It has been a fair few years since P&O/North Sea Ferries brought in really interesting charter ships – back in the ’70s and ’80s there were things like the Stena Normandica and even the Viking 6 but more recently refit cover has been provided merely by ro-ro ships. For 2016, however, things have been varied a little with the charter of DFDS’s Patria Seaways (ex-Stena Traveller). Whilst she is not taking tourist traffic during her spell on the Hull-Zeebrugge route, she can cater for more drivers than a conventional ro-ro. And, importantly, her dimensions make her a perfect fit for the lock entrance to the King George Dock in Kingston-upon-Hull.
The Stena Traveller was an early ro-pax – indeed the term hadn’t come into common usage when she was delivered in late 1991 and the Shippax Guide devoted to her earlier sister, the Stena Challenger, still refers to them as ‘combis’. The pair were part of a series of five ships whose hulls were built at the Bruce shipyard in Landskrona, Sweden but the vessels completed at Fosen in Rissa, Norway. Fosen’s had originally won the order for a pair of vessels from Turkish Cargo Line and, as they by then already specialised in ship fitout, subcontracted basic construction to Bruce’s. The price was very competitive and this did not go un-noticed by Stena RoRo who moved in to order a pair of heavily modified sister ships. A further vessel became the Bergen of Fjord Line.
The Stena Traveller in 1992.
The Stena Challenger was completed with full passenger accommodation and sent to Sealink but the second ship had no defined role and whilst she was being built Stena RoRo reportedly touted her to Brittany Ferries/Truckline as an option for its Poole-Cherbourg route before they settled on the purpose-build which became the Barfleur. Eventually the Stena Traveller did head for the UK after delivery in 1992, operating for Stena between Harwich and Hook and as summer freight support on the Southampton-Cherbourg route. She then spent three years on charter with TT Line as the TT Traveller before returning to the UK to launch Stena’s Holyhead-Dublin freight route in late 1995. A further five years with TT followed between 1997 and 2002 before another two back with Stena Line running between Karlskrona and Gdynia.
At Gdynia in 2004.
Stena sold her to DFDS in Spring 2004 for a reported SEK250m (which compared favourably to her build price 13 years earlier of approx. SEK325m). As the Lisco Patria and later the Patria Seaways the ship has done the rounds of DFDS’s Baltic freight routes before heading back to the North Sea on her P&O refit charter in early January this year.
On Sunday morning, I headed across to the East Riding to watch her lock in after arriving on an overnight sailing from Zeebrugge and some pictures follow. The ship had been very heavily delayed by rough weather on her previous northbound crossing but was essentially back on schedule by the time she approached the Humber – a scheduled 0900 arrival time was, however, delayed as Finnlines’ Finnkraft was the first to arrive at the lock entrance at the conclusion of one of her near week-long voyages from Helsinki. Rather than dawdle up the river waiting for the Finnkraft to clear, the Patria Seaways approached the mouth of the lock and parked herself alongside, just forward of the Pride of Hull on the river berth. After half an hour of waiting, the ship entered the lock and eventually passed through to the location of the original North Sea Ferries berths inside the dock.
The Patria Seaways is scheduled to operate with P&O on the Zeebrugge run until a final Hull-Zeebrugge sailing on 6 February.
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 - 1988
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…
Norwind & Norwave, â€œgrandmother and grandfather to todayâ€™s ferriesâ€, especially for Timo SelkÃ¤lÃ¤.
The early and mid-1960s saw a series of very notable, independently owned car ferries introduced on services around the British Isles. We have previously looked at the introduction of the â€˜Thoresen Vikingsâ€™ and I stand by my suggestion that these were perhaps the most significant of all â€“ they were the first drive-through ships and showed directly what modern ferry design could do on areas of operation previously dismissed by the establishment as unprofitable.
Amongst the other significant independent British-based car ferries of the 1960s however were Townsendâ€™s Free Enterprise, Normandy Ferriesâ€™ Dragon and Leopard, Burns & Lairdâ€™s Lion, Tor Lineâ€™s Tor Hollandia and Tor Anglia, Lion Ferryâ€™s original Prins Hamlet and not forgetting Svenska Lloyd and Rederi AB Sveaâ€™s paradoxical Saga and Svea.
Somewhat easy to overlook amongst this cavalcade are North Sea Ferries’ (NSF’s) tiny Norwave and Norwind. The former entered service on the new Hull-Rotterdam (Europoort) service in December 1965, followed three months later by the Norwind and, to celebrate the new operation and its new ships, the celebratory brochure shown here was produced (see also the ships’ deckplan here). If the term has to be used then these were truly Britainâ€™s first ro-pax ships – the ASN vessels, prior to the Europic Ferry, were really freighters which carried passengers whereas NSF offered a true tourist passenger service alongside the freight operation. Only 109m in length, the pair had revolutionary twin enclosed freight decks which could accommodate 47 12m lorries plus 70 cars â€“ a remarkable feat for ships of such limited hull size (the Hengist and Horsa of 1972, virtuous and modern passenger, freight and car ferries of not dissimilar dimensions but a slightly later generation, could only carry three fifths of the NSF sistersâ€™ freight load).
The ships were victims of their own success, fast becoming too small for the route they were designed for. Replaced on the Europoort operation by the Norland and Norstar of 1974, then the worldâ€™s largest car ferries, the original pair remarkably survived until 1987 on the secondary Hull-Zeebrugge route where they latterly required permanent backup with parallel sailings by dedicated ro-ro ships.
Beyond NSF, the sisters were sold to Ventouris Ferries (George Ventouris). Alas, both vessels were caught up in the mysterious happenings that afflicted the Ventouris familyâ€™s shipping operations in the 1980s and 1990s: the Norwave (renamed Italia Express) lasted only one season before being sunk during refit at Drapetsona following an explosion caused by limpet mines attached to the shipâ€™s hull; the Norwind (Grecia Express) survived until 1994 when she was also sunk in equally mysterious circumstances whilst laid up in Perama (see pictures here). This was a sad end for a pair of revolutionary and much-loved early car ferries which operated in tandem throughout their respective lives and died almost predictably parallel deaths.
First of a new series: ferry brochures & adverts from years gone by. This week it’s a NSF advert from 24 years ago – old livery & the pre-stretched Norland.
Click for larger image