Posts tagged: P&O

Brochure Browsing – P&O Normandy Ferries, 1977

In 1976 Normandy Ferries expanded from their original operations in the western Channel based at Southampton and opened a new service between Dover and Boulogne – the latter approximately 90km from Normandy itself. The operator, established in 1967, had been a joint venture between the British P&O and French SAGA, SAGA having been a storied cross-channel operator in their own right in the inter-war period.

The Boulogne service used the Lion, late of P&O’s Ardrossan-Larne service (formerly Burns & Laird) and was something of a gamble. P&O’s presence at Dover was not welcomed by the establishment operators, and memoranda from meetings of the cartel that fixed rates and operations around this time express the view that Normandy Ferries were a “black leg” (sic) who would not be invited to “join the club” (P&O subsequently attended various meetings but were always resented by Sealink and Townsend Thoresen for adding further capacity to a market which already had too much and for driving down fares so that everyone struggled to make money).

This brochure shows the Normandy Ferries operation just after the commencement of the Boulogne service and before the second vessel, the nf Tiger, was brought into operation in 1978.

Whilst the Dragon and Leopard were superior, elegant overnight car ferries with comfortable interiors and harmonious lines, the Lion was a robust little ship with only a few concessions to real luxury.

Whilst the Dragon and Leopard were superior, elegant overnight car ferries with comfortable interiors and harmonious lines, the Lion was a robust little ship with only a few concessions to real luxury.

"We don't put our car ferries on any old route." In reality Normandy Ferries had spotted a gap in the market as BR/Sealink had focussed on the shorter Dover-Calais operation rather than Dover-Boulogne which, just a decade earlier, had been the centre of their short-sea car ferry services.

“We don’t put our car ferries on any old route.” In reality Normandy Ferries had spotted a gap in the market as BR/Sealink had focussed on the shorter Dover-Calais operation rather than Dover-Boulogne which, just a decade earlier, had been the centre of their short-sea car ferry services.

"Lion obligingly provides a comfortable sun deck!" Complete with deckchairs, perhaps the last to be seen on a short-sea ferry.

“Lion obligingly provides a comfortable sun deck!” Complete with deckchairs, perhaps the last to be seen on a short-sea ferry.

Our passengers have espied something interesting from the Lion's upper forward lounge.

Our passengers have espied something interesting from the Lion’s upper forward lounge.

"Lion gives you individual shops plus a shipboard supermarket - to give you one of the best shopping centres afloat". These facilities had certainly been beefed up compared to her Irish Sea days when a dual information desk/shop was supplemented in the summer by the conversion of a cabin into an additional retail outlet.

“Lion gives you individual shops plus a shipboard supermarket – to give you one of the best shopping centres afloat”. These facilities had certainly been beefed up compared to her Irish Sea days when a dual information desk/shop was supplemented in the summer by the conversion of a cabin into an additional retail outlet.

Enjoying a full English in the Lion's cafeteria.

Enjoying a full English in the Lion’s cafeteria.

Things look slightly more formal in this view of the restaurant on either Leopard or Dragon.

Things look slightly more formal in this view of the restaurant on either Leopard or Dragon.

The neatly-detailed main lobby on the Southampton pair, with its central lift shaft, oval mezzanine and sweeping open-tread staircase remains one of the most attractive spaces on any cross-channel ferry.

The neatly-detailed main lobby on the Southampton pair, with its central lift shaft, oval mezzanine and sweeping open-tread staircase remains one of the most attractive spaces on any cross-channel ferry.

The Dover-Boulogne service expanded to three ships in 1980 and, after SAGA’s exit, operated under the P&O Ferries name. Both routes were acquired by Townsend Thoresen in late 1984 and the five ships fairly quickly withdrawn from Channel service.

Patria Seaways on the Humber


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 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.

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.

That Was The Year That Was – 2012

2012 was an exciting year of travel with a first, but most definitely not last, ferry-centric trip to Japan where a whole new world of ships and shipping culture was revealed to us. The Japanese experience was, taken as a whole, the most memorable event of the year: after more than nine years of deliberation and 28 months of planning it went almost completely without a hitch and the Japanese were unfailingly helpful, polite and tolerant towards this small band of Europeans who had come to sail on their ships for no other reason than their being there.

Home waters were not neglected and plenty of European ferries were road tested this year; the ongoing economic gloom in Greek and Italian and Moroccan waters are perhaps the greatest concerns for the immediate future and one wonders just where things will end – with long-established operators withdrawing virtually overnight how many of 2012’s ships will make it to the starting line of the 2013 summer season?

In total, 84 ships were sailed on or visited this year, of which two were museum ships and one a floating bar. 27 nights were spent at sea and the average age of the 84 ships was 22 years old compared to 23 in 2011.

Based purely on subjective feelings on those 84 vessels, here are some bests and worsts of the year.

