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The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company is the oldest continually operating ferry company in the world, trading from 1830 to present day. Over the 180 years that the Steam Packet have been sailing there have been many changes which has resulted in massive changes in the requirements and designs of ships. However the company remained faithful to steam until 1951 when the Company had the Fenella (3) constructed at Ailsa Shipyard and she was the first diesel powered ship that the company had constructed. The Fenella (3) was a cargo vessel whereas the whole of Steam Packet passenger fleet remained steam powered.
In 1953 the Steam Packet ordered another steam powered passenger only vessel and this came as a surprise as a lot of company's were venturing into the new technology of RO-RO ferries, and during that era the Isle of Man was an extremely popular tourist destination. These passenger only vessels were able to carry passengers cars but it was a long winded process as each vehicle had to be craned on individually. The Steam Packet's reasoning for not venturing into the new technology of RO-RO ferries was that it would be too expensive to have linkspans constructed at each of the ports and that they were able to carry cars on the steamers.
In 1962 the Steam Packet had their first car ferry built by Cammell Laird's and she was called the Manx Maid (2). The Manx Maid (2) cost £1,087,000 to construct. Instead of using diesel engines the company again remained loyal to steam as it had been reported that the new diesel ferry's were having issues with the engines and vibrations. Also instead of using the new RO-RO design the Steam Packet had a unique design that allowed cars to be driven off at any state of the tide at any of the company's ports. This new design of vessel became known as the side-loaders.
In 1965 a sister to the Manx Maid (2) followed and she was to be called the Ben-my-Chree (5). The Ben-my-Chree (5) did not cost much more than the Manx Maid (2), she cost £1,400,000 to construct. The Ben-my-Chree (5) was the fourteenth and final ship that the Steam Packet had constructed at Cammell Laird's. She was of a similar design to the Manx Maid (2) and to the untrained eye they looked exactly the same but there were subtle differences. For example the Ben-my-Chree had an extra balcony deck below her bridge.
The company's passenger fleet remained the same until 1971 when it was announced that the company was to have a new car ferry constructed and that this new car ferry was to replace the much loved Lady of Mann (1) of 1930. The Mona's Queen (5) was not a sistership of the Manx Maid (2) or Ben-my-Chree (5), and she was not constructed by Cammell Laird's like the others. She was built by Ailsa Shipbuilders of Troon and cost £2,100,000 to build. The Mona's Queen (5) was the first diesel powered passenger ship that the company had constructed and was also the first vessel to have one single class.
The company did not have any vessels constructed until 1975 when a sistership of the Mona's Queen (5) was launched. This new vessel was to be constructed by Ailsa Shipbuilders of Troon and cost £3,800,000 to build. She cost nearly double the price of her sister. This new vessel was to replace the King Orry (4) of 1948 and was to be called the second Lady of Mann.
The new Lady was planned to come into service to help with the TT traffic however she due to problems experienced she was not ready until late June 1976 and missed out on the TT traffic. The Lady's maiden voyage took place on June 30th 1976 with the morning sailing from Douglas to Liverpool. However she spent most of her first season operating to and from Fleetwood as her sistership the Mona's Queen (5) had recently operated the first car ferry sailing to the port and this is where the Lady spent most of her first season. Until 1981 the Lady operated as normal but with the second Manx Line coming onto the scene the Steam Packet had reacted by purchasing a linkspan an locating it on the South side of the King Edward Pier. It appeared that the Lady and her side loading fleetmates would become surplus to requirements, but they did not as the Steam Packet only used the Linkspan for freight services. They chartered the N.F Jaguar to carry the freight and passengers continued to be transported to the island by the side loaders.
In 1983 the Steam Packets fleet - for the first time ever - consisted of only car ferries. At this time Manx tourism was suffering from a huge decline that it would never recover from, consequently there was hardly enough traffic on the routes to keep one company never mind two! Both companies were literally running each other into the ground.
Sadly the Steam Packet was forced to announce the premature disposal of the Manx Maid (2) and Ben-my-Chree (5) in 1984. The reasoning behind this was the fact that both the Manx Maid (2) and Ben-my-Chree (5) were turbine steamers and that they were becoming uneconomical as steamships around the country were becoming rare as diesel power was taking over and the costs of running a steamship was becoming more and more expensive.
In 1984 the company announced that they had purchased the Tamira formerly Free Enterprise III to replace both the Manx Maid (2) and Ben-my-Chree (5), when she arrived she underwent a major refit to make her - what was thought to be - fit for Manx services. Although both the Manx Maid (2) and Ben-my-Chree (5) had a positive future ahead of them none materialized and the Manx Maid (2) was broken up at Garston and the Ben-my-Chree (5) was broken up in Spain. In 1985 the company did not have enough capacity to cope with the TT traffic and was forced to charter the Ben-my-Chree (5) back for the fortnight.
In 1985 the winter services are reduced to one ship and the Lady of Mann is this ship as she was the newest vessel in the company's fleet. On the 1st February the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and Manx Line merge and the company continues to trade as the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, as a result of the merge the company aquires the Manx Viking and with the Mona's Isle (6) ex. Tamira undergoing a refit were the remaining side loaders reaching the end of their time?
