Destined for the Dover-Calais Flagship Service, the brand new St Christopher was first diverted to the Fishguard-Rosslare run to allow the Stena Normandica to stand down for overhaul. At least that was the intention.
Harland & Wolff,
+100 A1 Lloyds
11.80m to upper deck.
780 metres freight
Bow and stern, twin level.
The ship duly arrived at Rosslare for berthing trials early on 15 March, but instead of proceeding to Fishguard to take up the run she was instead diverted northwards to Dun Laoghaire for further trials, arriving there shortly after 1800hrs. She then crossed to Holyhead to operate her official maiden voyage in place of a failed St Columba. This complete, it was back south and she finally took up service at Fishguard on 19 March.
It was not until 13 April that Dover got its new ship, joining sister ship St Anselm on the Calais service. It was not long before the ship received the first of a number of alterations designed to enhance the travelling experience of her passengers. Early in 1982 her passenger certificate was increased to 1200 by opening up the bridge deck aft of the funnels and then in 1983 she returned to Belfast where her accommodation was extended aft. This modification saw another passenger increase, to 1350, and GRT rose to 7399 tons. In 1986 £1.5mn was spent by Sealink's new owners, Sea Containers, on a completely new interior refit completed at Papenburg, West Germany.
The St Christopher had a lucky escape in October 1987 while on passage from Calais to Dover. Unable to enter the Kentish port in the same storm that had the Hengist ashore at Folkestone, the St Christopher found herself sheltering between Deal and the Goodwin Sands. There she was hit by a wave of such ferocity that her forward upper vehicle deck door was split open. A number of artics turned over and for a time the ship was in a critical situation. Thanks to the professionalism of her officers and crew, under Capt Colin Roberts, the situation was brought back under control and nine hours after leaving Calais she finally limped into Dover. The Bosun and the Chippy both received bravery awards for clearing debris from the scuppers, without which water would have collected on the car decks.
Following the sale of Sealink to Stena Line in 1990, the St Christopher was allocated to the Stranraer-Larne service and renamed Stena Antrim. Under this name she again saw service at Holyhead, in January 1995 while covering for the overhaul periods of the Stena Cambria (ex-St Anselm) and Stena Hibernia (ex-St Columba).
Rounding the breakwater at Fishguard, March 1981. © Jim Ashby / Justin Merrigan Collection
Arriving at Rosslare. © Jack Phelan / Justin Merrigan Collection