November 2012 Meeting – Stranraer: 150 Years + or –

Fraser MacHaffie and Captain Murray Paterson
The second meeting of the Club’s 2012-13 winter session at Jurys Inn took place on Wednesday 14 November under the title “Stranraer – 150 years plus or minus”. There were two speakers – Fraser MacHaffie and Captain Murray Paterson, both longstanding Club members and each, in his own way, an authority on the short sea crossing from Stranraer to Larne. Fraser wrote the definitive book on the subject (The Short Sea Route, Stephenson & Sons, 1975), and Murray spent 32 years of his distinguished shipping career on the run, before continuing in semi-retirement as deputy harbourmaster at Loch Ryan Port. Each brought his particular brand of expertise to the evening, Fraser’s comprehensively researched historical approach complementing Murray’s practical experience and humour.
Fraser’s part of the story began with the extension of the railway in March 1861 from Castle Douglas to Stranraer and the inauguration of a steamer service to Belfast – transformed on 1 October 1862 into a daily Stranraer-Larne return crossing, initially undertaken by the Briton. Among the many fascinating pictures shown, there was one of the Railway Pier in the 1860s, with the Alice or Fannie alongside.
The Alice or Fannie at Stranraer in the 1860s
Princess Louise (1872) aground at StranraerPrincess Victoria (1890) at Stranraer
The story continued through the problematic Princess Louise of 1872 and the Princess Beatrice of 1876 to the four ships named Princess Victoria – the first a 20-knot Denny paddler, which began a daily schedule of two round trips on 1 May 1890, with rail connections. The second, in 1912, was part of the early turbine era (the others being the Princess Maud of 1904 and, briefly in 1911, the CSP turbine Duchess of Argyll of 1906).
Fraser explained that while the early Stranraer boats undertook occasional excursions (mainly to Campbeltown and Rathlin Island), these were dropped after 1935 due to pressure on the main route. By then the service was in the hands of the Princess Margaret (1931) and the Princess Maud (1934): the latter ship, although longer and beamier than her older sister, cost £20,000 less to build thanks to the impact of the Great Depression.

Princess Margaret (1931)

Princess Margaret (1931) at Larne in the late 1930s

Princess Victoria (1939) on trials on the Skelmorlie MilePrincess Victoria (1939) car deck during fitting-out at Dumbarton


The third Princess Victoria (1939) was revolutionary not so much for her diesel propulsion, more for her incorporation of a car deck and stern ramp. She became a wartime victim – mined at the entrance to the Humber, with the loss of 36 crew – and among the ships taking her place at Stranraer were three Clyde turbines, the Glen Sannox, Duchess of Montrose and Duchess of Hamilton, for which a certificate for 250 civilians and 400 troops was issued. The crosstrees on the latter’s aft mast – a feature of her post-war appearance – were fitted to carry two black discs that had to be displayed when negotiating the entrance to Larne Harbour.
Instead of detailing the familiar story of the fourth Princess Victoria (1947) and her loss in 1953, Fraser focused on the way warnings had been brushed aside about her stern gate, only five feet high, and the susceptibility of the car deck to flooding. Two comparative photographs of the Clyde ferry Arran showed that lessons were learned. As built in 1953, she had a mere handful of freeing ports on her car deck; as modified later, she had many more.
Fraser’s story continued with the Caledonian Princess (1961), which introduced bow-thruster, stabilisers and lions rampant to British Railways’ Irish fleet and doubled profits on the run in her first two years.
Caledonian Princess (1961) at Stranraer, showing her
trend-setting lions
Then, soon after the introduction of the Antrim Princess and Ailsa Princess, came dedicated cargo ships – the Dalriada (1971) and Darnia (1977) – and an increasing number of occasional visitors, including the Stena Baltica (1966) and the Mona’s Queen (1972). The 1980s saw the introduction of Sealink’s Harland & Wolff-built ‘Saint’ class ships, all four of which served on the run at one point or other; and the 1990s brought the twin-hulled SeaCat Scotland.

Antrim Princess (1967) at Stranraer on 6 September 1969, with Duchess of Hamilton

Ailsa Princess (1971)

Dalriada (1971) was one of a new breed
of vehicle and freight ferries
Darnia (1977) under way in her early years on the short sea route
At this point of the evening’s proceedings, Fraser MacHaffie handed over seamlessly to Captain Murray Paterson, whose intimate knowledge of ships of the past 30 years quickly became apparent. He said the Darnia had a reputation for rolling, especially when rowdies were aboard: the captain would simply decide that the ship’s stabilisers were not working.

Galloway Princess leaving Larne on 30 September 1988SeaCat Scotland (1992) off Cairnryan on 7 June 1992

The privatisation of Sealink in 1984 gave rise to the “galloping maggot” motif on funnels and a white livery that quickly revealed rust. There followed a succession of new owners, logos, names – and on-board working systems, especially after the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster of 1987. But, Murray continued, “one of the biggest shocks to the system was the introduction of SeaCat Scotland”, the route’s first twin-hulled boat, followed by the Stena Voyager with a service speed of 42 knots. Such craft may be limited in what they can do in bad weather, said Murray, but their speed, and the commercial development of Belfast Harbour, prompted the end of the Larne link and the gradual withdrawal of conventional ships.

