Heydays at Stranraer

A favourite for many: Galloway Princess, pictured from the Erskine Bridge, glides up the River Clyde in her original Sealink colours

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.

The famous 1960s CSP (Irish Services) poster of the steam turbine car ferry Caledonian Princess at 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.

Tom devised this table mat design for Sealink, with Galloway Princess at the forefront

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: info@crsc.org.uk

Ailsa Princess was a near sister to Antrim Princess of 1967. Pictured at Stranraer, she entered service in 1971, moved to Weymouth in the 1980s and was scrapped in India in 2010

Caledonian Princess leaving Dover for Boulogne shortly before being sold by Sealink. She ended up as a nightclub at Newcastle and Glasgow

Caledonian Princess, pictured at Dover, kept the CSP insignia on her bow long after she left the Short Sea Route for other Sealink services

Ulidia undertook the freight run from Stranraer from 1974 to 1980, and later sailed in Greek waters, before being scrapped in Turkey in 2011. She makes a fine sight in the evening light in Loch Ryan

Darnia, pictured with a summertime cargo of caravans, was on the Stranraer-Larne route during the ‘Troubles’, when many Irish holidaymakers ‘escaped’ to Scotland. She was scrapped in Turkey in 2006

Darnia: view from the top deck

Darnia: view from the car deck

One of the many stand-ins on the Stranraer-Larne route was Earl Leofric ex Holyhead Ferry 1

Cambridge Ferry was employed on winter freight reliefs between 1990 and 1992. Pictured at Stranraer, she was usually based at Harwich

The Harland & Wolff yard at Belfast in 1979, during construction of four Sealink sisters, two of which became closely associated with Stranraer

Sealink and Stena in various combinations: Tom Hamilton’s helpful guide to the plethora of names used by operating companies on the route

Galloway Princess in white, with Ailsa Craig in the distance on the left

Norrona, on charter from the Smyril Line, passes Stena Caledonia off Stranraer Harbour in 1995

New era: HSS Stena Voyager at Greenock in 2003

New and old: HSS Stena Voyager at Stranraer with Stena Caledonia 

Tom Hamilton (left) spent much of his career at Stranraer, working for the various companies operating the route to Northern Ireland. He is pictured at Jurys Inn on 12 December with Lawrence Macduff, who gave the vote of thanks

For the latest edition of Scottish Ferry News (1-30 November), click here.

Not yet a member of CRSC? Join us here for £10.

Published on 14 December 2018