Last hopes of saving historic Manxman are dashed

A HISTORIC passenger ferry which carried passengers to and from the Isle of Man for nearly 30 years is to be scrapped after campaigns to save it came to nothing.

The Manxman, built by the Cammell Laird ship builders in Birkenhead and launched in 1955, sailed between the Isle of Man, the UK and Ireland until it was withdrawn from service in 1982. She has spent longer in 'retirement' than she spent ploughing the Irish Sea for the Steam Packet.

She had been at a shipyard in Sunderland since 1997. Enthusiasts had hoped to save her but their plans came to nothing and the shipyard has insisted that the boat – which is riddled with asbestos – must now be scrapped.

Former master of the Manxman Captain Bernie Quirk was at the launch.

'Of course I didn't know then that many years later – in 1973 to 74 – I would be master of the ship,' he said. 'It has been sad to see what happened to her over the years since the Steam Packet sold her in 1982.

She is the last of that class of boat and I was proud to be on her at the time.'

The Manxman was one of six similar ships built for the Steam Packet between 1946 and 1955 as replacements for ships lost during the Second World War. She was the last Steam Packet passenger vessel that wasn't designed as a car ferry.

Cars and motorcycles had to be hoisted by crane on to the decks from the Manxman. If buses were transported, they had to be driven on deck from the quayside by means of two precarious gang planks.

Island author and transport enthusiast Stan Basnett said the ship was powered by two Pametrada steam turbine engines and was capable of achieving more than 21 knots. The engines were of a small and efficient design and the same type was also used in the Steam Packet's first car ferries because they were compact enough to fit below the car decks.

Captain Quirk said the difference between sailing a vessel like the Manxman and modern ferries like the current Ben-my-Chree is pronounced.

'It was a steam turbine powered ship so the first thing you would notice is that the engines in a modern vessel are more instantaneous and they are also equipped with bow thrust – a propellor in the bow which makes it go sideways and that makes handling and berthing it much easier.

'To be honest, the Mona's Queen IV was my favourite ship but it is still sad to see the Manxman go.

'In my two years we did more than 400 trips and I imagine we carried an average of about 515 passengers per trip. The Manxman was also the favoured vessel for doing charter trips to places like Llandudno and Fleetwood because she was economical. Then we would have 1,700 to 1,800 passengers on board all packed like sardines. She was licensed to carry more than 2,000 and who knows what health and safety would say now.

'There were just six lifeboats to accommodate 450 people so if anything had happened it would have been the biggest thing since the Titanic, but all perfectly legal in those days.'

An abiding memory for Captain Quirk is of one bad weather crossing to Liverpool 37 years ago.

'When we reached Liverpool there was a vicious day waiting for us. The wind was blowing at 85 knots – I don't think they would sail now in those conditions. We managed to dock but had to leave the landing stage again to make way for other ships and we ended up anchored off Cammel Laird because we were going sideways.'

He added: 'It is very sad to see the state of the ship now. The last picture I saw there were trees growing out of the top deck. But if it was going to be saved it should have been done in 1982, unfortunately it's too late now.'

Isle of Man Newspapers' shipping correspondent Fred Kissack said the Manxman was the last of the six Steam Packet vessels built in the 10 years after the Second World War remaining.

'All the others have now been scrapped. The Mona's Queen (IV) was sold to a Greek ship owner and converted to a small cruise ship but it has now been broken up,' he said.

Originally sold to the company Marda Squash for about 100,000, the Manxman was to be the centre of a leisure complex at Preston docks as a floating museum and visitor centre. In fact, she was used as a floating restaurant and nightclub before redevelopment of the dock area saw her moved to Trafalgar Docks in Liverpool in 1991 where she fulfilled a similar role.

In 1993 the ship was moved again, this time to Hull where a fire broke out causing extensive damage in 1997. The ship has since been moved to Sunderland where it is stored in Pallion dry dock.

A group called the Manxman Steamship Company was formed with the aim of preserving the ship thought to be the last remaining passenger steam turbine ferry and the last passenger ship built by Cammell Laird.

But those plans fell flat when the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company was taken over by Peel Holdings, owned by Island resident John Whittaker.

It said it had no room for the Manxman in its plans for the area.

'Since it was laid up, thieves have stolen parts from the engine room and that caused it to partially sink. In addition, part of the mast had to be removed to get it under the bridge on the way to Sunderland, so unfortunately it is now in a very sorry state,' Mr Basnett said.

Before the ship is scrapped items of memorabilia such as panelling, port holes, badges, decking and anchors are expected to be offered for sale.

On her last trip to the Island in September 1982 she was met by a flotilla of small boats. On her final trip under her own steam, from Liverpool to Preston, passengers paid a 12.50 fare and bought beer at 1955 prices of 10p per pint.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Did you sail on the Manxman? What do you think of her fate?

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