“New kids on the block” at the new Stena Terminal
Recently arrived from refit in Poland, Stena Superfast VII and VIII
going through familiarisation and work-up procedures before entering service
The completion in November 2011 of an up-to-date ferry terminal at Old House Point, seven miles down Loch Ryan from Stranraer, signalled the end of ferry services from the Wigtownshire port.

Stena Caledonia outbound in Loch Ryan 17th April 2011A poignant moment early on 21st November 2011 as Stena Caledonia, on her final crossing from Stranraer to Belfast, passes Stena Superfast VIII in the North Channel

Having first visited Stranraer on 15 May 1965, Murray was on board the Stena Caledonia when she drew away from the pier for the last time, at 4.30 on the morning of 21 November 2011.
Despite ending on a note of sadness, Murray’s talk was full of wry observations that prompted much laughter. It was a vintage CRSC night, attended by more than 100 members and friends. Angus Ross gave the vote of thanks.

If you click on the Red Ensign it will take you to a video presentation of many Stena Caledonia images
(Hint: let it run for 10 secs before images start!)
The Red Ensign from Stena Caledonia’s last trip on 21st November 2011
which was later presented to The High Kirk Stranraer
A selection of other images of the Short Sea Crossing is shown below and the CRSC thanks those responsible for making them available.

For those not familiar with the website facilities, click on a thumbnail to open a larger image – you can then click forward (right) and back (left) through the whole collection by hovering the mouse to the right or left of the larger image and clicking the left mouse key. This saves continually going back to the smaller images and opening up a larger version each time.

Princess Beatrice (1876)

Princess May (1892) at Stranraer Princess Maud (1904)
before the First World War
Princess Maud (1904)
after the First World War
Princess Victoria (1912) at Stranraer

Princess Victoria (1912) heading up Loch Ryan

Princess Margaret (1931) in Garvel Graving Dock, GreenockPrincess Margaret (1931) at Stranraer in the late 1950s

Princess Margaret (1931) in Hong Kong, renamed Macau

Princess Maud (1934) under way

Princess Maud (1934) passing Corsewall Lighthouse

Princess Maud (1934)

Princess Victoria (1939) showing the low stern gate

Princess Victoria (1939) at Dumbarton

Princess Victoria (1939) on trials on the Skelmorlie MilePrincess Victoria (1939) at Gourock shortly after being handed over to her owners

Princess Victoria (1939) launchPrincess Victoria (1947) at DumbartonPrincess Victoria (1947) at StranraerCaledonian Princess at Larne on 16 June 1967
Ailsa Princess arriving at Larne

Ailsa Princess leaving Larne on 26 August 1976Earl Harold ex-Ailsa Princess (1971) in Loch Ryan on 4 November 1985Dalriada (1971) off Cairnryan on 7 July 1977
Darnia (after 1982 rebuild, with enlarged passenger accommodationStena Baltica (1966), one of several imported ferries that proved useful on the Short Sea Route Villandre at Stranraer on 13 July 1982, showing her wonky window arrangementMona’s Queen (1972) on 31 August 1986, one of several Isle of Man ferries to visit Stranraer
Ionic Ferry (ex-Dragon 1967) off Cairnryan on 7 June 1992Galloway Princess (1980) off Bowling in April 1980

Galloway Princess leaving Larne on 10 November 1988

Stena Caledonia (1981 ex-St David) off Cairnyan on 7 June 1992

Stena Galloway (ex-Galloway Princess, centre)Four Saint boats together Galloway Princess top left_Saint Christopher left and Saint Anselm right St David nearestShips at Stranraer (1980)_L to R Darnia_Ailsa Princes_Antrim PrincessDarnia in Govan Drydock having the BR double arrow logo removed
Antrim Princess nearest with Galloway Princess behind at Stranraer Antrim Princess heading towards the camera as Galloway Princess heads away -Loch Ryan 4th October 1985 Lady of Mann at StranraerModifications underway at Stranraer to erect the linkspan for the HSS Stena Voyager
Stena berths at Stranraer Railway Pier towards the end of services.

Glen Sannox at Stranraer on a CRSC charter 9th May 1987Queen Mary II at Stranraer 1975Stranraer in the late 19th century, with the West Pier in the foreground and the Railway Pier behind

To round off the record of the Stena vessels which closed the service from Stranraer Town in November 2011 – below are pictures of Stena Caledonia’s sailing partners on the route as the service came to a close

HSS Stena Voyager at Belfast

8th November 2011

Stena Navigator heading for Belfast
8th November 2011

The following images are scans of documents prepared for the meeting which give details of the ships which sailed on the route over the 150 years, and the periods during which they sailed.

Page 1
Stranraer to Belfast route

Page 2
Stranraer to Larne route
Oct 1862 to Aug 1939
Page 3
Stranraer to Larne route
Sept 1939 to Nov 1995
Page 4
Companies operating out of Stranraer