For a man in charge of guiding a 202m ship out of a very tight berth, Captain Richard Davies is extremely at ease. He glances at the various screens in front of him, adjusts a lever with the slightest touch and gives orders to his first mate, all the while sipping his coffee and answering our barage of questions such as “what does this button do?” and “why aren’t you wearing a hat?”
The answer to the first question varied and as for the second: “I never wear a hat,” he said. The one sitting on a bench in the bridge is for kids to wear. And me.
Capt Davies welcomed the Stena Gathering bloggers into the control room of the Stena Adventurer on our crossings between Holyhead in Wales and Dublin in Ireland. The crew of three doesn’t seem bothered by our presence as we poke about, looking at the various screens and taking turns standing over the window on the floor through which they judge the distance of the vessel to the side of its berth. From here we have the best view on the ship and great visibility – not something that’s guaranteed on this particular stretch of water.
Crossing the Irish Sea
The Holyhead to Dublin route is one of five Stena Line operates across the Irish Sea. Two years ago I travelled from Stranraer in Scotland to Belfast in Northern Ireland with Stena Line, but that journey has since been replaced by the Cairnryan to Belfast route. The other trips are Fishguard in Wales to Rosslare in Ireland (about two-hours south of Dublin), Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire (about 30 minutes from Dublin) and Liverpool to Belfast.
It’s all hands on deck – excuse the pun – as the Stena Adventurer is guided out of Dublin port. The start of the engines is heard and felt throughout the ship. Downstairs in the Stena Plus lounge the noise of rattling crockery caused by the vibrations raises the heads of a few passengers. “OK, let’s go,” Capt Davies says into a radio and from the bridge we watch the men below pull in the ropes and release us to the control of the men around us. When I ask Capt Davies how long he’s been doing this he jokes that he started last week, but he’s been wearing the captain’s hat – not literally – for more than 20 years, and on the Stena Adventurer specifically for the last 10.
This part of the journey is done manually. Later, it’s pretty much cruise control all the way to Wales. We make a 90-degree turn out of the berth, with Capt Davies keeping an eye on the side of the ship through the glass windows we’ve been taking pictures of our feet over. The water churns below. “All clear Nige,” Capt Davies says to first mate Nigel. “Steady as she goes.” Having reversed out without hitting anything, we start heading out of the port, with Capt Davies giving commands to Nigel, who repeats them and then again once we’re on the desired path.
“East to five.”
“Bring it up to one-two-two.”
The various computer screens show where we are, where we’re going and anything around us. The graphics on my first Game Boy were probably more sophisticated, but they must do the job as we pass several other ships without issue. On a day like this it’s a smooth trip and felt as much when we were seated below.
While a display folder holds the speeches to be read to passengers in emergencies such as a bomb threat or collision, it’s rarely needed. The most likely incident is a fire, which the crew have to respond to. “There’s no fire fighters coming to help us,” they point out.
Down below, eating French Toast for breakfast in the Stena Plus lounge, the mechanics and logistics of getting us across the ocean are none of my concern. I just sipped my tea, read the paper and admired the view. The budget flying alternative for a similar route is with Ryan Air. No thanks.
I represented Travel With A Mate at the Stena Line Gathering 2013 hosted by Stena Line, Tourism Ireland and Paddywagon Tours. All opinions expressed on Pegs on the Line – and my friends will tell you I always have a lot – are my own.