Holyhead to Pembroke – Taking the Scenic Route with Irish Ferries


Introduction

Firstly on behalf of myself and the entire website team I would like to take this opportunity of wishing all of our site visitors a belated Happy New Year and best wishes for 2015. As some of you are more than likely aware in October of last year myself and Paul Cloke undertook a number of crossings of the Irish Sea with Irish Ferries.

Just like previous voyage reports you will find a full photographic account of our trip along with some commentary about the journey itself. As I am not really known for taking internal photographs of ships I have linked to videos produced by Irish Ferries which show their ships and their extensive facilities.

Please accept my apologies for the delay in posting this report but unfortunately a couple of days after arriving back home following the break described in this report my family lost a close much-loved family member. Following the funeral it was straight into Christmas. I should point out here that I work in the retail industry and Christmas for us starts in September but in the last couple of months before the event our work load increases significantly and free time becomes non-existent.

Spending the last few weeks going through photographs and my trip notes has brought back a lot of happy memories of this voyage and once again I am indebted to Paul Cloke not just for his planning skills and for being my chauffeur but for the laughs, the good memories and his friendship.

I will warn you now that this report is a lot longer than originally intended and is quite a read (maybe good pre bed reading) but it was very difficult to summarise a weeks worth of travel into something any shorter. For those who would like the summary, the video below is a slide show of some of the pictures captured during the trip.


 

 

 


Trip Itinerary

As the title of this post implies we would be heading to North Wales to commence our journey. Now most people will probably be thinking, “hmm the scenic route? They must be taking the A487 down the coast to South Wales” err no, that would be far too simple for us!

Anybody who has followed this website for a while will know that we sometimes do things a little ‘outside of the box‘ which some people could quite rightly describe as pure madness (in some ways they are probably right!). During a crossing to Ireland with Stena Line in 2013 we started talking about doing a trip to Dublin with Irish Ferries and like all aspects of life things get forgotten, well that was until August 2014 when Paul Cloke (the timetable genius that he is) said he had an idea. Usually when Paul has an idea in regards to ferry travel you know it’s going to far from conventional and his proposed plan was most definitely not the usual route of going from A to B, lets just say it’s A to C via D eventually ending up at destination B!

As can be seen from the route map below, there was nothing conventional about our journey from North to South Wales at all! We decided that if we were going to travel with Irish Ferries we may as well travel on the whole fleet. Thanks to Paul’s planning we also got a couple of days in France so we decided to stay in the beautiful Breton town of St Malo. During our stay in St Malo we would catch up with a vessel previously based in Dover, the Condor Rapide (ex Speed One) on a day trip to St Helier, Jersey.

In total we would visit seven ports (Holyhead, Dublin, Cherbourg, St Malo, St Helier (Jersey), Rosslare and Pembroke Dock) and we would travel on six ships (Ulysses, Jonathan Swift, Epsilon, Condor Rapide, Oscar Wilde and the Isle of Inishmore) and our journey would cover around 1,982 miles (3,189 km) over a five day period.

map

Map Data © Google, GeoBasis-DE/BKG, Basado en BCN IGN Espana

About Irish Ferries

As this voyage report is primarily about Irish Ferries and their fleet I thought I better include a few words about the company itself.

Irish Ferries is a division of the Irish Continental Group (ICG) PLC, a public company registered in Ireland. The Irish Continental Group was formed (as Irish Continental Line) as an Irish/Scandinavian joint venture in 1972 in order to provide a direct ferry link from Ireland to Continental Europe. This link was inaugurated in 1973 with the then newly built St. Patrick on the route between Rosslare and Le Havre.

In 1992, the Irish Continental Group acquired B&I Line which operated ferry services between Dublin and Holyhead as well as Rosslare and Pembroke Dock. As part of its offer to buy B&I Line, management at ICG undertook to invest in replacing the elderly ferry fleet.

Over the following decade, a major programme of fleet renewal was undertaken involving investment of some €500 million to create one of the most modern ferry fleets in Western Europe. The fleet renewal programme started in May 1995 with the introduction of the Isle of Innisfree (II) on the Dublin-Holyhead route. Following a massive rise in freight traffic the Isle of Innisfree (II) was running to capacity and she was replaced by the larger Isle of Inishmore (II) in March 1997. The Isle of Innisfree (II) was transferred to operate between Rosslare and Pembroke dock.

In July 1999 the Austal Auto Express fast craft Jonathan Swift was introduced on the Dublin to Holyhead route. Capable of cruising at 39 knots she can cross the Irish Sea in about 1hr 50 mins offering customers two sailings a day to and from the Irish capital.

With freight traffic growing at an unprecedented rate on the Dublin-Holyhead service the Isle of Inishmore (II) was now running to capacity and once again Irish Ferries looked to introducing larger tonnage to cope with demand. In March 2001 that the company took delivery of their new twelve deck €100 million flagship, the Ulysses. When introduced into service the Ulysses was the world’s largest car ferry in terms of vehicle capacity. Weighing in at 50,938 GRT and with a length of 209 metres she is still the largest vessel in service on the Irish sea. She is capable of carrying  2,000 passengers and crew, 1,342 cars or 240 trucks.  In 2001 the Ulysses was awarded the title ‘Most Significant New Build – Ferry’ by Lloyds List Cruise & Ferry.

With the Ulysses in service at Dublin the Isle of Inishmore (II) transferred to the Rosslare-Pembroke route replacing the Isle of Innisfree (II). In turn the Isle of Innisfree (II) was offered on the charter market and was taken on charter by P&O Ferries for service from Portsmouth to Cherbourg as the Pride of Cherbourg. With P&O Ferries closing there Portsmouth to France operations in 2005 the Isle of Innisfree (II) eventually found a long-term charter with the Interislander Line (a division of the New Zealand rail company KiwiRail) operating across the Cook Strait linking the ports of Wellington and Picton as their Kaitaki.

The next area to see major investment by the company were the continental routes from Ireland to France. In September 2007 the company took delivery of the 1989 built cruise ferry Kronprins Harald from Color Line. Following a refit she was renamed the Oscar Wilde and replaced the previous vessel, the Normandy, on the routes from Rosslare to Cherbourg and Roscoff.

In November 2013 the company announced that it had chartered the 2011 built Cartour Epsilon to provide additional capacity on the Dublin to Holyhead route during the week. At weekends the ship would be utilised to offer a round trip from Dublin to Cherbourg. Renamed Epsilon, the vessel entered service between Ireland and France in January 2014. Because of the more limited range of cabins and passenger attractions on board the Epsilon when compared to the Oscar Wilde, the route has been marketed as an economy service.

I have included the ICG corporate video in this segment of the report not only to show some of the companies activities but this video also contains some stunning aerial visuals of the Irish Ferries fleet.

For further information on the history of Irish Ferries I can personally recommend a book entitled ‘Irish Ferries – An Ambitious Voyage‘ written by Miles Cowsill and Justin Merrigan and published by Ferry Publications. This richly illustrated publication documents the entire history of the company from its inception to the present day.


© Irish Continental Group/Irish Ferries

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In the day’s leading up to our journey things were starting look a bit problematic on the weather front with gales forecast which resulted in a lot of delays and cancellations on the Irish Sea. At one point the Oscar Wilde’s crossing from Rosslare to Cherbourg was running about 18 hours behind schedule so things didn’t bode too well but that’s something to expect crossing the Irish Sea in October.

A few days before sailing Irish Ferries themselves picked up on what we were doing via social media and tweeted our pre voyage report and were to keep tabs on us during the five days we were away.



