Thursday, 27 December 2012

Pride of Dover...the end of the road

With it looking absolutely inevitable there will be no reprieve and miracle for my old friend, I put this together from some of my old photos of her. It's not much, but it'll do.

Goodbye old friend. Rest in peace and thank you for the crossings over the years.

A ship, like a person, is more than just the sum of its parts. It's not just the people involved with it, it's *something else*, too. People have long said that ships have souls, personalities and feelings and, although it might be considered just a flight of fancy by the foolishly romantic among us, that includes those people considered generally unromantic, like seamen, some who have said the same thing over the years.

Why else would the confirmation of the sale of an old ferry to breakers mar, if not ruin, so many people's - not just my - Christmas Day, with grown people professing to be 'gutted'? Is it because she was once pride of the fleet, now unwanted, unloved and, despite hopes to the contrary, cast aside for an undignified, if natural death, cut to pieces at the hands of ship-breakers? Maybe. At the very least, she was a big favourite of many ferry enthusiasts, especially those on the eastern Channel, and has gone to breakers before her time (and after rumours of repairs were proved to be false, which also upset people) which, in itself, is reason enough to be sad at her passing - although her 25 years of life were good ones, only marred by the occasional breakdown and the last two years in lay up.

Some people would consider it overly sentimental to be sad about a ship, a machine made of steel, plastic, glass and other assorted compounds and elements, but so what? If it makes me and others 'sentimental', then fine, I am in great company. I've never really given a toss about what other people think, as it is generally people unimportant to me who would have a go - those who matter don't care and those who care don't matter!

In the meantime, Pride of Dover awaits her fate off the coast near Aliaga, which she reached this morning, and Eide Fighter is again dragging her round in large circles. I assume they are waiting for a beaching slot.**

**Edit, 28th December - The deed, it appears, is now done. :-(


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

"Well. This sucks"

This is going to be a downbeat post. Sorry about that, it being Crimbo Day and all that, but there was some bad news about Pride of Dover this morning; someone posted on Dover Ferry Photo Forums that the destination of the tug towing her has been changed from Tuzla, where the shipyards are, to Aliaga, where ship-breakers lurk. While this is not unexpected it is nonetheless very sad news, particularly on Christmas morning and appears to dash the hopes of her fans and friends that she'd be repaired for further service.
Whether she was destined originally for possible repair and things were changed after some discussions - and she spent a day or two being dragged round in circles off Sicily for no apparent reason - we shall probably never know, but it is a sad and premature end for a wonderful ship and a few people's Christmas Days were slightly marred by that news, judging by comments on forums. Her twin, Ostend Spirit (ex. Pride of Calais) will be lonely...well, apart from the ancient Larkspur and Gardenia, whose own futures cannot be assured given their ages and the fact that Larkspur is knackered.

On the subject of sad ends and possible demises, the fate of the QE2 has come back into the public domain, with a report in the UK's Daily Mail that she'd been sold to the Chinese for scrap after Dubai flatly turned down a bid from a consortium in London who wanted to buy her for use as a hotel adjacent to the O2 Arena. This has not been confirmed and not reported elsewhere, apart from rehashes of the DM story, and, frankly, I'd take it with a pinch of salt - as any rumour - until it is reported in the shipping press, rather than a tabloid. As reported on the QE2 Story Forum, her crew had been changed, en masse, to a Chinese one which is where the latest batch of rumours began. There are rumours also of her being used as a hotel in the Far East or Singapore and also, more bizarrely, being cut down for use as a Chinese helicopter carrier or converted into a troop-ship.
Cunard issued the following statement on their Facebook page (probably because they got bombarded with comments from upset and angry QE2 fans):

"We have noted the messages of understandable concern with regards to the recent article in the Daily Mail with reference to QE2. We remain in close contact with Dubai and can reassure you that to the very best of our knowledge this story is pure speculation - one of a number of stories and rumours as we have seen over recent months. Our best advice would be to ignore the story.

Best regards,
Cunard Line."

I hope Cunard are right and not just saying it to get people off their case...! Time will tell.

As Christmases go, this has not been the best, Pride of Dover and QE2's fates aside, I have a neck injury (suspected slipped disc, with the attendant nerve problems) and a few other things have gone wrong, and I expect that SFC will cap it with a loss at Fulham tomorrow... Roll on January!

*Post title, from film 'Madagascar' when the penguins get less than they were expecting on landing in Antarctica. I am out of ideas for good post titles.

Friday, 21 December 2012

2012. Apocalypse Not.

We're nearly at the end of yet another year, with Christmas and the New Year just round the corner. As I get older, the years increasingly seem like blurs punctuated by Christmases, they vanish that fast, and apparently it will get worse.
As years go, 2012 wasn't too bad, except for the appalling cold, wet and dismal weather which marked late spring, summer and autumn and put a dampener on major events during the summer.
Anyway, here are a few highlights, lowlights and notable events from this year, with some representative photos and links to the relevant blog posts.

In April, I visited a lighthouse for the first time, when I got the chance to visit St. Catherines Lighthouse on the south side of the Isle of Wight.

