Pride of Dover: 1987 - 2012

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 Dover" and sistership "Pride of Calais" 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 Dover" was the first of the two ships to enter service, and commenced sea trials during May 1987 and after preliminary visits to try out the newly installed twin-level, double-width berths at both Dover and Calais. The ship officially entered service on the 2nd June 1987, taking the 10:30 departure from Dover. Sadly the debut was overshadowed by the loss of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" two months earlier. The "Pride of Dover" carried 250,000 passengers in its first six weeks of service and was joined by sistership "Pride of Calais" on the 1st December, the "Pride of Calais" being delivered in the new full P&O blue following P&O Ferries takeover of Townsend Thoreson following the aforementioned "Herald of Free Enterprise" disaster.

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.

So after 20 years of service out of the Kent port, the "Pride of Dover" 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 Dover" and sistership "Pride of Calais" have stayed and become somewhat of a legend with a huge following. Internally the "Pride of Dover" 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 Dover" was chosen as the first to step down from service and on the 14th December 2010 at 23:55 the "Pride of Dover" sailed from Dover for the final time in service. Following discharge in Dover the ship was de-stored before departing on the 16th December at 10:48 for layup in Tilbury. Whilst the ship was to remain in readiness for service incase of a problem at Dover that required the ship to re-enter service this date remains the last time the "Pride of Dover" was in her home port, as a reactivation was never needed, the "Pride of Dover" remained at Tilbury until December 2012. In fact it was the last time that the "Pride of Dover" sailed under her own power.

Sadly no buyer was found and over the time laid up the condition of the ship was getting worse as no ship likes being laid up and even more so a ship that was worked as hard and intensively as the "Pride of Dover", over time the ship went from warm layup (i.e. generators, electric, heating etc running) to cold layup (nothing running) several times and then finally when joined by her sister the "Pride of Calais" on the 23rd October 2012 the "Pride of Dover" went into cold layup for the last time with the layup crew being accommodated on the "Pride of Calais". The ships were berthed together with a planked walkway between the ships bows for crew to cross. Seven days later the news broke that the "Pride of Dover" was renamed "Pride" and all P&O markings were being removed and work began to ready the ship for departure with the bow doors being welded shut and bracing being welded onto the front of the ship indicating that a long tow was on the cards.

The deep sea tug Eide Fighter arrived on the 20th November 2012 and began to ready both herself and finish the process onboard the "Pride" (of Dover) prior to departing to an unknown destination. Departure dates came and went due to adverse weather, but finally on the 29th November 2012 the Eide Fighter moved to Tilbury landing stage whilst three local tugs moved the "Pride" from her berth and out into the River. Generators were started aboard the "Pride" and bow thrusters were used to assist the tugs in departure but no engines were used, one engine was no longer serviceable and without some care and attention the other two would become unservicable if they were used following such a the long layup. Rumours of the destination still continued with the most obvious one being Aliaga in Turkey for scrapping. However at 9am when the Eide Fighter had connected to the "Pride" (of Dover) and began the long tow the tugs AIS destination was set as "Tuzla, Turkey", this was somewhat of a shock as Tuzla is home to many large shipyards and not a scrapyard.

The long tow now started the route was to pass her previous home port late that night before heading down the channel towards the Atlantic, however the "Pride" did not want to give up so quickly and the weather forecast changed whilst the tow progressed and for several days a holding pattern was steamed off Lyme Bay. Despite numerous rumours about being repaired and returned to service, the ships destination changed enroute to that of Aliaga, Shipbreakers, in Turkey and just after Christmas 2012 the ship arrived and was beached straight away.