Our journey to Holyhead actually commenced in the afternoon of the 10th October. The journey to Wales went well until we reached the Birmingham area when it appeared that every single information sign on the motorway was warning of congestion, accidents and general doom and gloom. As we had plenty of time to spare we decided to come off the motorways and head up to Holyhead via the A5 through the Snowdonia national park. Yes it was dark but it was a clear moonlit night and the mountains of North Wales could be clearly seen.

We eventually arrived in Holyhead following our 380 mile drive from Dover just after 2300 and with the check-in still closed we headed into the ferry terminal for a coffee. Everything in the terminal was closed but we did finally manage to find a drinks machine that was actually working and with drinks in hand we headed back to the car so we could get our heads down for a while.


A Google Street View of the Terminal in Holyhead


The Irish Ferries check-in opened just before 0100 and after checking in we then proceeded to the berth ready to join the Ulysses on her 0240 sailing to Dublin. On our way to the berth we passed the darkened laid up fast ferry Stena Explorer who still has a very uncertain future.

Even though the journey time to Dublin is only a little over 3 hours we decided to book a cabin for this crossing, mainly due to the lateness of the hour and due to the fact that we had a very busy day ahead of us. All vehicle bookings with a cabin are also given priority loading and disembarkation.


MV Ulysses

Dublin-Holyhead

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Tonnage  50,938 GRT
Year Built  2001
Deadweight  10,722
Length  209.02 metres
Breadth  31.84 metres
Draught  6.40 metres
Speed  22 knots
Capacity  1,342 cars or 240 trucks
Passengers  1,875

MV Ulysses – Deck Plan


MV Ulysses – Video

© Standpoint Media/Irish Ferries

We boarded the Ulysses at about 0130 and were directed straight to the upper car deck. One of the first things that struck me driving aboard was the sheer size of the vehicle decks. It is clear that this vessel was designed with one thing in mind and that’s shifting traffic from one side of the Irish Sea to the other. The Ulysses is capable of carrying 240 freight vehicles or 1,342 cars (in total 4,076 lane meters of traffic or if parked end to end, 2.6 miles of traffic can be accommodated) on 6 car decks, 4 of which are capable of carrying freight.

The Ulysses was constructed by Aker Yards in Rauma, Finland in 2001, the same yard that was responsible for building the Spirit of France, Spirit of Britain and the Rodin. As a consequence the internal fit out of the vessel seemed strangely familiar with certain details having been carried to the vessels I am more generally used to. The interior of Ulysses is based on the novel Ulysses by Irish writer James Joyce.

The main passenger facilities of the vessel can be found on deck 9 with the freight drivers, club class and promenade deck situated up on deck 11. Passenger cabins are located from amidships to the stern on deck 10. The internal fit out is to a very high standard and even though the Ulysses is now 13 years old she is very well maintained and was spotlessly clean on board. One of the highlights of the vessel for me was the ‘James Joyce Balcony Lounge‘ on deck 10 which is situated under a glass roofed atrium which looks down into deck 9 above the shop. A full overview of the ships facilities can be found in the deck plan and video above.

After boarding we went straight to our cabin on deck 10 but unfortunately my cabin key refused to work so I visited the reception desk on deck 9 to get it changed, I have to say that the staff were not only very polite and helpful but also very efficient. Irish Ferries fleet of vessels operate with a multinational crew, a lot of the hotel and customer service staff are from Eastern Europe and a theme that you will find running through this entire report is the fact that the crew (well apart from a couple of instances on the Oscar Wilde, more on that later) were all very friendly, efficient and very customer focussed.

After a quick look around I decided to get some sleep and witnessed our departure from Holyhead through the cabin window. After what felt like no more than 15 mins asleep there was announcement over the PA system to say that we were just approaching the River Liffey and would be berthing in Dublin in about 20 minutes. After getting up and heading up on deck I could clearly see the lights of Dublin ahead so we had just enough time to grab a cup of tea before rejoining our vehicle for disembarkation. We arrived in Dublin right on schedule and within 10 minutes were driving off into Dublin to locate our next stop, the all important breakfast!

Arriving in Dublin at 0600 meant that we were rather limited in places where we could get a cooked breakfast near to the port. Earlier research had revealed that the Jurys Inn hotel would accept non guests for breakfast. The hotel offered a self-service buffet breakfast for just over €10 so we filled our boots as we were not expecting to eat again until we joined the Epsilon later on in the afternoon.


Just a light snack


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After our hearty breakfast we headed back to the Irish Ferries terminal for the next leg of our journey back to Holyhead on the Jonathan Swift. With some time to spare before we needed to check we had the chance to photograph the Ulysses on her departure from Dublin. All the photographs were taken from the long stay car park at Irish Ferries Dublin terminal. I have included a Google street view below to show the area in question.


A Google Street view of the Irish Ferries Terminal in Dublin showing the long stay car park which we found ideal for photography

© Paul Cloke

There is a security fence present on the berth side of the car park but the bars are wide enough to put a camera through © Paul Cloke

© Ray Goodfellow

The Seatruck Progress is seen on her berth loading ready for her next departure to Liverpool

© Ray Goodfellow

The sun rises over the River Liffey on what would turn out to be a beautiful sunny day in Dublin

© Ray Goodfellow

With engines running the Ulysses prepares to depart Dublin on her 0805 sailing to Holyhead

© Ray Goodfellow

The Ulysses swings out into the River Liffey

© Ray Goodfellow

The Ulysses showing her cavernous car decks. She is capable of carrying freight vehicles on 4 decks and in total she can carry 240 trucks. That’s a total of 4,076 lane metres which is equivalent to 2.6 miles of traffic.

© Ray Goodfellow

Ulysses catches the rising sun as her bow swings for the open sea

© Ray Goodfellow

Ulysses catches the rising sun as her bow swings for the open sea

© Ray Goodfellow

Ulysses catches the rising sun as her bow swings for the open sea

© Ray Goodfellow

The Ulysses heads down the River Liffey just as the sun rises over the Irish Sea

© Ray Goodfellow

The Ulysses heads down the River Liffey into the sunrise of what would be a beautiful day


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After witnessing the departure of the Ulysses and having left the car in the long-term car park at the port we then walked the short distance to the Irish Ferries terminal ready to check in for our next trip across the Irish Sea on board the fast ferry Jonathan Swift. After a very quick and painless check in we only had a brief wait before being called to board a bus to take us to the berth. Once at the berth it was a quick walk down the ramp on to the ship.


HSC Jonathan Swift

Dublin-Holyhead

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Tonnage 5,989 GRT
Year Built 1999
Deadweight 455
Length 86.6 metres
Breadth 24 metres
Draught 3.2 metres
Speed 39 knots
Capacity 200 cars
Passengers 798

HSC Jonathan Swift – Deck Plan


HSC Jonathan Swift – Video

© Standpoint Media/Irish Ferries

The Jonathan Swift was introduced into service in July 1999 allowing Irish Ferries to directly compete with Stena Line who were operating a fast ferry service to Holyhead from the nearby port of Dun Laoghaire. She was constructed by Austal ships in Henderson, Western Australia.

Following the format of many fast ferries nowadays the Jonathan Swift has passenger accommodation situated over two decks. Deck 4 is the main passenger deck featuring a large open plan lounge, reception desk, bureau de change, catering facilities and a large shop. A central staircase situated under a large circular skylight takes passengers up to deck 5 which houses the Club Class lounge and the outside decks. The ship is very light and airy thanks to the use of large panoramic windows which give everybody a great sea view. For further information on the facilities available on board please look at the deck plan and video above.

Once we were aboard we proceeded directly to the open deck to witness our departure from Dublin. Within minutes of boarding the engines were up and running and with the safety announcement being broadcast we made our way out into the Liffey and we were on our way to Holyhead. It’s worth mentioning at this point that there are three departures from Dublin to Holyhead in the space of about 45 mins. First the Ulysses sailed at 0805, she was then followed by the Stena Adventurer at 0820 and the our own departure at 0845. For this crossing the Jonathan Swift was pretty quiet with not many passengers on board.