The Piana at Bastia.

The Piana at Bastia.


Best new ferry
Of recently-delivered ships sailed on for the first time this year, the Ishikari is a fine and modern Japanese coastal cruise liner, the Spirit of France solves a few of the issues identified with the Spirit of Britain and the Blue Star Patmos is a superb Aegean ferry, lavishly finished and, sadly, possibly the last purpose-built Greek ferry for a generation. The best new ship of the year, however, has to be the Piana of CMN. She endured a tortuously late delivery, is little to look at from the outside and even managed to lose the tip of her bulbous bow in January. Onboard, however, she is a wonder, the latest work of the specialist French interior designers, AIA. AIA’s recent output had been weaker, hamstrung by smaller budgets and less imaginative briefs than they had been accustomed to in the era of the Danielle Casanova, Mont St Michel, Pont-Aven and Seafrance Berlioz. The 2009-built Armorique failed to impress and the firm themselves virtually disowned the conversion of the Seafrance Moliere. On the Piana it is as if pent-up frustration has been unleashed and the ship is a beauty, and, in some respects, is possible to see where they might had gone with the Armorique had the money and corporate imagination been there.
Piana.

Piana.

Mercandia IV

Mercandia IV


Best conversion
The fifteen Sunderland-built Superflexes can be found across the globe, serving routes both mainstream and marginal, with all sorts of conversions having been made to better suit them to their current service. I can’t think of any which could ever be called even vaguely luxurious, however, until the Stena-owned Mercandia IV (ex-Superflex November) was refitted for her role as fourth ship on the joint operation with Scandlines between Helsingborg and Helsingør. The ship has been outfitted in the same style as the three larger purpose-built vessels, which itself is a derivation from the designs for Stena’s longer routes. The result is a ship which looks like no Superflex before.

In Italy, Moby-owned TOREMAR have made moves to improve the offering on their ships and the Oglasa for Elban service was changed beyond recognition. As with the Mercandia IV, the redesign has taken cues from the parent entity and where Moby have long been affiliated with Looney Tunes cartoon characters, on the Oglasa, Andy Capp makes an appearance in on-board signage. Crazy or genius?

Andy Capp on the Oglasa.

Andy Capp on the Oglasa.

Penelope A (ex-Horsa)

Penelope A (ex-Horsa)


Best classic ferry
28 of this year’s ships were more than a quarter of a century old, the most aged being the Italian train ferry the Iginia, still in regular operation between Messina and Villa San Giovanni. Whilst some classics were to be found in fairly poor condition, others such as the Agios Georgios, Stena Danica or the Kriti II were in pretty good shape all things considered.

Stena Scanrail: it's fairly safe to assume that a ship fitted with builder's ashtrays as well as a builder's plate hails from another era.

Stena Scanrail: it's fairly safe to assume that a ship fitted with builder's ashtrays as well as a builder's plate hails from another era.

All of the above and more were worthy of consideration but, in the year of their 40th birthdays, the former Hengist and Horsa win out as 2012’s best oldies. Sailings on the Agios Georgios and Penelope A in September reconfirmed that these veteran Channel ferries remained excellent performers in their second careers. The Penelope A’s four decades of service have now been equally split, save for the aberration of the 1990 summer at Holyhead, between the Folkestone period (1972 to 1991) and twenty years operating out of Rafina (1992 to 2012). The news in December that she had been withdrawn due to the financial woes of her owners Agoudimos Lines was, if not surprising, a warning of the fate which awaits many of the Greek coastal fleet in times when the Greek government cannot be relied upon to pay the subsidies shipowners rely upon to serve the islands.

Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist) at Serifos.

Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist) at Serifos.

Favourite crossing
Frederikshavn to Gothenburg sailings on the Stena Danica and the Stena Scanrail were real highlights, as was the day-long transit with the Ferry Azalia from Tsuruga to Niigata and overnight on the Kitakami from Tomakomai to Sendai. However, the two night sailing between Venice and Patras with ANEK Lines’ Kriti II in August was really special, on an elderly ferry which was subsequently withdrawn. Departure from Venice through the Canale della Giudecca was spectacular and the sail down the Croatian coast, to Igoumenitsa, Corfu and finally the old port of Patras was memorable. ANEK’s occasionally average service standards were not an issue on this sailing and even the food was pretty good. One cannot imagine quite the same experience will be enjoyed aboard the replacement Italian ro-paxes which have now been deployed on the route.

The Kriti II leaving Venice in August.

The Kriti II leaving Venice.

Best food
The lasagne on the Superspeed 2 and the buffet on the Hamlet were excellent, our ability to nearly cause a fire whilst self-cooking waffles on the latter notwithstanding. The Steam Packet’s Manannan amazingly conjured up an excellent plate of pasta. Best of all, however, was “Le Piana” restaurant aboard CMN’s new flagship. Locally-sourced and beautifully presented, this company consistently serves up the best food on any Mediterranean ferries.

