Catalonia L
(operated as 'Portsmouth Express', 'Express' & 'Cherbourg Express')

Portsmouth Express leaves a lot to be desired in terms of looks as she departs for Cherbourg on a July morning in 2001. Note the Isle of Wight lies in the background.

Having removed Superstar Express from the Channel, P. & O. chartered a larger catamaran in the form of Catalonia L, branded as Portsmouth Express for the summer of 2000. Unlike her predecessor, she was built by 'Incat' and had that customary 'third hull' feature at her bow end. Not a particularly pretty sight with her passenger decks raised at the stern end to accommodate a limited number of coaches. Surprisingly, bow doors have not been fitted on 'Incat' vessels since Condor 11, operators claiming it is practical to turn cars around within the broad vehicle deck.

She gave a poor performance in 2002, suffering engine failures and operating at reduced speed for several months before receiving the necessary repairs. With her crossings extended from the timetabled two and a half hours to nearly four, many passengers were left disgruntled when faced with a lack of 'things to do' on board. In 2003 she returned under the unofficial guise of just Express, then the following year she adopted the Cherbourg Express moniker.

Regrettably, like many other recent fast ferries, Cherbourg Express has no outside deck space whatsoever. Passengers are confined inside where there are just rows of seats, a small shop, a bar and servery to keep her 'captives' occupied. Hence some still prefer the virtues of the conventional ships which are large enough to provide a full range of facilities, and even the freedom to enjoy fresh sea air!

Catalonia L
Builder: InCat Tasmania Limited, Hobart, Australia.
Yard number: 48.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 91.3 x 26 x 3.73 metres.
Tonnages (gross, net, dead weight): 5,902, 510.
Engines: Four Caterpillar diesel.
Power: 28,800 kW.
Speed (knots): 48,0 (Max).
Passenger certificate: 900.
Car capacity: 220.

24.4.1998: Launched.
16.5.1998: Delivered to Buquebus S. A., Montevideo, Uruguay.
25.5.1998: Left Australia for New York.
6.6.1998: Left New York for Ceuta via England to attempt to seize the Hales Trophy. Crossed the Atlantic 3 days, 9 hours and 55 minutes, failing to break the previous record.
20.6.1998: Entered service Barcelona/Palma de Mallorca.
16.4.2000: Chartered to P. & O. European Ferries (Portsmouth) Limited. Unofficially renamed Portsmouth Express. Portsmouth/Cherbourg.
11.4.2003: Chartered to: P. & O. Ferries Limited. Unofficially renamed Express.
29.4.2003: Out of service for repairs.
16.5.2003: Back in traffic.
4.2004: Chartered again. Unofficially renamed Cherbourg Express.

Here she is seen branded as Cherbourg Express during 2004, cutting a dash past Spithead Fort in the Solent. This was her final season on the Channel.
Photo: P. & O. Ferries Enthusiasts.