In 1979 the state-owned Sealink U. K. Limited sought the most cost-effective solution to its fleet renewal requirements with the order of a quartet of vessels that became known as the 'Saint Class'. British yards were favoured to carry out the work. In this case the job went to Harland & Wolff of Belfast, famed for many iconic ships in history, including the ill-fated Titanic.
Sealink's major competitor, Townsend Thoresen, had already fired the first salvo in a bid for supremacy on the Dover Straits with the delivery of their impressive German-built 'Spirit Class' trio during 1980. Sealink's answer to this threat was hampered by limited funding and a conflict of interests. At the time it was envisaged that passenger traffic would increasingly prefer the faster option of the Seaspeed hovercraft service.
The first 'Saint' was in fact a Scottish 'Princess', namely Galloway Princess, purpose-built for the Stranraer/Larne service. She differed somewhat from her three subsequent sisters, in particular by having her wheelhouse postioned one deck lower. The next two in the series, St. Anselm and St. Christopher were destined for the Dover/Calais route as part of the Anglo/French Sealink 'Flagship Service' (the S. N. C. F.'s contribution to this was the far more inspiring Côte d’Azur). The pair were late into service, St. Christopher not actually arriving until 1981. They were, at least, an improvement on the lamentably out-moded steam-propelled vessels they replaced (Earl Leofric and Earl Siward) and their greatest claim in the marketing war with Townsend Thoresen was their unrivalled levels of manouverability. However it was soon realised that St. Anselm and St. Christopher had an inadequate amount of passenger accommodation. This was somewhat remedied in 1983 when they were returned to their builders to have their main deck extended to the far after end, creating two distinctive large apertures beneath on either side.
After Sealink was privatised in 1984 there were numerous ideas mooted for further uprating the capacity of the Dover/Calais 'Saints' including the then popular method of 'stretching' which Townsend Thoresen and R. M. T. were busy doing to a number of their own ships. However, the only major investment they actually received was a comprehensive refurbishment in 1987. This saw an enlargement of their duty-free shops and the creation of the now very familiar 'free-flow' style self-service cafeterias.
The final member of the 'Saint Class' was St. David, and as her Welsh inspired name suggested she was originally intended for the Holyhead/Dun Loaghaire (near Dublin) route. Her first spell on the Channel was covering for the Dover/Calais 'Saints' whilst they were away being enlarged in 1983. The next year she was transferred to the Stranraer/Larne route to operate alongside her older sister, Galloway Princess.
In 1985 St. David was to return to Dover full-time, this time operating a controversial new British-flagged service to Oostende. Sealink U. K.'s new owner, Sea Containers, wished to up its stake in the Dover/Oostende route (which it marketed for R. M. T. at that time). They were irritated at the fact that Townsend Thoresen were taking the lion’s share of Belgium bound freight traffic whilst, in their view, R. M. T. struggled to provide enough capacity to compete. Their response to the situation was to deploy St. David and demand a higher share of the revenue. There had previously been single overnight sailings from Folkestone to Oostende, but they were dropped and St. David was to operate from Dover twice a day. The Belgian Government put a stop to such entrepreneurial advances by banning Sealink British Ferries from entering all Belgian ports, such was the ill feeling caused by their initiative. The British Government intervened to challenge the Belgian’s blockade, threatening to close British terminals in retaliation. However, St. David was pulled off the Oostende route by September 1985 and switched to Boulogne, a route that had been re-opened to Sealink passengers earlier that year only to be abandoned again soon after. She returned to Stranraer in 1986 and remains based there to this day, albeit under her current name of Stena Caledonia and sailing to Belfast instead of Larne. She is the only 'Saint' left operating in British waters.
In the early 1990s Sealink Stena Line deployed larger second-hand tonnage on the Dover/Calais route. After a shortlived spell at Folkestone St. Anselm was renamed Stena Cambria and moved to Holyhead as second ship on the Dun Loaghaire (near Dublin) service. St. Christopher became Stena Antrim and joined her two other sisters at Stranraer. The mid-90s was to see further upheaval when the two former 'Saints' found their way back to the Channel. The delivery of Stena's 'H. S. S.' catamarans on the Irish Sea saw Stena Cambria return to Dover/Calais sailings to bolster efforts competing with new rival, Seafrance. Meanwhile Stena Antrim washed up on the ailing Newhaven/Dieppe route in place of Stena Parisien (which had been returned to her owner, none other than Seafrance!). By now the unsuitably named vessels were attracting a lot of critcism for the poor standard of accommodation which had received little attention since 1987.
Stena Antrim was disposed of to a Mediterranean operator in 1998. She now sails between Spain and Morroco as Ibn Batouta. Stena Cambria took her place at Newhaven, now in the colours of the newly formed P. & O. Stena Line. This new joint venture was seeking economies and it was well known that the Dieppe service had been losing money for some years. So, whilst disappointing, it wasn't altogether surprising that the decision was taken to pull the plug at the end of January 1999. Stena Cambria is now known as Isla de Botafoc, linking the Spanish mainland with the island of Ibiza.