Dinner on the Piana.

Dinner on the Piana in July.

Dover in June.

Dover in June.

The weather
2012 was supposedly the wettest summer in Britain for 100 years and yet almost every time I ventured to sea this year the sun was shining. When the weather did turn, however, it went wild with a vengeance. Heading out on a day trip in the worst typhoon Japan had seen in 53 years was perhaps ill-advised, leaving us stranded for the night on the island of Shodoshima. Happily the good people at Kokusai Ferry kindly took us under their wing and arranged a stay in a splendid local hotel and onward travel which got us back on track the next day.

2nd April - a perfect sunny day in Takamatsu.

2nd April - a perfect sunny day in Takamatsu.

3rd April - typhoon in Shodoshima.

3rd April - typhoon in Shodoshima.

Kokusai Maru No 32 trying and failing to berth at Shodoshima.

Kokusai Maru No 32 ('Giraffe Ferry') trying and failing to berth at Shodoshima.

Worst ferry
I can struggle to think of any redeeming features of the Isle of Man Steam Packet’s Ben-my-Chree. She may be a reliable freighter but the experience for the general passenger is woeful with poorly thought-out and dreary saloons. When Bornholmstraffiken ordered a subsequent pair of this off-the-shelf design they instructed the best in the business to try and bring some dignity to the passenger spaces but even Steen Friis Hansen could improve things only marginally. Absent any such guiding hand, the Ben-my-Chree remains a real stinker.

Worst crossing
Grandi Navi Veloci’s Splendid, sailing between Genoa and Olbia in June, was late, dirty and had the rudest crew members I’ve seen in years, with some in the cafeteria hurling abuse at passengers and another in one of the bars who took my money and then tried not to provide the paid-for drinks. The ship was a great advertisement for the competing services of Moby and Tirrenia.

Splendid?

Splendid?

Pride of Burgundy, January.

Pride of Burgundy, January.


Worst maintained ships
What is wrong with P&O?

Pride of York, June.

Pride of York, June.

Pride of Kent, October.

Pride of Kent, October.

Most decrepit ferries
A distinction can be made between poor general deck maintenance and the pits of on-board decrepitude that befalls some Southern European ferries when some passenger spaces fall into disuse. As with the Seatrade in 2011, venturing into certain areas of the Theofilos and Ile de Beaute made one wonder just how things had got into this state.

Theofilos's indoor swimming pool.

Theofilos's indoor swimming pool.

One of Ile de Beaute's abandoned toilet blocks.

Inside one of the Ile de Beaute's abandoned toilet blocks.

The Eurovoyager at Oostende, 2008.

The Eurovoyager at Oostende, 2008.


So. Farewell then.
Quite a few familiar ships have headed to the scrapyards in the past twelve months, including the Eurovoyager (ex-Prins Albert), the Scotia Prince (ex-Stena Olympica), the Manxman and the Rosalia. I will, however, perhaps most remember the passing of the two British ferry flagships from my childhood: Sealink’s St Nicholas (ex-Prinsessan Birgitta, later Normandy) and P&O’s ‘Chunnel Beater’ Pride of Dover. The latter headed for the scrap yard in the same year as representatives of the two previous generations of Townsend ferries: the former Free Enterprise V, and the Spirit of Free Enterprise.

To me, the 1979 Spirit class showed Townsend Thoresen at their very best, the sheer arrogant brutality and originality of their design in many ways epitomising TT in their peak years. Somehow the Pride of Dover and her sister lacked a similar dynamism but perhaps this was partly through choice: entering service under a post-Herald cloud, the flamboyance and aggressiveness that defined TT had now suddenly to switch to an era in which P&O European Ferries were a sober and reassuring cross-Channel choice. Externally, by adding length but not height to the Spirit class, they were always too squat to claim either conventional attractiveness or the eye-catching brutalism of their predecessors. The ‘Dover’ looked her best with a P&O full blue hull; she was not helped when P&O adopted the current “pants pulled down” livery.

On board, the pair really were scaled-up Spirits and whilst they expanded on the successes of that class and proved formidable freight movers over more than two decades, even when delivered their interiors were disappointing. In 1987 Shippax memorably published an image of one of the Pride of Dover’s old-fashioned seating lounges, contrasting it unfavourably with other recent ferries. To avoid embarrassing her owners in front of the industry they did not name the ship but the point was harshly reinforced within a couple of years when Sealink’s Fantasia and Fiesta were delivered, which prompted the first of a couple of significant refurbishments. Despite these modifications, few of the original passenger saloons ever really achieved coherence or attractiveness.

