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.