reinvent themselves, and the designer-label clothes the store began stocking are exactly what the NSF photographers have captured being casually but consciously worn by the “passengers” lazing around the new ships.

North Sea Ferries - 1985

North Sea Ferries - 1985

North Sea Ferries - 1985

North Sea Ferries - 1985

North Sea Ferries - 1988

North Sea Ferries - 1988

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Of course, the 1980s pastel tones of THE NEW North Sea Ferries were themselves to date rather quickly – and in 1996 the whole operation would retreat into the safe conservatism of the P&O brand. But that’s a whole ‘nother story…

Blast from the past: Southern Ferries’ Eagle

She served for so briefly and it seems so long ago now that (P&O) Southern Ferries’ Eagle of 1971 has almost been forgotten when reviewing the history of the British ferry. She was, however, a remarkable ship, straddling the ferry/cruise ship divide we take so for granted today that it is almost retrospectively applied to the past. Things were not quite so clear cut back then however and the Eagle, with her all en-suite cabins, meal-inclusive fares and built to US Coast Guard standards with potential future use in mind, followed a similar pattern to her predecessors on sailings to the Iberian peninsular, Kloster’s Sunward (1966, briefly) and the Patricia of Svenska Lloyd (1967 onwards) in offering a mini cruise option which at times almost dominated the car ferry aspects in publicity.

The Eagle, as imagined.

The Eagle, as imagined.

The real thing.

The real thing.

More from the introductory brochure.

More from the introductory brochure.

Fares for the 1971 season: the cheapest mini cruise was £29 per person between Southampton and Lisbon in one of the C Deck 4 berth cabins; the most expensive £75 in one of the B Deck suites. Standard singles and returns were more expensive. Passage was also offerred between Lisbon and Tangier only.

Fares for the 1971 season: the cheapest mini cruise was £29 per person between Southampton and Lisbon in one of the C Deck 4 berth cabins; the most expensive £75 in one of the B Deck suites. Standard singles and returns were more expensive. Passage was also offerred between Lisbon and Tangier only.

The Eagle’s introductory brochure covers all bases by calling her “the new cruise liner car ferry” and, operating a Southampton-Lisbon-Tangier service, she sailed direct to some of the most fashionable holiday regions of the age. Algeciras in Southern Spain was later added to the schedule. The ship’s hull lines were designed by ferry specialists Knud E Hansen, and supposedly optimised for the Bay of Biscay whilst there was a noticeable bulwark aft of the mooring deck to keep the worst of the waves off the forward superstructure, a feature missing from the Eagle’s two half-sisters, Fred. Olsen’s Bolero and Paquet’s Massalia.

The passenger accommodation was rather intriguingly finished, much use being made of bold colours and vinyl wall coverings, with the Red Room Lounge Bar and the lime-green Panoramic Lounge particularly notable although the choice of a quite distracting paisley orange and green colour scheme in the ten cabins de luxe was maybe regrettable. The design ethos of architects George Trew Dunn however was perhaps the Eagle’s most long-standing contribution to the evolution of ferry design, the firm conceiving an almost “disposable” interior which could be renewed every five or ten years rather than the “last for life” attitude which had heretofore prevailed. Dismissing concerns as to how the most contemporary aspects would look in the long run, as they could be replaced, would supposedly enable interior design to be more “of the moment”, and, alas, just as quickly “of the past” as the cycle of fashion moved round. None of which carried much weight with Design Magazine, the house magazine of the Council of Industrial Design, which quite scathingly commented that “good taste is not usually the top priority of the holiday maker, and though the architects have used the better furnishing firms available the mixture they have produced is at best entertaining, at worst restless and irritating. But … as the architects say, [it] can always be replaced.”

Deckplan.

Deckplan.


C Deck, above the garage, was essentially a cabin deck with reception and a shopping centre amidships.

C Deck, above the garage, was essentially a cabin deck with reception and a shopping centre amidships.

Moving upwards, on B Deck forward were more cabins whilst, aft of the forward lobby was the first of two restaurants, the more informal Garden Restaurant.

Moving upwards, on B Deck forward were more cabins whilst, aft of the forward lobby was the first of two restaurants, the more informal Garden Restaurant.

The Garden Restaurant.

The Garden Restaurant.