© Paul Cloke

The Ulysses heads for the open sea as the Stena Adventurer passes through the port entrance on her 0820 sailing to Holyhead © Paul Cloke

© Ray Goodfellow

We depart from berth 51a into the River Liffey on our 0845 departure to Holyhead. I have mentioned the glorious sunrise already but the weather for crossing the Irish sea was perfect with light winds and calm seas. It was more like a Spring day than a morning in early October.

© Paul Cloke

The Irish Ferries terminal in Dublin as seen from the river © Paul Cloke

© Paul Cloke

The Jonathan Swift has extensive outside deck space, ideal on a morning such as this

© Ray Goodfellow

Slowly cruising down the Liffey heading for the pier heads and the open sea


Shortly after leaving the berth Paul was called to the information desk and returned a few minutes later with two tickets for the Club Lounge. We knew Irish Ferries were following our journey on Twitter but we were not expecting a free upgrade but it was very much appreciated nevertheless. As mentioned earlier the Jonathan Swift has two passenger decks and the top deck is reserved for Club Class customers. We decided to stay out on deck a little while longer to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and to try to get a few shots of the Stena Adventurer which we would soon pass.


© Ray Goodfellow

Shortly after departing the river our speed increased up to our cruising speed of 39 knots and we were soon catching up with the Stena Adventurer which had departed Dublin 25 mins before us

© Paul Cloke

The Stena Adventurer being caught by the Jonathan Swift © Paul Cloke

© Ray Goodfellow

The Irish coast disappears from view and with weather like this I could have quite easily been in Cyprus

© Ray Goodfellow

With the Ulysses on the horizon we get ready to overtake the outbound Stena Adventurer

© Ray Goodfellow

The Stena Adventurer catches the morning light

© Ray Goodfellow

Having come around the stern of the Stena Adventurer we sprint ahead to Wales

© Ray Goodfellow

The Stena Adventurer with Dun Laoghaire port beyond

© Ray Goodfellow

All too soon we were passing through the breakwater at Holyhead after a very enjoyable crossing on the ‘Swift


After passing the Stena Adventurer it was inside to Club Class. The Club Class section of the vessel is located on deck 5 and overlooks the staircase leading down to deck 4. There is a selection of comfortable seating organised around the atrium and the area is very light and airy. Most of the seats have power points to enable laptops and mobiles to be charged. Access to club class is controlled by an electronic gate where you type in a four digit code which is printed on your ticket.

Located forward in the lounge there is a servery called the ‘Trinity Lounge‘ offering a range of light snacks and complimentary drinks, cakes and pastries. After settling down in the comfortable seating we observed the European Endeavour and the Epsilon passing on their way to Dublin. The crossing from Dublin to Wales was completed within the advertised crossing time and it was a very pleasant experience indeed. Once again the staff on the vessel were very polite and attentive to their customers needs.

Now a question for Irish Ferries. Why are the outside decks of the ship closed as soon as you pass through the entrance to the port? We were told by a crew member who was shepherding passengers indoors that it was due to ‘bunkering operations’ but as far as I am aware this can’t be undertaken whilst a vessel is actually still moving.

I personally believe it’s so all passengers are located within the passenger accommodation for disembarkation but it is rather bizarre. I have travelled on many ferries and many routes in the UK and I have never experienced this. Yes decks are sometimes closed here in Dover whilst a ship is alongside receiving bunkers but not when the ship is actually moving.

After arrival foot passengers were held in the main lounge on deck 4 until being brought down to the car deck to walk off the via the bow ramp to join busses that take you to the Holyhead ferry terminal. Whilst we were awaiting disembarkation we were approached by the onboard manager whom we had met earlier stating that we would be given access to the club class lounge again on the way home we were also informed that they would be giving us a complimentary lunch, ironic in a way as we had a huge breakfast! We were also told that if we had any special requests they would try to accommodate us on the return journey. With that in mind we requested a bridge visit on the return journey.

Having disembarked the ‘swift’ we were soon on the bus back to the terminal. Once again we passed the Stena Explorer laid up at her berth. It’s a shame to see such a unique craft sitting idle awaiting her fate. It does make me wonder what future the swift has if Stena do not re-introduce their own fast ferry service in 2015.

After a short break in the terminal at Holyhead we were soon checking in for our return crossing to Ireland. After passing through security at Holyhead we were back on the bus heading back to the Jonathan Swift. It’s worth mentioning that the security staff at Holyhead port are probably some of the best I have had the pleasure of meeting, they are polite, friendly yet still professional. There are some security staff at other UK ports that could certainly take note that not every customer passing by is suspect and that you can actually talk to passengers like normal human beings.

Once back on board we were met by the onboard manager once again and were taken up to Club Class. We were also informed that we had been granted a bridge visit and that somebody would collect us later on in the crossing to take us up to meet the captain and give us a tour of the ship. The passenger compliment on the return crossing was busier than the outward leg of the journey and exactly on time we went astern off the berth and headed out to sea once more.

Shortly after departure we witnessed the Stena Adventurer berthing in Holyhead. Seeing this certainly made me see the advantages of a fast ferry service from the Irish capital, she departed 25 minutes before us and here we were on our way back to Ireland before she had even berthed in Wales.


© Ray Goodfellow

A panoramic photo of the Port of Holyhead showing the laid up Stena Explorer (left), the Ulysses and the Stena Adventurer arriving from Dublin

© Ray Goodfellow

The Stena Explorer laid up in the port of Holyhead

© Ray Goodfellow

The Ulysses and the Stena Adventurer at Holyhead

© Ray Goodfellow

The Stena Adventurer approaches her berth

© Ray Goodfellow

The Stena Adventurer and the Ulysses

© Ray Goodfellow

Stena Explorer (left), the Stena Adventurer and the Ulysses seen at Holyhead


After settling down in the club lounge once more we watched the mountains of Wales disappear from view. The scenery in this part of the country is absolutely breathtaking and being a clear day we could see for miles. After about 30 mins one of the officers appeared from the wheelhouse and took us for a tour. He said the first place he was going to take us was down to the aft mooring deck just above the water jets so we could experience the speed of the vessel and it was exhilarating being that close to the water at nearly 40 knots.


© Ray Goodfellow

The aft mooring deck of the Jonathan Swift at 39 knots, exhilarating!

A brief video of the same area as the craft heads across the Irish Sea


After getting a good soaking on the aft deck it was then up to the wheelhouse to meet the master of the Jonathan Swift. I have something to admit now, I can’t remember the name of the master and for that I apologise. I am hoping that someone reading this report may know who it was so I can update this section as soon as possible. Once in the wheelhouse we had a nice long chat with the captain about everything from the new European sulphur directive to the what were then only ‘ramp rumours’ of the Dieppe Seaways going to Stena Line for use on the Holyhead to Dublin route. He was a very nice and knowledgeable gentleman and it was an absolute pleasure to meet him. With the Wicklow mountains growing larger in the wheelhouse windows it was soon back to the lounge for our complimentary lunch. We finished lunch just as we entered the river Liffey and within 10 minutes we were alongside the terminal in Dublin. After disembarking the ‘Swift’ it was straight back to the car and back to check in for our 15:30 sailing from Dublin to Cherbourg.

Please Note: On the 4th February 2015 Stena Line announced that they would be withdrawing their fast ferry service from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire and would in future concentrate on the Holyhead to Dublin route. The future of the HSS Stena Explorer is currently not known and it does raise the question of the how much longer the Jonathan Swift will remain in service between Dublin and Holyhead. In many ways I hope Irish Ferries keep the Swift in service as she does offer a good service and there are clear time advantages to travelling on her but in these days of higher fuel costs and with no direct competition her days on the route may well be numbered.