Nonetheless, with their scale and reliability and with the express operation P&O were able to subsequently pioneer, the two ships helped to show how the ferry industry could survive in a post-Tunnel era and the demise of the Pride of Dover without any chance of a second career is regrettable.

I will miss the Normandy rather more, even though by the time I got to know her she was well past her best (some would say the ship was in decay from the moment she was handed over to Sealink in 1983). There was nothing old-fashioned or miserly about Sessan’s final ferries; from the lavish dining saloons to the vast tiered show lounges, these beautifully-appointed jumbo ferries had a significant influence, even if the operator who ordered them had been subsumed into Stena before they fully entered service. Almost unthinkably the Kronprinsessan Victoria (now Stena Europe) has gone on to become Stena’s longest-serving passenger ship; but her sister passed from operator to operator over the years, never really being looked after by anyone, least of all her neglectful final owners who abandoned the ship to the ravages of the Singaporean climate, making her demise sadly inevitable.

Spirit of Britain

P&O’s Spirit of Britain, now in service on the Dover-Calais route, is the first purpose-built passenger ship for this operator on this service since 1987 and the new ship’s vast scale makes her perhaps the most significant new Dover ship since that 1987 pair, the Pride of Calais and Pride of Dover.

On a technical level the ship dispenses with various Townsend/P&O short sea traditions – from the clam shell vehicle deck doors used on all local ships since 1979 to the triple-screw arrangement which had been a feature on passenger newbuilds from the Free Enterprise IV in 1969 to the 1987 Prides. The new ship instead has a more conventional twin-screw layout with a bulbous bow forward rather than the bow rudders of the 1980s-era ships; one consequence of this is that the Sprit of Britain will most often turn inside the harbour on departure from Calais whereas the Pride of Dover/Calais usually reversed right out of port and turned outside the harbour entrance.

Initial reviews of the vessel’s passenger spaces have been slightly mixed; P&O have always been rather traditional at heart and it seems to show in this ship. Whereas rival predecessors such as the Seafrance Rodin and the Maersk Dunkerque made expressive use of light and space in an effort to make a positive and attention-grabbing impact on the ferry zeitgeist, there is little, if anything, here which is revolutionary or untried in other ships from a variety of other operators. There is no doubting though that the Spirit of Britain has been built to an exceptional standard, and the ship is certainly head and shoulders above any of the other P&O ferries at Dover.

Spirit of Britain passenger decks general arrangement.

Spirit of Britain passenger decks general arrangement.

General Arrangement

The layout of the Spirit of Britain’s passenger decks is interesting; the lower of the two, Deck 8, is almost perfectly symmetrical. Right aft is an area of open deck with, just forward, ‘The Bar’, ahead of which are a pair of broad side arcades fronting onto the centrally located shop; the reception desk and bureau de change are situated on the starboard side. Right forward is the ‘Family Lounge’ where the internal focus of the circular central section can be seen as a scaled-up version of the forward saloons on Seafrance Rodin and Berlioz.

Spirit of Britain: 'The Bar'.

Spirit of Britain: 'The Bar'.

A corner of The Bar, overlooked by Tower Bridge.

A corner of The Bar, overlooked by Tower Bridge.

Spirit of Britain: the Bar.

Spirit of Britain: The Bar.

Spirit of Britain: The Family Lounge.

Spirit of Britain: The Family Lounge.

The centre section of the Family Lounge, whose inward focus is reminiscent of the forward saloons of the Seafrance Rodin and Seafrance Berlioz.

The centre section of the Family Lounge, whose inward focus is reminiscent of the forward saloons of the Seafrance Rodin and Seafrance Berlioz.

Seafrance Berlioz: Latitudes.

Seafrance Berlioz: Latitudes.

In contrast, up on Deck 9, where the Brasserie, self-service (the ‘Food Court’), Club Lounge and ro-ro drivers’ area can be found, the layout is anything but symmetrical or, indeed, easily navigable: each of these spaces is effectively reached by a dedicated staircase from the deck below (the ro-ro area is walk-through and can be reached from either the red (self service, forward) or yellow (Brasserie, just aft of amidships) staircases). The Club lounge and outside decks are accessed via the aft blue stairway. Unless one walks through the ro-ro drivers’ area there is no possibility of fore/aft passage on this deck.

Although the arrangement on Deck 8 in particular draws considerably from the ‘Darwin’ sisters (the current Prides of Canterbury/Kent), from an historical perspective a near-symmetrical plan for the lower deck incorporating this kind of perimeter circulation pattern, combined with a distinctly asymmetrical plan upstairs is actually intriguingly outside P&O/Townsend Dover practice going as far back as the Free Enterprise IV. It is, in fact, more in line with the traditions of the railway fleets, being similar in concept to the plans adopted by such ships as the Vortigern, Cote d’Azur or Fantasia; indeed the plan for Deck 8 is actually quite a close rendering of the basic concept of that of the Hengist and her sisters with bars forward and aft, side circulation via de-facto side lounges amidships inboard of which can be found a shopping centre. The execution, styling and scale, it should be pointed out, bears little in common with the railway vessels.

