Since the sale of the Ivan Zajc earlier in the year, the Dubrovnik (ex-Duchesse Anne, Connacht) of Croatia’s state ferry company Jadrolinija is now rostered to sail on Split-Ancona sailings alone this Summer. Repeating her pattern of the past couple of years, the ship makes four round trips a week, all overnight save for a daylight crossing from Ancona on Sundays. In addition, on overnight sailings ex-Italy the ship carries on after arrival in Split to do a domestic round trip to Stari Grad on the island of Hvar; with customs formalities completed in Split, this can be booked as a through sailing from Ancona, or as a normal domestic sailing.
With the retrenchment of the coastal Rijeka-Split-Stari Grad-Korcula-Dubrovnik-(Bari) services in recent years, the current roster is comparatively straightforward; in 2003 for example, a breathless Summer timetable saw the ship each week make one of the complete 26 hour hauls from Rijeka through to Bari, then back again, followed by Rijeka-Split-Stari Grad-Korcula, Korcula-Stari Grad, Stari Grad-Split-Ancona and back, and finally Stari Grad-Split-Rijeka to begin it all again. Today, life is rather more simple and the ship has plenty of time in between sailings, particularly Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when she sits in Ancona from her early morning arrival until a 2100 departure.
Delivered by Cork’s Verolme Shipyard as the Connacht to B&I Line in 1979, the ship initially served Cork, briefly from Swansea and then on the new Pembroke Dock service. She was was transferred to the Dublin-Liverpool service in September 1980, where she was joined by sister Leinster in July 1981. Loss-making B&I sought improved utlisation of the new ships and a daily Dublin-Holyhead round trip in between the overnight sailings from and to Liverpool was subsequently added. These began, after no little controversy over the use of the Sealink port, in Spring 1982 and the Connacht eventually closed the Liverpool link altogether in January 1988, leaving Dublin services in the hands of the Leinster alone, being transferred back to Pembroke (the Irish port now being Rosslare). B&I’s financial position forced the sale of the Connacht at the end of that year, with Brittany Ferries acquiring her for St Malo-Portsmouth sailings. After less than a decade with the French company, during which she saw service for a period back to her Cork birthplace on sailings from both St Malo and Roscoff, she was disposed of to Jadrolinija at the end of the 1996 season.
I joined the ship for one of her domestic sailings from Stari Grad to Split in July 2007; this leg in particular, forming the return to Split after the theoretically through sailing from Ancona, is just another departure on this important route on which up to seven return sailings a day are offered in the Summer – generally in recent years the ex-Japanese Valun has been a mainstay. Stari Grad itself is a delightful place – overlooked by many of the guidebooks in favour of flashy Hvar Town on the other side of the island, it was originally a Roman settlement from the era of the Emperor Diocletian but was rebuilt with narrow lanes and defensive walls following the Roman collapse. The ferry port itself is around a twenty minute walk along a shoreside pathway from the old town.
On board, it is clear that little has changed aboard the Dubrovnik since her Duchesse Anne days yet the most important influence on the ship’s layout remains the refit given to the ship by B&I Line in Spring 1986. At just seven years old, it might have seemed somewhat early for the Connacht (and her even newer sister) to receive radical internal rearrangement, but circumstances had changed – conceived primarily as an overnight ship, the addition of Dublin-Holyhead sailings saw a change of emphasis with the main cabin deck (Upper Deck) being stripped out and an extensive new duty free shop, cinema and reclining seat lounges (“Super Rest Lounges” in B&I nomenclature) were added. Upstairs on what was originally the Service Deck, the restaurant and cocktail lounge forward were swept away to become a new self service restaurant, and the original self service amidships on the port side became the new restaurant. The £2m refit the ship was given before introduction by Brittany Ferries essentially retained this layout with certain areas receiving more attention than others – especially the self-service – whilst the newly-added Duty Free shop, aft on the Upper Deck (now the Information Deck), which had originally been a reclining seat lounge was replaced by additional cabins.
Jadrolinija’s coastal and international fleet, shorn of the Ivan Zajc, is now only three-strong. In the peak season the Marko Polo maintains what is now only a twice-weekly Rijeka-Dubrovnik-Bari service whilst the delightful little Liburnija ensures the Bari-Dubrovnik link is serviced six times in total, her four return sailings on the route being extended up to Korcula three times weekly (and to Split on Saturdays). Despite being in generally excellent condition, the company has in recent years been thinking aloud about the need for newer tonnage than the current vessels, of which the Dubrovnik is the youngest. That still seems some way off however and it seems likely that the former Connacht will remain with the Croatian state operator for several years to come.