One of the benefits of CRSC membership is being able to come to winter meetings in the knowledge that you will be among friends, and will be entertained. And so, close to Christmas, the faithful came along to the little town of Glasgow where there was just enough room at the Inn to accommodate them all. Our guest was Tom Hamilton, the subject was ‘Heydays at Stranraer’ and we were promised rather more than just ‘three ships sailing in’. This is Stuart Craig’s account of the 12 December meeting.
Tom is well known for his peripatetic photographic skills, and he ably demonstrated why, during his detailed presentation of the rise and fall of Sealink services out of Stranraer.
Tom had a long career with the company which ran ferry services across the Irish Sea to Larne; a company that changed its name almost as often as its ships. Initially known as Caledonian Steam Packet Company (Irish Services) Ltd, it became Sealink, and then Sealink Stena Line, and then various combinations of Sea and Stena.
Having been employed as a purser and then assistant passenger manager, Tom was well placed to capture the comings and goings of the ships of the fleet – especially as he liked using his camera. The results comprehensively brightened up the screen in front of us.
The names of the vessels were familiar, and many in the room would have sailed on them — Caledonian Princess, Antrim Princess, Ailsa Princess, various freight ships, finishing with Galloway Princess, St David, Stena Antrim and Stena Navigator.
Tom was dispatched to all kinds of dangerous places to capture official Sealink photographs: the far end of the pier, the girders of the Forth Bridge (in the company of Blue Peter) and between the rails of the lines out of Glasgow Central. He even drove a red, white and blue Sealink van through the streets of Belfast at the height of ‘The Troubles’.
He lived to tell us the tale, and what a varied tale it was, as Tom showed images of every ship to have served ‘the Short Sea route’, regular and relief, over a period of 50 years, and gave an account of the management of the company through its various metamorphoses.
Each ship was covered in detail, with their ultimate fate also being relayed. Any alterations to superstructure were explained and the changes in livery were clear to us all — Tom didn’t like the all-white.
Some old favourites jumped out of the screen. Caledonian Princess served every Sealink route, except Harwich to Hook of Holland, and spent several years berthed on the Clyde in Glasgow as the aptly named nightclub Tuxedo Princess.
Another favourite, Ailsa Princess, was captured by Tom at Gibraltar. St David (Tom’s favourite) had her name changed to Stena Caledonia and now sails from Jakarta, Indonesia, as Port Link. How about that for an original name for a ferry?
The Stranraer terminal closed in 2011 – the last passenger sailing being taken by Stena Caledonia on 21 November. Tom’s final pictures showed the derelict pier and outbuildings. The railway still extends, but “…for how long?” Tom mused.
Tom changed career to a different mode of transport – the bus, running an Ayrshire firm. He is still to be found loitering at the end of a pier, recording unusual comings and goings. Thank goodness for people like Tom, who could see the changing scene unfold at Stranraer and was able to capture maritime history as it evolved and finally moved on.
The vote of thanks was given by Lawrence Macduff, a good friend of Tom, who blamed our guest for getting him involved in buses and thereby acquiring a garden full of car and bus parts.
Tom provided us with a full list of all the ships which served on route from Stranraer to Northern Ireland from 1960 till its closure. Should any member wish a copy, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For the latest edition of Scottish Ferry News (1-30 November), click here.
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Published on 14 December 2018