January 2007 saw the announcement tha P&O Ferries had placed an order for two new passenger ships for their Dover to Calais service costing 360 million Euro's, these new ships were to be built at the STX Yard in Rauma, Finland and would be the largest ships to operate between Dover and Calais. In addition to claiming the largest award, the ships were the first to be allowed to dock in both ports when wind speeds were up as high as 50kts without tug assistance and also they are the first passenger ferries to be built that conform to the new SOLAS Return to Port regulations. Whilst these new ships were fantastic news for P&O, Dover, Calais and the Ferry World the news marked a closing of an era with the veteren Townsend Thoreson designed ships the Pride of Dover and Pride of Calais being withdrawn.
These new ships went back to the drawing board and have many new designs both behind the scenes and in the public areas, one of these inovations alows the ships to confirm to the new SOLAS Return to Port regulations meaning that in the event of an engine room being disabled the ship can still return to port using the remaining. On previous ships the engine rooms are laid out side-by-side and all the machinery rooms going back to the prop shafts are often closely linked, however on the new ships everything is split apart and the engine rooms are no longer side-by-side, instead the engine rooms are in seperate sections of the ship. An interesting fact of the ships is that the horsepower available in the three bow thrusters is more than the horsepower available in the three main engines of the ships they are replacing!!
Initially the ships were due to be named Olympic Spirit and Olympic Pride however following intervention by the Olympic Committee highlighting that without their permission and legal approval the name Olympic could not be used and as such the names were changed to Spirit of Britain and Spirit of France. P&O Ferries clearly wanted to adhear to the "New Era" mentality by not naming the ships in their historic convention of "Pride of", this did raise comments in the enthusiast world of the loss of the iconic Pride of Dover and Pride of Calais naming.
Back in the early 1980's Townsend Thorsen revolutionised the Dover to Calais crossing with their introduction of three large, fast and stable ferries named Spirit of Free Enterprise, Pride of Free Enterprise and Hearld of Free Enterprise. These ships were called the 'Spirit Class' and were very successful in raising the standards and growing the cross channel business to such an extent that only 7 years later Townsend Thoresen were forced to go even bigger and build two massive, by 1987 standards, ships namely the Pride of Dover and Pride of Calais. It is often said that history repeats itself and once again two new ships classified as the 'Spirit class' entered service and as much as a revolution as the 1980's Spirit Class.
The Spirit of Britain arrived in Dover on the 9th January 2011 following being accepted by P&'O Ferries on the 5th January. Over the next few days the ship conducted berthing trials at both Dover and Calais before taking up service from Dover on the 21st January with the 09:20 departure under the command of Captain Miller who had been instrumental in the design and building of the new ships. The new ship was certainly well received by all onboard and spent the first few crossings with a limited passenger certificate (imposed by P&O) to allow the crew chance to get up to speed with the new ship. Sadly however with anything new and revolutionary the first year of service was not spotless and a serious vibration problem developed onboard which meant that the ship eventually had to return to the shipyard in Finland to be fixed. However as the shipyard could not replicate the problem on the Spirit of France initially as it was still being built they spent some time onboard the Spirit of Britain whilst in service. Eventually they reproduced the problem on the Spirit of France following launch and this naturally led to that ship being delayed.Spirit of France
The Spirit of France arrived in Dover on the 28th January 2012 at 11am following being accepted by P&O Ferries four days earlier. Over the next few days, in a similar way to her sister, the ship undertook berthing trials at both Dover and Calais before taking up service from Dover on the 9th February 2012 at 12:05, however an unofficial crossing was done on the 8th February as a freight only run. As the crew had been able to spend some time on the Spirit of Britain and given the fact that the ship entered service at the start of the half term school holidays the ship was given a trial by fire in its first few days. One crossing alone had over 800 school children heading off for their annual ski trips.