The 'Saints' were particularly distinctive in appearance. The strange 'sagging' deck lines amidships were deliberately designed to minimise the angle at which the main and upper vehicle decks could be connected by ramps. It was to prove an operational advantage when the vessels sailed from ports with only single tier linkspan facilities. This was also to make them a more attractive proposition to foreign buyers later in their careers.
M. S. St. Anselm, St. Christopher, St. David
Builder: Harland & Wolff Limited, Belfast.
Yard number: 1,715, 1,716, 1,717.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 129.6 x 21 x 5 metres.
Tonnages (gross, deadweight): 7,003, 1,755/7,197, 1,829.
Engines: Two 16 cylinder, Crossley Pielstick diesel.
Power: 15,300 kW.
Speed (knots): 19.5.
Passenger certificate: 1,000. (increased to 1,400 on St. Anselm & St. Christopher).
Car capacity: 310.
5.12.1979: St. Anselm launched.
22.10.1980: Delivered to Sealink U. K. Limited, London.
27.10.1980: Entered service Dover/Calais.
1983: Returned to Harland & Wolff, Belfast for provision of additional accommodation at stern end.
1.1990: Registered for Sealink Stena Line Limited.
11.2.1990: Transferred to Folkestone/Boulogne.
10.1990: Renamed Stena Cambria.
1.1991: Transferred to Holyhead/Dun Laoghaire (near Dublin).
16.1.1996: Transferred to Dover/Calais.
26.4.1997: Holyhead/Dun Laoghaire (near Dublin).
2.2.1999: Laid up at Zeebrugge. Sold to Union Maritimia Formentera Ibiza S. A. (Umafisa), Ibiza, Spain. Renamed Isla De Botafoc. Ibiza/Barcelona.
20.3.1980: St. Christopher launched.
14.3.1981: Delivered to Sealink U. K. Limited, London.
19.3.1981: Entered service Holyhead/Dun Laoghaire (near Dublin).
15.4.1981: Entered service Dover/Calais.
1983: Returned to Harland & Wolff, Belfast for extension of passenger accommodation.
27.7.1984: Registered for Sea Containers Limited.
1.1990: Registered for Stena Equipment Limited. Renamed Stena Antrim.
7.4.1991: Transferred to Stranraer/Larne.
12.11.1995: Service moved to Stranraer/Belfast.
21.7.1996: Laid up at Belfast.
28.10.1996: Transferred to Newhaven/Dieppe.
24.4.1998: Laid up at Zeebrugge.
6.1998: Sold to Lignes Maritimes du Detroit S. A. (Limadet) Casablanca, Morocco. Renamed Ibn Batouta.
25.9.1980: St. David launched.
24.7.1981: Delivered to Sealink U. K. Limited, London.
10.8.1981: Entered service Holyhead/Dun Laoghaire (near Dublin).
31.3.1983: Relief cover on Dover/Calais.
12.1983: Transferred to Stranraer/Larne.
21.3.1985: Transferred to Dover/Oostende.
28.9.1985: Transferred to Dover/Boulogne after Belgian government banned British Ferries entering Oostende.
31.12.1985: Pooling agreement between R. M. T. and Sealink U. K. Limited on Dover/Oostende terminated.
1.1986: Transferred to Stranraer/Larne.
1.1990: Registered for Stena Equipment Limited.
21.2.1991: Renamed Stena Caledonia.
12.11.1995: Service moved to Stranraer/Belfast.
A scale model (built by Skyland Models) of St. Christopher in her original Sealink/British Rail livery.
Model provided by: Julie Johnson.
An identical model, but repainted in the Sealink British Ferries livery and renamed St. David. This was not an accurate representation as it lacked the stern docking wheelhouse and widened forward bar/lounge area featured on this vessel in reality (not that many would have noticed).
Model provided by: Julie Johnson.
A tranquil scene at Dun Loaghaire as Stena Cambria arrives by dawn's early light on a July morning in 1994.
A couple of years later she was back on the Channel: Stena Cambria is seen her approaching Calais in full Stena Line livery.
She is seen here leaving Calais that same afternoon, with her one of original rivals of the early 1980s Pride of Bruges (formerly Pride of Free Enterprise) to her starboard side.
A May evening in 1997 as Stena Antrim gently approaches Newhaven on arrival from Dieppe. Some passengers must have been puzzled by her distinctly Ulster-orientated name.
A similar view, but on sunnier day that summer. Stena Antrim featured slight differences to the design of Stena Cambria: Her boat deck railings were not plated over, unlike her earlier sister.
With Stena Antrim having been disposed of, Stena Cambria enjoyed a brief period of service for the P. & O./Stena Line joint venture. Here she is found passing the western pier head at Newhaven in colours not disimilar to her original British Rail livery.
A beautiful calm autumn evening as Stena Cambria makes another arrival at Newhaven in the dying months of the P. & O. Stena Line service.