Saturday, July 21, 2018
Duke of Lancaster

A Typical Summer Sailing From Heysham Harbour – 50 Years Ago

This veteran turbine ship, now all of 61 years old, is lying at Mostyn on the North Wales coast and is the continuing subject of controversy as the owner and interested ship lovers struggle to get her into an active role in the entertainment world. Her sailing days are long gone, but the evocative silhouette on the sky line, as viewed from the coastal road, has now created a band of interested followers. A new black paint job has recently replaced the graffiti covered hull, and an action group named the “Duke of Lancaster Preservation Society” is promoting her interests on Facebook and has attracted over 2,000 members and growing.

In her day, however, she was a hard-working ferry, running between Heysham and Belfast and with a cruising role to Europe and Scandinavia in the summer. The Scottish West Coast was also a favourite cruise, often with regular passengers, who returned year after year. Unlike her sisters, this vessel has so far defied the scrap yard. Over the intervening years, many novel roles have been envisaged for her, and some have been briefly tried, like using her as a graffiti gallery, but red tape and planning issues continue to dog progress.

First ordered by British Rail back in 1955, and entering service in 1956, she was built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff Ltd, and ran from Heysham Harbour to Belfast with her sister ships, the Dukes of Rothesay, and Argyll until 1975, when a major conversion into a car ferry took place.

The smart new buildings had the following details:- 4,450 tons gross. Length 376ft. Beam 57.3ft. 14ft 11 inches draft. 1,800 passengers, made up of 1,200 second class and 600 first class. In 1963, a change of ownership to Sealink came in, and 1979 saw the end of this regular service. For her last four years, she ran between Holyhead and Dublin. Throughout the 60’s, these ships carried millions of passengers and the author served on all three “Dukes” as a deck officer, cruising in the summer months. The following account is based on some still vivid memories.

The whole trip from Heysham usually went like clockwork. Everyone from the Captain down knew their job, and repeated their movements in exactly the same way as on dozens of previous trips. In some ways it was a zombie performance and the transformation from a dead ship in the day, to a buzz of activity at night, added to this perception. Sleep was a priority, and one of the senior Masters at that time was even nicknamed ‘Noddy’ for his Herculean efforts to stay in his bunk for the maximum amount of time.

The only variables were – number one, the weather, usually good in the summer, and – number two, the passenger incidents, which rose in direct proportion to the numbers on board. Drunken disturbances were common, but happened more frequently on the return trip from Belfast, when military personnel were carried. Man overboard alerts also occasionally happened in the summer months, usually as a result of a drunken prank.

Around 11pm on a typical summer’s evening, the trains from London would arrive at Heysham Harbour station. They had thundered through Morecambe, the nearby seaside town, locals listening expectantly for their arrival. The hordes of people, men, women, and children, servicemen etc would all disgorge and go over the short walkways from the station to the quayside, and board the ship at the berth where she had arrived that morning. The last passenger cars were being lifted onboard using nets around the wheels. No ramp existed in those years. The crew on board would then be closing the hatches and preparing for sea. Two gangways would be in place, fore and aft, for it was still the time of First and Second class. Metal barriers on board separated the classes even if one side was choca-block, and the other forward side, the one reserved for First Class, near empty.

If the tide was right, the ship’s main deck might be level with the quay, and this tempted some of the agile ones, young men and the like, to climb over the rail, ignoring the head count carried out by quartermasters on the gangways holding a clicking counter gadget in their hands. Therefore, in this glorious age of slack security and unknown terror threats, the numbers on board were ever just an estimate. Health and Safety was also to come along later. However, the so-called “Troubles” in Belfast were only a couple of years away, when actual and threatened actions would disrupt the voyages and often cause a return to the departure quay for baggage checks. This became monotonously common sailing from Belfast. Strict safety rules meant that a return was obligatory, even as a result of a single threatening phone warning.

At Bank Holiday time, there would also be another ‘Duke’ boat tied up on the outside of the first one and an unguarded short gangway allowed anyone to pass over as they wished, further blurring the numbers carried. The ships would then sail within a few minutes of each other and arrive together in Belfast in the morning. It all went smoothly, despite the numbers; up to 4,000 souls in total that were crossing the Irish Sea.

The draft would be read, the duty officer walking along the quay to read the figures on the bow and stern, and bridge equipment tested. Hatches and openings were secured. When the gangways were withdrawn, all hands went to their respective stations and the Station Master came onto the quay and blew his whistle. Really!

