e-mail: matt@hhvferry.com
Part One continued: Apollo
St Barbe - Blanc Sablon
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Fog and Port-aux-Basques are by all accounts near-permanent bedfellows and things looked rather dismal as we drove the hire car off the Caribou and into the gloom of Newfoundland. We were now headed along Highway 1 of the Trans-Canada Highway, destination St Barbe, some 350 miles of, as it turned out, rather effortless driving on rather deserted (and pothole riddled) roads. St Barbe is very much focussed around its ferry service to Blanc Sablon, served since 2000 by the Apollo. We pulled up outside the Dockside Motel and checked in. The Motel is over the road from the gas station and forms part of the same building as the ferry terminal and, as far as I am aware, the motel’s restaurant was also the only eating option in town. The Apollo’s operators use a slightly unusual system whereby you can, as we had, make reservations in advance, but not acquire tickets themselves. Upon arrival you present yourself at the counter, whereby possession of a reservation enables you to jump the queue. However all reservations which have not progressed to actual tickets are cancelled when it comes to less than an hour before departure, so we found that we had benefited little by going to the trouble in the first place. Fortunately, the crossing was not busy and we were easily accommodated. And at the cost of $11.25 (£5.63) each way for a one and a three-quarter hour crossing, the value is excellent. This is run as a passenger and freight-moving operation and pure leisure is not a consideration, so no round-trip tickets are available meaning a quick scuttle up the hill to the ticket office at the other end to join the queue and pay another $11.25 to come back again.

As it turned out the terminal at St Barbe is about a ten minute walk away down the hill to the ship and in fact the berth can be seen from the back windows of the motel. And as we rounded the bend onto the approach road, there, just approaching the dock, was our ship arriving from Blanc Sablon. The
Apollo’s owners, the Woodward Group, give every impression of owning half of Newfoundland. The ferry services they run line up alongside the car rental, car sales and oil supply operations, all under the control of Mel Woodward, a charismatic local entrepreneur. As far as could be seen here, the Woodwards are very much appreciated as an important employer who contribute significantly to the Newfoundland and Labrador communities. Indeed, the Apollo herself was filled with posters from local schoolchildren with a range of variations on the “THANK YOU WOODWARDS” theme. [continued below]
Top: The Apollo at St Barbe.
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Above: The ferry terminal and Dockside Motel in St Barbe.
Above & below: Two views of the main lobby and information desk on C Deck, with Brittany Ferries-style neon signage.
Above & below: The original duty free shop on the port side retains its checkout counters (above background) but is now in use as a crew mess and storage area (below).
We approached the ferry berth as the Apollo manoeuvred into place. As her bow visor rose, water disconcertingly poured out of it but second-thoughts about quite why we were doing this were put to one side as we stood back and admired this noble veteran, operating once again under her original name. Built in 1970 as the first of Viking Line’s celebrated Papenburg sextet, she was replaced on the Sweden-Finland trade fairly speedily as ferries grew and grew through the subsequent decade. Operations for Olau Line (as Olau Kent) and Nordisk Færgefart (as Gelting Nord) followed before a charter to Brittany Ferries in 1984 saw her renamed Benodet for Plymouth-Roscoff service. It was a year later however, as the Corbiere for the newly established Channel Island Ferries, that the ship made her most important impact on the British ferry scene. The Corbiere was pretty much the equivalent to the Manx Viking in the Isle of Man but here the effect was more stupendously instant and massive: sole-ship CIF took as much as 85% of the Portsmouth traffic to the islands against the established Sealink's newly-upgraded two-ship overnight ‘Starliner’ operation. Within two years, the competing parties sued for a peace deal in the form of a merged operation, British Channel Island Ferries. When Sealink were unable fulfil their obligations in this due to union problems, CIF’s victory was complete.

Corbiere remained on the Channel Islands run until 1989 when, replaced by the Rozel, she was returned to Brittany Ferries and opened the Poole-Cherbourg passenger service of subsidiary Truckline Ferries. With the impending delivery of the new Barfleur, the ship was by 1991 surplus to requirements, and a sale to Eckerö Linjen followed for Helsinki-Tallinn operations where she ran for Estonian New Line, Tallink and finally Eckerö Linjen subsidiary Eestin Linjen (later Eckerö Line) at which point her original name was restored. Replaced by the Nordlandia (ex-Olau Hollandia) in 1998 she was laid up for a period before being sent on charter to Langeland-Kiel Linien for 1999, being laid up immediately after the cessation of EU duty free sales on 1 July that year. It was from lay-up in Mariehamn that she was purchased by the Woodward Group company Labrador Marine Inc. which had been awarded a four year contract to provide the services across the Strait of Belle Isle, starting in May 2000. [continued below]
The Apollo was the first of three ships on our trip where crew members insisted to us that their vessel was a sister ship of the Estonia. Quite why this would be considered such a badge of honour was never entirely clear, but everyone seemed well versed on this particular tragedy and, given the Viking Line connection of this ship (and later the C.T.M.A. Vacancier), the mistake was not entirely without foundation. The third ship mentioned, the Queen of Prince Rupert, seems to have become confused with a Viking Line vessel due to her design derivation from Thoresen’s Viking class. In any event, the crew on the Apollo were keen to show us the ship’s “Estonia Doors” installed after the disaster and providing a further watertight barrier between sea and car deck.

Upstairs, the ship is in fairly good condition – it would generally be expected for a ship of this vintage to be showing her age and indeed in certain places that was the case, but overall she is evidently fairly well maintained. The cabin deck (C Deck) is essentially original, with a central reception hall off which a small shop is located just forward to starboard with a playroom – out of use – aft complete with a charming old map showing the animals you could find in different parts of the world titled in Swedish “Vår Vida Värld” (literally “Our Wide World”). The main Duty Free shop to port is now in use as a crew recreation area with the shelving removed, but the checkout desks remain. Above the entrance to both this and the reception desk is neon signage which was added by BCIF in 1987 and is similar to that used in Brittany Ferries interiors from this period. The cabins are not required for passengers on this length of crossing and are therefore in use by the crew, who have forsaken the previous crew accommodation beneath the car deck where their mess areas remain. Amongst the C Deck cabins can be found a small sauna, in use by crew and which dates back to her original operators.

The main passenger deck is D Deck above where, sadly, the elegant forward restaurant was not open and crew members reported that it had only been used two or three times – on special occasions - since the ship had come to Canada. The lack of use, age and climate had by all accounts taken a combined toll here and, when they did see use, the chairs were apparently prone to succumbing under the weight of expectant diners.
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Above: The Apollo approaches her berth in St Barbe with water still steadily streaming out of the bow visor.
Above: Looking into the Apollo's vehicle deck during the ship's evening layover in St Barbe, through the forward 'Estonia Doors' of which the ship's crew were so proud.
Above: The small gift shop just forward of the lobby.
Above & below: One of the fairly spartan former passenger cabins on C Deck now in use by crew (above) and the nearby sauna (below).
Above & below: The out-of use restaurant, looking forward on the starboard (above) and port sides.
Above: The restaurant retains its central smörgåsbord servery.