Pride of Calais: 1987 - 2013

1987 saw the largest ferries ever built at that time enter service on the short sea service between Dover and Calais. The two ships represented an investment of over £85 million by European Ferries for the Townsend Thoresen operation, apart from technical refinement and points of consumer appeal to compete with both existing ferry opposition and any future English Channel fixed link, the "Pride of Calais" and sistership "Pride of Dover" are claimed to have achieved greater cost effectiveness per freight unit transported than previous vessels.

With the proposed Channel Tunnel eventually likely to provide a new dimension of competition, Townsend Thoresen deliberately set out to enhance the travel experience of seaborne passengers with a philosophy much along the lines of the big Baltic companies and in some respects the interior ambience of the huge new ships was quite reminiscent of Viking Line's vessels with large scale use of mahogany and brass. The aim was to create an impression of giving travellers more than they pay for. The accommodation at the time was designed to cater for 2300 passengers and was spread over two main decks with room below for a total of 650 cars on two complete decks, combined with hoistable platforms.

Traffic on the Dover to Calais route had taken a tremendous leap forward from 1980 with the introduction of the "Spirit of Free Enterprise", "Pride of Free Enterprise" and the "Herald of Free Enterprise", vessels of almost 8000 tons which became known as the 'Spirit' Class, and which had sufficient speed to make as many as five return crossings in a 24-hour period, taking up to 1300 passengers and 350 cars a trip. They were built by Schichau Unterweser, the Bremerhaven concern also responsible for another four Townsend new builds in addition to the enlargement of a further four vessels in the fleet, and it was logical that the German yard would be entrusted with the task of constructing the latest ships. Obviously a lot of features from the 'Spirit' class were incorporated in the new vessels.

The "Pride of Calais" arrived in Dover on the 29th November 1987 and officially entered service on the 4th December 1987 from Dover.

Apart from a choice of bars and lounge areas there was a wide range of eating options including a 55 seat restaurant with full silver service, two self-service cafeterias seating 292 and 204 respectively, plus a further 55-seat lounge/diner. A completely fresh innovation at the time was a 180 capacity function suite. The ships were introduced at the height of Duty Free sales and the ships utilised this to great advantage, boasting an extensive shopping complex.

Unlike the "Pride of Dover" the "Pride of Calais" was delivered in the new full P&O blue following P&O Ferries takeover of Townsend Thoreson following the tragic "Herald of Free Enterprise" disaster.

So after 20 years of service out of the Kent port, the "Pride of Calais" was going strong and are still being recognised as being one of the most successful short-sea ferries introduced, where other ships have come and gone the "Pride of Calais" and sistership "Pride of Dover" have stayed and become somewhat of a legend with a huge following. Internally the "Pride of Calais" has changed significantly during the many refits and overhauls over the years in order to continually evolve as passenger trends change, for example the drivers cabin area was removed and a large Club Class lounge installed in their place, but one thing remained and that was how comfortable the ship was to travel aboard.

During January 2007 the announcement was made that a long career was coming to an end. New replacement ships were being designed and built in Finland which when completed in 2011 were due to enter service between Dover and Calais. The "Pride of Calais" was chosen as the second to step down from service following the introduction of the second new build, however a reprieve was granted following the closure of Seafrance and their withdrawal from the Dover to Calais service. The "Pride of Calais" was given a basic overhaul and was retained in service, albeit freight only until the 23rd October 2012. The final sailing of the "Pride of Calais" was the 11:30 sailing from Dover on the 20th October 2012 arriving back into Dover at 15:20, this sailing marked the end of several era's. The final departure from Calais (14:50 local time) saw the final departure stern first out of the port before turning around, something no other ship operating on the route designed to do, capable of doing or is permitted to do. Following discharge in Dover the ship was de-stored before departing on the 23rd October 2012 at 10:35 for lay up in Tilbury. Unlike the "Pride of Dover" the departure for the "Pride of Calais" was unrecorded due to very thick fog at the time, however the arrival at Tilbury later that afternoon was captured on film and finally at 17:05 the ship was berthed in front of her long departed sister the "Pride of Dover".

Unlike the "Pride of Dover", the "Pride of Calais" sailed under her own power again soon after arriving in Tilbury. The ship underwent a maritime inspection following arrival which was passed with flying colours and all certificates put in place for the next few years, this alone got enthusiasts and fans talking and speculating on the ships future until early December saw a rumour surface that TransEuropaFerries had chartered the ship for three years to operate between Ramsgate and Ostend. These rumours proved true and following a refit and repaint the ship entered service on the Ramsgate to Ostend service under the name of "Ostend Spirit" on the 1st February 2013. The refit by TransEuropaFerries was basic and the repainting was never finished, and whilst the ship did make a few crossings it was soon to be found back in Tilbury. P&O Ferries were forced to reclaim the vessel following the non-payment of charter fees and when the P&O crew boarded it was reported at the time that the TransEuropaFerries crew had not been paid either, clear signs that TransEuropaFerries were in financial troubles. Sure enough within days the news broke that TransEuropaFerries and ceased trading and the ship was once again laid up at Tilbury with no future.

Sadly for fans and enthusiasts the news broke and on the 30th October 2013 the ship sailed under her own power on a one way voyage to Aliaga in Turkey, a skeleton crew of volunteers were onboard and even the master who had previously retired asked P&O Ferries to return and command the vessel that he called home for so many years on her final voyage. On the 13th November 2013 after sailing non-stop from Tilbury the ship was beached in Turkey and the engines were turned off for the final time. To the amazement of everyone the ship had to delay being beached whilst the ship burnt off fuel as despite a high speed run from the UK (18+ knots) there was still too much fuel onboard and the ship had to go round in circles. It took two attempts at beaching the vessel as on the first occasion the helmsman, a worker from the ship breakers stopped the centre engine and thus the centre propeller which meant that the ship had no steerage as it was a single rudder ship. The second attempt was successful and was recorded for posterity by a local shipping enthusiast, it can be seen in the video that the housing for the bow rudder was bent and mangled when the ship hit the beach.