This starboard side arcade connected the forward lobby to the aft Aquila Restaurant; a playroom, nursery and hairdressers could be accessed off the arcade.

This starboard side arcade connected the forward lobby to the aft Aquila Restaurant; a playroom, nursery and hairdressers could be accessed off the arcade.

The playroom.

The playroom.

The hairdressing salon.

The hairdressing salon.


The Aquila Restaurant.

The Aquila Restaurant.

On A Deck, forward was the sombre Club Room.

On A Deck, forward was the sombre Club Room.


Aft of the A Deck forward lobby was a grand sweep of public rooms beginning with the Red Room lounge and bar. This is the view looking forward in the bar area with the counter on the left.

Aft of the A Deck forward lobby was a grand sweep of public rooms beginning with the Red Room lounge and bar. This is the view looking forward in the bar area with the counter on the left.

The forward lounge section of the Red Room.

The forward lounge section of the Red Room.


The Red Room at night.

The Red Room at night.

Leading on from the Red Room was what was originally the Golden Eagle Discotheque, provided with stylised glassfibre eagles and bronzed mirrors.

Leading on from the Red Room was what was originally the Golden Eagle Discotheque, provided with stylised glassfibre eagles and bronzed mirrors.

The disco later served as the Lido Bar.

The disco later served as the Lido Bar.

The Lido bar counter.

The Lido bar counter.

The highest public room on board was the Panoramic Bar on the Sun Deck, above the Bridge Deck. This is the view looking forward in the starboard side entranceway.

The highest public room on board was the Panoramic Bar on the Sun Deck, above the Bridge Deck. This is the view looking forward in the starboard side entranceway.

An overall view of the Panoramic Bar.

An overall view of the Panoramic Bar.

The ship's bridge.

The ship's bridge.

Looking at the cabins, all had en-suite facilities but the most basic were inside with four berths on C Deck.

Looking at the cabins, all had en-suite facilities but the most basic were inside with four berths on C Deck.

An outside 4-berth cabin, as found on C, D and E Decks.

An outside 4-berth cabin, as found on C, D and E Decks.

The more expensive cabins were found on B Deck and Bridge Deck, being a combination of suites and De Luxe cabins, the latter as shown here with decor which the 'Shipping World & Shipbuilder' not unreasonably described as 'startling'.

The more expensive cabins were found on B Deck and Bridge Deck, being a combination of suites and De Luxe cabins, the latter as shown here with decor which the 'Shipping World & Shipbuilder' not unreasonably described as 'startling'.

The Eagle managed to last just five seasons; the recessionary aftermath of the OPEC oil crisis in 1973 severely undermined traffic and she was sold to the Nouvelle Compagnie de Paquebots, already owners of her half-sister the Massalia, becoming their Azur. Like the flamboyant Sunward, which had crossed the Atlantic and become the first successful modern Miami cruise ship, securing a place as perhaps one of the World’s most influential passenger ships in the second half of the twentieth century, the Azur’s future lay in cruising, and she was permanently converted in 1981 with additional cabin accommodation on her former garage deck. Chartered to Chandris from 1987 to 1994, slightly renamed as ‘The Azur’, the ship retained this name for the subsequent decade operating for Festival Cruises. Since the latter’s’ demise in 2004 the ship, now the Royal Iris, has remained a familiar sight in mainstream Southern European cruise destinations, catering specifically for the Israeli market of operators Mano Maritime.

The Eagle passes beneath the Salazar Bridge (later the 25 de Abril Bridge after the Carnation Revolution of 1974) in Lisbon.

The Eagle passes beneath the Salazar Bridge (later the 25 de Abril Bridge after the Carnation Revolution of 1974) in Lisbon.

The ship in her second guise as Paquet's Azur.

The ship in her second guise as Paquet's Azur.

The Azur transits the Corinth canal.

The Azur transits the Corinth canal.

The Royal Iris at Heraklion, Summer 2008.

The Royal Iris at Heraklion, Summer 2008.

