Taken on charter from Stena Line, the arrival of the Stena Sailer at Holyhead in 1987 marked the reintroduction of a second ship on the service to Dun Laoghaire after a gap of over two years. A far cry from the previous 'second ship', the St David, the Stena Sailer was welcomed as a chance to build freight levels. In her initial months her continued operation was somewhat touch and go, but as traffic levels increased so her future was secured and eventually she was purchased and renamed St Cybi.
Verolme Cork Dockyard, Rushbrooke, Ireland, 1975.
Bow and stern
It fell to Captain Glynne Pritchard to collect the Stena Sailer from lay-up at Falmouth and bring her to Holyhead at the start of her bareboat charter to Sealink British Ferries in March 1987.
His first impression of the Stena Sailer? “A ship not up to Sealink standards, I think she had been laid up for a while, which explained the build up of mussels in the sea water cooling pipes. It was not until we were on passage that her faults really showed up,” says Captain Pritchard.
Thurs 12th March - Standby at Holyhead to collect Stena Sailer from Falmouth
Fri 13th - In the office and collecting charts etc.
Sat 14th – Shipping & Port Manager Colin Burkitt, Cledwyn Roberts C/E and I left Holyhead at noon for the drive to Falmouth
Sun 15th - On the ship all day, back to the hotel in the evening.
Mon 16th - Due to sail, but cancelled due to NUS activities at Holyhead.
Tues 17th - Left Queens wharf at 0900 for Bunkering Jetty. Depart Falmouth at 1400. Engines US. Hugh Farrell 2/O and Dick Jones C/O. As soon as I took Bridge control the ship stared moving astern at a rate of knots. The Stena people could have told us that 'zero' on the port engine combinator was in fact 'one' astern! On the passage from Falmouth to Dun Laoghaire we had various combinations of the four engines. Of the two British Polar engines on each shaft I don't think we had the four all working together for any length of time.
Weds 18th - Arr Dún Laoghaire at 1400. I remember the sleet was coming in horizontally through the side wheelhouse window. The pier master, Rai Travers, wanted me to go out again and try the berth stern first. No chance! Left Dublin 1815 and arrived home (in the house) at 0100.
Thursday 19th - shifting around the harbour in wind NW 35 knots with dud engines - never again!
Captain Pritchard recalls “It all started with trying to shift from the Refit berth to the Admiralty Pier with the wind from the NW at 35 knots. The wind kept blowing the heaving lines back on board, but we eventually got a line ashore ford. Every time I started to screw the stern in the engineers would phone up to ask me to ease off because the engines were overheating. I had to abandon it in the end and decided to go outside to swing and came back into the inner harbour.
“We then had to anchor in the inner harbour off the refit berth. I'll never forget Cledwyn, the Chief, appearing on the bridge, his face black with soot, with white rivulets of sweat running down his cheeks, saying ‘We've got to stop the engines, the exhausts are glowing cherry red, can you anchor here?’
“We did, before finally making it back to the refit berth.”
The following morning, on Friday 20th March, saw the Stena Sailer set off on her first commercial trip, from the station ramp at 0600. But the drama was far from finished as in Ireland the introduction of the ship was causing something of a stir.
At that time the Irish Sea ferry operations of Sealink and B&I Line were the subject of a revenue pooling and capacity sharing agreement which both companies entered into in 1986 covering the two year period to December 1987. For Sealink the Stena Sailer was a supplementary vessel to the St. Columba, her purpose being to leave the latter free for tourist traffic while she catered for freight vehicles. B&I Line had informed the Irish Government that the Sealink proposal to operate an additional vessel into Dún Laoghaire was in breach of the agreement. A senior level meeting between the two companies was arranged for 24 March.
The Irish Government took the view therefore that, pending the outcome of those discussions, the status quo in relation to shipping services into Dún Laoghaire should be preserved. Their views in this regard were conveyed to Sealink and the then operators of Dún Laoghaire Harbour, the Commissioners of Public Works. Sealink, nonetheless, indicated their intention of proceeding with the introduction of the service in advance of the discussions arranged. At the Minister's request, the Office of Public Works indicated to Sealink that in that event facilities would not be made available for the Sealink vessel.
Sealink chose, nonetheless, to sail the Stena Sailer into Dún Laoghaire on 20th March. In line with the position which had been indicated earlier to Sealink, offloading facilities were not provided for the vessel by the Office of Public Works.
Later on Friday, with the Stena Sailer sitting in Dublin Bay, representatives of Sealink sought a meeting with Government officials. At that meeting, the Sealink representatives confirmed their agreement to discussions with B & I on 24th March. They also asked if the responsible Minister would agree to the unloading of the Stena Sailer. On the basis of that undertaking, and having regard to the difficulties which had arisen for those with cargo on board the Stena Sailer, the Minister requested the Office of Public Works to provide the necessary unloading facilities for the vessel.
The ship eventually left Dun Laoghaire at 1820 and after discharging cargo tied up at the refit berth where her engines received some much needed attention. The talks held between the two companies were not conclusive and some weeks passed before the service could get going again.
This time was used alongside the Refit Berth correcting some of the ship's many problems. Having had her main engine cooling pipes cleared of mussels and other detriment which caused the engines to overheat, the Stena Sailer was was at last deemed ready for sea trials. On 1st April 1987 (note the date!) Capt Pritchard was instructed to proceed to sea for trials and on return to make a detour to lie alongside the new ro/ro berth in the Outer Harbour, now known as Terminal 4.
"The berth was incomplete, and I was instructed to lie alongside long enough for photographs to be taken. I am led to believe that the berth was built with a grant from Europe and proof was required that the berth was indeed up and running," he recalls.
Ironically, the Stena Sailer was built for B&I Line in 1975 as the Dundalk and by the builder of Holyhead's container vessels Rhodri Mawr and Brian Boroime. From the outset the ship was something of an oddity given the profile of Irish Sea RoRo services at the time, particularly in light of a new operating agreement between B&I and P&O. The Dundalk saw only brief service between Dublin and Liverpool before a series of charters took her all over Europe. She was subsequently offered to Stena RoRo as part payment for a charter.
A range of issues with the Stena Sailer brought a number of visitors to Holyhead. The Earl Harold operated on the run for a period at the start of 1988. Then came the Vortigern right at the very end of her Sealink career when the Stena Sailer suffered a significant engine issue. In a surprise move, Sealink transferred the Dover RoRo ship Seafreight Highway to the run for the 1988 summer season and moved the Stena Sailer to the Fishguard - Rosslare service. The larger ship was not a success, largely because she was in reality a deep-sea RoRo and so it came as little surprise when the Stena Sailer returned to Holyhead at the end of the season. While at Fishguard the ship gained the (somewhat non-standard) Sealink 'galloping maggot' on her funnels. By the end of the year she had been purchased by Sealink and renamed St Cybi.
Coming soon - St Cybi.