Then the fun started. On the Focs’le, a wire was in place around the barrel of the windlass and this was used to heave the bow out into the dock and have it pointing at the exit from the tidal harbour. Despite the huge rise and fall of the tide, this port was accessible at any time. A signal from the bridge, using a referee’s mouth whistle, would trigger the heaving off on this wire and another signal a few minutes later to let go. It occasionally happened that the Master slammed both engines full ahead prematurely and the powerful turbines caused a rapid surge forwards, making it impossible to free the wire from the drum. Everyone would dive for cover as the wire went taut and then snapped, or worse still, snapped and whipped over the heads of the Focs’le party. Normally, the third mate in charge, blew two blasts to signal that the wire was clear, when the ahead movement could begin, but it was lost in the panic when the ship was already bounding forward. The poor shoreside dock crew were left to fish out the broken wire after departure and set it ready for the next occasion.

Within a few minutes, the ship was rushing through the entrance guarded by granite pillars called “The Roundheads” and she was manually guided by the Bosun at the steering wheel. This entrance needed care and full concentration. There was often a strong cross tide and weather conditions that were different on each occasion. The Duke of Lancaster grounded badly on rocks in 1965 when entering in awkward weather and quickly turned the bottom plates into a fair imitation of corrugated cardboard, before she was repaired in Holyhead and returned to service. Rocks, still stuck in the bottom, had to be prised out of the steel when she was drydocked. It was quite a sight walking below the damaged hull.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - October 2017 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Nexus

Most Popular

  • Isle of Man Steam Packet to be Taken Into Public Ownership +

  • By Brittany Ferries from Ireland to Spain +

  • Murray Robinson 1955~2018 +

  • Upgrade Planned for Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier +

  • Dutch Superyacht Yards Set New Records +

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Focus on Giant Saudi Arabia Complex +

    Ras Al Khair The International Maritime Industries giant shipyard complex at Ras Al Khair, on the Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia, will come Read More
  • Bridge Crews ‘Formed Different Views’ +

    Huayang Endeavour Seafrontier Conflicting views as to what had been agreed between the bridge teams of one ship overtaking another in the Dover Read More
  • Ship Completes Work on Irish Sea Windfarm +

    Seajacks Scylla In mid-May, the largest jack-up vessel operated by the windfarm installation company Seajacks UK, of Gt Yarmouth, completed work on Read More
  • Special Heavy Lifts for Tyne Jackets +

    Aegir Five highly-complex heavy lifts have taken place on the Tyne by the Dutch deepsea heavy lift ship Aegir, 50,228gt, operated Read More
  • Runaway Barge Crosses North Atlantic +

    Malik I The Ballyglass RNLI lifeboat had an unusual vessel to deal with on the evening of May 14. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Seabed Mining Venture Starts from California +

    Maersk Launcher The Maersk Group, of Denmark, has ventured into seabed mining. Read More
  • Cranes Boost Capacity of Elizabeth Terminal +

    Zhen Hua 20 Four new giant gantry cranes arrived at APM Terminals at Elizabeth, New York, at the end of April as part Read More
  • Tanker Holed in Collision off New York +

    Tofteviken A Norwegian tanker suffered a 30ft long gash in her hull in a collision with a fishing vessel off New Read More
  • Appeal Over Developing New Master Plan +

    Enterprise To operate in California, ports must have a master plan approved by the California Coastal Commission that guides their development Read More
  • Shipyard Prepares Carrier for Laying Up +

    Enterprise In April, the Newport News Shipbuilding division of Huntington Ingalls Industries completed the inactivation of the former US Navy aircraft Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • China Set to Ban Foreign Ships from Breaking Yards +

    Chittagong Shipbreaking Yard China is to ban overseas ships being broken up at its demolition yards from the start of next year. Read More
  • Carnival Wins Conditional Approval for Terminal +

    Brisbane Cruise Terminal Model The plan by the world’s largest cruise ship operator, the Carnival Group, of Miami, to build an Au$158mn cruise terminal Read More
  • Training Ship Set to Berth on Campus +

    MOL Marine Academy Next month, a new maritime academy will be opened in the Philippines by the Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Lines Read More
  • Kotug Takes Over Joint Venture Australian Tugs Firm +

    KT Maritime Tug Kotug Australia has acquired the Teekay Shipping Australia half of their joint towage venture KT Maritime Services. Read More
  • Class Approval for LNG Ore Carrier +

    Hyundai LNG Carrier The South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has received approval in principle from the Londonbased classification society Lloyd’s Register Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Upgrade Planned for Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier +

    Admiral Kuznetsov Russian News Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be refitted to prolong the warship’s operational life. Read More
  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

    HMS Astute British News Ahead of the American led missile strikes against suspected chemical weapon manufacturing plants in Syria in early April, Read More
  • Busy Period for Japanese Navy +

