Keeping with the literary theme which began with the naming the of the fast craft Jonathan Swift, Irish Continental Group came up with another one for the books by announcing yet further new building on 8th July 1999, just days after the Dublin Swift service had begun.
In the space of just seven years, the company had built four new vessels and bought two others. On acquiring B&I Line from the Irish Government in February 1992, the company owned three passenger / car ferries, the Saint Patrick II, the St Killian II, both dating from 1973, and the 1980, Cork built, Leinster, and had one chartered passenger vessel, the Munster (ex Prins Oberon, ex Cruise Muhibah). The Munster was replaced in 1992, by another chartered vessel the Isle of Innisfree (ex Neils Klim, ex Stena Nautica). The two vessels purchased were the Pride of Bilbao (ex Olympia) then on charter to P&O European Ferries (Portsmouth) in 1993, and late in 1999 the Normandy (ex Stena Normandy, ex St Nicholas, ex Prinsessan Birgitta) which had been chartered in 1998 to replace theSt Patrick II and the St Killian II.
The new 50,000 gross ton vessel, destined for the Dublin – Holyhead Central Corridor route, was ordered from Aker Finnyards Oy of Rauma, Finland, at a cost of â‚¬100 (IRÂ£80) million. The largest passenger / vehicle ferry in the world (based on vehicle deck capacity, as opposed to gross tonnage) was to fly the Irish flag. This order brought Irish Continental Group’s purchase of new tonnage up to a staggering â‚¬457million (IRÂ£360 million).
The name chosen by public competition for the new vessel was Ulysses. Ulysses, or Odysseus in Greek mythology was a hero who undertook epic sea voyages. Ulysses is also the title of one of the best-known works of James Joyce, who like Jonathan Swift was a famous Dublin born author. The Ulysses’ keel was laid on 24th January 2000, and the part completed vessel was floated out of Aker Finnyard’s facility on 1st September of the same year.
She was handed over to Irish Continental Group at Rauma on Thursday 22nd February 2001, and sailed, under the command of Captain Peter Ferguson, delivering his fourth vessel for the company, at 07:40 on Wednesday 28th February. The Ulysses arrived in Dublin Bay at 07:00 on Sunday 4th March. Watched by hundreds of onlookers on the South Great Wall of Dublin Port, passed the Poolbeg Light just before mid-day. She tied up at Berth 49 at 12:26, following the Jonathan Swift’s, 12:15 sailing to Holyhead. The two vessels crossed in the River Liffey. Ulysses vacated the berth at about 14:00, to facilitate the arrival of Sea Container’s fast craftRapide, and turned in the river before running astern to tie up at a vacant South Quay berth.
After a period of crew training, MES drills, and berthing trials both at Dublin and Holyhead, the new vessel was blessed on 21st March, and then named Ulysses by her Godmother Irish Paralympic swimming Gold Medal winner, Mairead Berry. The maiden voyage of Ulysses took place on 25th March, under the command of Captain Tom Joyce, sailing for Holyhead at 12:15.
The Ulysses’ principal dimensions are: –
|Dead-weight Tonnage:||10,722 (maximum)|
|Length Overall:||209.02 metres|
|Breadth (Moulded):||31.20 metres|
|Depth (Moulded):||15.75 metres|
|Draught (Scantling):||6.40 metres|
|Speed:||22 knots (@ 85% Max rating)|
|Vehicle Capacity:||1,342 cars or 240 HGVs|
The Ulysses has twelve decks, and measures 51.07 metres from base line to funnel masthead. Being over 26 metres longer than her predecessor the Isle of Inishmore, she can accommodate up to 1,342 cars, 240 HGVs, or any combination of the two on the 4,076 lane metres (2.6 miles) of vehicle decks, four of which are fixed, and one (8), is hoistable. The lower trailer deck can accommodate 345 lane metres of traffic, while the main trailer deck, (3), has 1,402 lane metres of stowage space. The upper trailer deck, (5), has 1,341 lane metres and the top trailer deck, (7), 988 metres. Exterior curved ramps are located fore and aft on the port side, allowing cars and vans drive between the upper and top trailer decks to speed loading and unloading.
Ulysses is powered by four MAK 9M 43 main engines developing a total output of 31,200 kw (41,808 hp). These engines are linked in pairs to gearboxes, which reduce the speed to 144.4 rpm, and in turn, via the shafts, drive two 5.1 m diameter LIPS type 4C16 controllable pitch propellers, to propel the ship at 22 knots. Crossing time to and from Holyhead is 3 hours 15 minutes. Ulysses has four LIPS type CT75 side thrusters each of 2,400 kw, and fitted with a 2.75 m diameter propeller. The vessel has two Becker FKSR flap rudders, with a surface of 16.4 square metres, giving a 65-degree angle of turn on each side.
