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A misty inauspicious day on the Channel, but little Ramsgate pulled some surprises as usual. While my purpose was to witness the Transeuropa Ostend service, I first had to grasp the meaning of the presence of a mediaeval ‘carrack’ and a Norwegian fjord ferry. Intellectually a tall order.
The cloud of oil smoke drifting across the outer harbour indicated Transeuropa’s Ramsgate-Ostend mainstay Gardenia 8,023,’78 was warming up for the mid-day sailing. The muck she was throwing out indicated some servicing was required though once warmed up it subsided somewhat. Gardenia’s capacity looks small for today’s needs with old Stork-Werkspoor engines that will use as much fuel as ships with a much larger capacity. She seemed fairly lightly loaded, principally with unaccompanied trailers and a few trucks and cars I had seen being driven aboard.
Her colour scheme suits her well. She is one of the hard worked quartet of small ex Townsend and later P&O sisters from their one time favourite builders, Schichau at Bremerhaven. She was European Enterprise until 2003. Of the other three European Trader has been broken up, European Clearway having passed through Transeuropa’s hands as their Begonia is in the Baltic for Scandinavian Lines of Tallinn as the Via Mare and European Gateway has been lengthened and is still working in Greece as the Penelope A. At thirty-five years old they can’t have many years left.
Precisely at noon, Gardenia set out onto a calm, overcast and hazy Channel. Then I spotted a vessel coming out of the haze off her port bow. This was a much larger ship and could only be her running mate the Ostend Spirit on the opposite leg. As they passed in the Ramsgate fairway the big ship gave a multiple signal on her siren. In return Gardenia gave a single greeting, or rather, farewell, because this was to be Ostend Spirit’s final docking at Ramsgate. LD Line’s contribution to a twelve month co-operation with Transeuropa had ended and later she would sail for Gdansk for work to adjust her for her next route. She was scheduled to reappear once more as LD Line’s Normandy Spirit to work Portsmouth-Le Havre from the end of April. Again, I thought that in Transeuropa colours the former Dover-Ostend Prins Filip, 28,883,’91, being never a particularly elegant ship, looked as good as I’d ever seen her, LD’s own scheme being drab in comparison. There obviously has not been the market for the big ex Belgian carrier at Ramsgate.
So what future for Ramsgate-Ostend? The route does seem to suffer in the competitive market place that is the Channel by being relatively little known and Ramsgate is way out on a limb, geographically, but here things may be going their way, as ongoing road investment should be making Ramsgate more accessible to a wider South East England market.
Of Transeuropa’s elderly fleet that other former Dover-Ostend Belgian veteran, Eurovoyager 6,707,’78 the ex Prins Albert, has been on charter in the Med, latterly to spanish based FRS largely between Algeciras and Tangier for freight. There is some speculation she may return to Ramsgate, perhaps briefly. She is the last of another series of hard working sisters which Transeuropa has specialised in acquiring. She once ran alongside fellow ex Dover-Ostend Belgians Primrose and Wisteria, the former Princesse Marie Christine and Prinses Maria Esmeralda. The latter spent her last years on charter in the Med and Red Sea but was broken up in ‘08. Primrose, ex Princesse Marie Christine 6,276,’75 went to Turkish breakers early this year after pioneering a new 1 hour route to Elba from the mainland for a young Italian company, Blu Navy, though she looked cumbersome for this island shuttle and she has been replaced by a more suitable chartered Greek double ender, Achaios, ‘07 one of those one-offs that is the Greek builders’ speciality at Perama.
More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - May 2011 Issue
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