Blast from the Past: Norwave & Norwind

Norwind & Norwave, “grandmother and grandfather to today’s ferries”, especially for Timo Selkala.

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 Thoresen Vikings and I stand by my suggestion that these were perhaps the most significant of all for they were the first drive-through ships and showed directly what modern ferry design could do on areas of operation previously dismissed as unprofitable.

Amongst the other significant independent British-based car ferries of the 1960s however were Townsend’s Free Enterprise, Normandy Ferries’ Dragon and Leopard, Burns & Laird’s Lion, Tor Line’s Tor Hollandia and Tor Anglia, Lion Ferry’s original Prins Hamlet and not forgetting Svenska Lloyd and Rederi AB Svea’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 Britain’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, 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 sisters’ 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 world’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 family’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 ship’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.

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