The wheelhouse is located on deck 10, and incorporates an STN Atlas Marine navigation and ship control system. Facilities include Radarpilot and Multipilot systems and a Chartpilot and Conningpilot station. The Ship Control Centre (SCC) uses an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) as well as automatic route planning and radar-based automatic safety systems. There is also a Debeg 4400B DGPS receiver, electromagnetic log, Atlas Dolog and echograph, weatherfax and gyro.
Apart from state of the art navigation equipment, Ulysses exudes unashamed luxury and first class facilities, backed up by superior customer service. High ceilings throughout reflect an air of spaciousness and comfort. Furnishings and fittings combine the highest standards of Irish design and Scandinavian craftsmanship to create an ambience of richness and elegance, through a harmonious blend of wood, steel, leather, fabrics and granite. Particular attention has been paid to the spaciousness of the passenger seating areas.
Facilities on board for passengers are situated on the three service decks, 9, 10, and 11. Deck 9 features a grand entrance hall and reception area, most appropriately set off by an impressive wood sculpture of James Joyce and his Dublin by Irish artist C.P. Breen. All the passenger areas are named after people and places associated with the life and works of Joyce. Leopold Bloom’s traditional Irish pub, with sumptuous seating, rich mahogany, brass and stained glass decor continues the tradition established by the Isle of Innisfreeof 1995, and the Isle of Inishmore of 1997. Live music, chat and banter provide the backdrop to the food and drink that is served. There are a number of eating facilities on board comprising Nora Barnacle’s Food Emporium on deck 9, which includes, Boylan’s Brasserie, Burger King and La Brioche Doree. The latter was renamed Cafe Lafayette during the vessel’s 2004 refit. Although not originally envisaged, at the forward end of deck 11 is to be found The Quays waiter service restaurant, a facility put in place in response to customer demand. This area was originally intended for the exclusive use of freight drivers who form a significant part of Irish Ferries business, but still caters extremely well for their needs, by providing dedicated space just aft of the restaurant.
The cruise ferry concept is further highlighted by the circular James Joyce Balcony Lounge with reclining seats, and topped off by a glass atrium, situated on deck 10. On the same deck is the main cabin accommodation, which comprises 117 twin or single cabins and suites, providing 228 berths. The bridge is also situated on deck 10. On deck 11 is the Martello observation lounge and bar, affording bridge eye views over the sea and approaching coastlines. This was converted into a Club Class lounge during Ulysses 2007 refit. Aft of this lounge is the spacious Sandycove open promenade deck, for those who prefer a whiff of sea air whilst on board.
There is plenty to occupy those who like to wander around; there is a tour which involves following clues to arrive at a solution to a competition throughout the ship, while on decks 9 and 11 are gambling machines, for those who feel like trying their luck. Children, young and older, are catered for in the Cyclops family entertainment area, on deck 9, where the Volta twin cinemas, and the spacious Grafton shopping arcade, are situated.
Crew facilities are of the highest order, as would be expected on a vessel of such quality, complete with a gym. As one crew member put it to get around a vessel of this size, you would need to be fit. A total of 121 berths in 83 cabins are provided for the officers and crew.
The introduction of Ulysses doubled Irish Ferries capacity on the Dublin – Holyhead route, and released the Isle of Inishmore to transfer to the Rosslare – Pembroke Dock service, just four years after her maiden voyage on 2nd March 1997, and in turn made the Isle of Innisfree available for charter.
Economies of scale give Irish Ferries a huge advantage over their growing number of competitors and interesting developments have followed since the entry into service of Ulysses, notably from P&O Irish Sea, who in the autumn 2001 opened a service from Dublin to Mostyn in North Wales. Nonetheless, Ulysses won the Lloyds List Cruise + Ferry 2001 award in the category â€˜Most significant new build – Ferry for Irish Continental Group and her builders.
It was particularly unfortunate that the introduction of the vessel co-incided with the outbreak in the UK of Foot and Mouth disease, and the attendant travel restrictions, both voluntary and otherwise. Schedules were thrown into chaos as disinfection precautions had to be taken at ports. This was followed by a significant increase in the price of oil, and the consequent fall in profits announced by Irish Continental Group for 2000, all exacerbated by the abolition of Duty Free Sales. The economies of scale of operations equip Irish Ferries to ride the storm of further recession which followed the atrocity of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon in Washington and World Trade Centre in New York on 11th September 2001, better than its competitors.