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Due to computer problems the check-in for our crossing to Cherbourg was a rather protracted affair as all boarding information had to be handwritten but the check in staff were very friendly and apologetic and at the end of the day this delay wasn’t their fault. Personally having a job which revolves around customer facing IT I can fully understand that these systems never go wrong until they are actually required, the old adage of Murphy’s law, ‘Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’.


MV Epsilon

Dublin-Holyhead/Dublin-Cherbourg

© Irish Ferries

Tonnage 26,650 GRT
Year Built 2001
Deadweight 7,700
Length 186.46 metres
Breadth 25.6 metres
Draught 6.85 metres
Speed 24 knots
Capacity 2,860 lane metres
Passengers 500

MV Epsilon – Deck Plan


MV Epsilon – Video

© Standpoint Media/Irish Ferries

The Cartour Epsilon was delivered from Cantieri Navale Visentini in 2011 to Sicilian ferry operator Caronte & Tourist. In December 2013 it was announced that she would be chartered to Irish Ferries. The ship operates sailings from Dublin to Holyhead on weekdays and at weekends she operates a direct service from Dublin to Cherbourg. This service is marketed as an ‘Economy‘ route but as can be seen from the video above the ship is quite pleasant.

The Epsilon is one of a series of vessels constructed by Cantieri Navale Visentini and a number of her near sisters operate in UK waters. Stena Line operate three of the vessels, the Stena Mersey, Stena Lagan and the Stena Horizon on the Irish Sea. Brittany Ferries operate one of these vessels, the Etretat on their Economie services between Portsmouth-Le Havre and Santander. The ships are built to a standard design to maximise the carriage of freight and offer limited passenger facilities, for this fact they are classed as Ro-PAX vessels. The internal fit out of the ships is generic and it has been said that you will find the same furniture and pictures on the other ships in the series. In recent years Stena Line have heavily modified the Stena Lagan and Stena Mersey to put their own corporate stamp on the vessels.

The Epsilon was the last vessel to be constructed in the series and she does differ from her near sisters in the fact that her freight carrying capacity has been increased by the addition of a strengthened weather deck which can accommodate freight. As a consequence of this she carries fewer passengers than her sisters. With a service speed of 24 knots the Epsilon is capable of completing the crossing to Cherbourg in around 19 hours.

After boarding we were directed up to the weather deck (deck 5) where the vehicle was parked. From here it was a short walk along the car deck through a door and we were then straight onto the main passenger deck of the vessel. Here we proceeded to the reception desk to get our cabin key. Due to the earlier computer problems at check in this caused a few issues as nobody had informed the ship that boarding cards were hand written. All the cabins on the Epsilon actually have a proper key, not a vingcard or an electronic lock as found on most ships with overnight accommodation. As a consequence of this and to prevent keys being lost you have to exchange your car keys for your cabin key. From the reception it was up one flight of stairs to our cabin. Our cabin was located on deck 6 on the starboard side at the bow of the vessel just below the bridge wing.

We had booked a three berth window cabin and it was certainly spacious. A lot has been written about this class/type of vessel and the basic cabin accommodation onboard but in all fairness the cabin was well fitted out and the only economy feeling area of the cabin was the fact that it had a vinyl floor rather than carpet. A word of warning here, if you come out of the shower make sure you have dry feet or put a towel on the floor, your correspondent did neither of these and ended up dancing across the floor like a trainee ice skater! The cabin also had some different features with a fridge which came with complimentary bottled water and there was also a fruit bowl. The cabin did however have one strange feature and that was the fact that the top bunk completely blocked the cabin window (see the photos below).


© Ray Goodfellow  © Ray Goodfellow

Our cabin on the Epsilon, it was comfortable but one strange feature for a window cabin was the fact that the top bunk completely blocked the window 


With departure time approaching we decided to head outside to witness our departure. The open deck areas on this vessel are located on deck 5, under the lifeboats and on deck 7 overlooking the weather deck. From here we witnessed the departure of the Stena Nordica and watched the last few drop trailers being parked up on deck. This exercise wasn’t without incident as one of the drops was reversed into the unit of one of the trucks on the weather deck resulting in a couple of broken lights and some bodywork damage.


© Ray Goodfellow

The Stena Nordica gets ready to depart Dublin for Holyhead

© Ray Goodfellow

Looking aft over the weather deck of the Epsilon as the Stena Nordica gets ready to let go

© Ray Goodfellow

The Stena Nordica goes astern from her berth on her way to Holyhead

© Ray Goodfellow

The Stena Nordica is due to be replaced on the Holyhead Dublin route in February by the Stena Superfast X (ex Dieppe Seaways). The Nordica is in turn being chartered to DFDS Seaways for service from Dover to Calais.

© Ray Goodfellow

With the last couple of drops coming aboard it was soon time for departure to Cherbourg


With the last of our traffic on board we were soon underway heading out into the river Liffey. Once clear of the harbour entrance the vessel turned South heading down the Irish sea. All of the main passenger facilities are located on deck 5 (please see the deck plan above). The vessel features a port side arcade which leads to a large open plan lounge with a bar. Forward of this on the starboard side is a self-service restaurant and to port an additional seating area. The fit out of the vessel is very bright and airy with the use of bright vibrant colours and lots of mock wood paneling and shiny surfaces. Some may say there is a touch of Ikea to the internal fit out but it was comfortable enough. In terms of capacity there wasn’t a lot of traffic on our crossing and I personally think it wouldn’t be as comfortable when she is operating at her maximum passenger capacity.

After leaving Paul in the bar I returned to the cabin to freshen up after what had been a very hectic day. Upon my return I found Paul still in the bar with a rather sheepish look on his face. During my absence he had managed to consume 4 pints, now I know that’s not that impressive when it comes to drinking but I had only been gone about 30 mins at the most 🙂 During this time Paul said that the Captain had been wandering around the lounge asking people what they thought about the service and the ship, I think this is a nice touch and just goes to prove that Irish Ferries are trying to make this route work.

From here we decided to get something to eat. The food on offer was standard Ferry fair and I opted for the Chicken Kiev with chips. One of the things that was apparent was the size of the portions, they were huge, the Kiev took up at least half the plate. After dinner we retired to the bar as Ireland were due to play Gibraltar in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. So with a pint or two of Guinness we settled down to watch Ireland eventually beat Gibraltar 7-0 (ouch). After the match I headed up on deck for a bit of fresh air and got talking to one of the crew members. She was very interested in my thoughts on the vessel and the service. Once again it was nice for the crew to take an interest in their guests.

Having had a thoroughly nice evening and with the previous nights lack of sleep catching up with us we decided to head to bed. Back in the cabin it was worth noting that there was no vibration at all. After a few hours reading it was time to get my head down. I am notoriously bad for sleeping at the best of times and I was up in the small hours and headed up on deck once more to see if the fresh air would help make me sleep. I noted the lights of Lands End passing us by as we headed into the Channel.


day2eps

After a relaxing crossing I was up quite early (again). It was actually nice to be on an overnight crossing where you’re not having to disembark at 0700. With a 12:00 arrival time in Cherbourg it gives you the opportunity to have a lay in (I wish, my body clock puts pay to that one) and have breakfast at a leisurely pace.

After breakfast we headed up on deck once more, this time with the cameras. All too soon the coastline of France was coming into view and compared to the previous day it would appear the weather wouldn’t be too kind to us today. We picked up the Cherbourg pilot and were soon entering the empty Port of Cherbourg ready for the next leg of our voyage.

