THE FANTASIA STORY
PART TWO: THE P&O YEARS
1998-2003


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The Stena Fantasia returned from her Winter 1997/98 refit wearing a dark blue hull with the word 'Stena' painted on it alone. The funnels were also now dark blue and featured the Stena houseflag. After the merger went ahead, the blanks were filled in so the hull read 'P&O Stena' and the joint flag logo appeared in full. Attempts were made at an early stage to bring the two fleets, which had taken fairly diverse approaches to onboard facilities and entertainment through the 1990s, more in line with each other. Although in part this saw the loss of the loud and at times irritating Stena Vision, there was also a slackening in the previously rather pompous P&O attitude. Nonetheless, for several years afterwards, it was still possible to detect a slight difference in style when travelling on the former Stena ships. One early change to the Stena Fantasia saw the Business Class lounge being entirely refurbished and becoming a Club Lounge - the small adjacent conference room was removed at this stage. Further changes were restricted until the 1998/99 refits when the entire P&O Stena 'Brand World' was rolled out across the fleet. The Stena Fantasia was away over New Year 1998/99, returning to Dover as the P&OSL Canterbury, this naming convention being adopted fleet-wide. Although it was generally perceived that the new name was a 'P&O-style' one, it should be pointed out that the Canterbury was a classic Dover-based railway steamer and, had Stena pursued the same policy which brought about the name Stena Invicta, it would not have been unimaginable to have seen a Stena Canterbury.

In P&O Stena operations, crossing times were described ambiguously as being 'from 75 minutes', reflecting the disparity in speed between the old P&O ships (which had always been scheduled for 75 minutes) and the 90 minutes allowed by Stena.  Although speed was less of a problem for the faster
P&OSL Provence (ex-Stena Empereur) it was something of an issue for the 'Canterbury' and, even though the schedules were relatively kind, the ex-Fantasia sometimes found herself being caught by the following ship.

More technical problems affecting the rudders saw the
Stena Fantasia briefly off service in July 1998. Meanwhile, at about the same time the ship was registered in the UK for the first time, with her port of registry changing to Dover from the previous Nassau. The rudders were again at fault in April 1999 when the 'Canterbury' went to Dunkerque for a fortnight's repairs. Meanwhile, the ship was taken out of service for rather more satisfactory reasons on 11 August 1999 when undertaking a day long charter to the Daily Mail to observe the total eclipse of the sun. A large number of plastic deck chairs were brought on board for this purpose and the ship sailed with these tied up on the aft outside deck for some time afterwards.

The 'Canterbury' encountered bow visor problems in April 2000 and after a brief visit to Dunkerque for repairs it was established that the parts would take some three weeks to fix. Consequently, the ship operated for some time as a stern-only loader, proving the worth of the modifications made in 1991 to enable her to berth stern-in at Calais. In the event however, a spare part was unexpectedly offered by Seafrance who had one for use by the 'Cézanne'; with this in hand, the 'Canterbury' headed again for Dunkerque with repairs taking four days from 14 May. The next major incident happened on 18 May 2001. When arriving at Dover on a regular crossing, the ship suffered flooding of a forward machinery space. Pumps were activated and the ship was able to berth safely before being withdrawn for repairs. The flood was found after an investigation to have been caused by a faulty valve but the actual operational impact on the ship was limited.
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Above: The Stena Fantasia in the interim pre-merger Stena Line livery of early 1998. (Picture courtesy Mark Leiper)
In October 2002, it was announced that P&O had acquired Stena's 40% holding in P&O Stena Line. Amongst a raft of related announcements made at the same time were details concerning the closure of the Dover-Zeebrugge freight link, and the conversion of the European Pathway and European Highway into passenger ferries for the Calais route to replace the P&OSL Canterbury and P&OSL Kent in time for the 2003 Summer season. With the buy-out of Stena, all local ships fairly speedily lost the Stena name on their hulls and the 'P&OSL' prefix was amended with the 'Canterbury' becoming P O Canterbury for her final few months of Dover service. The 'new' ships duly entered service as Pride of Canterbury and Pride of Kent respectively in Spring 2003, the former Fantasia being the first to be replaced in mid-May at which point she sailed to Dunkerque to lay-up awaiting disposal. There she lay for an extended period of time: although a sale was completed to Gerassimos Agoudimos' GA Ferries of Greece in October 2003, it was not until March 2004 that the ship was renamed Alkmini A and sailed for Greece, arriving at the Drapetsona repair yards near Athens via Tartous in Syria, one of her original ports of call from 1980. This latter diversion arose as GA Ferries had arranged a one-way trip from Antwerp to Tartous carrying a cargo of used cars, thus covering the costs of the ship’s delivery voyage.
Above: The Stena Fantasia entering Calais just after the merger, with the new hull markings complete, but the P&O element of the funnel colours still being finished in-service. (Picture courtesy Mark Leiper)
Above: The Stena Fantasia in full P&O Stena Line livery approaching the pier heads at Calais. (Picture courtesy Mark Leiper)
Above & Below: Two views of the renamed P&OSL Canterbury at Calais in early 2000.
Above: The P&OSL Canterbury approaching Calais in early July 1999 with a promotional slogan on her side relating to post-Duty Free purchases. (Picture courtesy Mark Leiper)
Below: The P&OSL Canterbury seen unusually stern-in at Calais during the period of her bow door troubles in April/May 2000.
Below: For 2002, the P&O Stena fleet received new POSL.com branding on their forward superstructures. The P&OSL Canterbury is seen here approaching Calais after this livery modification.
Below: The P&OSL Canterbury leaving Calais in August 2002.
Above: After P&O assumed total control of the joint venture, the fleet fairly rapidly lost the Stena hull and flag markings. The P&OSL Canterbury is seen here at Calais in early September 2002.
Above: By now renamed P O Canterbury the ship is seen at Dover in late 2002.
Above: A brief Winter refit prepared the P O Canterbury for her final few months of Dover service. The main visible impact was the painting out of the Stena red pinstripe, the ex-Fantasia now looking, if not feeling, like a true P&O ship.
Above: The renaming was effected by a couple of flicks of a paintbrush. Generally the ship was by this stage becoming slightly run down externally and internally as she was prepared for retirement.
Above: P O Canterbury off Dover in early 2003.
Below: The P O Canterbury seen creeping out of Dover in May 2003. This view was taken from the Admiralty Pier at the time the ship's replacement, the new Pride of Canterbury, was lying alongside prior to entering service.