& Speed One / Condor Rapide
Condor Express gleams on a crisp winter afternoon at Weymouth in 1999.
The fourth generation of Incat vessels arrived in our waters in February 1997 when Condor Express took her maiden voyage between Weymouth and the Channel Islands. She spent just one month on that service before moving it to nearby Poole where a larger local population was expected to generate better business. In a move away from dull numerical names, it was decided to give her a more distinctive identity rather than risk 'Condor 13' and its connotations of misfortune. Her twin sister was delivered the following year as Condor Vitesse to provide a token seasonal service from Weymouth to St. Malo via St. Peter Port (Guernsey). A call at St. Helier (Jersey) was ruled out as the authorities there believed Condor would threaten a local ferry operator. This embargo was later lifted and Condor went on to successfully vanquish their competitor, Emeraude Jersey Ferries. In recent years the company has maintained a year-round fast ferry service from Weymouth to the Channel Islands using Condor Express. In peak season additional services have been operated by Condor Vitesse from Poole, with onward connections to St. Malo. This vessel has also provided a daily summer crossing from Poole to Cherbourg in conjuction with Brittany Ferries since 2001.
Another vessel in this series of 'Mark IV' Incat catamarans was set to make waves in the Cross-Channel ferry industry in 2004. Having been built in 1999 and used by the Australian Navy, she was then taken on by an ambitious new entrant to the market, SpeedFerries. Danish entrepreneur, Curt Stavis, was the very hands-on and media-savvy chief executive of the company who was regularly to be seen on board Speed One in her early days of service between Dover and Boulogne. SpeedFerries set out to capture a share of the traffic on offer by selling tickets on the same principle as the 'budget' airlines; the sooner passengers booked, the cheaper their fare. And the fares started at extremely low prices indeed, so low that, although Speed One often sailed full to capacity, she never actually made her operator any net profit in her four and half year stint! The losses mounted year on year and SpeedFerries went bust in November 2008. Speed One had been arrested by the port authorities at Boulogne for non-payment of harbour dues. So having restored the sea link with Dover previously lost in 1993, Boulogne was again without a ferry. As it would turn out, L. D. Lines were waiting in the wings to fill the gap, but they, at the time, expressed no interest in using a catamaran. Speed One was put up for sale by her administrators in order to pay off some of the debts owed to creditors. She was eventually acquired by none other than Condor for use on their Inter-Island services. For this purpose she was renamed Condor Rapide and she made her debut in May 2010. She has since also covered for her two elder sisters on the link to the mainland.
Condor Express & Incat 044
Builder: Incat Australia Pty. Limited, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Yard numbers: 042 and 044.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 86.62 x 26 x 3.5.
Tonnages (gross, net, dead weight): 5005, 340.
Engines: Four Ruston diesel.
Power: 28,320 kW.
Speed (knots): 40.
Passenger certificate: 776.
Car capacity: 200.
24.11.1996: Condor Express launched.
17.12.1996: Left Hobart for Weymouth.
15.1.1997: Arrived at Weymouth.
31.1.1997: Entered service for Condor Ferries between Weymouth/St. Helier (Jersey)/St. Peter Port (Guernsey).
1.3.1997: Service moved to Poole.
7.5.1997: Incat 044 launched.
6.1997: Delivered to International Catamarans Pty. Limited, Nassau, Bahamas.
7.1997: Laid up at Portland, England.
1.5.1998: Chartered to Condor Ferries Limited. Renamed Condor Vitesse. Entered service Weymouth/ St. Peter Port (Guernsey)/St. Malo.
8.12.1999: Chartered to Tranzrail, New Zealand.
27.4.2000: Left Wellington for Weymouth via Darwin/Colombo/Djibouti/Valletta.
20.5.2000: Arrived at Weymouth.
26.5.2000: Condor Ferries between Poole/St. Helier (Jersey)/St. Peter Port (Guernsey)/St. Malo.
22.5.2001: Opened fast ferry sailings between Poole/Cherbourg in conjunction with Brittany Ferries.