Posts tagged: calais

Picture of the week: Spirit of Britain

Spirit of Britain. Click for larger image.

Spirit of Britain. Click for larger image.

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Previous image

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.


Things Seen – October 2009

The Gare Maritime at Calais which would be destroyed early in the Second World War. During the Siege of Calais (May 1940), the harbour area became a key defensive position for the embattled British forces and Brigadier Claude Nicholson established his headquarters in this building.

The Gare Maritime at Calais which would be destroyed early in the Second World War. During the Siege of Calais (May 1940), the harbour area became a key defensive position for the embattled British forces and Brigadier Claude Nicholson established his headquarters in this building.

  • It is nearly 15 years since the final train left Calais Gare Maritime. The adjacent quayside was once one of the most important in Europe – a late departure of the Golden Arrow from here might be reported in the London evening newspapers whilst, as railway author George Behrend noted, the railway station used to be “crammed with International Expresses to meet every packet” – nightly departures to Istanbul, Berlin, Rome, Trieste, San Remo, Monte Carlo, Nice and Bucharest; the ‘Train Bleu’, the ‘Rome Express’, part of the ‘Orient Express’ and, in earlier years the ‘Peninsular Express’ to India via Brindisi, or the ‘Bombay Express’ via Marseille. The restaurant at the station before the Second World War was known as one of Europe’s finest eateries, the perfect place to while away the time between arriving off the steamer from Dover and the departure of your Wagon-Lits.

    Ron Fisher has some splendid images of trains at the station, as well as at Boulogne, in the 1960s to the ’80s. Meanwhile Mike Irlam’s site has an almost Behrend-style narrative of a typical journey on the Golden Arrow in its heyday.
    Over on youtube, there is a superb two part-British Transport Films production celebrating the post war Golden Arrow:

    Part One
    Part Two

    Great times, and the sight today of the post-war Gare Maritime building still standing, but used as little more than a rest point with lavatories and vending machines for truckers and motorists waiting to board the modern cross-channel ferries is really quite heartbreaking, even for those of us for whom hours at the station represented SNCF strikes, delayed trains and missed connections.

  • Down the coast slightly, at Dieppe, the station closed in 1994 when Stena Sealink transferred ferry traffic to the new port on the other side of the harbour. Readers of Continental Modeller should look out for an upcoming piece by David Thomas regarding the railway station, whilst the websites of Roland Arzul and Paul Smith have plenty of information and images.
  • Dieppe's 1954-built Gare Maritime.

    Dieppe's 1954-built Gare Maritime.

  • The recent grounding of the Marko Polo brought to mind the not dissimilar case of the Swan Hunter-built Proleterka near Murter in 1969. The Proleterka was scrapped after this experience – let’s hope the story of the former Peter Wessel has a happier ending. The Simplon website has some images of the 1969 accident.
  • The British Pathé website is a real treasure trove with an archive covering the best part of a century. Included in the archive are a number of memorable shipping-related films including:

    “Something new in ferryboats”, with a “queer method of mounting the propellers” (the new Lymington, 1938) The pay off line of “so chalk another one up to Britain for one more development in transport” was more than dubious given the Voith Schneider technology being employed was most definitely German.

    The launch of the Koningin Wilhelmina (1960)

    Dover-Boulogne by car ferry (on the Maid of Kent, 1960)

    By Car to Boulogne (with the newly-converted Normannia, 1964)

    The launch of the Princesse Astrid (1968)

  • A couple of aged former British domestic ferries serving Italy have been scrapped in recent years, and Navi e Armatori has faithfully recorded their final moments.

    Firstly, the Heidi, formerly the Caledonia of Cal Mac and before that the first car ferry that Sten Allan Olsson ordered for Stena Line, the Stena Baltica. Operating for Traghetti Pozzuoli until 2004 she ultimately sank at her lay up berth in Naples. Pumped dry, she was towed to Aliaga in Turkey for breaking in 2006. Fakta om Fartyg has some images of her in her sunken state, whilst Navi e Armatori’s pictures were taken by Selim San at the beach in Turkey:

    Picture 1
    Picture 2

    The Carisbrooke Castle of 1959 was scrapped in 2007 having spent the last 33 years in a 48 year career in Italian coastal waters, latterly as the Giglio Espresso II running from La Maddalena to Palau on Sardinia. This image shows her on the beach in Aliaga, with fellow former British veteran the Neptunia (ex-Darnia) alongside.

