I have always been intrigued by the fact that Southampton is one of the biggest ports in the UK, yet it is cut off from the City of Southampton by virtue of high walls.
The best bet for viewing ships coming in and out of the port is to take the 10 minute ferry ride from Town Jetty, Southampton over to Hythe where, from the promenade, there is a clear view of Southampton Water and the approaches to the docks. I did a little research and found that there are a number of different harbour cruises operating out of Southampton than enable passengers to view most of the port. I booked a two hour trip on the SS Shieldhall.
What better way to explore the Port of Southampton than on board a real steamship. SS Shieldhall operates a programme of short cruises from Southampton from May to October each year. The ship was built in Glasgow in 1955 as a sludge carrier/passenger ship for Glasgow Corporation, carrying passengers during the summer months. She performed the less than glamourous operation of dumping treated sewerage at sea in the Clyde until 1977 when she was sold to Southern Water. She operated out of Southampton until 1985 and in 1988 was bought by Solent Steam Packet Ltd who operate her as a registered charity. SS Shieldhall is Britain’s largest operational historic steamship and is powered by two triple-expansion steam engines. She is 268 ft in length and has a service speed of 9 knots. All the crew are volunteers.
I boarded the ship for my cruise at No 48 berth, Southampton which was near the cruise liner terminal. My first impressions were that this was a real ship. Teak decks, brass portholes, derricks, etc. It looked, felt, smelled and sounded like the ships I had sailed on as a young man in the early 1970’s. It was to be a good day for ship spotting with no less than three cruise ships in port.
We were berthed very close to Emerald Princess (113,561 grt Bermuda 2007) operated by Princess Cruises (part of Carnival group). I am not a fan of modern leviathan cruise ships with their on-board theme parks which, to me, look like apartment blocks turned on their sides.
As we slipped out of port, we passed a cruise ship more to my taste, the comparatively modest Braemar, formerly Crown Dynasty, Cunard Crown Dynasty, Crown Majesty and Norwegian Dynasty (24,344 grt Bahamas 1993) operated by Fred Olsen.
Next to the cruise berths was the vehicle carrier, Morning Calypso (59,432 grt Panama 2013) operated by South Korean company Eukor. These are not pretty ships, but one has to marvel at the logistics involved in loading and unloading of 6500 cars and other vehicles. Southampton is the biggest vehicle import/export port in the UK and vehicle carriers can usually be seen in port.
We headed down Southampton Water past Netley before turning around and heading back up towards the River Test. Southampton Water is a busy stretch of water and I noted several of the Red Funnel Isle of Wight car and fast passenger ferries operating a regular service from Southampton to Cowes.
The star attraction of the day for many ship spotters would have been, Independence of the Seas (154,407 grt. Bahamas 2008) operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises. At the time of writing, she is the 11th largest cruise liner in the world. I watched with interest as the port tender Seagreen moored alongside her and began loading empty pallets and bundles of waste cardboard. Rubbish disposal is one of the less glamourous sides of cruise ships and one most passengers would not notice.
As we sailed further into the port, we saw the general cargo vessel Arina (3,826 grt Lithuania 1989) operated by Afalita. She was berthed by an aggregates wharf. Shieldhall did not go up as far as the containers berths.