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 Holyhead Ferry I

The Holyhead - Dun Laoghaire route entered the car ferry age with the order for a new ship from Hawthorn Leslie (Shipbuilders) Ltd. Built at a cost of £1.6mn she was the first of two ships which were to be the last turbine steamers for the railway company.

Saddled with the un-imaginative name of Holyhead Ferry 1 she was launched on 17 February 1965. Her half-sister, the Dover was ordered from Swan Hunter and she beat the Irish Sea ship into service by one month.  To facilitate the Holyhead Ferry 1 extensive engineering works were carried out on both sides of the Irish Sea. At Holyhead the Mail Pier berth was modified and provided with a linkspan but at Dun Laoghaire things were not so straightforward and a temporary berth on the East Pier had to be constructed while plans for a more permanent solution were discussed.

Holyhead’s new car ferry could accommodate 153 averaged size cars on her vehicle deck which was equipped with a turntable forward and aft to assist with positioning cars ready for disembarkation. A small mezzanine deck was accessed by hydraulically operated ramps port and starboard. Two hatches were also fitted fore and aft, primarily for loading mail into the ship but also to allow cars to be lifted out should the stern door fail. Passenger capacity was 1000 and 64 berths were available in a variety of cabins.

The new service opened for business on 9 July 1965, not with the Holyhead Ferry 1, which was late from her builders, but the newly converted Normannia from the Dover – Boulogne run. The Holyhead Ferry 1 finally took over on 19 July During the height of the summer season one round trip was offered daily, departing Holyhead at 1045 and Dun Laoghaire at 1530 At weekends an additional round trip was offered, leaving the Welsh port at 2015 and from Dun Laoghaire at 0600. The service was a rampant success but even so it was still a seasonal affair and on 17 October the route reverted to mail ship operation until the summer of 1966.

The whole operation was a most civilised affair. Cabins and berths  for the 0600 sailing from Dun Laoghaire were available for occupation overnight. Passengers holding cabin and berth reservations for this sailing could report with their vehicles ready for loading between 23.30 and 23.59 the previous night.

In 1969 Dun Laoghaire’s new IR£850,000 St Michael’s Wharf car ferry terminal was opened by the Holyhead Ferry 1 on 14 March. Capable of handling 650 cars a day the new 175m long pier offered linkspans on both sides of the terminal. While this meant that two vessels could berth simultaneously, the principal purpose was to permit a ship to lie on the more sheltered side of the pier.  The controversial temporary terminal on the East Pier was closed and after four years of operation some 95,000 cars had been landed on the site.

Berthing Challenges

In the early days many schemes were employed to get the Holyhead Ferry 1 alongside Holyhead's Admiralty Pier in a Northerly gale. One such move involved backing the ship into the inner harbour, then "Change Bridges" - which involved a quick sprint, cap in hand, navy blue raincoat flapping, along the length of the funnel deck before approaching the berth bow first from the station. Get the bow in and secure, then screw the stern in.

It was also customary to back in and before the bow began to pay off, fire a rocket line from the focsle. The shore gang would haul away on the line to which was attached a mooring rope and so "line ashore for'd". Capt Glynne Pritchard recalls that Holiday makers would walk along the upper pathway on the Mail Pier. "How someone wasn't injured by the rocket I don't know. It usually ended up snagged on the path railing and would spin around at about 2,000 mph!"

New Horizons


In 1973 the Holyhead Ferry 1 had her first spell of English Channel service after which she relived Fishguard’s Caledonian Princess for annual overhaul.

By now the “Ferry 1” found her self based at Dover with that port’s Dover being based at Holyhead!  The reason was the latter’s greater car capacity over her half-sister.  The confusion ended in 1976 when the Holyhead Ferry 1 was sent to Swan Hunter on the Tyne for conversion to drive through operation from which she emerged renamed Earl Leofric.

© Ken Larwood
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