Ailsa Princess / Earl Harold

On a dull morning off the Dorset coast, Earl Harold creeps towards Weymouth Harbour at the end of a crossing from Cherbourg.
Photo: Brian Fisher.

Originally Ailsa Princess, she was built in 1971 for the Scotland/Northern Ireland operations of British Rail. She was superseded by Galloway Princess nine years later and came south to Weymouth to operate to the Channel Islands and Cherbourg in the company of Earl Godwin. She was renamed Earl Harold in 1985 to complete the rebranding of Sealink British Ferries' Channel Islands services using 'Earl' named vessels from Western Channel ports. She remained stationed at Weymouth under the fancifully titled 'Sun Liner' banner. Earl Harold and her consort operated a daily round trip each during daylight: They had no overnight accommodation. 1986 saw Earl Harold and her local fleetmates operating with a revised livery featuring the brand 'British Ferries'. The 'Sealink' name had been removed in a thinly veiled attempt to distance the company from its attempt to go up-market the previous year. Parent company, Sea Containers had presumed that Channel Island travellers were affluent enough to absorb a hefty rise in ticket prices. The public were put off by the fares increases and voted with their feet in the direction of newly established competitor, Channel Island Ferries. British Ferries admitted defeat and withdrew from the Channel Islands altogether in 1986 after a failed merger bid with Channel Island Ferries. Earl Harold staggered on operating summer crossings to Cherbourg. But 1988 saw Sealink abandon Weymouth altogether and she was deployed as an extra ship on the Folkestone/Boulogne route for that summer. After a brief spell of charter work on the Irish Sea she was sold to Greek interests.

M. S. Ailsa Princess
Builder: Cant. Nav. Breda S. P. A., Venice, Italy.
Yard number: 272.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 115.54 x 17.38 x 4 metres.
Tonnages (gross, net, dead weight): 6,177, 2,047, 894.
Engines: Two Crossley Premier S. E. M. T. Pielstick diesel.
Power: 10,710 kW.
Speed (knots): 20.7.
Passenger certificate: 1,000.
Car capacity: 190.

28.11.1970: Launched.
6.1971: Delivered to British Transport Ship Management (Scotland) Limited, London.
7.7.1971: Entered service Stranraer/Larne.
2.4.1982: Weymouth/Cherbourg summer service.
24.5.1985: Renamed Earl Harold. Weymouth/St. Peter Port (Guernsey)/St. Helier (Jersey).
4.1989: Chartered to B. & I. Line. Pembroke Dock/Rosslare.
11.1989: Sold to Aktoploiki Maritime, Piraeus, Greece. Renamed Dimitra.
11.1994: Sold to Agapitos Line, Piraeus, Greece. Renamed Naias Express.
2000: Transferred to Minoan Flying Dolphins, Piraeus, Greece. Renamed Express Adonis. Hellas Ferries.

The distinctive shape of Earl Harold's funnel became very much a trademark in its own right, a variation of the theme modelled previously by Vortigern and loosely replicated by Hengist, Horsa, Senlac and St. Edmund (later to become Rozel) in what became a classic hallmark of British Rail shipbuilding in the 1970s. The 'wrap-around' relief version of the gold 'galloping maggot' was not a standard interpretation of the 1984 Sealink livery though.
Photo: Justin Merrigan.