Blast from the past: Sealink British Ferries 1986

Changing for the Better – Full Speed Ahead.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

Blast from the past: Townsend Car Ferries


Having looked at the Viking I (the first drive-through ferry to serve Britain) and the Norwind/Norwave (essentially the first ‘ro-paxes’), our attention now turns to Townsend’s Free Enterprise of 1962. Townsend Car Ferries had been around since the 1920s operating, first, a converted minesweeper (the Forde) and after World War Two the Halladale, formerly a frigate. The Free Enterprise however was the company’s first purpose-built ferry and the differences between this vessel and those which had gone before were stark, as was highlighted in the 1962 brochure which offers an interesting comparison from an equivalent late in the Halladale’s career.

Halladale - 1958 brochure

Halladale - 1958 brochure

Halladale - 1958 brochure

Halladale - 1958 brochure


'This fine ship has all the amenities of a luxury passenger steamer'. However the Halladale was hardly the Canterbury or even the Compiegne (introduced in the same year as this brochure, 1958).

'This fine ship has all the amenities of a luxury passenger steamer'. However the Halladale was hardly the Canterbury or even the Compiegne (introduced in the same year as this brochure, 1958).

The Free Enterprise: 'A fresh conception of luxurious travel!'

The Free Enterprise: 'A fresh conception of luxurious travel!'

Carrying 850 passengers and 120 cars (against the Halladale’s 350 and 55 respectively) the new ship proved a massive success and Townsend were able to order a second vessel, the Free Enterprise II, the first British-registered “drive through” ferry, which entered service in 1965. Further new ships followed, firmly laying the foundation for the leadership of the Dover ferry market that the company’s successors, P&O Ferries, retain to this day.

Despite the name, the opening season for the new ship was not exactly an example of marauding capitalism - one or two round trips a day was the norm, but this was pushed to four in the Summer peak. The 'rival' Dover-Calais car ferry, the Compiegne, only did four trips at Summer weekends, but the SNCF and Thoresen schedules were conveniently arranged such that when one ship was loading in Dover, the other was doing the same in Calais.

Despite the name, the opening season for the new ship was not exactly an example of marauding capitalism - one or two round trips a day was the norm, but this was pushed to four in the Summer peak. The 'rival' Dover-Calais car ferry, the Compiegne, only did four trips at Summer weekends, but the SNCF and Thoresen schedules were conveniently arranged such that when one ship was loading in Dover, the other was doing the same in Calais.


In terms of post-war Dover Strait car ferries it is however fair to say that SNCF’s Compiegne of 1958 was perhaps the more significant ship in purely technical terms – she was the first with controllable pitch propellers and bow thrusters although the ‘FE’ trumped her with a stern door headroom of over 15 feet compared to 12 feet on the French ship. The ‘FE’s significance for the British ferry scene however was perhaps in highlighting a trend that would become fast apparent through the early and mid-1960s: as her name proudly flaunted, she was owned by an independent operator, free from any governmental constraints to pursue the most profitable and logical design. And, with free enterprise coming to the fore, it was the independent companies who would blaze the car ferry trail with genuinely modern new ships around the United Kingdom during this period – Tor Line and North Sea Ferries on the North Sea and Townsend, Thoresen and Normandy Ferries on the English Channel.

The Free Enterprise of 1962

An interior view aboard the new Free Enterprise, showing just how open plan she was. In every way, the little bright green-hulled vessel was a complete contrast to the British Railways ships in operation at the same time as she entered service.Photocard image by the late Ray Warner - see http://tinyurl.com/m8ucb6

An interior view aboard the new Free Enterprise, showing just how open plan she was. In every way, the little bright green-hulled vessel was a complete contrast to the British Railways ships in operation at the same time as she entered service. Photocard image by the late Ray Warner - see http://tinyurl.com/m8ucb6


Remarkably, both the Compiegne and the Free Enterprise survive – the French ship as a virtual hulk in Alexandria, Egypt whilst the ‘FE’ is today the Okeanis, laid up for a couple of years now in Elefsis Bay, after an abortive attempt to re-enter her latter trade as a Santorini-based day cruiser.

Blast from the past: B+I Motorway


Continuing our look at Britain’s pioneering 1960s car ferries, in this ‘Blast from the past’, attention falls on the B&I Line and their new ‘Motorway’ service between Liverpool and Dublin, introduced with the arrival of the new Munster in 1968.