Spirit of Britain passenger orientation routes compared to some other notable Dover Strait car ferries.

Spirit of Britain main deck passenger orientation routes compared to some other notable Dover Strait car ferries.

The Deck 9 arrangement is perhaps best understood in terms of what I have an awful feeling P&O designers might call “destination venues” – places to eat or be pampered rather than ‘merely’ to sit or drink. Clearly, a decision was made at an early stage to repeat the formula of the two previous key reference generations – the Prides of Dover/Calais and the ‘Darwins’ – to locate these saloons upstairs. The solution does give the key benefit of allowing a single galley to service the Food Court, Brasserie, ro-ro restaurant, Club lounge (which also offers light snacks) and crew mess areas with no upstairs/downstairs movement of food. On the other hand it does leave the public restaurants in particular rather out of the way; P&O doubtless believe that anyone who wants to eat aboard will hunt out their preferred facility anyway, minimising any revenue loss.

Passenger orientation: the money motive?

With the latter point in mind, it is also worth noting that the majority of saloon-to-saloon movements a passenger is likely to make whilst aboard require them to walk past the large, brightly lit and inviting shopping centre. The inability to transit between the forward and aft parts of Deck 9, say from the self service to the Club lounge or outside decks, means that one has first to return down to Deck 8, walk past (and hopefully into) the shop, before heading up one of the aft staircases. This reliance on Deck 8 as the orientation deck further underscores the importance of its easily-understood general arrangement.

Spirit of Britain: port-side arcade with the shop inboard.

Spirit of Britain: port-side arcade with the shop inboard.

Pride of Kent: starboard-side arcade.

Pride of Kent: starboard-side arcade.

P&O have also adopted a simple colour-coding system aboard with, for example, the red colour of the forward staircase being echoed in the colour schemes of the self service, family lounge and entranceway to the ro-ro lounge. The two other primary colours of the P&O houseflag, blue and yellow, form the schemes for the after two stairwells. Generally, however, the staircases and especially the lobby spaces are disappointing, the latter repeating the featureless seen on the ‘Darwins’ where other STX newbuilds have made more of an effort.

Spirit of Britain: Red staircase.

Spirit of Britain: Red staircase.

Spirit of Britain: forward staircase at Deck 8 level.

Spirit of Britain: forward staircase at Deck 8 level.

Pride of Kent: aft lobby.

Pride of Kent: aft lobby.

Spirit of Britain: Club lounge entrance.

Spirit of Britain: Club lounge entrance.

Self service upstairs and forward

Previous ships to have given such a prime location to the self service restaurant include the Spirit of Free Enterprise and her sisters, the Pride of Burgundy of 1993 and, perhaps most relevantly, Norfolkline’s recent Maersk ‘D’ class. P&O/Townsend had a consistent self service aesthetic involving fixed moulded fibreglass seating on ships from the Spirit of Free Enterprise until as recently as the ‘Darwins’. This is comprehensively rejected in the new ship’s Food Court in favour of a more modern approach, which is actually rather understated and also owes something to other recent Aker/STX deliveries such as Tallink’s Star or Viking XPRS.

The adjacent Commercial Drivers’ area, complete with showers, sleeper seats, separate hot food servery, and outside deck is excellent and, again, takes some cues from the ‘D’ class.

Spirit of Britain: The Food Court.

Spirit of Britain: The Food Court.

Spirit of Britain: The Food Court.

Spirit of Britain: The Food Court.

Maersk Dover: Panorama Self Service.

Maersk Dover: Panorama Self Service.

Pride of Canterbury: in contrast, the old-school International Food Court.

Pride of Canterbury: in contrast, the old-school International Food Court.

The Spirit of Britain's Food Court offers seating for all sizes of passenger.

The Spirit of Britain's Food Court offers seating for all sizes of passenger.

Spirit of Britain: Commercial Drivers' lounge.

Spirit of Britain: Commercial Drivers' lounge.

Spirit of Britain: Commercial Drivers' lounge.

Spirit of Britain: Commercial Drivers' lounge.

Maersk Dover: Road Kings relaxation lounge.

Maersk Dover: Road Kings relaxation lounge.

Club Lounge and the Brasserie

The coolly luxurious Club Lounge on the Darwin sisters was perhaps their biggest success and the decor of the equivalent space on the new ships draws on this, to a degree at least. What is more surprising, however, is both the size and the location: unlike the ‘Darwins’ and the Prides of Dover and Calais, which gave over the entire forward part of the upper deck to the Club Lounge, on the Spirit of Britain this and the Brasserie restaurant are squeezed in aft on the starboard side, effectively swapping places with the self service when compared to the previous generations. This switch does give the benefit of being able to offer a dedicated outside deck for Club, but the vibration in this part of the ship does not particularly lend itself to such a premium space.