I have to say I really enjoyed this leg of the journey. The Epsilon may not have all the bells and whistles of a fully fledged cruise ferry but she is comfortable and her crew were very friendly and efficient and the ship had a very warm family feel about it.


© Ray Goodfellow

Morning approaching Cherbourg and the weather was starting to close in

© Ray Goodfellow

The open deck area on deck 7 as we approach Cherbourg. The helicopter pad on deck 8 is not open to the public

© Ray Goodfellow

Cherbourg Pilot No4‘ approaches the Epsilon to land the pilot on the ship to bring her into Cherbourg

© Ray Goodfellow

Cherbourg Pilot No4‘ approaches the Epsilon

© Ray Goodfellow

Cherbourg Pilot No4‘ lands the pilot on the Epsilon

© Ray Goodfellow

Cherbourg Pilot No4‘ heads back to port

© Ray Goodfellow

A panoramic image of the of the Port of Cherbourg as we approach our berth with storm clouds gathering over the Normandy basin

© Ray Goodfellow

Cherbourg cruise terminal and the ‘Cité de la Mer‘. The terminal was constructed in 1933 and is also home to the Cité de la Mer maritime museum and aquarium. Situated to the far end of this photograph is the preserved SSBN (Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear), ‘Redoutable‘. She was the first SSBN submarine of the French Navy and is the largest submarine in the world open to the public. Please see the ‘Day 4 – Oscar Wilde‘ section of this report for a photograph of the submarine.


After arrival in Cherbourg we were soon on the road heading for the Breton city of St Malo which would be our base for the next couple of days. It’s a journey of about 140 miles and one we have done before. As we had plenty of time we decided to take the scenic route around the northern tip of the Cotentin peninsula following a section of the ‘route des caps‘.  The weather in Basse-Normandie at this point was the complete opposite to the previous day in Dublin. Where as we had a beautiful sunny day in Dublin this time we were met with very dark foreboding skies and all too soon we were met with torrential rain. The rain continued for most of the journey so the usual sights seen on this route such as the Mont St Michel were completely obscured. After a brief stop in Pontorson (Normandy) for coffee we reached St Malo at around 16:00.

The next mission for us was to find our hotel. We had booked a room at the Hôtel de la Cité which is within the walled part of the city (La Ville Intra-Muros). We have visited St Malo twice before but have never actually been within the walled part of the city and were unaware just how complex and narrow the road system was. Thankfully the Sat-Nav (which we had been ignoring since Cherbourg) came into its own and delivered safely to the hotel.

The hotel couldn’t have been in a better location really, situated right next to the city wall giving great access to the seafront and only a 15 minute walk from the ferry terminal from where we would be sailing to the Channel Island of Jersey the following day.


A Google map showing the city of St Malo

A Google street view of our hotel in St Malo

© Ray Goodfellow

St Malo at low tide with the sun so desperately trying to make an appearance 


One of the main issues staying in old St Malo is parking, the roads are so narrow but thankfully the hotel had its own covered off street parking area. After checking in we decided to go for a brief walk around the city to see what it had to offer. During our walk around the city we had found a vast array of restaurants so we decided to head back to the hotel get ourselves sorted out and head out for dinner.

The main eating area in St Malo stretches from the ‘Place Châteaubriand‘ to the ‘Rue Jacques Cartier‘ and there must easily be over 50 restaurants to choose from. Most of the restaurants offer traditional Breton cuisine but there is nothing wrong with that. Brittany is renowned for its seafood and fresh produce. We eventually decided to eat at a small nautical themed restaurant called ‘Les Volies Et Le Vapeurs‘ (Trip Advisor Link) which is located in the rue Jacques Cartier.


Google street view of ‘Les Voiles Et Le Vapeurs‘ restaurant


The restaurant was quite busy but we were soon seated and supping our first beer of the evening. Whilst studying the menu pretzels and a jug of water were brought to the table. The food on offer looked very good and in the end we both opted for the same and went for home smoked salmon for starter followed by steak for main. The starter was served with salad and was very tasty but it wasn’t as impressive as the steak. When the steak arrived it must have easily been 16oz and covered three-quarters of the plate. It was served with French fries, salad and a cheese sauce. I have to say that I like my food a lot but I struggled with this meal. As a testament to how good the steak was I have yet to this day had a steak as good as that one.

After eating what felt like our own body weights in food we decided to go for a walk to try to work some of it off. Even though it was October it was unseasonably mild in St Malo. On the way back to the hotel we discovered an Irish themed pub and decided to pop in for a drink. Well this was an Irish inspired journey so it seemed quiet apt.


© Ray Goodfellow

Who said Guinness doesn’t travel?


After a few pints of Guinness and with myself enjoying the atmosphere of the pub a bit too much I started drinking Vodka, not the best of ideas bearing in mind we would have to get up at about 0600 the following morning for our crossing to Jersey, oh what the hell, I was on holiday. After the proverbial ‘one for the road‘ we headed back to the hotel to get some rest before the next leg of the journey.


day3stmjer

After a really comfortable nights sleep (the alcohol may have had something to do with that) we got ourselves ready to walk the short distance to the ferry terminal. To say I was feeling a little groggy would be an understatement. The one thing that was noticeable on our way to the terminal was that the wind had picked up significantly during the course of the night. Thankfully I am a good sailor nowadays but I am also well aware of the reputation fast ferries have in adverse weather, lets just say this could be an interesting crossing.


HSC Condor Rapide

conbut

 

Tonnage  5,007 GRT
Year Built 1997
Dead-weight 350
Length 86 metres
Breadth 26 metres
Draught 3.6 metres
Speed 40 knots
Capacity 200 Cars
Passengers 600

HSC Condor Rapide – Deck Plan


The Condor Rapide was built by International Catamarans (Incat) in 1997 for the international charter market. The vessel is an 86m model with passenger accommodation spread over two decks. The Condor Rapide is of course no stranger to us here in Dover, having operated for Speed Ferries between Dover and Boulogne from 2004 to 2008 as the ‘SpeedOne‘. Following the financial collapse of Speed Ferries the vessel was sold at auction and renamed Sea Leopard. Following a year laid up in Tilbury she was sold to Condor Ferries and entered service between St Malo and the Channel Islands on the 13th May 2010.

We arrived at the ferry terminal in St Malo and were soon checked in for our 0800 sailing to St Helier. There were quite a few foot passengers already waiting to board the vessel and soon we were being loaded onto busses to be taken to the berth. The vessel was boarded across her stern ramp and soon we were on the lower deck of her passenger accommodation. Her lower deck lounge is situated amidships and consists of a large open seating area with the shop and bureau de change forward and a cafeteria/servery (Casquets Bistro) towards the rear of the lounge. Astern of the servery is the ‘Ocean Club‘ section of the vessel. A staircase leads up to another lounge with a bar forward and the open sun deck to the stern. The ship itself looks to be well maintained and was spotless throughout.

After boarding it was evident that there were a number of school children on board doing the usual things school children do on a ferry, basically running around like headless chickens and being a general pain in the butt. It doesn’t matter where I have travelled over the years, whenever there are school children present on a ferry you just know it’s not going to be a peaceful experience.

Maybe it was the groggy feeling from the previous nights excess but I really wasn’t a happy bunny. After finding our allocated seats we decided to get some breakfast. Paul went for the full English but I decided for safety reasons to stick to the continental breakfast. After completing breakfast we headed outside to watch our departure.

We departed St Malo on time and as we headed out of the harbour the captain informed the passengers that this would be a rough crossing. Well he wasn’t wrong, after passing the inbound Brittany Ferries vessel ‘Bretagne‘ we started to make our way to open water and the craft started to wallow and roll significantly. Soon we were passing the Grand Jardin Lighthouse at the approach to St Malo which had waves crashing over it. With the vessels speed gradually increasing the rate of movement increased and all too soon we were rolling and pitching our way to St Helier.

