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. One of the major changes that has taken place in relatively recent years is the introduction of fast crafts on many passenger shipping routes around the world, and the Steam Packet was eager to trial one of these fast crafts to find out whether they were suited to Manx services.
Car carrying fast crafts were introduced to the shipping world in the late 80’s/early 90’s. The company that constructed these groundbreaking vessels was Incat who were based in Tasmania. The first of these car carrying fast crafts was the Hoverspeed Great Britain. Following the success and popularity of these new vessels Sea Containers immediately ordered another ? of these vessels one being Seacat Bolougne which was to become Seacat Isle of Man.
Seacat Bolougne was first used by Sea Containers to open a new route between ?Dover? and Bolougne. In the meantime the Steam Packet was looking at chartering a Seacat from Sea Containers but the costs of chartering were considered to be too high to be viable.
Just a few weeks before the 1992 TT festival the Lady of Mann suffered an engine defect while berthing in Douglas which resulting in her proceeding ‘full ahead’ and colliding with the Battery Pier, which destroyed her bow, therefore, emergency repairs were needed. However the company needed a backup vessel immediately and the vessel they chartered was Seacat Scotland. Although she was not used for that long by the company they realised that it was time that they started to look at chartering a Seacat for the season, as many were impressed by Seacat Scotland.
In 1994 the Steam Packet decided that it was time to introduce a fast craft as it would be beneficial to their services and would possibly give Manx economy a boost as more people would be attracted to the island by the new type of vessel and faster crossing times.
Consequently the company chartered the 3 year old Seacat Bolougne from Sea Containers for 1994 and 1995 at a cost of £2,000 per day. The fast craft was given a white livery with the orange and red stripes with the company logo towards her bows. In addition to receiving a new livery the vessel was renamed Seacat Isle of Man.
As a result of the introduction of a fast craft the company announced that for the 1994 season the Lady of Mann would remain in layup and act as a backup vessel for the company and in 1995 she would be put up for sale.
On the ? 1994 Seacat Isle of Man took her maiden voyage between Douglas and Fleetwood. However this did not go smoothly as anticipated as upon berthing at Fleetwood she sucked a mooring rope into her water jets, which resulted in her return journey being aborted. Passengers were given a free ticket to sail with the company and were diverted to Heysham where the King Orry returned them to Douglas. For the remainder of the 1994 season everything generally went smoothly and most of 1995 went smoothly apart from an incident at the end of the season which was a ‘freak wave’ had hit the vessel twisting her bow visor. Consequently she was withdrawn from service for repairs earlier than anticipated.
Sadly at the end of the 1995 season the company announced that they would not be renewing the Seacat’s charter as the costs were still considered as too high, consequently the Lady of Mann returned to service for the 1996 season.
However, in JUNE???? 1996 Sea Containers had bought the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and one of the first things they did was bring a Fast Craft back to Manx routes. The Seacat used this time was Seacat Danmark and she appeared as Seacat Isle of Man for a brief period of time.
In 1998 Seacat Danmark was taken off Manx services and Seacat Norge (ex. Seacat Isle of Man) was brought back to Manx services while the Danmark was used on another of Sea Containers routes. Now it has been said that Seacat Danmark was owned by the Isle of Man but Sea Containers ‘swapped’ the Danmark for the Norge as Danmark was a newer vessel, therefore had more life left in her.
So the Steam Packet were back with Seacat Norge (ex. Seacat Isle of Man) which they had used in 1994 and 1995. Again she was renamed Seacat Isle of Man and was in service with the company until 2004.
At the end of the 2004 season the Steam Packet announced that they would no longer operate the Liverpool-Dublin route, and as a result of this they would be introducing Superseacat Two on the main Liverpool - Douglas route making Seacat Isle of Man available for sale or charter. She quickly found a company interested in chartering her, that was Irish Sea Express.
Following the Steam Packet closing the Liverpool - Dublin route, Irish Sea Express was founded and they chartered Seacat Isle of Man and renamed her Sea Express 1. However due to ever rising fuel costs and not enough demand Irish Sea Express went into liquidation after only 6 months of service.
Again Sea Express 1 was laid up awaiting a buyer, but after languishing layup for most of 2006 the Steam Packet announced that she was to return to Manx service over the 2006/07 winter season while the Superseacat Two had her gearbox replaced. Despite being unable to sail in adverse weather conditions she was having a fairly trouble free season until 03 February 2007, when she collided with the Alaska Rainbow off Alfred Dock on the River Mersey. She was faced with severe damage resulting in her taking on a lot of water causing her to list dangerously to starboard. The MAIB stated that if she would of suffered from any more damage that day she would of foundered.
The Steam Packet's original plan was to operate her on the Irish routes for the 2007 summer season to try to increase numbers, however this was now impossible. Fortunately for the Steam Packet, one of her sister ships, the Emeraude France was available for charter and was located in Tilbury. So they chartered her for the 2007 summer season.
Many thought that Sea Express 1 would be classes as a Constructive Total Loss, however to most peoples surprise repairs commenced during the summer season of 2007 and were completed by April 2008. The Sea Express 1 was the first ship in the fleet to return to traditional colours and names, being renamed Snaefell. Her first passenger carrying sailing following her collision was on the 12 May 2008 with the 0730hrs Douglas - Liverpool sailing. She successfully completed the 2008 and 2009 summer seasons without any major mishaps.
Unlike the previous two years 2010 was not a good season for the fast crafts. The season started off well, however by June/July the Manannan and Snaefell were faced with major crankshaft problems which resulted in them operating on reduced power for the remainder of the season. The company decided to use the Manannan in place of the Snaefell's sailings where possible as she could offer a shorter crossing time with only three engines operating. Throughout the 2010 season there were rumours about the company removing the Snaefell from the fleet in 2011...
Following the fast crafts being laid up for the winter season Mezeron Line brought in two Lo-Lo ships the 'Kalana' and 'Kurkse' that they would operate from the South Edward Pier. This caused the Steam Packet to lose many of their freight customers and in January 2011 the company announced that the Snaefell would not feature in their 2011 timetables. However she was dry docked with the Manannan in March 2011 and following refit she proceeded to Cammell Lairds Wet Basin, where she was offered for sale/charter.
In June 2011 she departed the wet basin and proceeded to Douglas before sailing to Piraeus. It was rumoured that she was being chartered by N.E.L Lines as the Cyclades Express (ex. Seacat Scotland) had suffered from an engine room fire making her unseaworthy. However when she arrived she never entered service for an unknown reason and remains there now. (December 2011)