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Caledonian Princess

The Caledonian Princess is accredited with being the ship that saved the Stranraer - Larne crossing from closure in the aftermath of the loss of the Princess Victoria in a storm on 31st January 1953. She entered service in December 1961 under the flag of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company (Irish Services) Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Transport Commission.

As built she was a two-class vessel with accommodation for 400 1st class passengers and 1,000 in 2nd class. On her vehicle deck was space for 103 cars.


The new ship was an instant success and by 1964 supplemental tonnage was required to assist with the large volume of traffic on offer. With the route in safe waters, ownership of the Caledonian Princess was officially transferred to the British Railways Board on 1 January 1967. By this time the Caledonian Red Lion Rampant on the black-topped buff funnel had given way to the red and black of British Rail, complete with the white double arrow logo already familiar on other Railway ships.

The Caledonian Princess in Douglas, 1968. © Ian Collard

Summer 1968 and the Caledonian Princess arrives at Dun Laoghaire's East Pier. Justin Merrigan Collection

Caledonian Princess

Alongside Holyhead's Refit Berth in 1975. © Michael Thomas

On 26 June 1968 the Caledonian Princess became the first stern loading car ferry to sail into Douglas, Isle of Man when she visited with a special day charter from Stranraer. Released at Stranraer by the new Antrim Princess, the following month saw her introduction on the Holyhead - Dun Laoghaire seasonal car ferry service operating alongside the Holyhead Ferry I.


Between 1969 and 1975, having had side loading doors cut into her vehicle deck, the ship was mainly associated with the Fishguard - Rosslare service but by and large, since leaving Stranraer she led something of a nomadic career often acting as support or substitute for other members of the fleet at Stranraer, Heysham, Holyhead and even Newhaven and Weymouth.

It was a foretaste of things to come and in 1976 the Caledonian Princess was officially transferred to the Weymouth - Channel Islands services.  The ship received extensive alterations to her accommodation for her new role which did nothing to enhance her appearance.

Caledonian Princess

Showing her newly plated-in aft side promenade deck, the Caledonian Princess sails through Dublin Bay for Holyhead, February 16, 1976. © Justin Merrigan collection

The Caledonian Princess in Channel Islands service © Roy Thornton Collection

The Caledonian Princess in Channel Islands service © Roy Thornton Collection

A good view of the Caledonian Princess showing the modifications to her aft end, fitted for Channel Islands service. © Roy Thornton Collection

The Caledonian Princess arrives at St Peter Port. © Albert Novelli.

Returning to Irish Sea service one final time, early 1977 saw the Caledonian Princess operating Holyhead - Dun Laoghaire in place of the Dover and in company with the Duke of Lancaster. Remaining on the link until the last day of February 1977 the ship then returned to Weymouth, via Avonmouth for drydocking and Dover for further refit work. 


Replaced on the Channel Islands services by the Earl Granville, in 1981 the Caledonian Princess had the honour of becoming Dover's final steam turbine ferry.  After a heady summer season, she took her final crossing from Boulogne to Dover on 26 September after which she destored and proceeded to lay up at Newhaven pending sale. One year later she was sold for static use as a nightclub berthed on the River Tyne at Gateshead as the Tuxedo Princess.


On 20 September 2005, during a quick visit to the UK from Australia, I was permitted to view the former Caledonian Princess 23 years after her departure from the Sealink fleet. It really was hard to believe at the time that she had been in static use for longer than her seagoing career. 

Three years later, on 27 July 2008, the old girl left her Gateshead berth under tow. On 30 July she was once again in the English Channel. At the end of August she was beached at Aliaga, Turkey and breaking-up commenced.  Finally, after 26 years of static nightclub use, the Caledonian Princess was out of her misery. 

Two months after her final commercial sailing, the Caledonian Princess laid up at Newhaven with the Maid of Kent astern © Mike Taplin

Sold! Unlike the Maid of Kent, which was scrapped, the ship would see further service, albeit as a nightclub. © Les Harris, courtesy of Andrew Gilbert.

Looking like a iced tea cake, the former Caledonian Princess ready for a very different career. © Les Harris, courtesy of Andrew Gilbert.

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