Within 10 minutes of departure the outside decks of the craft were closed, then an announcement was made to ask all passengers to remain seated and not to move around the craft unless they had to. With the prevailing weather conditions I decided to find a seat in the middle of the craft to try get a little more comfortable.  Looking around the lounge you could see people who were looking rather green and for some the conditions proved too much. I am really glad I didn’t go for the cooked breakfast after all.

The one good thing about the weather conditions meant that the aforementioned school children went strangely quiet. After about 40 mins of what I would describe as very uncomfortable conditions things started to calm down a bit with only the occasional wave washing down the windows. I have to say I wasn’t warming to my Condor Rapide experience at all, then again saying that the crew were fantastic. Its fair enough me sitting there as a passenger but they were trying to work in these conditions plus dealing with, well, lets just say people who are feeling a little under the weather, well done guys.

Amazingly after our rollercoaster ride we arrived in Jersey near enough on time and after entering the tight confines of St Helier harbour we were soon on the berth and disembarking the vessel. I have to say it felt good to be back on dry land.


After disembarking the vessel we took a gentle stroll into the town to find somewhere to get a coffee. After regrouping we decided to head back to the harbour to see what it was like for photography. We managed to find a good spot on the harbour wall which gave us a good overview of the berth and the entrance to the port where we could watch the departure of the Condor Rapide and the Commodore Goodwill.


© Ray Goodfellow

The Commodore Goodwill and Condor Rapide berthed at St Helier, Jersey

© Ray Goodfellow

The Commodore Goodwill berthed at St Helier, Jersey

© Paul Cloke

The Condor Rapide gets underway for St Malo © Paul Cloke

© Ray Goodfellow

The Condor Rapide gets underway for St Malo

© Ray Goodfellow

The Condor Rapide gets underway for St Malo as the Commodore Goodwill gets ready to depart for Guernsey

© Ray Goodfellow

The Condor Rapide

© Ray Goodfellow

The Commodore Goodwill departs for Guernsey

© Ray Goodfellow

The Commodore Goodwill departs for Guernsey


After watching the departure of the Condor Rapide and the Commodore Goodwill we headed back into the town and spent the next few hours exploring the capital of Jersey. The weather was once again closing in with regular squalls passing through but that didn’t dampen our day too much. After a spot of lunch we headed back to the harbour to watch the arrival of the Condor Express from Poole via Guernsey.


© Ray Goodfellow

The Condor Express inbound from Guernsey

© Paul Cloke

The Condor Express inbound from Guernsey as the rain starts © Paul Cloke

© Ray Goodfellow

The Condor Express

© Ray Goodfellow

The Condor Express swinging for her berth

© Ray Goodfellow

The Condor Express swinging for her berth

© Ray Goodfellow

Condor Express

© Paul Cloke

With the rain getting heavier the Condor Express goes astern to her berth © Paul Cloke


After an enjoyable day of coffee shops and shopping we headed back to the ferry terminal early to have a rest. If we come back to Jersey again we think it may be worth bringing the car so we can have a proper explore of the island. With a good two hours before we departed back to France it was time to catch up with the family back home to let them know how things were going.

The ferry terminal in Jersey was filling up quickly with the Condor Rapide inbound from St Malo and the Condor Vitesse inbound from Weymouth (via Guernsey) and it looked as if it was going to be a busy trip back to the mainland. Both vessels arrived within minutes of each other and both were soon discharging.

The port of St Helier isn’t exactly big by any standards and it was quite amazing to see the organisation associated with two vessels arriving at once. After checking in it was evident that our sailing back to France would actually be quiet. The bulk of the waiting foot passengers were heading to Weymouth. We were soon back on board the Rapide for our crossing back to France. This time we had seating on the upper deck of the craft and I don’t know about Paul, I was hoping for a better crossing ‘home’.

For departure we headed out on deck and soon with a single blast of her whistle the ‘Vitesse‘ got underway from her berth. About 2 minutes later it was our turn, with a blast of the whistle we were off. As we passed through the harbour entrance the Commodore Clipper could be seen inbound from Portsmouth. The journey back to St Malo was a lot smoother than the outward leg with only a bit of a swell on the approach to St Malo. The crossing passed by quickly and soon we were alongside in St Malo and disembarking and heading back to the hotel. I think I can talk for both of us here and say we were exhausted, the previous few days of travel were catching up with us and it was time for an early night.

I mentioned earlier that I didn’t enjoy my Condor Rapide experience, well that wasn’t true on the return crossing and it doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy my Condor Ferries experience. Its clear that the crew have to deal with a particularly demanding and intensive schedule on what could effectively be described as a ‘lifeline’ service and on this occasion they did it very well. It will certainly be interesting to compare how the new Condor Liberation trimaran will fair on the Channel Islands run compared to the Incats.

In all honesty yes it was a rough and a rather uncomfortable crossing but as I have said before, those sort of weather conditions are to be expected in October and if we had been travelling the following day it would have been a completely different story. Would I travel with Condor Ferries again? The answer to that would most definitely be a yes. We have the rest of Jersey and the whole of Guernsey to explore yet 😀

Please Note: It was announced in January 2015 that the Condor Express and Condor Vitesse had been sold to the Greek ferry operator Seajets and will see further service in the Aegean archipelago operating to the Cyclades island group. They will leave the Channel Islands when they are replaced by the Condor Liberation in March 2015. The Condor Rapide will remain in service between St Malo and the Channel Islands.


day4malo

After another comfortable night in our hotel in St Malo we woke up to some absolutely stunning weather. The cloud and rain from the previous couple of days had given way to a cloudless sky with lots of autumnal sunshine. As we didn’t have to hit the road for Cherbourg until later on in the day we decided to get some breakfast and have a walk around the city walls and take in some photography from the pier.

The Condor Rapide and the Bretagne were both in the port laying over. The Bretagne had just completed her last scheduled arrival at St Malo of the 2014 season before moving to the Plymouth-Roscoff route. Her place on the St Malo-Portsmouth run was due to be taken by the Pont Aven and then the Armorique.


© Ray Goodfellow

The Condor Rapide and the Bretagne viewed from the city walls

© Ray Goodfellow

The Condor Rapide viewed from the city walls

© Ray Goodfellow

The Bretagne on her berth having arrived from Portsmouth. This was her last scheduled arrival in St Malo of the 2014 season before moving to the Plymouth-Roscoff route. Her place at St Malo was taken by the Pont Aven

© Ray Goodfellow

Condor Rapide

© Ray Goodfellow

Condor Rapide

© Ray Goodfellow

The walled part of the city of St Malo (La Ville Intra-Muros) viewed from the pier

© Ray Goodfellow

Panoramic shot of St Malo taken from the pier showing the walled part of the city (La Ville Intra-Muros) along with the Condor Rapide and Bretagne basking in the Autumn sunshine

© Ray Goodfellow

One of the numerous forts located in the approaches to St Malo

© Ray Goodfellow

St Malo Lifeboat (SNS 072 Pourquoi pas ? II) seen passing the bow of the Bretagne

© Ray Goodfellow

The St Malo pilot vessel ‘La Chevaliere‘ departs for the open sea

© Ray Goodfellow

A typical nautical scene in St Malo


After a very relaxed and enjoyable morning walking around St Malo it was time to head back to the hotel and get ourselves ready for the drive back to Cherbourg where we would join the Oscar Wilde on her 2000 sailing to Rosslare.


day4cherros

The drive from St Malo to Cherbourg passed by quickly and thankfully the weather was a lot better compared to our journey down to St Malo a few days previously. After arriving in Cherbourg we had a quick look around the town before heading to the ferry terminal.