B&I Line was purchased by the Irish government in February 1965 from the Coast Lines group, their primary interest being to ensure that the key ferry routes to the Republic of Ireland did not continue to fall behind in the evolution of vehicle ferry services – although British Rail had introduced their car ferry Holyhead Ferry I in 1965, most sailings to the country remained in the hands of rather traditional passenger ships. The urgency of the situation meant that the Munster and her two later fleetmates were based on an ‘off the shelf’ design, namely the Lion Ferry trio the Prins Bertil, Gustav Vasa and Kronprins Carl Gustav, delivered between 1964 and 1966, particularly the latter ship with which the Munster shared the distinction across the six vessels of not having the sky bar aft of the bridge. The later two B&I vessels, the slightly larger Innisfallen and Leinster of 1969, had this feature restored, the Leinster being the only vessel of the six not to be delivered by Werft Nobiskrug in Rendsberg, West Germany – for her, construction was brought ‘home’ to the Verolme shipyard in Cork.

The name of the first of the new ships had evidently not been settled upon at the time this piece of publicity was produced, the vessel depicted bearing the name ‘B+I Motorway’.

The artist's impression of the new ship exaggerated the sleekness of her lines somewhat compared to the reality (below), also giving an indication of teak decking against the painted steel of the finished vessel. The white flashes on the bow, a signature of the ship's designer, Tage Wandborg of KEH, appeared on the Lion Ferry sisters, but not, in the event, on B&I's ships.

The artist's impression of the new ship exaggerated the sleekness of her lines somewhat compared to the reality (below), also giving an indication of teak decking against the painted steel of the finished vessel. The white flashes on the bow, a signature of the ship's designer, Tage Wandborg of KEH, appeared on the Lion Ferry sisters, but not, in the event, on B&I's ships.

The Munster was, inevitably, a one class ship, sweeping away the old two class system of the traditional passenger vessels. On board, the uppermost Boat Deck featured a cocktail bar (“fully carpeted” no less) with adjacent restaurant together with a lounge filled with the “new, Pullman-style ‘Sleep Seats’ that you can adjust to suit yourself”. The Promenade Deck, below, included a large cafeteria and lounge, forward, with seats for more than 270 passengers together with a verandah lounge aft and a smaller bar for 50 passengers. Throughout, the interiors were fresh and modern although, for an overnight ship, there was a somewhat primitive approach to passenger cabins with berths for 248 passengers being accommodated in two- and four-berth rooms across two decks in the space forward of the engine room, beneath the car deck. None of the cabins were equipped with en-suite facilities (something corrected in the subsequent pair, giving further credence to suspicions that, in haste, the first vessel was accepted “as is”, before any significant modifications could be made to the original design).


The use of the ‘Motorway’ terminology is interesting – the back cover of the brochure advises would-be passengers to “take the M6 to Liverpool – and the B+I Motorway to Ireland”, tying the clean-cut modernity of the new ships to the then still youthful and popular motorway network which was springing up around the country. The ships even adopted a blue and white livery, not obviously linked to their operator or to Ireland, but which reflected the colours of the Kinneir-Calvert UK motorway signage system. By 1968 the M6 stretched from Bescot (near Walsall in the West Midlands) to north of Lancaster, providing good access to the region from North and South. The heroic trans-Pennine M62 towards Liverpool was not however completed until 1976, and for many motorists after exiting the M6 there followed a rather tortuous route along the East Lancs Road or the A57, then through the city to the new, but short-lived B&I terminal at Carriers Dock near Bootle (a further new terminal, nearer to the city centre, was built at Waterloo Dock in 1972).

Interestingly, the timetable insert to the main brochure notes that “In addition to the Car Ferry, the [passenger ferry] m.v. Munster or the m.v. Leinster will operate a two class tri-weekly sailing between Dublin (North Wall) and Liverpool (Princes Dock East).” A separate brochure, distinctly different in tone to that for the glamorous new car ferry, was produced for this service.

Evidently decisions had still to be taken as to which of the venerable passenger ships would perform this duty but, in the event, it was the Leinster of 1948 which undertook the sailings, remaining in operation until the second car ferry, the Innisfallen, arrived in July the following year. The old Munster (briefly renamed the Munster I) was sold to Epirotiki even before her namesake car ferry was delivered and went on to enjoy more than 30 years further service as a cruise ship – the famed Orpheus – in which capacity she was only barely outlived by the car ferries which replaced her, all of which were scrapped in the early years after the turn of the century.

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