A dramatic view from March 1982. Here Vortigern is left high and dry having got lodged on a groyne at Oostende.
Photo: Ferry Fantastic Collection.

Inaugurating a scheme reviving the names of Dark Age royalty, Vortigern was a first for British Rail in more ways than one. Built in 1969, she proved an immensely useful vessel due to her design as a multi-purpose drive through car and train ferry. British Rail's first true 'roll-on/roll-off' car ferries had appeared on the Scotland/Northern Ireland route and earlier on the domestic Isle of Wight services. However the Dover Straits had to wait until the arrival of Vortigern to get a taste of the operational advantages of straight forward 'roll on at the stern, and off through the bow' facilities. Townsend had already seized the initiative with Free Enterprise II four year previously.

Vortigern was the precursor to the similarly designed Saint Eloi and Chartres, and gave good service as a car ferry in the holiday season and as a train ferry in winter. Her early days saw her mainly used at Dover for services to Boulogne, Calais and Dunkerque (Ouest). Latterly she was seldom used in train ferry mode and tended to be seen operating out of Folkestone a lot of the time. She was sold shortly before the sale of Sealink British Ferries to Stena Line. Like so many of her Sealink counterparts, she ended up operating between Greek Islands. She was scrapped in 2004.

M. S. Vortigern
Builder: Swan Hunter Shipbuilding Limited, Wallsend, England.
Yard number: 10.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 114.61 x 19.23 x 4.1 metres.
Tonnages (gross, net, dead weight): 4,797, 2,144, 908.
Engines: Two 16 cylinder, Crossley-Pielstick diesel.
Power: 14,300 kW.
Speed (knots): 19.5.
Passenger certificate: 1,000.
Car capacity: 240.

5.3.1969: Launched.
7.1969: Delivered to British Transport Commission, Southern Region, London.
31.7.1969: Dover/Boulogne summer car ferry service.
6.10.1969: Dover/Dunkerque winter train ferry service.
1.1.1979: Registered for Sealink U.K. Limited.
4.3.1982: Ran aground off Oostende.
27.7.1984: Registered for Sea Containers Limited, London.
1986: Folkestone/Boulogne.
1.4.1987: Chartered to Townsend Thoresen. Dover/Calais.
1.6.1987: Laid up at Falmouth.
1.4.1988: Sold to Lindos Line S. A., Piraeus, Greece. Renamed Milos Express.
12.11.1999: Sold to Minoan Flying Dolphins, Piraeus, Greece.
1.2000: Renamed Express Milos. Hellas Ferries.
5.2003: Sold to Saos Shipping Company, Greece. Renamed Nissos Lemnos.

Vortigern is found laid up in the Camber at Dover's Eastern Docks whilst on charter to Townsend Thoresen in 1987. She is seen in the company of two 'European Class' freighters; European Enterprise in the foreground and European Trader alongside the Eastern Arm.
Photo: © Tony Garner.


Chartres sweeps towards the harbour at Newhaven in a late 1980s scene.
Photo: © Brian Fisher.

Dating back to 1974, Chartres was built for S. N. C. F to the same dimensions as Vortigern. As a train ferry, she served Dunkerque (Ouest), but the majority of her work was car ferry sailings to Calais as a French flagged member of the Sealink service. After eight years she moved west to Newhaven where she was to spend another eight years, this time on the Dieppe route.

The Chartres did a straight swap with the larger and newer Champs Elysées when she returned to Dover in 1990. Her role was reduced to performing twice daily foot passenger sailings between the rail terminals at Dover Western Docks and Calais Gare Maritime. In 1991 she was requisitioned by the French government to carry troops to the Gulf, but returned to Dover to repeat three more summer seasons on the rail/sea service to Calais. Sadly, with the introduction of London/Paris shuttles through the Tunnel, Chartres no longer had a useful role to play and she was put up for sale. She is captured below on the Channel, England bound with her train passengers from France. Her funnel markings bear the acronym A. L. A. which is a now defunct French subsidiary that was inherited by Stena Sealink. She became Express Santorini of Hellas Ferries (of course!).

M. S. Chartres
Builder: Dubigeon-Normandie S. A., Prairie au Duc, Nantes.
Yard number: 137.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 115.40 x 19.23 x 4.19 metres.
Tonnages (gross, net) 4,590, 1,189.
Engines: Two 16 cylinder, Pielstick diesel.
Power: 11,768 kW.
Passenger certificate: 1,400.
Car capacity: 240.