Perhaps most unexpected though is the Club Lounge’s size: the saloon, excluding the outside deck, offers less than half the area of its predecessors. A calculation was apparently made by reference to the numbers of people who actually used the lounge but this appears to entirely miss the point that not only do Club passengers pay a premium for the champagne and nibbles but also for the feeling of space that may be denied to them elsewhere on board during a busy crossing.

Spirit of Britain: Club lounge.

Spirit of Britain: Club lounge.

Pride of Kent: Club lounge.

Pride of Kent: Club lounge.

The Brasserie, stripped of the previous Langan’s name, has a fine entranceway with boutique “shopping opportunities” possibly influenced by that of the Romantiques restaurant on Brittany Ferries’ Mont St Michel. Beyond the entrance the Brasserie is, however, curiously bland and somehow missing a touch of luxury.

Spirit of Britain: The Brasserie.

Spirit of Britain: The Brasserie.

Spirit of Britain: entrance to the Brasserie.

Spirit of Britain: entrance to the Brasserie.

Mont St Michel: entrance to Les Romantiques.

Mont St Michel: entrance to Les Romantiques.

Signage

I struggle to think of another ferry where the company insignia is so prominently displayed throughout and there is no doubting this is a P&O ship through and through. The treatment of the stairwell entranceways on the vehicle decks is reminiscent of the ‘D’ Class but all general directional signage aboard is similar to recent Tallink ships, in the form of deckhead-mounted panels. The black-on-yellow scheme however takes a clear steer from that still found at many British airports and derived from concepts drawn up by the doyens of British signage, Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert.

Spirit of Britain: general signage.

Spirit of Britain: general signage.

Tallink's Star.

Tallink's Star.

Spirit of Britain: car deck stairwell treatment.

Spirit of Britain: car deck stairwell treatment.

Maersk Dunkerque.

Maersk Dunkerque.

P&O + recycling = the halo effect?

P&O + recycling = the halo effect?

The giant human figure pictograms on the doors leading to the lavatories are a nod to Warren Platner’s work on the Fantasia and Fiesta, as indeed is the raised centre section of the self-service – designed on Platner’s ships to provide a view of the sea over the heads of other diners, thus ensuring that “each table should be the best seat in the house”.

Spirit of Britain.

Spirit of Britain.

Fiesta.

Fiesta.

Throughout Deck 8, there are panels featuring images of well known British landmarks; from the Angel of the North and the ‘Gherkin’ to the Palace of Westminster and Stonehenge, this is a mixture of contemporary and historical Britain into which P&O doubtless consider their own story, up to and including their new ship, is interwoven. At the Red Staircase on Deck 8 is a large panel offering a history of P&O; this could be compared to the Viking XPRS whose stairwells feature photomurals of earlier ships but here it is much less extensive and there is a degree of picking and choosing history: North Sea Ferries’ Norland had a fine Falkland’s War pedigree but only later did she became a fully-fledged P&O ship. There is a nice image of the Lion entering Dover, but the more locally relevant name of Townsend Thoresen is nowhere to be found. The Norland also reappears in one of the photographs from the P&O archive displayed outside the Club Lounge whilst her bell is to be preserved inside the lounge itself.

North Sea Ferries' Norland features in this picture outside the Club lounge.

North Sea Ferries' Norland features in this picture outside the Club lounge.

Outside decks

By P&O standards the outside decks are, if not particularly extensive, quite appealing with sturdy deck furniture and free to use fixed telescopes available to view the passing seascape. An attempt has been made to segregate smoking from non-smoking deck areas but initial indications are that the distinction is not being observed in practice. A deck bar is also provided for Summer use – something not seen on Dover ships since the former Stena Fantasia and Stena Empereur. The Club lounge’s own dedicated area of outside deck meanwhile harks back not just to the Motorist Lounge “pens” on the aft decks of the St Anselm and St Christopher in Sealink British Ferries service, but also the more strictly segregated first and second class deck areas on railway steamers in the earlier part of the last century. One genuinely new innovation is a small section of dedicated deck space for freight drivers, amidships on the starboard side and accessed directly from the ro-ro lounge.

Spirit of Britain: aft on Deck 8.

Spirit of Britain: aft on Deck 8.

Club lounge - dedicated outside deck.

Club lounge - dedicated outside deck.

Who's watching who?

Who's watching who?

