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Special Delivery: Voyage of Arklow Built New Carferry Arrives At Rathlin Island

22nd March 2017
Making a delivery voyage to Rathin Island this morning is Spirit of Rathlin. The £2.8m newbuild can take up to six vehicles and 140 passengers on the crossing to Ballycastle on the mainland. Making a delivery voyage to Rathin Island this morning is Spirit of Rathlin. The £2.8m newbuild can take up to six vehicles and 140 passengers on the crossing to Ballycastle on the mainland. Photo: Rathlin Ferry

#NewFerryArrives - Residents of Rathlin Island now have an exciting addition as a brand new car ferry arrived this morning which is to serve the North’s only inhabited island, writes Jehan Ashmore.

After a 20 hour delivery voyage from boatbuilders Arklow Marine Services, the Spirit of Rathlin sailed into Church Bay. The main harbour of the island which has a population of around 150.

Crew of existing fast-craft ferry, Rathlin Express sailed out of Church Bay to welcome Spirit of Rathlin off Rue Point. A sight that was breathtaking for the operator to see as both vessels approached Rathlin in unison. By coincidence Rathin Express (see artists sketch) with a capacity just shy of 100 passengers was also built by AMS back in 2009. 

Spirit of Rathlin was commissioned by the Department for Infrastructure (Dfi) at a cost of £2.8m and through a tendering process a contract was awarded to Rathlin Ferry Co. The new vessel will enhance operations for both islanders and for tourists exploring the delights of the 'Causeway' coast. 

The tender contract is for a duration of a decade that is to see the new six vehicle ferry ply the Sea of Moyle. This six mile stretch of water separates the island and Ballycastle. The harbour on the mainland is located on the equally stunning Antrim coast.

The presence of Spirit of Rathlin will not mean immediate service as sea trials at both harbours will firstly have to take place. In the meantime routine sailings are operating. 

Vehicles using Spirit of Rathlin will involve the ferry's bow-loading ramp, however only islanders can take their cars on board.

As for the 140 passengers, they will be accommodated in a much larger superstructure compared to carferry Canna. This veteran vessel which has its origins in Scotland, having been built in 1976 for Caledanian MacBrayne (CalMac). They had operated the Rathlin service until 12 years ago and Canna will be replaced by the island's first custom-built carferry.

Last month Afloat reported on the unique arrival of Spirit of Rathlin into Greystones Harbour, as this enabled the 28m long newbuild to carry out the first ever trials of using the bow door. This took place at the boat slip that saw a car embark via the vessels ramp. The exercise was shortly followed by a van.

Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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