The Oscar Wilde joined the Irish Ferries fleet in December 2007 replacing the Normandy on the Ireland to France routes of Irish Ferries. Built by Wärtsilä Marine, Turku, Finland in 1987 as the Kronprins Harald she originally serviced the Oslo to Kiel route for Jahre Line. In 1990 Jahre Line merged with Norway Line to form Color Line. She was replaced on the Oslo to Kiel route by the ‘Color Magic‘ in August 2007.


MV Oscar Wilde

Rosslare-Cherbourg/Roscoff

© Ray Goodfellow

Tonnage 31,914 GRT
Year Built 1987
Dead-weight 5,250
Length 166 metres
Breadth 28.4 metres
Draught 6.5 metres
Speed 21.5 knots
Capacity 580 cars or 1,220 lane metres
Passengers 1,458

MV Oscar Wilde – Deck Plan


MV Oscar Wilde – Video

© Standpoint Media/Irish Ferries

© Ray Goodfellow

The preserved SSBN (Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear), ‘Redoutable‘. She was the first SSBN submarine of the French Navy and is the largest submarine in the world open to the public.


After our brief look around Cherbourg we headed to the port. The Oscar Wilde was already alongside having arrived in Cherbourg the previous day and the check-in for our sailing was opened promptly. After checking in there was a wait of around 40 mins before we were loaded. During this time a fair number of brand new export Renault cars were loaded, all heading for their new Irish owners.


© Ray Goodfellow

The Oscar Wilde on her berth in Cherbourg

© Ray Goodfellow

Driving onto the Oscar Wilde in Cherbourg


Boarding commenced over the bow and the majority of car traffic is directed up to Deck 4 via a ramp from deck 3. This deck operates on a U-turn system so vehicles drive up the ramp and then around the deck. Thankfully for us we were parked very close to the ramp which would mean a relatively quick disembarkation in Rosslare.

After parking the car it was off to find our cabin. Our cabin was located starboard side forward on Deck 6 and as can be seen by the photographs below it featured a double window. The cabin was what I would describe as a classic 1980’s cruise ferry cabin, if you ever got the chance to travel on the Pride of Bilbao whilst we she was sailing from our shores you will probably recognise some of the features and fittings. After settling in the cabin it was time to go and explore the ship.


© Ray Goodfellow  © Ray Goodfellow

A classic 1980’s Baltic cruise ferry cabin. The fixtures did look a little dated but it was and nice spacious

© Ray Goodfellow

The Oscar Wilde has extensive outside decks and here the port town of Cherbourg is seen

© Ray Goodfellow

The sun sets over Cherbourg at the conclusion of another day

© Ray Goodfellow

 Looking astern


The majority of the entertainment and eating facilities on the Oscar Wilde are located on deck 7. The Gaiety Lounge is located at the rear of the ship and features a large lounge with a bar and dance floor. During the summer months live entertainment is to be found in this area, amusingly known as ‘Wilde Nights‘. I am sure the atmosphere in this area of the vessel is very good in high season but this being Autumn the only form of entertainment we had been international football with the Republic of Ireland playing Germany (this however was quite amusing, more on that later).

Moving forwards, as is common with most cruise ferries from this era, there is a wide arcade to starboard with the Piano Bar, The Berneval and the Steak House restaurants located off of it. Forward of this arcade and to port is the Left Bank Brasserie self-service restaurant and moving forward to starboard is Café Lafayette and then up to the bow where the Merrion Lounge covers the full width of the vessel. The shop, beauty salon and reception are located on deck 5. On deck 10 you will find two cinemas and the reserved reclining seat lounges. The Oscar Wilde offers a good variety of outside deck space and in the Summer months a deck bar is to be found on Deck 11.

After getting our bearings in regards to the layout of the ship we headed back to the cabin to get ready for departure and our dinner. On our way back to the cabin I headed to the reception desk to enquire if there was a bank or bureau onboard as I was running a little low on Euros and I have to say that the way I was dealt with was probably the worst experience of the whole trip. Without even looking up from the paperwork she was doing  the member of staff on the desk barked at me rudely “NO BUREAU USE CARD”. Not the best way to deal with a simple customer query at the end of the day. The answer to the question was obviously a no which ever way but it could have certainly been delivered a lot more politely and professionally, how about actually looking at your customer? We all have bad days but having spent 17 years working in the customer service industry that is not the way to treat a customer at all.

After getting ourselves sorted we headed to the Gaiety Lounge for a beer and headed up on deck to watch our 2000 departure. At approximately 2000 we let go and were going astern off the berth. As we headed for the port entrance another ferry was observed entering the port and this turned out to be the Brittany Ferries vessel Normandie (normally to be found on the Portsmouth-Caen route) who was completing her final crossing of 2014 before heading to Santander for an extensive refit which would include the fitting of scrubbers.

Clear of the port we decided to look at the dining options onboard and we decided to head to The Steakhouse for dinner. The food was very good quality if not a little bit pricey but the one strange thing about this restaurant was the fact that you couldn’t purchase beer to go with your dinner, an American themed restaurant without beer? Yes I know you’re supposed to have wine with a meal but this has never been an issue on any other ferry I have travelled on, even in the a la carte restaurant on the Bretagne. Thankfully our waiter was very accommodating and headed off to the Gaiety Lounge to get our drinks (good customer experience on the Oscar Wilde is possible after all, lady on reception take note). As a consequence of this we had two separate bills, one for the bar and one for the restaurant.

After a very nice meal we headed back to the Gaiety Lounge for a few more drinks. The lounge was fairly quiet as this wasn’t what I would describe as a busy sailing. As mentioned earlier there was an International football match between Ireland and Germany being screened in the lounge. After about 10 minutes of watching the match it was evident that there was a number of German passengers onboard. They were giving all the bravado to the Irish passengers onboard as the match continued and in the 70th minute Toni Kroos scored for Germany and the bar erupted. The bravado continued as the Germans thought that the game was theirs but in the last-minute of injury time John O’Shea equalised for the Irish and lets just say the German fans onboard didn’t really appreciate the bravado being aimed at them by the Irish. With that the Germans disappeared and the Irish finished their drinks and headed to bed. I have to admit that I am not the worlds biggest football fan but it was very amusing to watch.

After this it was time for one more pint and then it was off to bed.


day5oscros

After a reasonable nights sleep it was evident from the movement of the vessel that the weather had deteriorated during the course of the night. Opening the curtains revealed heavy rain and a moderate sea. Although the vessel was moving around a bit in the swell it wasn’t uncomfortable. Once again it appeared that my body clock didn’t want me to have a lay in so I headed up on deck once more. Funnily enough I was the only person out on deck so I took a few photographs of the external areas of the vessel and headed inside. After a shower we headed for breakfast.

Breakfast was taken in the Left Bank Brasserie on Deck 7 and it was quite an amusing affair as the German group who had so spectacularly showed themselves up the previous night in the bar during the football were sitting only a few feet away from the Ireland fans which they had been so intent on antagonising the previous night. Lets just say there were a number of mumbled comments heard during the course of breakfast.

After breakfast I grabbed my laptop and proceeded to the Merrion Lounge on deck 7 to try to catch up on my notes. I spent a good couple of hours in there just enjoying the sea views as we made our way up to Rosslare.