Vehicle decks

The vehicle decks follow trends set by the ‘D’ Class, and before that the Ulysses. The concepts on the Maersk ships in particular have clearly been studied, and the arrangement of two freight decks with a passenger car deck above, and nearest to the accommodation, is identical, albeit scaled up to reflect the larger ship. As on the ‘D’ Class the topmost car deck, whose height is rather greater than on the Maersk ships enabling use by smaller vans, is reached by ramps fore and aft from the upper freight deck so the potential traffic conflict between the two is also inherited – something unavoidable with the present linkspan arrangements at Dover and Calais. How the top car deck will be utilised on busy sailings remains to be seen, but the deck markings seem to suggest that a variant of the Maersk system whereby cars drive aboard in one quarter, execute a complete loop of the vehicle deck before lining up to disembark from the opposite quarter may be used. The P&O ships however have ramps in all four quarters and therefore much more flexibility exists.

Spirit of Britain: the forward end of the upper car deck.

Spirit of Britain: the forward end of the upper car deck.

Spirit of Britain: Deck 3 Freight Deck (STX image).

Spirit of Britain: Deck 3 Freight Deck (STX image).

Conclusions

There is almost no doubting that the Spirit of Britain will be a tremendous commercial success. P&O paid a premium to have the ship built at a European shipyard with the highest of reputations and that investment has been rewarded with a high quality of finish. And, if she fails to match the aesthetic highs of other recent day ferries such as Tallink’s Star or even, in places, the Maersk Dunkerque and her sisters, P&O will not be too concerned. Few passengers are won by aesthetics alone: the P&O brand almost gives them a pass in such respects as comfort and a certain quality of service are presumed to be a given. And, if the company has managed to remain clear ferry market leaders with its current Dover fleet – a combination of the grotty, the regrettable and the forgettable – this ship’s comfortable and modern saloons, decent food and dependable service will only cement that leadership. Besides which, it would be churlish to say the Spirit of Britain is not in her own right splendid; she is in almost every respect leagues ahead of the outdated Prides of Dover and Calais and is likely to be making money for P&O after most of her rivals and contemporaries have passed into memory.

Blast from the past: Southern Ferries’ Eagle

She served for so briefly and it seems so long ago now that (P&O) Southern Ferries’ Eagle of 1971 has almost been forgotten when reviewing the history of the British ferry. She was, however, a remarkable ship, straddling the ferry/cruise ship divide we take so for granted today that it is almost retrospectively applied to the past. Things were not quite so clear cut back then however and the Eagle, with her all en-suite cabins, meal-inclusive fares and built to US Coast Guard standards with potential future use in mind, followed a similar pattern to her predecessors on sailings to the Iberian peninsular, Kloster’s Sunward (1966, briefly) and the Patricia of Svenska Lloyd (1967 onwards) in offering a mini cruise option which at times almost dominated the car ferry aspects in publicity.

The Eagle, as imagined.

The Eagle, as imagined.

The real thing.

The real thing.

More from the introductory brochure.

More from the introductory brochure.

Fares for the 1971 season: the cheapest mini cruise was £29 per person between Southampton and Lisbon in one of the C Deck 4 berth cabins; the most expensive £75 in one of the B Deck suites. Standard singles and returns were more expensive. Passage was also offerred between Lisbon and Tangier only.

Fares for the 1971 season: the cheapest mini cruise was £29 per person between Southampton and Lisbon in one of the C Deck 4 berth cabins; the most expensive £75 in one of the B Deck suites. Standard singles and returns were more expensive. Passage was also offerred between Lisbon and Tangier only.

The Eagle’s introductory brochure covers all bases by calling her “the new cruise liner car ferry” and, operating a Southampton-Lisbon-Tangier service, she sailed direct to some of the most fashionable holiday regions of the age. Algeciras in Southern Spain was later added to the schedule. The ship’s hull lines were designed by ferry specialists Knud E Hansen, and supposedly optimised for the Bay of Biscay whilst there was a noticeable bulwark aft of the mooring deck to keep the worst of the waves off the forward superstructure, a feature missing from the Eagle’s two half-sisters, Fred. Olsen’s Bolero and Paquet’s Massalia.

The passenger accommodation was rather intriguingly finished, much use being made of bold colours and vinyl wall coverings, with the Red Room Lounge Bar and the lime-green Panoramic Lounge particularly notable although the choice of a quite distracting paisley orange and green colour scheme in the ten cabins de luxe was maybe regrettable. The design ethos of architects George Trew Dunn however was perhaps the Eagle’s most long-standing contribution to the evolution of ferry design, the firm conceiving an almost “disposable” interior which could be renewed every five or ten years rather than the “last for life” attitude which had heretofore prevailed. Dismissing concerns as to how the most contemporary aspects would look in the long run, as they could be replaced, would supposedly enable interior design to be more “of the moment”, and, alas, just as quickly “of the past” as the cycle of fashion moved round. None of which carried much weight with Design Magazine, the house magazine of the Council of Industrial Design, which quite scathingly commented that “good taste is not usually the top priority of the holiday maker, and though the architects have used the better furnishing firms available the mixture they have produced is at best entertaining, at worst restless and irritating. But … as the architects say, [it] can always be replaced.”

