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Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Stena Superfast X

I arrived in Holyhead late at night with no preplanning. There were no ferries in sight and the port was deserted.

In January, it is not a lively place anyway, but around midnight the big, almost oversized Stena funnel was visible, soon joined by an Irish Ferries alternative. This was a surprise as I was expecting the usual Ulysses and through the gloom, I could just make out the funnel profile of Oscar Wilde away from her usual Rosslare-Cherbourg service. At this point, my new camera decided I wasn’t competent to take night images at long distance, so I was resigned to watching the trucks and cars load, before the Irish Sea night swallowed up the Dublin bound hulls which leave within a few minutes of each other. This scheduling maybe makes some sense somewhere, but the logic escapes me.

They both seemed to be fairly lightly loaded, so no sign of Brexit panic here, though I had to smile at the reintroduction of old fashioned post EU customs checks that the Irish Ferries passengers might, for a laugh, be able to famously quote Oscar Wilde and say: “I have nothing to declare but my genius” (at which point they will inevitably be locked up for being wise guys, as indeed was Oscar Wilde in the good old days). I noticed rakes of diesel trains waiting for passengers, but, at this time of year, there appeared to be very few takers.

The Stena vessel was Stena Superfast X, but I hadn’t recognised her before checking the computer. Unlike her Stena sisters, she had had her characteristic original funnel wings removed which gave her a somewhat bald and stern heavy appearance. It turned out that Ulysses was in dock with mechanical troubles, so the stalwart, Oscar Wilde, was due to make more Holyhead visits.

On leaving Holyhead, I had a mind to correct a long-held omission and that was to visit the undoubtedly more picturesque of the Welsh ferry ports (at what is bound to be a historic time in the story of UK-Irish travel relations) and the next day, I duly arrived at Fishguard for the first time.

On arrival, I was quickly reminded that it was the last UK place invaded by a foreign army, namely some 3,000 Frenchmen who made not a valiant effort to occupy, anywhere really, causing little damage and few casualties before being seen off by the local militia. No doubt, it makes for a colourful story for the tourists that find their way to this lovely corner of Wales

The port is served by a lovely ship in the form of what, to my eye, is one of the last ships of great character at work for Stena; Stena Europe. Again, not a lot of ro-ro traffic in evidence, if probably enough to cover the ferry’s basic running costs. I made sure I was able to witness her sailing from the lovely confines of Fishguard Bay where, once past the breakwater, she would steer by the magnificently named Strumble Head to the open sea for Rosslare, some three hours away.

Elsewhere, I would see images of Trans-Atlantic liners before WWI, the most popular being a sleek four funnelled Mauretania, calling with passengers served by tender from the Fishguard rail-served terminal so shortening their sea journey Southampton to New York by at least a day. It was not resurrected after the initial trials.

I loved Fishguard, a friendly little town of great character, and I will be back.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - March 2019 Issue
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