  • The Canguro Cabo San Sebastian.

    The Canguro Cabo San Sebastian.

  • Another ship which has ended on the beach is the former Donatella D’Abundo, the first of the six-strong ‘Canguro’ class and originally built for Ybarra as the Canguro Cabo San Sebastian before later passing to Trasmed and then Medmar. An image of her can be seen here.

    I have often wondered about this series of ships, built at Union Navale de Levante in Valencia between 1972 and 1984, none of which seem to have had really successful post-Spanish careers. Of the sextuplets, two have now been scrapped, one is in Southeast Asia, and the other three in limbo. The one vessel actually believed to be in service is the Oriental Princess (ex-Canguro Cabo San Jorge and Ciudad de Palma) but she seems to be in rather poor condition in Vietnamese waters (pictures here and here). The Ciudad de Sevilla has reportedly sailed to Port Said under the name Sevilla whilst the Mary the Queen (ex-Ciudad de Valencia and the final of the series) had apparently been sold to Filipino interests to replace the former Steam Packet ship of the same name, but remains in Tarragona with the sale possibly having fallen through.

  • The Donatella D'Abundo at Naples in September 2004.

    The Donatella D'Abundo at Naples in September 2004.

  • Spanish car ferries of a slightly earlier generation were the four-strong ‘Albatros’ class, (including the Juan March and the Santa Cruz de Tenerife) as well as the slightly smaller Antonio Larazo and Vincente Puchol. Some interior images of these and other Trasmed. ships of the era can be found on buques.org
  • The Dana Corona (ex-Trekroner) at Malaga. Also alongside is Trasmed's Antonio Larazo or Vincente Puchol.

    The Dana Corona (ex-Trekroner) at Malaga. Also alongside is Trasmed's Antonio Larazo or Vincente Puchol.

  • None of the six beautiful DFDS car ferries delivered between 1964 and 1970 have survived, but the first and the last, (the England and the Trekroner) dodged the scrappers by sinking, the former actually being en-route for scrapping at the time. The Trekroner however was in service, sailing to Suez as the Al Qamar Al Saudi Al Misri in 1994 when she was overtaken by a boiler room explosion and subsequent fire. 21 people lost their lives. The wreck today has been found and documented by scuba divers.
  • Fancy water-skiing behind the Stena Saga? It is possible, it seems…
  • On youtube, there is a “tribute to the Agios Georgios” (ex-Hengist).
  • For a brief period in 1981/82, Thoresen’s Viking Victory (ex-Viking I) and her sister Viking III were laid up together in Gothenburg awaiting sale. Lennart Ramsvik captured them there, together with several other ferries of the period. This was a time when it was possible to see three Stena ships together in the company’s home port, none of which had been purpose built.
  • Delivered as the Stena Trailer, the ship which ended her days as the Lampung was better known in her early years as Sealink’s Dalriada on the Stranraer-Larne crossing. Her end came in 2006 when an engine room fire spread through the ship as shown in this unhappy footage.
  • Lastly, readers of the main website to which this blog is attached may have noticed that parts of it have “gone missing” in the last couple of days. There shouldn’t be too many pages affected and all will be resolved when I get chance to re-upload them to the main domain within a couple of weeks.

    All this however relates to the demise of Geocities, “the Facebook of yesterday“. Geocities gave free access to web publishing for millions in its time, and many of the websites so created were crude, forgettable and aesthetically criminal. But it was also a step on the ladder, and, despite everything, from the hours trying futilely to load the Page Builder software to the horrors of page after page being lost when that same program decided not to save properly, I’ll miss it.

  • Funnels: Seafrance Berlioz

    Seafrance Berlioz. Click for larger image.

    Seafrance Berlioz. Click for larger image.

    Picture of the Week – 2 February 2009

    Seafrance Berlioz and Seafrance Rodin at Calais, 30 August 2008 (click for larger image)

    Seafrance Berlioz and Seafrance Rodin at Calais, 30 August 2008 (click for larger image)


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