© Ray Goodfellow

It looks a little wet and windy out there today

© Ray Goodfellow

Upper open deck on the Oscar Wilde looking aft

© Ray Goodfellow

The deck bar, closed during the low season

© Ray Goodfellow

Upper open deck on the Oscar Wilde looking aft from the deck bar

© Ray Goodfellow

Upper open deck on the Oscar Wilde looking aft from the deck bar

© Ray Goodfellow

Upper open deck on the Oscar Wilde looking towards the bow

© Ray Goodfellow

As we approach the Southern coast of Ireland the company house flag and the Irish tricolour are hoisted

Making our way up the Irish Sea to Rosslare

© Ray Goodfellow

Heavy grey skies and intermittent rain but land ahoy!

© Ray Goodfellow

The Port of Rosslare is reached just as the rain starts again

© Ray Goodfellow

The Port of Rosslare is reached just as the rain starts again

© Ray Goodfellow

The Oscar Wilde alongside at Rosslare Europort


After disembarkation we hit the road out of Rosslare in the direction of Wexford. From here we had a brief walk along the quayside but the weather wasn’t really playing ball so we decided to head to New Ross. Thankfully the weather cleared up on route and we had a pleasant hours in New Ross. Most of this hour was spent in a supermarket stocking up with Irish branded goods, a list of which had been given to Paul before departure 🙂

After our afternoon in Wexford and New Ross it was time to head back to Rosslare for our final crossing on the Isle of Inishmore back to Wales. The drive back didn’t take to long and after stopping for a bite to eat we were soon queuing at the check in desk for our return home. The weather in Rosslare by this time was glorious and we witnessed the arrival of the Stena Europe from Fishguard before the sun set over the port.


© Ray Goodfellow

What a difference a few hours makes, a beautiful sunny evening in Rosslare

© Ray Goodfellow

The Stena Europe inbound to Rosslare from Fishguard

© Ray Goodfellow

The Stena Europe inbound to Rosslare from Fishguard


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The Isle of Inishmore was constructed for Irish Ferries for use on the Dublin-Holyhead route by Van der Giessen de Noord in 1997. Following her own success she was replaced by the larger Ulysses in 2001 and was transferred to the Rosslare-Pembroke route. Featuring passenger accommodation over 2 decks she is capable of carrying over 2,000 passengers and 856 cars or 2,890 metres of freight.


MV Isle of Inishmore

Rosslare-Pembroke Dock

© Charlie Chambers

 

Tonnage 34,031 GRT
Year Built 1997
Dead-weight 5,192
Length 182.5 metres
Breadth 27.8 metres
Draught 6 metres
Speed 21 knots
Capacity 856 Cars or 2,890 lane metres
Passengers 2,330

MV Isle of Inishmore – Deck Plan


MV Isle of Inishmore – Video

© Standpoint Media/Irish Ferries

As darkness fell we checked in for our departure to Wales. After an hours wait we were soon driving onboard the Isle of Inishmore’s upper car deck and heading up into her passenger accommodation. For this leg of the journey we had booked access to the Club Class lounge up on deck 11. It was a nice lounge with lots of comfortable seating plus complimentary drinks and food, an ideal place to get our rest before the long drive home.


© Ray Goodfellow

As we depart Rosslare on the Isle of Inishmore the Oscar Wilde gets ready to head back to Cherbourg and the Stena Europe gets ready to sail to Fishguard


From this point onwards I can’t really report much about the Isle of Inishmore I am afraid. The previous days of travel and with the prospect of an overnight drive from Pembroke Dock back to Dover we both got our heads down for what would be a smooth crossing back to Wales. The crossing arrived on time in Wales and soon we were on the road for the long drive home. The only problem experienced during the journey home was we had caught up with the rain which had greeted us in Ireland that morning. Five hours later I was creeping into a quiet house and heading straight to bed feeling exhausted but very happy after what was a great way to spend a week off work.


Conclusion

Hopefully I haven’t bored anybody to tears with this report, I know it’s incredibly long but it’s very hard to condense five days of travel into something short and sweet. Yes I could have made this a photographic only post but so much was experienced during the course of the holiday I felt that ‘photography only’ wouldn’t have given justice to the whole travelling experience.

Overall it was a very worthwhile experience travelling with Irish Ferries. The product they offer is very good, the ships are well fitted out and very comfortable. The Epsilon is not up to the same standards as her fleet mates but this is clearly marketed to customers and I actually enjoyed my crossing on her. Apart from the one incident on the Oscar Wilde, all the crew members met/interacted with during the course of the various voyages were very friendly and helpful. From a passengers perspective they gave great service and for the travelling public that is what matters, that is the memory they take home with them.

Would I do it again? Yes, absolutely. Admittedly this wasn’t a cheap holiday, for the price paid I could have probably had a couple of weeks all-inclusive somewhere sunny and hot but that isn’t me at all. I love sea travel and discovering new places and this was the perfect way of doing this. The added bonus of staying in France for a couple of days was ideal for me as I love the Basse-Normandie region and I will admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the St Malo area of Brittany. If (or should that be when) I win the national lottery I could quite happily settle down in this area of France.

Looking to the future we are thinking of recreating a similar voyage but this time traveling with the competing operator Stena Line. We are also looking towards travelling back to the Channel Islands with Condor Ferries on their new vessel the Condor Liberation when she enters service. All of this will take time to arrange and more importantly pay for but it looks as 2015 will be just as good as 2014 in regards to ferry travel. The one thing that has come to light writing this report is that I really need to make better notes! 🙂

It just leaves me to say thank you for reading and please feel free to leave your comments below.

Best Wishes

Ray Goodfellow


Acknowledgments

I would like to take this opportunity of thanking Paul Cloke for the driving and all the organisation of the trip. This is one of the most ambitious journeys that we have ever undertaken and all things considered it went like clockwork. I would also like to thank the crews of the Ulysses, Jonathan Swift, Epsilon, Condor Rapide, Oscar Wilde and the Isle of Inishmore for making this trip a very enjoyable experience. Thanks also goes to Irish Ferries and Condor Ferries for their support during the course of the week.


All of Ray Goodfellow’s photographs featured in this article were taken with a Canon EOS 550D, Canon EOS 750D and a Canon IXUS 132. Paul Cloke’s photographs were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ100

This article and all photographs featured (unless otherwise stated) are the copyright © of Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferry Photos) 2015, All rights reserved. Images posted in this article may not be reproduced or shared without permission.


4 Comments

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your account of your voyages across the Irish Sea, all very well produced, and very informative. Though I did
    not envy your drive from Dover to Holyhead! Should you try Stenna Lines Irish Sea experience, and have a moment or two to
    spare call into the Holyhead Maritime Museum, you’ll have a great welcome. No atomic submarine though, alas. Thank you.

    1. Hi Dafydd,

      Thank you very much for your kind words about my voyage report. It was a really good experience and well worth the long journeys at the beginning and the end of the trip. We are hoping to be back in Holyhead later on this year to try the Stena Superfast X on her new route and we will certainly try and pop in. Do you happen to have an address for the museum?

      Best Wishes
      Ray

    1. Hi Stephen,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on this article. Admittedly this article doesn’t contain any interior shots of the vessels and that’s mainly down to the fact that ‘internal’ photography isn’t an area of interest to me personally. From my point of view this was more a write up of the journey and different locations visited rather than a ship review.

      This journey was actually my main holiday of the year. Some people like to spend 2 weeks in the sun and good luck to them but it is not me, I like to travel and with my interest in passenger shipping the two go together quite well.

      My good friend and travel companion Paul Cloke has started to capture ship interiors as it is an area he is interested in and if we do anything like this again in the future we will collaborate a lot more on photographic content.

      In regards to bridge visits these can usually be arranged in advance via the head office of the shipping company but they are subject to approval from the ship’s master on the day. We were lucky enough to get a visit to the bridge of the Jonathan Swift on the return leg back to Ireland and we were due a bridge visit on the Condor Rapide but the prevailing weather conditions meant this wasn’t possible.

      Best Wishes
      Ray

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