12.9.1973: Launched.
9.1.1974: Delivered to Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français.
15.2.1974: Trials at Boulogne, Calais and Dunkerque.
25.2.1974: Dover/Dunkerque train ferry service.
28.5.1974: Entered passenger service Dover/Calais.
29.5.1982: Transferred to Dieppe/Newhaven.
3.6.1990: Transferred to Calais/Dover Western Dock rail connected service.
12.1990: Requisitioned by the French Government for war service in the Gulf.
24.9.1993: Last sailing Calais/Dover Western Docks.
5.11.1993: Sold to Agapitos Line, Piraeus, Greece, Renamed Express Santorini.
21.12.1993: Left Calais for Piraeus.
8.11.1999: Sold to Minoan Flying Dolphin, Piraeus, Greece. Hellas Ferries.

Chartres is captured at speed in the Channel on a rail-connected service operated by A. L. A. on the behalf of Sealink. She was only required to do two round trips a day between Dover Western Docks and Calais on this seasonal service.

Here she is viewed gliding past the pier at Calais in June 1993 with Stena Invicta in the foreground, European Pathway turning out to sea in the background and Fiesta further in the distance. The A. L. A. operation closed later that year.

Saint Eloi / Channel Entente

An aerial view from the late 1970s of Saint Eloi passing the Belgian vessel, Prince Laurent, in the Channel.
Photo: © Fotoflite.

Saint Eloi was essentially a modified sister of Vortigern, as she too was intended for train ferry and car ferry duties. Her major aesthetic differences were her wheelhouse, which was mounted one deck higher, and the shape of her funnel. The decision not to give her a bow door limited her flexibility and saw her maintain Dover/Dunkerque (Ouest) sailings almost exclusively. Her construction in Italy began in 1971 but was severely delayed due to her builders going bankrupt. She was fitted out in late 1974 and did not enter commercial service until 1975.

With the delivery in 1988 of Nord Pas-de-Calais, she was placed on rail connected foot passenger sailings to Calais under the new name of Channel Entente. She was succeeded by none other than Chartres two years later, and she was sold to the Isle of Man Steam Packet. A thorough refurbishment was necessary to do away with her austere accommodation, and as the fifth such named King Orry, she was a success with passengers. She was disposed of in November 1998 after her replacement by the new delivery, Ben-My-Chree. Like many of her past fleetmates, she went to Greece.

M. S. Saint Eloi
Builder: Cantieri Navali di Pietra Ligure, Pietra Ligure, Italy.
Yard number: 12.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 114.59 x 18.62 x 4.11 metres.
Tonnages (gross, net, dead weight): 4,649, 1,849, 1,118.
Engines: Two 16 cylinder, Pielstick diesel.
Power: 12,652 kW.
Speed (knots): 21.8.
Passenger certificate: 1,000.
Car capacity: 160.

24.11.1969: Ordered.
2.1.1971: Keel laid.
26.2.1972: Launched.
2.1975: Delivered to Angelterre Loraine Alsace S. A. de Navigation (A. L. A.), Dunkerque.
12.3.1975: Entered service Dunkerque/Dover train ferry.
24.4.1988: Withdrawn from service.
27.5.1988: Chartered to S. N. C. F. Calais/Dover Western Docks rail connected services.
20.5.1989: Renamed Channel Entente. Operated for Sealink U. K. Limited.
14.2.1990: Sold to Isle Of Man Steam Packet. Douglas/Heysham.
27.9.1990: Sent to Wright & Beyer´s yard, Birkenhead for renovation.
8.12.1990: Renamed King Orry.
9.12.1990: Returned to service: Douglas/Heysham/Liverpool.
28.9.1998: Withdrawn from service.
21.10.1998: Sold to Moby Lines S. R. I., Naples, Italy. Renamed Moby Love.

A 1988 scene with Saint Eloi seen from the air on a morning sailing from Calais to Dover. For one season only she wore the attractive S. N. C. F. Sealink livery.
Photo: © Fotoflite.

The following year she was renamed Channel Entente and adopted a non-standard version of the Sealink U. K. livery (trademark minus 'British Ferries' and in an incorrect shade of blue).
Photo: © Brian Fisher.

Here she is found in her final British incarnation, this time as King Orry, moored at Douglas on a murky July morning in 1994.