Posts tagged: seafrance

That Was The Year That Was – 2011

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If, as I do, you attribute to passenger ferries some of the characteristics of human beings, the cycle of life can be unsettling and, occasionally, brutal. How did those jumbo ferries with which I grew up suddenly become middle-aged? Why are the outside decks of the cutting-edge Norsea caked in years of rust? What calamity has befallen the shiny, new Fiesta that has caused her to go for scrap?

In the times of plenty, old favourites would head south for long and, hopefully, fruitful careers. Today, with the Greek economy in particular in ruins, no home can be found for them there. Instead, the scrap yard beckons all too soon and the production line of replacement new ships has all but dried up. Those which did appear in 2011 often seemed to be more dysfunctional than historic.

The veterans which survive often seem to be clinging on, just one unpaid subsidy away from the end. Happily, if you look in the right hidden corners, more than a few remain, shyly eking out a living at the margins of the ferry industry. 2010 was spent saying farewell to some quite well known, doomed, elderly ships; the ferry year of 2011, perhaps more than ever before, was focussed on the marginal, the half-forgotten, the never-remembered.

Based purely on subjective feelings on the 66 ships sailed on or visited in 2011, here are some of the bests and worsts of the year.

Like a trip through space: Abel Matutes

Like a trip through space: Abel Matutes

Best new ferry
The well documented difficulties of the Spirit of Britain somewhat preclude her from taking this title and the only other 2011 newbuild sailed upon was the functional but somewhat derivative Stena Transporter. New to me this year, however, were Balearia’s 2010-built Abel Matutes and SF Alhucemas. Like the Martin i Soler two years ago, these Spanish-built ferries capture a suitably stylish sense of adventure with hints of practical luxury. The Abel Matutes is a large ro-pax whilst the ‘Alhucemas’ is more like a smaller version of the Martin i Soler. Although neither is perfect, they represent an appropriately modern vanguard for the Spanish ferry industry in the second decade of this century.

Stena Superfast VII leaving Belfast

Stena Superfast VII leaving Belfast


Best conversion
The lack of a particularly vintage crop of new vessels leaves the Stena Superfasts as the most impressive ferries newly sampled this year. Whereas in their previous incarnations the pair were comfortable and pleasant overnight ships the new-found, peculiar genius of Figura has seen them transformed into something quite special. Alongside the new port in Cairnryan they form the centrepiece of a determined attempt to wrest back Stena’s lost dominance on the North Channel – a project which deserves to succeed, if nothing else than for its breathtaking boldness. One does wonder if (or over how long a period) the revamped operation can possibly repay all the investment.

On the down side, see also ‘Worst food’ below.

The Rosella at Mariehamn

The Rosella at Mariehamn


Worst conversion
I found the work done by Viking Line to the Rosella somewhat underwhelming. The surviving bits of the ship’s original interiors are clearly much smarter than the new – it’s that bit too apparent that the designers were working to a strict budget. The conversion of former cabins on Deck 4 to public toilets by the expediency of removing the bunks and adding a “W.C.” sign outside the en-suite sums this one up.

The veteran Maria Maddalena at Ponza.

The veteran Maria Maddalena at Ponza.


Best classic ferry

The Maria Maddalena was built in 1955 as the Ærøskøbing for Danish domestic service between her namesake hometown and Svendborg. Sold after just four years, she has spent the past half century in Italian coastal service, and now serves the remote island of Ponza for SNAP. This little ship is a remarkable survivor and, on board, retains more than could be expected of her original outfit, from the wooden planked vehicle deck to the vintage bridge.

Favourite crossing
When boarding the Ionian King for a departure from Brindisi to Corfu, Igoumenitsa and Zante in August the ship was surprisingly busy. Having planned to sleep, in line with Brindisi tradition, beneath the stars we found that we were able to negotiate a quite beneficial ‘cash only’ price for a cabin at the purser’s desk. This turned out to be a quite swish Japanese original, complete with shoji screens and Shin Nihonkai blankets. By the time we finally awoke the following morning, with our intermediate ports of call long behind us, we found the ship virtually and delightfully deserted for the eight hour leg to the so-called party island. Further exploration of this big and beautiful overnight ferry reconfirmed my previous thoughts: that the Ionian King and Ionian Queen were truly the finest ferries on the southern Adriatic. Sadly, within weeks, the ‘King’ had left Europe and returned to Japan for operation as a neo-cruise ship between Shanghai and Nagasaki. This sailing was the perfect way to say goodbye.