Following an investment of €5.7 million including the building of Ulysses in 2001, turnover for Irish Continental Group amounted to €311 million (as compared with €14 million in 2000), while profits fell from €26.4 million in 2000 to €25.1 million in 2001. Ro-Ro traffic showed a growth of 11%. Though severely affected by the impact of Foot and Mouth Disease, carryings of passenger cars fell by 6.5%, and passenger carryings fell only slightly from 1.20 million in 2000 to 1.18 million in 2001. While, under the trading circumstances this is a creditable performance, which is not to say that the immediate future will be all plain sailing.
Ulysses had a few teething problems in her first year of operation, and not the best of Press due to the curious policy of Sterling pricing on board. Lack of adequate shore-based facilities, notably at Holyhead, together with the necessary precautions against the spread of Foot and Mouth disease, as well as her being found to be sensitive engine-wise on rare occasions, did not augur well, yet she fully justified the investment made in her. Competitors, however, did not take the challenge presented to them lying down.
In January 2001, P&O Irish Sea had already taken delivery of their new Ro-Pax ferry European Ambassador, and subsequently opened their new Mostyn service. Their North Sea ships Norbank and Norbay were transferred to operate out of Dublin In April, Stena Line introduced their Stena Forwarder billed as the fastest cruise ferry on the Irish Sea (but which had only a stern ramp, slowing loading and unloading in port). The battle for business on routes from Dublin had surely been joined, with five operators offering up to twenty sailings per day on this highly lucrative market segment.
In the face of such stiff competition, and adverse trading conditions in general, not only did Irish Ferries maintain their overall trading performance in 2001, but also won the Best Ferry Company award from the Irish travel trade, the fifth year in succession.
Ulysses went to Southampton for refit from January 9th to 22nd 2002, and the Isle of Inishmore took up the run in her absence. She re-entered service on the delayed 17:15 sailing from Holyhead on the 22nd. On 25th March 2002, Ulysses marked the first anniversary of her maiden voyage, with the proud record of never having missed a single sailing and having completed 1,395 voyages, covering some 76,725 nautical miles in the process. This evidence of her reliability has been seized upon by freight operators which in turn led to a 13% growth in business during a year which was blighted by the fallout from Foot and Mouth disease, a unique achievement for her owners, so making them the leading operator sailing from the port of Holyhead.
Her 2003 refit was also undertaken at Southampton from 22nd January to 12th February, with the Isle of Inishmore deputising. Shortly after her return to service, on Sunday 23rd February Ulysses collided with and damaged a mooring dolphin and the passenger gangway while berthing in difficult conditions at Holyhead, resulting in the cancellation of her service to and from the Welsh port for a number of days. Her sailings were covered by the fast craft Jonathan Swift, running to a revised timetable. In the meantime, Irish Ferries freight sailings to and from Dublin were operated from the Twelve Quays berth at Birkenhead, between 25th and 28th February. Local enthusiasts in Liverpool were delighted to see the flagship of the Irish Merchant Marine in the Mersey, and longed to see Irish owned company services return, they having left in 1988, on the closure of the B&I Line Dublin â€“ Liverpool route. The berthing accident damaged the passenger gangway, and as a result, foot passengers had to be taken on and off the vessel by bus right up to the month of August.
Business in 2003 was most challenging, especially with the introduction of new tonnage by competitors, most recently in the form of the Stena Adventurer, marketed as the longest, (but by no means the largest), ferry operating on the Irish Sea. The Irish travel trade award for Best Ferry Company in 2003 went to Irish Ferries for the (record) seventh year. The award was made just as Ulysses returned from her 2004 refit which was carried out by A&P at Birkenhead from 5th to 19th January, the Isle of Inishmore returning to her original route for the duration. Since 2005 she has gone to Harland & Wolff in Belfast, who were contracted for Ulysses’ refit, still with the Isle of Inishmore deputising in her absence.
The immediate future for business for ferry operators on the Irish Sea is going to be difficult as each company employs positioning strategies, and overhead costs escalate. The possibility of mergers, takeovers and alliances create a picture which is hard to foresee clearly. However, with Ulysses Irish Ferries have one unique tool to do the job, and she is bound to further prove her worth in the years to come. Not only is Ulysses the world’s largest Passenger and Car Ferry, she is also among the most reliable, not having missed a single sailing due to adverse weather conditions during her first three years and 260,000 nautical miles in service a proud achievement indeed! Since then missed sailings have been very few and far between
In 2004, under challenging market conditions resulting from competition for passengers from low-cost airlines, Ulysses continued to give sterling service, and contributed to her owners winning for an eighth successive year the Best Ferry Company award. In 2005 she continued to render the same reliable and quality service which had marked her performance since delivery. In January 2006, however, in a move towards greater efficiency management of the vessel was passed to Dobson Fleet Management, though some of her Irish officers and crew remained, the last rating departing at the end of August 2006. The pride of the Irish merchant marine now flies the Cypriot flag.