Providing one of the most resilient services crossing the Irish Sea, Irish Ferries’ Pembroke Dock to Rosslare Europort ferry, the Isle of Inishmore, keeps one of Europe’s key trade links into Ireland running when others withdraw to safe harbour.
However, although it is renowned for its no-nonsense, powerful freight duties, the Inishmore is so much, well, more. Luxury cabins, panoramic lounges and superb hospitality make the ship a popular part of the busy tourist trade between Celtic neighbours.
“Try the coffee,” says the Senior Master Gerry Burns, gesturing towards the bar “It’s really, very good.” We have come up to Club Lounge of Irish Ferries’ ship, the ‘Isle of Inishmore’. The expansive windows of the lounge, at the highest point of the ferry, give outstanding views onto the Waterway to one side and Pembroke Port to the other. “The view you get from here is almost as good as I get from the bridge,” points Gerry. “It’s very popular with the passengers.”
The first impression, on walking onto the passenger decks of the ship, is that it is a very well appointed ferry. Smartly dressed staff prepare the Isle of Inishmore for the voyage back to Ireland, moving quickly and quietly through lounges decked out with chrome and mirrored walls and plush carpets. The two-hour stop in South Wales’ busiest ferry port allows enough time to disembark up to 1500 passengers, 400 cars and 120 freight units and reload for the return leg.
The Isle of Inishmore is a familiar part of the Milford Haven Waterway’s moving scenery. She has sailed in and out of Pembroke Dock twice daily (except during her annual services) for more than 15 years, making her by far the most frequent and regular visiting ship. She’s almost a local.
Chris Peake is the Manager of the service between Rosslare and Pembroke (as Irish Ferries call it). “Customer experience is key,” says Chris. He knows a thing or two about how to run the service, having done more than 30 years with the company. “We need to look after everyone’s needs.” However, such is the resilience of this service that Chris not only looks out for his own customers, but sometimes finds he’s looking after other ferry companies’ customers too.
“Sometimes in bad weather, we can be sailing from here when services in other ports don’t. We find ourselves dealing with their customers, so we need to adapt. Every day is different!”
The Isle of Inishmore’s seaworthiness is impressive. In rough weather, she will often be the only vessel leaving this port, nosing resolutely out into the Irish Sea while others stay home. “For a big vessel we have fantastic manoeuvrability,” says Senior Master, Gerry. “But we have to be very respectful in heavy seas. We have to consider not only the passengers but load integrity as well,” he adds. “Milford Haven itself is very sheltered, but it can be very lively at the entrance.”
Gerry Burns is the sort of skipper you want at the helm. Irish Ferries’ most experienced Master has a calm authority coupled with a bone-dry and understated sense of humour. (“Do you not want someone else in the shot to soften the blow?”, he asks when we ask him to stand for a photo). Using a model of his ship, he demonstrates how he uses the wind to help manoeuver the ferry in port. He makes it sound easy (“you just let the stern swing ‘round the jetty, here and pivot the midships like so…”).
However, when you consider he is talking about a 182 metre long, 34,000 tonne vessel with more than 4,000m2 of windage (if you want to know what windage is, try carrying a light ladder in a gale), you realise he’s making light of an incredibly complex task.
Having earlier watched the ferry back up gently against its berth at Pembroke Dock, and seen the crew work with the ferry terminal’s stevedores to make her fast, it had become hard to separate out the two teams. They’d worked side by side with the same goal in mind: a quick, safe and efficient turnaround in port.
The close cooperation between the ferry company and the team at Pembroke Port is vital to ensure this service runs punctually. That Irish Ferries’ Chris Peake and Mike Lewis who manages the Ferry Terminal go back many years is clear, too, as they share a laugh over a coffee in the club lounge. “We know each other very well,” says Mike. “We always have a banter over things but it’s a good relationship.”
Having been Master of this ship for a decade, Gerry has also grown fond of his Celtic neighbours. “I have the best of everything: a lovely Irish wife and a great job that takes me to Wales twice a day!”
As featured in the Port's newsletter, OnBoard, Autumn 2017. For more information about sailing times and to book, go to irishferries.com.