Leaving Zante on the Ionian Star. Even the rusty hulk of the long laid-up Odysseas Elytis must be better than this.

Leaving Zante on the Ionian Star. Even the rusty hulk of the long laid-up Odysseas Elytis must be better than this.

Worst crossing

The very next sailing after the Ionian King was Tyrogalas’ Ionian Star from Zante to Kyllini. In contrast, this ship was filled to the brim to the degree that many motorists retreated to their cars whilst for many of the rest of us the only ‘seats’ to be found were the stairs leading up from the car decks. An unpleasant experience.

Spirit of Britain: before and after

Spirit of Britain: before and after

Worst maintained ship
The generally decrepit Seatrade of Ventouris Ferries was probably the most unsettling ferry sailed on this year. However, the disgraceful decline of the outside decks on P&O’s brand new Spirit of Britain between my first sailing in January and most recent in October outdo even the most lackadaisical of Greek operators. Despite the ship’s widely-reported operational problems, there can be few excuses for this lack of basic maintenance.

Special mention should also be made of the small but stinky brown deposit left on the wall by the lavatory of our otherwise clean bathroom aboard Polferries’ Scandinavia. Whoops.

Not so Taste-y: Stena Superfast VIII

Not so Taste-y: Stena Superfast VIII

Worst food
No self service. Just fast food. In a box. Even the menu in the Plus Lounge on the Stena Superfasts has been dumbed down. A big, big shame.

Elsewhere, the Marrakech was predictably dismal whilst both of the ships of St Peter Line struggled badly to produce much edible on the smörgåsbord front.

Stena Lagan: dessert selection

Stena Lagan: dessert selection

Best food
It might seem unlikely, but the restaurant on board the Stena Lagan conjured up the most memorable ferry meal of the year on a December sailing between Belfast and Birkenhead. Moderately priced and perfectly formed, one can only hope that this hidden treat isn’t brought into line with the rest of the Stena fleet anytime soon. Honourable mentions also to the Scandinavia and to the Pride of Rotterdam.

The Bore

The Bore


Biggest disappointment
On a hot July evening we found ourselves one of three parties overnighting on the Bore, now in static use in Turku. The lack of ventilation, musty cabins and more than occasional power cuts made for a memorable, if not particularly comfortable, stay. Much remained to be done but, in the ship’s defence, her owners admitted that one of the reasons it was so difficult to book a stay on board was that they had yet to complete all the work they wanted to before having the full, formal launch.

Seafrance Rodin

Seafrance Rodin


So. Farewell then.
I have always felt an affinity for Seafrance; for here, Wightlink apart, were the last true inheritors to the Sealink tradition – including the strikes, the sometimes off-hand (or worse) service and even some of the ships. It contradicts received wisdom to call them a success, but on the surface they were: who, following the end of Sealink in 1996, would have imagined it would be Seafrance rather than Stena that, at their peak, would accommodate as much as 45% of Dover-Calais freight.

However, the whole project was built on financial sand and the end has come as violently for the company as it has for the two ships upon which it was founded: just after the Seafrance Renoir and Seafrance Cezanne headed for the beaches of Turkey, Seafrance stopped sailing. I travelled on the ‘Moliere’ days before the end; unlike deadly crossings earlier in the year on the ‘Rodin’ and ‘Berlioz’, here everything was open, the restaurant served decent food and, if you let yourself day dream just a little, maybe there was a future after all. It was not to be.

Unlike Seafrance and their early ships I cannot say I have great memories of the Romilda (ex-Free Enterprise VIII) but I feel I should at least make mention of her demise. She always seemed to appear on the horizon about thirty minutes beyond which queuing in one of the quayside cattle pens stopped being bearable; arrivals were always just after hoteliers and barkeeps had gone to bed; and the ship was always just that fraction more dilapidated than can be endearing. But still, this was a ship with a heart and when both sailed on routes through the western Cyclades, there was the happy opportunity to compare the Romilda to her longstanding rival, through both British and Greek careers, the Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist). Her familiar presence in Piraeus will be missed.

The Romilda, July 2008.

The Romilda, July 2008.

The ‘new’ Stena Navigator

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The Seafrance Manet in Belfast before being renamed.

The Seafrance Manet in Belfast before being renamed.


The Seafrance Manet at Calais, September 2002.

The Seafrance Manet at Calais, September 2002.


