Prins Filip / Stena Royal / P. & O. S. L. Aquitaine /
Pride of Aquitaine / Norman Spirit / Ostend Spirit / Norman Spirit /
The phasing out of the L. D. Lines brand on the Dover Straits was completed when the former Norman Spirit returned from annual overhaul in full D. F. D. S. Seaways livery and bearing her new name of Calais Seaways. This particularly interesting vessel has the distinction of being the only ferry to have served all five of Dover's historic routes to the Continent. Over the last two decades she has been renamed seven times and operated for six different companies. During her refit she received some much needed attention to her forward lounge, with the particularly narrow windows being widened to improve the view.
This impressive superferry was hoped to be the saviour of ailing R. M. T.'s Dover/Oostende route which had been beset with inadequate and outdated tonnage for many years. She was constructed as Prins Filip and embodied major advances in ferry design. Even two decades on her distinctively angled profile still looks comparatively modern. It was expected that a sister would follow but this was not to materialise. Her original entry into service in 1991 was brought to abrupt halt when she was promptly returned to her builders for remedial work on excessive vibration problems. When she returned the following year she replaced two fleet units in the form of Prinses Maria-Esmeralda and Prince Laurent.
Although capable of carrying two thousand passengers, her certificate was limited to just sixty per cent of capacity to maintain a spacious atmosphere for her 'guests'. Her facilities were finished to a very high order and she very much warranted the description of 'superferry'. Unfortunately she served to underline the gaping disparity between herself and her much smaller fleetmates. Those who travelled one way on Prins Filip were left feeling rather short-changed if they returned on one of the other R. M. T. boats. With Prins Filip having set a very high standard, her consorts generated plenty of grumbles from disappointed passengers.
When R. M. T. inexpicably switched the Oostende Lines service to Dover's less well-connected neighbour, Ramsgate, it was somehow hoped that the change of port would give the Company a new lease of life. However it was doomed and the last sailings were completed by Prins Filip in February 1997. She languished at Dunkerque for a considerable period before being purchased by Stena Line and chartered to their P. & O. Stena Line subsidiary in 1998. For this purpose she was renamed Stena Royal and operated on a freight only basis between Dover and Zeebrugge. It was soon realised that it made no commercial sense to use her in this role when her ample passenger accommodation could be utilised to better effect on the Dover/Calais route. After a thorough renovation that included stripping out her superfluous cabins, she made her debut as P. & O. S. L. Aquitaine, replacing the much smaller P. & O. S. L. Picardy in late 1999. Over three years later she was renamed Pride of Aquitaine, reflecting P. & O.'s buy-out of Stena's share of the joint company.
After massive losses in the Cross-Channel sector, P. & O. Ferries made savage cuts to its services and the charter of Pride of Aquitaine was allowed to expire in May 2005. She was then leased (and later purchased) by L. D. Lines to replace P. & O. services on the Portsmouth/Le Havre route. For this role she was renamed Norman Spirit. Although only providing one round trip per day (with a considerable number of hours spent idle in France), the service proved to be viable and alterations were carried out to make her accommodation a little more comfortable for overnight crossings. P. & O. had stripped out her numerous passenger cabins whilst she ran on the short sea routes. Rather than incurring the considerable cost of reinstating these, L. D. Lines invented their now familiar brand of 'Sleeper Seats'.
L. D. Lines announced in 2008 that they had reached a deal with the Boulogne port authorities to launch a new multi-purpose ferry link to Dover using Norman Spirit from July of the following year. As it would happen, the service was opened five months early using Côte d'Albâtre, followed by Norman Arrow, before she finally took over the route in the November. Then, within weeks of getting established another announcement came, this time declaring that Norman Spirit was to move to Ramsgate from March 2010 to operate to Oostende in conjunction with TransEuropa Ferries. For the this purpose she would be chartered to the latter company and operated as Ostend Spirit (note the use of the British spelling of the Belgian port's name). So after a gap of thirteen years, she made her return to the route she last served as Prins Filip until the collapse of Regie voor Maritime Transport. Alas, this venture was also to end in failure, with L. D.'s charter fee exceeding the revenue that she was generating for TransEuropa. After just twelve months at Ramsgate she was quietly withdrawn and sent to Gdansk, Poland for repainting in the latest version of the L. D. Lines livery. In May 2011 she returned to the Portsmouth/Le Havre route under her previous name of Norman Spirit, but now registered in Le Havre (as opposed to Southampton or Ramsgate) as she had inherited the French crew from the vessel she replaced (Côte d'Albâtre). This turn of events was yet another unexpected twist in the turbulent story of L. D. Lines.
In a further twist, the collapse of Seafrance saw D. F. D. S. Seaways in need to additional capacity for its thriving Dover/Dunkerque route. They chartered Norman Spirit from late November 2011 to provide four extra daily crossings. This was a temporary arrangement whilst plans for a new Dover/Calais service were drawn up. D. F. D. S. and L. D. Lines had previously offered a nominal amount to buy the usable assets of Seafrance and provide employment for some of its staff. After the failure of that bid, the two companies decided to go ahead anyway and start a replacment Seafrance service using one of their own ships initially, none other than Norman Spirit. After an overhaul at A. R. N. O. of Dunkerque, she performed her first Dover/Calais sailing in nearly seven years during mid February 2012. A year later she was repainted in D. F. D. S. livery and assumed the name of Calais Seaways, marking the disappearance of the L. D. Lines brand in the joint venture.
Calais Seaways has the distinction of being the only ferry to have been regularly employed on all five of Dover's historic Cross-Channel routes; Oostende (1991-93), Zeebrugge (1998-99), Calais (1999-2005, 2012-), Boulogne (2009-10) and Dunkerque (2011-12).
M. S. Prins Filip
Builder: N. V. Boelwerf S. A., Temse, Belgium.
Yard number: 1,534.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 163.40 x 27.70 x 6.20 metres.
Tonnages (gross, net, dead weight): 28,883, 11,399, 4,050.
Engines: Four 8 cylinder, Sulzer diesel.
Power: 21,120 kW.
Passenger certificate: 2,000.
Car capacity: 710.
Lane metres (for vehicles): 1,745.
6.9.1991: Arrived at Dover for trials.
10.9.1991: Returned to builder with excess vibration fault.
4.5.1992: Delivered too Regie voor Maritiem Transport, Oostende.
12.5.1992: Maiden voyage Oostende/Dover.
1.1.1994: Service transferred to Oostende/Ramsgate.
28.2.1997: Last R. M. T. sailing Ramsgate/Oostende.
29.4.1997: Laid up at Dunkerque.
5.1998: Sold to Stena Line. Renamed Stena Royal.
20.11.1998: Chartered to P. & O. Stena Line. Dover/Zeebrugge.
14.5.1999: Renamed P. & O. S. L. Aquitaine.
27.4.2000: Collided with a berth at Calais and went off service for repairs.
3.2003: Renamed Pride of Aquitaine.
3.10.2005: Opened L. D. Lines new Portsmouth/Le Havre service as Norman Spirit.