Passengers have described a ferry crossing from hell as the remnants of Hurricane Bertha swept across the Irish Sea.
But Steam Packet bosses have defended the decision to allow the Manannan to sail on Sunday night - insisting it was operating well within its safety limits.
Many of the 500 passengers on board were left anxious and seasick and a number of vehicles were damaged when the sailing from Liverpool hit giant waves after leaving the Mersey in a crossing which took nearly five hours.
In contrast that night’s Ben-my-Chree sailing was cancelled as high winds and high tides meant she could not access Heysham harbour safely.
PE teacher Lauren Brew, 25, of Ramsey, was returning from a hen party that evening.
She said: ‘We were all feeling delicate anyway. We had heard the journey was going to be rough but we never knew it was going to be that bad.
‘It was the worst sailing I’ve ever been on. It was all right in the Mersey but as soon as we came out the river it just hit us. The boat was rocking backwards and forwards, side to side. The waves came up and over. The SeaCat would lift up and slam back down in the water.
‘They had to go slow because it was so rough. I had to lie horizontal on the floor – I couldn’t move.
‘I don’t think it should have sailed. If the Ben-my-Chree didn’t sail, I don’t see why the Manannan could.’
Mario Ricciardi was travelling back with his family and members of the Manx triathlon club who had been competing that day in Liverpool.
He said: ‘I don’t think it should have sailed. I’m 48 and I’ve travelled with the Steam Packet all my life and have never ever experienced a sailing like that.
‘There were a lot of very anxious passengers. One guy on the top floor had a serious panic attack.
‘We set sail just before 7.30pm. Then the captain came on saying it was going to be a really rough journey and our estimated arrival was 1.30am. Everybody looked at each other saying “you’re joking”. There was no indication at that point that anything major was up.
‘Then the staff started handing out sick bags to everybody and passengers were told to stay in their seat.
‘The vessel would ride up and drop. As it rolled to the right the waves went over the boat. The captain was trying to ride the waves. He had slowed to 5 or 6 knots. Everything was lashed down on the car deck.’
Mario, who was travelling with his wife Nicola, daughter Lucy, 20, and 17-year-old son Joseph who had been competing in Tri Liverpool, coming second in his age group, praised the efforts of the Manannan’s crew in keeping passengers calm.
Steam Packet Company chief executive Mark Woodward said: ‘The master was best placed to make the decision to sail. The approved forecasting system clearly showed that the vessel was well within its operating limits to make the voyage. The master too was on the sailing, and would be risking his own, as well as others’, safety if he decided to sail knowing it was not safe to do so.
‘The master is the person responsible for the safety of all those who sail with him, and as such the decision to sail in poor weather is not made lightly.
‘Manannan is a vessel that was constructed for, and has seen service in, oceans around the world. During her time with the US Navy she has seen service, year-round in all types of weather, in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. She operates here at a significantly lower operating limit which further enhances vessel safety margins.
‘In heavy weather it is unfortunately the case that even properly stored cargo on vessels may move, and Manannan is no exception despite additional lashing which is used in heavy weather.
‘Some vehicles, parked at the forward end on the ramps, did suffer scuffing and scrapes from movement against other vehicles during the voyage.
‘This is why an assessor was asked to attend the vessel on arrival. Manannan did not suffer any damage from the crossing, and berthed at 12.16am.
‘It is also common practice in heavy weather to advise passengers to remain in their seats and not to move around the vessel unless absolutely necessary, as well as varying course and speed to make the journey as comfortable as possible.
‘The decision to cancel the Ben-my-Chree sailing was made for quite different reasons than conditions at sea.
‘Sea conditions were certainly no barrier for the Ben to have sailed. However, the forecast for very high winds in Heysham, later in the evening, coupled with spring high tides meant that it would not be possible for her to manoeuvre safely within a confined harbour.
‘The Steam Packet Company would like to thank the master and crew of Manannan for their skill, professionalism and effort for doing everything they could to reduce the impact of the gale conditions experienced during the sailing back to the Isle of Man, and for ensuring that almost 500 passengers were able to return safely to the island.’
The Met Office at Ronaldsway said it forecast gales increasing to Force 9 in the north Irish Sea on Sunday night, with a significant wave height of up to 4m.