All 2009 & Stena Navigator images courtesy & © Scott Mackey

Less than twelve months ago the newly refurbished Stena Caledonia re-entered service on Stena Line’s Stranraer-Belfast service, operating in tandem with the HSS Stena Voyager. This appeared to be part of a move to re-establish the conventional ferry operation at the expense of the costly HSS, but the acquisition of the 1984-built Seafrance Manet in July to become the route’s second conventional ship was still slightly surprising. Since the sale of the Stena Galloway in 2002, the ‘Caledonia’ had soldiered on alone in support of the ‘Voyager’ which dominated passenger traffic. Whilst freight could and is carried to a degree on the fast craft, before her refit this seemed to be the main role of the former St David. That said, P&O up the coast at Cairnryan and Larne however had achieved a near two-to-one dominance in this market which would have been unthinkable twenty years ago.

The Seafrance Manet was duly repainted in full Stena colours in Dunkerque, sailed to Belfast and formally renamed Stena Navigator; a comprehensive internal refit followed. This is not however the ship’s first time operating for Stena – completed for SNCF-Sealink’s Dover Straits operations in 1984 as the Champs Élysées she was transferred to the Dieppe-Newhaven route in 1990 and, when SNCF’s successors SNAT finally ran out of patience and closed the operation in 1992, the ship passed under charter to Sealink Stena Line under whose guidance the Dieppe link saw a brief resurgence. As the Stena Parisien, latterly in full Stena Line livery, the ship stayed at Dieppe until the end of 1996 when she was returned to her owners, by now Seafrance. She received a complete refit, acquired the name Seafrance Manet and saw a further eleven years service, latterly in a freight only mode, before finally retiring from Seafrance’s active fleet in April 2008. Thereafter she was laid up at Calais and then Dunkerque.

The Côte d'Azur (left) and the Champs Élysées in Dover harbour in the mid-1980s.

The Côte d'Azur (left) and the Champs Élysées in Dover harbour in the mid-1980s.



Stena’s interest in the ship is doubtless due to her size – the tight requirements of Stranraer limit the vessels which can berth there and, with the port’s future uncertain, ‘Stranraer-max’ newbuilds are out of the question. It does not therefore seem likely that this will be a truly long-term purchase, but the ship is still slightly more modern and more capacious from both a passenger and a freight perspective than the Stena Caledonia so she may yet outlast her Belfast-built partner.

Scott Mackey was on board the ‘Navigator’ during her maiden crossing from Belfast to Stranraer on 12 November and has sent a selection of on board photographs. Paired with equivalent images from the ship during her Seafrance Manet days, it is clear that the refurbishment has been comprehensive – although the change is perhaps not as overwhelming as was the case on the Stena Caledonia, it is still perhaps the largest interior upgrade the ship has had in her 25 year career, erasing almost all trace of the three previous thorough refits by SNCF (1990), Stena (1992) and Seafrance (1996).

The interior designers for the Stena Navigator refurbishment were, once again, Figura and the project was managed by MJM Marine.

The Stena Navigator in full Stena livery, late October 2009.

The Stena Navigator in full Stena livery, late October 2009.

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Click above for Champs Élysées (1986) and Seafrance Manet (2002) deckplans and below for a Stena Navigator plan.

The main vehicle deck on the Seafrance Manet (Seafrance image)

The main vehicle deck on the Seafrance Manet (Seafrance image)


Looking forward on the upper vehicle deck (Seafrance Manet, December 2005)

Looking forward on the upper vehicle deck (Seafrance Manet, December 2005)


The same area on the Stena Navigator. In this image the ramp connecting the two vehicle decks is visible - this was installed prior to the ship's transfer to the Dieppe service in 1990.

The same area on the Stena Navigator. In this image the ramp connecting the two vehicle decks is visible - this was installed prior to the ship's transfer to the Dieppe service in 1990.


Looking aft on the upper vehicle deck.

Looking aft on the upper vehicle deck.

As with her half sister (the former Côte d'Azur, now Seafrance Renoir), the Champs-Élysées had side lounges on either side at mezzanine level on the upper vehicle deck. This was filled with reclining seats for use on the Dieppe service but was closed off under Seafrance. The starboard lounge is seen here (through a locked door!) on the 'Manet' in May 2000.

As with her half sister (the former Côte d'Azur, now Seafrance Renoir), the Champs-Élysées had side lounges on either side at mezzanine level on the upper vehicle deck. This was filled with reclining seats for use on the Dieppe service but was closed off under Seafrance. The starboard lounge is seen here (through a locked door!) on the 'Manet' in May 2000.


