Photo:Not Senlac, but this is what Bruce was up against.

Not Senlac, but this is what Bruce was up against.

Phil James, courtesy of Newhaven Museum.

Photo:This artic has broken its lashing chains

This artic has broken its lashing chains

Kind permission of Nigel Thornton

Photo:Flat as a pancake seems to be the right caption here!

Flat as a pancake seems to be the right caption here!

Kind permission of Nigel Thornton

Photo:And all these artics went over.

And all these artics went over.

Courtesy of Newhaven Museum

Photo:Car deck damage

Car deck damage

Mick Cutler

Photo:Damaged artic cab

Damaged artic cab

Mick Cutler

Photo:'Does my funnel look big in this?' A close-up of Senlac's large 'Rogan' funnel (seen later in her life as M.V. 'Apollon'.)

'Does my funnel look big in this?' A close-up of Senlac's large 'Rogan' funnel (seen later in her life as M.V. 'Apollon'.)

Kind permission of hhvferry.com

Some heavy-weather incidents; 1970s and 1990s

By Bruce Macphee

One unremarkable afternoon during the winter of 1973/4, Senlac left Dieppe under a cloudless sky. In command was Capt. Levesley and David Lower was on his first duty as Chief Engineer; other staff “down below” that I remember were Peter Franklyn, Bob Bowen (son of Capt. Reg), Alan Davey and Ray Griffiths. About half-way across, the bridge called the engine room to say that a bad blow was imminent and requested that we put on maximum propeller pitch to try and outrun it. By the time we were a couple of miles off Newhaven, there were heavy seas running and, with little water under the keel, the Master decided to heave-to west of the breakwater until the tide made or the wind dropped. When, in due course, he made his approach, the wind strength increased and, as the ship turned, she pitched and rolled so violently that the screws came out of the water and the main engines cut-out on over-speed. As he struggled to regain the open sea, the engines repeatedly cut-out and we were reaching the point where we had insufficient starting air, until someone had the presence of mind to wedge the trips to stop them operating.

On the garage deck, there was a scene of mayhem: several of the drops (unaccompanied semi-trailers) had broken their lashing chains and were thrashing about as the ship rolled; the landing-legs of one had collapsed and the front of the trailer had squashed a lady’s car. Sheets of steel-plate had broken through the side of a lorry and had sliced through the ship’s fire-main, rendering the whole system useless. The galley was wiped-out, but catering staff kept us going with sandwiches; access to the accommodation from the engine room was normally via the garage deck, but this had become a no-go zone, so we had to climb up the escape in the casing when we had a meal relief. Apart from the ruptured fire-main, I don’t think there was too much damage to the ship; one of the older hands opined that, had it been Falaise, it would have been the end. Until this time, Newhaven boasted a record of never missing a sailing; this incident gave the powers-that-be something to think about, and discretion took the place of valour thereafter.

In passing, I would mention that, at the design stage, one of the Masters asked why the new ship needed such a large funnel (the interior was like a two-up, two-down house, and it only contained the exhaust uptakes and a fairly small water header tank); the large surface area would act like a sail and make it difficult to hold a course in a strong crosswind. The answer he received was that “our customers like to see a large funnel on a ship”; I don’t know if passengers cared about the size of the funnel, but Management might have reflected upon this later:

About a year after this incident, a family returning from holiday arrived at Dieppe and were pleased to be allowed onto Senlac despite the fact that they were booked on a later crossing. They had over-stayed their time in France and would have been in trouble for being absent from work; catching this earlier ship might just save the day. Again, we were dogged by bad weather and, it being low tide by the time we reached Newhaven and with winds so strong that we would not have been able to maintain the narrow channel, we steamed off to westward. The cruel irony was that the V-boat that this family should have caught later steamed into Newhaven with no difficulty (we can only guess if its less impressive funnel might have had some part to play in this!) I don’t remember why, but we returned to Dieppe, eventually docking in Newhaven 24 hours late, and with empty bunkers. For no good reason, I left Senlac in 1977, so don’t have first-hand knowledge of subsequent events.

August Bank Holiday 1993(?): Un-seasonal storms. Approaching Newhaven and again at low water, Stena Londoner headed west toward the Owers and hove-to, head to wind. Apart from pitching, she was quite comfortable and I don’t know what else could have been done. One lady passenger became hysterical, and the Bo’sun took her on deck and stayed with her. When she had calmed down a little, she said to him “we are all going to die; I have seen it in the Captain’s eyes that he knows this, but he can’t admit it”.

If I remember correctly, we docked again a day late. The following day’s newspapers had stories of “terrified passengers’ ordeal” (most weren’t so terrified that they couldn’t eat the free breakfasts that the catering dept provided!). That weekend, people ashore had been killed by falling trees and cars blown off the road; I don’t know what would be expected not to happen on the water!

