Originally the Senlac of 1973 the ship was the last of a trio for cross-channel services to be built by the naval dockyard in Brest. As outlined in The Senlac Story (which will be updated for the final chapter shortly) whereas her sister ships Hengist and Horsa were destined for Dover and Folkestone service, the Senlac was always intended for Newhaven-Dieppe and inherited the convoluted ownership structure of ships on that route. She was, however, resolutely British in terms of operation and manning – at least until January 1985 when the British Sealink sold up and she was transferred to the French flag.
A sale to Greece in late 1987 opened up the second chapter in her career – she became an incredibly successful and popular ship in domestic traffic with, successively, Ventouris Sea Lines, Agapitos Express Ferries and Hellas Ferries/Hellenic Seaways. For many years she was one of the primary ships on the key route from Piraeus through to Santorini and, after a couple of years away from this role, returned to the service for one last, brief, Summer in 2005. Her final owner was the Arkoumanis family, behind the long-standing fringe Adriatic operator European Seaways. At first she was used on sporadic services between Italy and Greece before, in 2009, being deployed to Durres in Albania out of the Italian port of Bari, latterly alongside the ex-Japanese Ionis. Occasional sailings to Greece continued but the Albanian routes more often than not form the final part of a ship’s career – and so it was with the Apollon.
The ship was latterly in somewhat poor mechanical health and this seems to have forced her owners’ hand – certainly it does not seem to have been a long-planned decision to let the ship go at this point in time. The 2010 timetable on the European Seaways website still shows her reappearing in December to offer additional sailings over the Christmas period. On the newly released 2010/11 schedule, these are now pencilled in for the Arkoumanis family’s other ship, the Bridge (ex-Bass Trader).
The Senlac’s demise can perhaps ultimately be traced back to her sale from Greek domestic service back in 2006 – and in some respects she paid the price for the continuing success of her sister ships. When the former Hengist and Horsa were sold in early 2004 to rival domestic operators, Hellas Ferries were soon kicking themselves as they were used in competition against their own ongoing services. This class of ship is almost perfect for Greek island hopping service and Hellas Ferries were determined, when the time came, to dispose of the former Senlac to an operator who would not use her in a competing trade. Unfortunately the Apollon was never entirely suitable as an overnight ship on the Adriatic and her mechanical fragility sealed her fate. Those intermittent mechanical gremlins didn’t, however, prevent the Apollon sailing to Aliaga under her own power, topping 17 knots at times as she sped to meet her doom.
Presented below are a few reminders of what was, despite the sudden end, the long and memorable career of a very popular ship.The Senlac’s career spanned a period of massive transformation in the transport networks between the United Kingdom and France. The Newhaven-Dieppe brochure (above) from the year of the ship’s introduction offers passengers a 2202 departure from London Victoria which, via two boat trains and the 2345 Dieppe ferry, will get them into Paris Saint-Lazare in time for an early breakfast at 0625. Cross-channel weather permitting of course. For over a century the Newhaven route remained a key link in transport connections between London and Paris yet today it all seems part of another world. The Senlac never received Sealink British Ferries livery but this leaflet (above), covering almost the final weeks of her career as a British ship, features the SBF name. By this stage the ship was offering ‘Casino Cruises’ (below) – not available on the French vessels.
The ability of the careers of car ferries to span periods of vast social and technological change whilst themselves seeming to remain remarkably UNchanged can be demonstrated through comparative vehicle deck images. Above is the Senlac in 1973, below the Apollon in 2007.
Link: Hengist, Horsa, Senlac: The Rafina Summer of 2004