& Leopard

Leopard is seen gently edging up Southampton Water in the pale blue colours of P. & O. Normandy Ferries.
Photo: © Brian Fisher.

The success of Thoresen's Southampton/Le Havre car ferry services inspired rivals in the form of P. & O. Normandy Ferries who ordered twin vessels to compete with the 'Vikings'. Named Dragon and Leopard, they were delivered in 1967 and were to last seventeen years at Southampton. In their earlier days they were tried on experimental sailings to Spain, but these were abandoned after a short while. They were longer than Thoresen's ships, but lacked boor doors, therefore requiring all vehicles to be turned around inside. In the case of lorries, they had to be reversed on board which was frightfully awkward at the best of times.

P. & O. Normandy Ferries was acquired by Townsend Thoresen in 1985 where upon Dragon and Leopard transferred to the newly opened Portsmouth/Le Havre route. They were only to spend a year at Portsmouth before being substituted with the enlarged Viking Venturer and Viking Valiant. Dragon was renamed Ionic Ferry for her new role on the Scotland/Northern Ireland service. She survived there until 1992 when she was disposed of to Marlines of Greece. Her sister was sold to a Cypriot registered shipping line back in 1986.

M. S. Dragon & Leopard
Builder: Ateliers et Chantiers de Bretagne, Nantes, France.
Yard numbers: 16108 and 16109.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 134.63 x 21.87 x 4.8 metres.
Tonnages (gross, net, dead weight): 6113, 2439.
Engines: Two 16 cylinder, Pielstick-Bretagne diesel.
Power: 7,062 kW.
Speed (knots): 16.
Passenger certificate: 850.
Car capacity: 250.

27.1.1967: Dragon launched at Dubigeon-Normandie S. A., Nantes.
5.6.1967: Delivered to General Steam Navigation (P. & O. Group), Southampton.
1.7.1967: Southampton/Le Havre.
4.1.1985: Sold to European Ferries P. L. C.
8.7.1986: Renamed Ionic Ferry. Cairnryan/Larne.
21.10.1987: Registered for P. & O. European Ferries (Felixstowe) Limited.
18.3.1991: Sold to: Howill Shipping Limited, London and chartered back to P. & O.
18.6.1992: Sold to Marlines, Piraeus, Greece. Renamed Viscountess M.
8.1995: Registered for Cadet Shipping Limited, Valletta, Malta. Renamed Charm M.
11.1997: Sold to Georgian Shipping Company, Tbilisi, Georgia. Renamed Memed Abashidze.
12.1999: Sold to Access Ferries S. A., Kingstown, Cayman Island. Renamed Med.

3.11.1967: Leopard launched.
20.4.1968: Delivered to Société Anonyme de Gerame et d' Armencent, Le Havre.
2.5.1968: Southampton/Le Havre.
28.5.1968: Introduced Le Havre/Rosslare sailings.
24.11.1968: Sailings to Casablanca, Lisbon, and Rouen.
31.12.1979: Registered for P. & O. Normandy Ferries.
4.1.1985: Sold to: European Ferries P. L. C. Le Havre/Portsmouth.
13.5.1986: Sold to Oscar Express Ferries, Limassol, Cyprus. Renamed Countess M.
2000: Sold to Five Star Lines, Panama. Renamed Dimitra A.
2001. Chartered to Mega Stars Ferries, Panama. Renamed Mega I.

Here Dragon approaches Portsmouth Harbour in hazy morning sunshine. Note the barely visible 'T. T.' insignia on her funnel.
Photo: © Brian Fisher.