Deckplan.

Deckplan.


C Deck, above the garage, was essentially a cabin deck with reception and a shopping centre amidships.

C Deck, above the garage, was essentially a cabin deck with reception and a shopping centre amidships.

Moving upwards, on B Deck forward were more cabins whilst, aft of the forward lobby was the first of two restaurants, the more informal Garden Restaurant.

Moving upwards, on B Deck forward were more cabins whilst, aft of the forward lobby was the first of two restaurants, the more informal Garden Restaurant.

The Garden Restaurant.

The Garden Restaurant.


This starboard side arcade connected the forward lobby to the aft Aquila Restaurant; a playroom, nursery and hairdressers could be accessed off the arcade.

This starboard side arcade connected the forward lobby to the aft Aquila Restaurant; a playroom, nursery and hairdressers could be accessed off the arcade.

The playroom.

The playroom.

The hairdressing salon.

The hairdressing salon.


The Aquila Restaurant.

The Aquila Restaurant.

On A Deck, forward was the sombre Club Room.

On A Deck, forward was the sombre Club Room.


Aft of the A Deck forward lobby was a grand sweep of public rooms beginning with the Red Room lounge and bar. This is the view looking forward in the bar area with the counter on the left.

Aft of the A Deck forward lobby was a grand sweep of public rooms beginning with the Red Room lounge and bar. This is the view looking forward in the bar area with the counter on the left.

The forward lounge section of the Red Room.

The forward lounge section of the Red Room.


The Red Room at night.

The Red Room at night.

Leading on from the Red Room was what was originally the Golden Eagle Discotheque, provided with stylised glassfibre eagles and bronzed mirrors.

Leading on from the Red Room was what was originally the Golden Eagle Discotheque, provided with stylised glassfibre eagles and bronzed mirrors.

The disco later served as the Lido Bar.

The disco later served as the Lido Bar.

The Lido bar counter.

The Lido bar counter.

The highest public room on board was the Panoramic Bar on the Sun Deck, above the Bridge Deck. This is the view looking forward in the starboard side entranceway.

The highest public room on board was the Panoramic Bar on the Sun Deck, above the Bridge Deck. This is the view looking forward in the starboard side entranceway.

An overall view of the Panoramic Bar.

An overall view of the Panoramic Bar.

The ship's bridge.

The ship's bridge.

Looking at the cabins, all had en-suite facilities but the most basic were inside with four berths on C Deck.

Looking at the cabins, all had en-suite facilities but the most basic were inside with four berths on C Deck.

An outside 4-berth cabin, as found on C, D and E Decks.

An outside 4-berth cabin, as found on C, D and E Decks.

The more expensive cabins were found on B Deck and Bridge Deck, being a combination of suites and De Luxe cabins, the latter as shown here with decor which the 'Shipping World & Shipbuilder' not unreasonably described as 'startling'.

The more expensive cabins were found on B Deck and Bridge Deck, being a combination of suites and De Luxe cabins, the latter as shown here with decor which the 'Shipping World & Shipbuilder' not unreasonably described as 'startling'.

The Eagle managed to last just five seasons; the recessionary aftermath of the OPEC oil crisis in 1973 severely undermined traffic and she was sold to the Nouvelle Compagnie de Paquebots, already owners of her half-sister the Massalia, becoming their Azur. Like the flamboyant Sunward, which had crossed the Atlantic and become the first successful modern Miami cruise ship, securing a place as perhaps one of the World’s most influential passenger ships in the second half of the twentieth century, the Azur’s future lay in cruising, and she was permanently converted in 1981 with additional cabin accommodation on her former garage deck. Chartered to Chandris from 1987 to 1994, slightly renamed as ‘The Azur’, the ship retained this name for the subsequent decade operating for Festival Cruises. Since the latter’s’ demise in 2004 the ship, now the Royal Iris, has remained a familiar sight in mainstream Southern European cruise destinations, catering specifically for the Israeli market of operators Mano Maritime.

The Eagle passes beneath the Salazar Bridge (later the 25 de Abril Bridge after the Carnation Revolution of 1974) in Lisbon.

The Eagle passes beneath the Salazar Bridge (later the 25 de Abril Bridge after the Carnation Revolution of 1974) in Lisbon.

The ship in her second guise as Paquet's Azur.

The ship in her second guise as Paquet's Azur.

The Azur transits the Corinth canal.

The Azur transits the Corinth canal.

The Royal Iris at Heraklion, Summer 2008.

The Royal Iris at Heraklion, Summer 2008.

Funnels: Pride of Kent

Pride of Kent, 1 July 2007 (click for larger image)

Pride of Kent, 1 July 2007 (click for larger image)

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