There were other occasions when weather and tide prevented Londoner entering Newhaven. Some of us would consider that heaving-to (as before) would be the best course of action but, on subsequent occasions, we steamed off to Dover to join the queue of waiting ships. Eventually berthing at the Admiralty Pier, we had several vehicles damaged during discharge, and then the long slog back to Newhaven. So, damage compensation, an extra 10-20 tons of fuel burnt and the possibility of two crossings lost. Public relations dictate that you must be seen to be doing something, even when it might be better to do nothing!

From Mick Cutler:

I was on board this trip [on Senlac] & Ray Griffiths was my watch mate, the date was January 16th 1974.

Here are a couple of photos of the damage on the car deck. One is of Dave Strong AB, the other being a Spanish lorry with its cab stoved in because of a semi trailer laying on it.

Alas, rough weather photos of Senlac or Stena Londoner seem to be non-existent. I've tried all my usual sources. Andy-Editor

This page was added by Bruce Macphee on 25/03/2014.
Comments about this page

Fantastic set of stories there, Bruce! Many thanks for sharing them with us. I’ve tried to add some suitable photos, but all the photos of our ferries seem to be in good weather! If any turn up, I’ll update the page.

 Being one of those working ‘down below’ you’d have no doubt worked with my late brother Barry Gilbert at some point. Like you, he had many ‘hairy moment’ stories to tell and I’m sure he would have enjoyed reading this.

You make some interesting comments on the size of Senlac’s funnel. I wonder which Master expressed his doubts – I could perhaps take a guess that it was one of the ‘old school’ who had also commanded the previous Newhaven passenger ships. That design, known as the ‘Rogan Funnel’, was an integral part of the ‘image’ of many Sealink ships of the time, and was found on all the company’s routes. I’ve added a photo from one of my friend’s websites showing the size and shape very clearly, but Senlac’s was not the largest in the fleet by a long way! Looking at Senlac’s side profile, I’d say that the funnel is pretty much in proportion, but viewed from the aft quarter it’s definitely a case of ‘Does my funnel look big in this?’, as I said in the caption. Though large, the design of the Rogan funnel, with its slanting sides and upper curves would have tended to deflect the wind around and over it rather than acting as a sail – well, that was the idea, anyway!

As to why the V boat made it into the port while Senlac had to wait, we have to remember that the V boats were considerably smaller with less beam, less draught and, crucially, one less deck than Senlac. Their side profile therefore offered much less wind resistance and I’m not sure if Senlac’s funnel added that much extra when you compare it to the whole side area of the ship.

This problem of windage would only get worse with the arrival of Versailles, later Stena Londoner, and I can recall my dad, Captain Frank Gilbert, asking the harbour pilots what they thought she would be like in a blow. I was told that there were some hums and hahs in their replies.

The various rough weather incidents over many years did indeed make people ask questions – we had a page posted a little while ago about seats being ripped out on Brighton VI in heavy weather in the 1950’s - but later events proved that they were still willing to take a chance. I think the incident that really stopped our ships from even thinking about going out in a Force 10 or above was the near loss of the Chartres in January 1990.

Here’s the full story on that incident. http://www.ournewhaven.org.uk/page_id__1487.aspx

By Andy Gilbert
On 27/03/2014

Spoke to my dad (Bill) about the 73/4 incident who told me a lovely story. He was on board that trip and after the ship finally docked the crew had to tell some of the passengers about the fate of their vehicles. Apparently one of the cars crushed belonged to a little old lady, who upon being told about her car, simply shrugged and said "Oh well I suppose I had better get the train". They managed to get inside her car to retrieve her luggage, and off she toddled to the harbour station. My dad said he got home just as News At 10 was finishing, and the last item was all about the crossing.

By Simon Morris
On 04/04/2014

Can anyone help me finding the information ? At what time were Dieppe to Newhaven ferries fitted with  stabilizers - I do not mean bilge keels but true dynamic stabilizers ? As far as I remember, the ferries of the 60's such as Valançay and Villandry rolled much more than contemporary ferries. I also admit that to-day crossings are sometimes cancelled when the sea is too bad, whereas they "sailed in all weather" in the old times, disregarding the consequences !

All our car ferries were fitted with stabilizers, from 1964 onwards. As for the V twins, I always found them to be pretty stable - though I never went to sea in a F8+ in them. However, modern ferries are larger and certainly beamier and would handle rough weather better. Of course, health and safety reasons very sensibly keep them in port when things get really bad.

I'd have to check back through the records to see if our last two classic passenger steamers, Brighton VI and Lisieux, were fited with stabilisers.


By Philippe Rouyer
On 14/10/2016

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