    JS Asahi Japanese News It has been a particularly busy period for the Japanese with a number of new vessels being accepted Read More
  • Historic Port Visit to Vietnam +

    USS Carl Vinson US News In a significant move in March, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson made an historic port Read More
  • Russian Minesweeper Fleet Expands +

    Alexander Obukhov Russian News By 2027 the Russian Federation Navy is expected to have acquired a total of ten Alexandrit class minesweepers Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Stena Confirms Three E-Flexers for the Irish Sea +

    Stena E-Flexer Stena Line has confirmed that the first of its new RoPax ferries currently under construction in China is planned to Read More
  • By Brittany Ferries from Ireland to Spain +

    Connemara As Irish Ferries ramps up its Dublin to Cherbourg service with the arrival of the new purpose-built WB Yeats, Brittany Read More
  • Transport Scotland Buys Northern Isles Ropax Trio +

    Hamnavoe The Hamnavoe, Hrossey and Hjaltland had previously been chartered by Transport Scotland from Royal Bank of Scotland and operated by Read More
  • Irish Ferries’ New Fast Craft Enters Service +

    Dublin Swift Irish Ferries has introduced the fast ferry Dublin Swift into service between Dublin and Holyhead, the 101m craft becoming the Read More
  • St Helena Finishes Career +

    RMS St Helena At last, after much delay, subsequent to the construction of the new airport on St Helena, the island’s namesake ship Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • New Bridge Challenges Melissa +

    Melissa The organisers of the charter barges working from Ipswich are worried by plans to build a road bridge across the Read More
  • German Schooners +

    Thor Heyerdahl Two German schooners based at Hamburg are regularly making voyages under sail with general cargoes across the Atlantic. Read More
  • RFA Pearleaf +

    RFA Pearleaf Thanks to Orkney Image Library for this view of the RFA Pearleaf. Read More
  • Nostalgic for Oil Fuel Depots +

    BP Distributor A collection of fine images of coastal tankers delivering fuel to the Southern Scottish town of Kirkcudbright took my eye. Read More
  • The Benefits of Wheel Spokes +

    Will Everard The Anna (see the print edition for details), like all Dutch craft, has a band around the outside of her Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • P&O Ferries Set to Lift Capacity at Teesport +

    Bore Song In May 2018, P&O Ferries announced that it plans to lift capacity on its Zeebrugge-Teesport route by almost 25 per Read More
  • New Generation of RoRo’s by Knud E. Hansen for Grimaldi +

    Grimaldi Hybrid Over many years Knud E. Hansen has been one of the world’s leaders in terms of ship design, with a Read More
  • Isle of Man Steam Packet to be Taken Into Public Ownership +

    Ben my Chree Manannan The news of the Isle of Man Government’s acquisition of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company announced in May, Read More
  • Major Marine Fabrication Returns to Southampton +

    SMS Pontoon Good positive news from Southampton where marine engineering services firm SMS is, presently, midway through a contract to build three Read More
  • ITF Inspectors Help Repatriate Ukrainian Seafarers +

    Avonmore Crew In this, the second decade of the 21st century, I am still often astonished, saddened and angered by the treatment Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • The Way Towards Superyacht Ownership +

    Monaco Yacht Show When it comes to buying a superyacht, mostly owners will start with smaller yachts and progress in overall length towards Read More
  • Dutch Superyacht Yards Set New Records +

    Irisha The steady stream of superyachts being launched in Holland is a very visible sign of the prominence of the Dutch Read More
  • ‘Ten Pound Poms’ . . . The Emigration Boom to Australia After WWII +

    New Australia With the cessation of hostilities after the end of WW2 in 1945, a number of Immigration Schemes were introduced by Read More
  • Symphony of Light Hong Kong +

    Symphony of Lights Cruise passengers on a vessel that includes Hong Kong within their itinerary, may have witnessed Hong Kong’s ‘A Symphony of Read More
  • "QE2" Comes to Life Again +

    QE2 in Dubai There will be many readers who, for the last decade, have followed the fortunes of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

MV Forrest

MV "Forrest" - Celebrating 50 Years of Service

Ever since the early days of the 19th century, the Falkland Islands have always had a shipping service both within Read More
SS Hellas Liberty

A Venerable Veteran - SS Hellas Liberty

Lovers of the traditional merchant navy visiting Piraeus should not fail to view the museum steamer SS Hellas Liberty. The Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Hjaltland

Safmarine Memories

With around three-quarters of the Safmarine fleet trading between South Africa and the UK in 1967, the year in which Read More
Wahine

Murray Robinson 1955~2018

Since our acquisition of Sea Breezes in 2008, one of the strengths of this magazine, which I first read as Read More
  • 1
  • 2