Côte d’Azur / Seafrance Renoir / Eastern Light
In October of 1981 this vessel completed her maiden voyage as Côte d’Azur, the new flagship of the Anglo/French Sealink 'Flagship Service'. She replaced the 1958 built Compiegne which was S. N. C. F./French Railway's first purpose built car ferry. For the next three years she was the largest ship sailing out of Dover, overshadowing her recently built British fleet mates, St. Anselm and St. Christopher. In every facet of her operation she was superior to her ‘Saint Class’ contempories. She was also a beautiful vessel by modern standards. Unusually for her era, Côte d’Azur was designed to look like a ‘proper ship’, demonstrating the traditional French flair for combining practical functionality with aesthetically pleasing appearance: She had an attractive terraced stern end to her superstructure whilst her funnel was nicely rounded and topped with what might be described as 'fins' for purely cosmetic effect. And, in contrast to her German built rivals of the time (Townsend Thoresen's 'Spirit Class') she featured a traditional raked bow visor rather than upright 'clam shell' doors.
In 1990 S. N. C. F. created a new subsidiary to manage their Cross-Channel services and before the end of the year their British partners had been acquired by Stena Line. The joint Dover/Calais service continued as normal, apart from changes in livery. However, by 1995 both pool partners decided to go their own seperate ways and operate in competition with each other from the beginning of 1996. For this purpose the new Seafrance was established and Côte d’Azur was the subject of a major renovation and rebuilding before re-entering service as Seafrance Renoir. The most noticeable alteration to her superstructure was the removal of her superfluous stern wheelhouse and the addition of what became nicknamed her 'conservatory'. This was officially branded 'Café Le Parisien' and provided her passengers with an attractive twin tier lounge with panoramic sea views.
The delivery of Seafrance Rodin in 2001 saw the pretty, but comparatively small Seafrance Renoir taken out of service. However, she was to return the following summer to augment sailings as a result of increased demand for capacity, particularly in the freight sector. Her most recent years saw her used in a mainly part-time role and the state of her accommodation had been allowed to gently deteriorate. For many, it was the long goodbye for the much loved but now outmoded Seafrance Renoir. By the time of her final retirement in the summer of 2009 she had completed nearly twenty eight years of service on the Dover/Calais route and will be fondly remembered as one of the finest looking modern car ferries to grace the Channel.
After two long years idle in lay-up at Dunkerque, Seafrance Renoir finally found a buyer and was renamed Eastern Light. Her port of registry changed from Calais to Belize City. Whilst her Seafrance trademarks were whitewashed, the flag of Belize was hoisted at her stern. Was this an indication of future service in exotic climes, or simply a 'flag of convenience' whilst a controversial sale to breakers could be concluded outside the jurisdiction of E. U. regulations? In early November she departed on a 'mystery' voyage. Her final destination turned out to be the beaches of Alang in India where demolition was to commence. A truly sad fate. Had the economic climate been healthier, it would have been quite feasible that she could have enjoyed a good decade of further service with a new owner, but in a time of austerity this was simply not to be.
M. S. Côte d'Azur
Builder: Ateliers et Chantiers du Havre, Le Havre.
Yard number: 256.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 130.03 x 23.02 x 5 metres.
Tonnages (gross, dead weight): 8,862, 1,865.
Engines: Two 18 cylinder, Pielstick-Atlantique diesel.
Power: 17,210 kW.
Speed (knots): 18.
Passenger certificate: 1,596.
Car capacity: 330.
26.9.1981: Delivered to Société des Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français.
29.9.1981: Entered service Calais/Dover.
5.8.1982: Collided with Chantilly at Calais.
6.1985: Boulogne/Dover Sealink sailings reactivated.
1.1.1986: Boulogne/Dover closed again.
22.1.1990: Registered for Société Propietaire des Navaires (S. P. N.), Paris, France. 49% acquired by Stena Line.
1.1.1996: Seafrance established.
1.1996: Sent to Le Havre for renovation.
2.1996: Renamed Seafrance Renoir.
1999: Stena Line disposed of its 49% interest in S. P. N.
30.11.2001: Temporarily withdrawn from service. Laid up at Dunkerque.
5.2009: Retired from fleet. Offered for sale.
Dressed overall Côte d’Azur is found in the Pool of London during a flag-waving tour intended to celebrate her delivery in 1981.
Photo: Ferry Fantastic Collection.
On an exceptionally clear day Côte d’Azur heads away from Calais with the White Cliffs of Dover in full view.
Photo: Francois Dupiech.
A mid 1980s scene at Calais with Côte d’Azur docked astern of her newer sister, Champs Elysées. It is possible to compare the differences in design in this view.
Photo: Francois Dupiech.
A rare sight as Côte d’Azur heads away from Boulogne on a sailing for Dover circa 1985. She was almost exclusively employed on the Calais service.
Photo: Simon Lee.
Docked at Dover's Berth 6, Côte d’Azur displays a non-standard version of the French Sealink livery (note the red pin stripe is raised either side of the 'SEALINK' trademark on her hull. The rather unflattering fluorescent orange 'safety band' had yet to be applied to her wheelhouse at this stage.
Photo: Ted Ingham.
Appearing in the attractive S. N. A. T. colours, Côte d’Azur heads out of the confines of Calais Harbour on a June afternoon in 1993.
Now known as Seafrance Renoir, she is seen here on a July morning in 1996 slipping away from Berth 5 at Dover. Alongside towers the unmistakable Stena Invicta with her enormous funnel.
Later that afternoon she is captured bow onwards as she leaves Calais.
Note that some of her windows on the port side had been concealed as the result of an enlargement of her duty-free shop inside.
Here Seafrance Renoir is found taking a blustery Channel in her stride.
Note the extensively glazed structure at her stern end which was added in 1996.
Now known as Eastern Light, she is seen here on a murky afternoon at Dunkerque in August 2011. The breaker's yard beckons.