Ferry Cross the Mersey

Royal Daffodil in happier days on the Mersey

Continuing our series on summer cruise options outside the CalMac/Waverley sphere, Charles McCrossan explores the maritime delights of the River Mersey.

Shipping on the Clyde has declined to such an extent that it is possible to sail ‘doon the watter’ and never see another vessel. My definition of a ‘good day out’ is when there is much to see and photograph in the way of other steamers, ferries and shipping activity in general, wherever that may take place. That is why I now look further afield for opportunities to see a good selection of vessels as part of a trip.

It is probably a bit extreme to spend 11 hours around Rotterdam docks looking at hundreds of vessels and taking 800 photographs, but there are a number of easier alternatives in the UK. One such trip, which I have found enjoyable and done on a number of occasions, is the Friends of the Ferries annual river cruise on the Mersey, including a visit to the Liverpool docks system.

All types and sizes: Queen Victoria departing Liverpool after a recent visit

While Liverpool’s docks have declined from their heyday, this little afternoon trip on one of the Mersey ferries usually yields a good variety of vessel types and sizes, and provides a useful platform for photography.

Mersey ferries have evolved from a basic ‘A to B’, high-volume, fast-transit service to having much more focus on the leisure market, embracing River Explorer and Manchester Ship Canal cruises and charter work. Despite their success in these new areas, one of the three surviving ferries (Royal Daffodil) has been laid up for the past few years and 2016 proved to be an ‘annus horribilis’ for the Mersey ferries. Royal Iris suffered underwater damage, requiring five months of repairs, while Snowdrop failed and was out of service for a month during the same period, resulting in no ferry services being available.

The dock cruises are always interesting and regularly produce something new, even within the restricted area that they cover. During the river part of our cruise in 2016, the container ship MSC Nederland was seen trial berthing at the new riverside container terminal, which is designed to take the largest container ships, thereby saving vessels from having to pass through a system of locks to the inner container berths.

The selection of photographs with this article reflects the variety to be seen, ranging from ferries and preserved vessels to large and small container ships, cruise ships, cargo ships and ro-ro ferries.

Cross-channel ferry Stena Mersey captured on home territory

Over the years the three ferries providing regular service have been Royal Daffodill, Royal Iris and Snowdrop. As part of the First World War commemorations, Snowdrop has had a ‘dazzle’ camouflage livery, which certainly looks bright on the river. The ro-ro ferries operate from Birkenhead or from within the Liverpool docks system. Container ships come in a wide range of sizes, and until recently even the largest had to be manoeuvred through the locks system. The new riverside terminal will make big changes in this area.

Cargo ships range from large bulkers to small coasters. Meanwhile, the new cruise terminal at Liverpool Pier Head has seen a rise in the number of large cruise ships visiting the city. There is a wide variety of tugs to handle all this traffic.

The preserved steam tug Kerne and diesel tug Brocklebank can usually be seen within the docks, unless they are visiting other locations. Two other vessels have their own interesting stories which can be found by clicking on the links (below). One is a small former German passenger vessel brought to Liverpool for conversion to a floating restaurant — a project that never happened. Each year the amount of rust has grown and each year I expect her to be gone for scrap. The one thing that always amazes me is the way her racks of life-rafts have remained intact.

It is difficult to be sure what name this vessel is registered under but I have used Trinity (IMO 5264663). After my 2016 trip I read of the Endeavour Project, under which a band of volunteers are trying to conserve the ship and make plans for her future operation. This short video gives some idea of the scale of the project: https://youtu.be/y1ndKYxgIwk

The jewel in the crown of the preserved ships is the steam tug tender Daniel Adamson, which has been saved by a band of enthusiasts and undergone a major refurbishment, thanks to lottery funding. First seen in 2010 under a protective polythene wrap, she has come a long way and I was pleased to witness her official recommissioning in May 2016. Daniel Adamson’s maiden public sailing in her preserved condition was on 12 April 2017, and there is a programme of public sailings throughout the year. More information about Daniel Adamson can be found online: http://www.thedanny.co.uk/

Jewel in the Mersey crown: Daniel Adamson on her official recommissioning day in May 2016

Liferafts intact: Trinity, photographed in 2016, was previously known as Alte Liebe (1959), Orestad (1962), Baltica (1973), Habicht II (1977) and Princess Royal (1995)

Preserved steam tug Kerne

Preserved diesel tug Brocklebank


Ro-ro ferry Mersey Seaways

Container ship paradise: the mighty Atlantic Conveyor

All shapes: Ruth Borchard (right) with BG Rotterdam

The high and mighty: bulk carriers Ostende Max and Mercurius

Snowdrop on regular ferry/cruise service

Mersey ferry Snowdrop in ‘dazzle’ camouflage livery, inspired by the First World War centenary

Previous articles in our series previewing summer cruise options outside the CalMac/Waverley sphere:

Linking the Loch

Three Lochs Tour — with a difference