On the 'Navigator' this area, pictured, is now a truckers' lounge. A similar space on the port side, aft, has become the truckers' restaurant.

On the 'Navigator' this area, pictured, is now a truckers' lounge. A similar space on the port side, aft, has become the truckers' restaurant.


Moving upstairs, on Deck 7 aft is the new 'Met Restaurant' in the location of what was previously the self service on the Seafrance Manet. Although latterly and originally a self service, when the ship was with Stena the first time around, this area was the Monet Restaurant, with the self service on Deck 8.

Moving upstairs, on Deck 7 aft is the new 'Met Restaurant'. Although latterly and originally a self service, when the ship was with Stena the first time around, this area was the Monet Restaurant, with the self service on Deck 8.


Looking across to starboard in the aft section of the self service ('Le Relais') - Seafrance Manet, December 2005.

Looking across to starboard in the aft section of the self service ('Le Relais') - Seafrance Manet, December 2005.


The same area today.

The same area today.


Looking aft on the starboard side (January 2003).

Looking aft on the starboard side (January 2003).


Looking aft on the starboard side (November 2009).

Looking aft on the starboard side (November 2009).


Moving forward, this view is of the aft lobby, looking across to port, on the 'Manet', August 2004.

Moving forward this view is of the aft lobby, looking across to port, on the 'Manet' in August 2004.


The same area today, this time seen from the port side with the entrance to the new childrens' play area visible.

The same area today, this time seen from the port side with the entrance to the new children's play area visible.


Running up the centre line of the ship on Deck 7 for the ship's entire English Channel career was the shopping centre (seen from astern in December 2004).

Running up the centre line of the ship on Deck 7 for the ship's entire English Channel career was the shopping centre (seen from astern in December 2004).


This has now been split into four, with a new childrens' play area (aft), a smaller shop (forward) and two cinemas in between. This is a view of the former, taken from the same angle as the shop picture above.

This has now been split into four, with a new children's play area (aft), a smaller shop (forward) and two cinemas in between. This is a view of the former, taken from the same angle as the shop picture above.


One of the two new cinemas.

One of the two new cinemas.


The remaining shop area on the 'Navigator'.

The remaining shop area on the 'Navigator'.


On either side of the shop, amidships, were a pair of almost classic-style seating lounges. The starboard-side of the pair is seen here in April 2004.

On either side of the shop, amidships, were a pair of almost classic-style seating lounges. The starboard-side of the pair is seen here in April 2004.


The same area today.

The same area today.


The forward lobby, looking across to port, with reception desk (nearest) and bureau de change (background).

The forward lobby on the Seafrance Manet, looking across to port, with reception desk (nearest), bureau de change (far side) and entrance to the shop in between.


The same area in November 2009, with a new 'Guest Services' counter. An internet station has replaced the bureau de change.

The same area in November 2009, with a new 'Guest Services' counter. An internet station has replaced the bureau de change.


Forward on the ship, as built, was the Bar Étoile. It's function as the primary bar on board was consistent through subsequent guises as Bar Saint-Michel (Sealink/Stena) and 'Le Pub' (Seafrance - photographed August 2004).

Forward on the ship, as built, was the Bar Étoile. It's function as the primary bar on board was consistent through subsequent guises as Bar Saint-Michel (Sealink/Stena) and 'Le Pub' (Seafrance - photographed August 2004).


Another view of 'Le Pub', December 2005.

Another view of 'Le Pub', December 2005.


On the Stena Navigator this area has become the Barista Coffee House.

On the Stena Navigator this area has become the Barista Coffee House.


The forward part of 'Le Pub'.

The forward part of 'Le Pub'.


Looking aft towards the bar counter, March 2001.

Looking aft towards the bar counter, March 2001.


A similar view on the Stena Navigator.

A similar view on the Stena Navigator.


The forward stairwell, seen from Deck 8 in December 2002. This originally featured one of the pair of Parisien scenes by the artist Hervé Loilier but latterly was adorned by this copy of Manet's painting, 'Argenteuil'.

The forward stairwell, seen from Deck 8 in December 2002. This originally featured one of a pair of Parisien scenes by the artist Hervé Loilier commissioned for the ship by SNCF but latterly was adorned by this copy of Manet's painting, 'Argenteuil'.


On the Stena Navigator this has been replaced by a sign promoting the Sports Bar (forward on Deck 8).

On the Stena Navigator this has been replaced by a sign promoting the Sports Bar (forward on Deck 8).