5th June had the first meeting of all three current Cunard 'Queens' at Southampton. This was billed as a 'Jubilee' event, coinciding with events up and down the country marking Elizabeth II's 60 years as monarch but, unfortunately, it was a bit spoiled by the unusually - even for our climate - diabolical weather. I didn't go over to Southampton, having picked up some 24-hour disease or other and, in any case, it wasn't worth the effort, in view of the bad weather, and all three would be back in Southampton on 13th July, minus the hype and probable crowds.

3rd July was the P&O Grand Event, celebrating 175 years of the company, and all seven of their current cruise fleet were in Southampton together. I was lucky enough to be there aboard Oriana, having been invited along by my friend Patricia Dempsey; someone else was booked but he had to drop out and his insurance covered the costs meaning I effectively got a free cruise, a four night one to Amsterdam and Zeebrugge. Again, the event was a bit marred by wet and misty weather but that didn't prevent everyone having a good time.

13th July - a Friday - saw all three current Queens back in Southampton. This was a much more low-key and unadvertised event but Blue Funnel Cruises were running a boat trip, which I joined, meeting up with my friends Patricia and Kevin Dempsey and Andrew and Donna Cooke. The weather was a vast improvement on the previous 'Royal Rendezvous' and the sun even made a guest appearance!

25th July - HM The Queen visited Cowes so I went with my aunt to see her. I am not a royalist but I fancied a morning out and went with my aunt (who is an ardent royalist) to see her. We got good views and I got some cracking photos of Her Madge as well. It was, for once, a gloriously hot and sunny summer's day, too.

On 2nd August I visited Holland America Line's Maasdam for the day. I'd put my name down for it and duly received a confirmation email. Mein Schiff 2 was also in, so that was two 'new' ships for my photo collection! It was a very enjoyable day and worth the effort of going across to Southampton early and also having to dress smartly.

Among the lowlights were learning in October that a ship I'd always been very fond of, the old Spirit of Free Enterprise/Pride of Kent (I) had gone to Turkish breakers as Anthi Marina, in April, following the collapse of GA Ferries. She was almost unrecognisable in her final, badly altered (molested!) form, only her superstructure and funnels identified her as one of the three Townsend-Thoresen Spirit-class ships from 1979/80. Only one now survives, Oleander, the former Pride of Free Enterprise, but how long for?

Another old friend, Pride of Dover, is also facing an uncertain future, having been towed to Turkey (for what? Breakers or repair?) at the end of November. I managed to catch her in the shipping lane south of the Isle of Wight on 30th November, under tow of the tug Eide Fighter. Luckily her twin, Pride of Calais, has been acquired by TEF and will enter service, as Ostend Spirit, in the New Year. Dover Ferry Photos Forum has all the latest news, gossip and speculation (you need to join to view the forums but it is worth it).

Back to the highlights and, in November I managed to fulfil an ambition I'd held since childhood - a trip on a Cunard liner. I went, again with Patricia Dempsey, on Queen Mary 2 for a short, four-night, trip to the Channel Islands, Le Havre and Zeebrugge. It was a superb trip and Queen Mary 2 is a wonderful ship, I sincerely hope I can sail on her again one day in the not-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, speculation abounds as to QM2's predecessor, Queen Elizabeth 2, and her ultimate fate. Rumours of possible scrapping have surfaced and a change of crew to a Chinese one, reported by Rob Lightbody on the QE2 Story Forum, have done nothing to allay people's quite natural fears for the ship. Like Pride of Dover, we will have to wait and see what happens but at least QE2 is over 40 years old, and has had a good innings, while Pride of Dover is just 25. That said, I am one of those people who don't want to see the ship scrapped but, at the same time, realistically do we want her to potentially end up in a possibly SS United States-style purgatory? Fingers crossed for both QE2 and Pride of Dover, two ships I have fond memories of.

Anyway, that is 2012, as was. Not a bad year by any stretch of the imagination, if you discount the atrocious weather and my being made redundant at the end of September. It's December 21st, as I type, a nice sunny day and - as entirely expected - no sign of a world-ending apocalypse. I guess that if the fictitious rogue asteroid/planet/comet/whatever hit us, it'd come down with a dull splat in a soggy English field somewhere. Mind you, with the rain we've had this year, that'd probably generate a good-sized tsunami in itself.
I smugly wrote on Facebook a few days ago that I'd not managed to break any bones or get any serious illnesses this year, unlike 2011 which was marked by a (fortunately benign) liver tumour, a torn knee cartilage and a broken ankle, only to injure my neck two days ago, a suspected slipped disc!
Non-maritime highlights include a trip to Texas to see my friends there as well as the best Olympics of the modern Olympiad.

What will 2013 bring? Probably not a lot if my work situation doesn't improve. I definitely have a short cruise booked, on Aurora in April and again with Patricia D (pooling our resources makes these trips just about affordable, as doing it singly would mean I'd have to pay the odious single supplement), a four nighter to Amsterdam and Zeebrugge. Boring itin? Not a bit of it - great for ship photography!
I also plan a trip to Dover, Calais and Ostend with possibly Terneuzen and Antwerp thrown in for good measure. The Ostend part of it will be to catch up with Pride of Calais/Ostend Spirit and maybe the rumoured Ramsgate Spirit (Pride of Dover/A. N. Other Ship) as well.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone.

Sunday, 16 December 2012