Due to major issues with the new Mona's Isle (6) she was not ready in time and the company continued to operate the side loaders in the early 1985 season. Due to Manx Line and the Steam Packet merging Sealink promised to provide the Antrim Princess but when the company needed her, while the Mona's Isle (6) was suffering from major problems, she was not ready for service. To make matters worse the Manx Viking's passenger certificates had expired so it was down to the ever reliable Mona's Queen (5) and Lady of Mann (2) to serve the island.
Due to the poor performance and major problems experienced with the Mona's Isle (6) the Steam Packet sold her off after only one season of service to the island. As the Mona's Isle (6) was withdrawn from service the company announced that the Antrim Princess was to replace her in 1986.
Back in 1984 the Steam Packet broke ties with Liverpool and Heysham was to become the company's main port in the U.K. However in 1986 the company realised that this was a mistake and reopened the route with the Lady of Mann, however the reopening of the Liverpool route did not include winter services so it was a bit like it is today.
In 1987 the Lady of Mann has a fairly uneventful season but towards the end of her season she suffers from a problem with her bow thrusters which resulted in her concluding her season early leaving the Mona's Queen (5) to cover her sailings. Following the tragic Herald of Free Enterprise incident new shipping regulations are introduced around the country and the Lady of Mann is forced to have her passenger capacity reduced to 1,200.
1989 was a major year for the Lady of Mann (2) as she was rebuilt in order to raise the quality of service provided. The rebuild resulted in a much better appearance internally and externally there was a notable difference to her appearance. Many of her windows and sliding doors had been removed and plated over and she appeared with a new livery. The difference to this new livery was that she had orange and red stripes running along each side of her accommodation and where they met on her forward accommodation was the company's logo. She carried this livery right up until 1998.
In the 1990 season the Lady of Mann was the only side loading car ferry that remained in the fleet as her sistership was withdrawn from service and the Channel Entente (King Orry (5)) had replaced her. I suppose that the King Orry could be classed as a side loader as she was fitted with a side door for unloading in Liverpool as there was no linkspan situated at the landing stage but it was only useful at Liverpool. From 1990 to 1993 the company's fleet consisted of the King Orry (5), Lady of Mann (2), and the Peveril (4).
Shortly before the TT festival in 1992 the Lady of Mann (2) suffered from a technical problem in Douglas which resulted in her ramming the Battery Pier which smashed her bow and crumpled her three legs emblem. Due to the damage caused she had to be taken out of service immediately for emergency repairs, but this left the company with a problem as they were now one ship down for the TT festival. The company began a frantic search for a ship to cover the Lady of Mann. The cover vessel that the company chartered was the Seacat Scotland and her brief appearance impressed the public and the Steam Packet realised that it was time that they started looking into bringing a fast craft to Manx waters.
Until 1994 the Lady of Mann (2), King Orry (5), and Peveril (4) operated a reliable service to the island but things were about to change as the Steam Packet announced that they had chartered the Seacat Boulogne from Sea Containers for 18 months. The company decided that this new fast craft would replace the Lady of Mann (2). It was decided that during 1994 she would be the backup ship for the company and in 1995 she would be sold off for further use.
During 1994 the Lady was called upon a number of times which persuaded the company to hold on to her for at least another season. Again during 1995 the Lady was the backup ship for the company and as the end of the season approached a reported 'freak-wave' hit the Seacat Isle of Man which resulted in her bow visor being badly damaged and she had to have emergency repairs, and the Lady was called upon to cover her sailings. This was a reminder to the Steam Packet that the Fast Crafts are not able to put to sea in as bad weather as the conventional vessels.
At end of the 1995 season the Steam Packet announced that due to the high cost of chartering Seacat Isle of Man from Sea Containers (£6,000 Per Day!) they would not be extending the charter and that the Lady of Mann would return for the 1996 season. However it was in 1996 when it was announced that Sea Containers had successfully taken over the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Things were about to change.
Many of the followers of the Lady of Mann thought that due to Sea Containers taking over the company they would replace her with moderner ship, but it was decided that, instead of selling her off, the company would open a seasonal Liverpool - Dublin service. The Lady operated this service until 1997 when Sea Containers employed the new Superseacat Two on the route, again this was another reason why many of her followers thought that she was to be sold off. However the company announced that she would remain as a stand-by vessel for the foreseeable future and was needed to cover the unreliable Seacats on more than one occasion!
With the arrival of these new car ferries the passenger only steamers were phased out and the Manx Maid (2) replaced the Mona's Queen (4) of 1948. The Ben-my-Chree (5) replaced the Ben-my-Chree (4) of 1927. The Mona's Queen (5) replaced the Lady of Mann (1) of 1930. The Lady of Mann (2) replaced the King Orry (4) of 1948.
References: Ships of Mann, Lady of Mann - Last of the Line, Steam Packet 175th Anniversary (Official Book)