The Deck 8 forward lobby at the head of the stairwell, seen in April 2004. To the right (aft) the video games area retained the former Stena 'Video Warp' branding throughout the Seafrance era.

The Deck 8 forward lobby at the head of the stairwell, seen in April 2004. To the right (aft) the video games area retained the former Stena 'Video Warp' branding throughout the Seafrance era.


The video games space is now 'Teen Town'.

The video games space is now 'Teen Town'.


To port off the forward lobby under Seafrance was 'Playzone Le Cirque'. With a new play area downstairs, this has been closed off on the Navigator.

To port off the forward lobby under Seafrance was 'Playzone Le Cirque'. With a new play area downstairs, this has been closed off on the Navigator.


As built the forward saloon on Deck 8 was a 'Buffet Express' but this soon became a wine bar with an interesting choice of decor (as pictured in the late 1980s - note the oddly out of place fixed seating from its original incarnation).

As built the forward saloon on Deck 8 was a 'Buffet Express' but this soon became a wine bar with a slightly clichéd choice of decor (as pictured in the late 1980s - note the oddly out of place fixed seating from the area's original incarnation).


In the Dieppe days this space became the self service Cafe Champs-Elysées. With Seafrance (as pictured in April 2004), it was La Brasserie Bar with a waiter-service restaurant area at the forward end.

In the Dieppe days this space became the self service Cafe Champs-Elysées. With Seafrance (as pictured in April 2004), it was La Brasserie Bar with a waiter-service restaurant area at the forward end.


Stena have completely refurbished this area and it is now a Sports Bar.

Stena have completely refurbished this area and it is now a Sports Bar.


The forward restaurant part of La Brasserie, December 2004.

The forward restaurant part of La Brasserie, December 2004.


The bar counter in the Sports Bar on the Stena Navigator.

The bar counter in the Sports Bar on the Stena Navigator.


The ship's builders' plate survived in one of the lobby areas into the Seafrance era - it is seen here in May 2000.

The ship's builders' plate survived in one of the lobby areas into the Seafrance era - it is seen here in May 2000.


The aft stairwell on the Champs Élysées featured the second of the Hervé Loilier paintings, a street scene of the ship's namesake Parisien avenue. Unlike the matching painting in the forward stairwell, this survived throughout the ship's English Channel service.

The aft stairwell on the Champs Élysées featured the second of the Hervé Loilier paintings, a street scene of the ship's namesake Parisien avenue. Unlike the matching painting in the forward stairwell, this survived throughout the ship's English Channel service.


The replacement on the Stena Navigator, outside what is now Stena Plus, is quite a contrast to its predecessor!

The replacement on the Stena Navigator, outside what is now Stena Plus, is quite a contrast to its predecessor!


The Deck 8 aft lounge was originally the dark and subdued Bar Concorde. Under Sealink Stena this became the Bar Pigalle and with Seafrance the Parisien Cafe (as pictured, January 2003).

The Deck 8 aft lounge was originally the dark and subdued Bar Concorde. Under Sealink Stena this became the Bar Pigalle and with Seafrance the Parisien Cafe (as pictured, January 2003).


The same area is now Stena Plus.

The same area is now Stena Plus.


Looking across to port in La Parisien.

Looking across to port in La Parisien.


An overall view of the new Stena Plus lounge.

An overall view of the new Stena Plus lounge.


Le Parisien, August 2004.

Le Parisien, August 2004.


A corner of Stena Plus, November 2009.

A corner of Stena Plus, November 2009.

Deck 8 aft, December 2005.

Deck 8 aft, December 2005.






Thanks again to Scott Mackey for the Stena Navigator pictures, and to Richard Seville for some background details on the Stena Parisien’s Dieppe-era layout.

Up close: Seafrance Cézanne

Built 1980 as Ariadne for Rederi AB Nordö as a deep-sea ro-ro.
Converted to passenger ferry in 1989/90 and renamed Fiesta for Sealink SNAT Calais-Dover services.
Renamed Seafrance Cézanne 1996.
Retired and laid up since February 2009.
Photographed 25 October 2009, Dunkerque, France, not far from fleetmate Seafrance Renoir.

Link: Fantasia & Fiesta on the main site

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Up close: Seafrance Renoir

Built 1981 as Côte d’Azur for Sealink SNCF Calais-Dover services.
Renamed Seafrance Renoir 1996.
Retired and laid up since April 2009.
Photographed 25 October 2009, Dunkerque, France.





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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