|THE HENGIST STORY
PART ONE: THE KING OF FOLKESTONE 1972-1992
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|By the end of the 1960s, the Kent port of Folkestone had fallen well behind nearby Dover in both style and volume of
cross-channel traffic. Folkestone still lacked a linkspan for use by the new car ferries, and clung solely to the age-old
passenger-only operations. In the summer of 1970, however, the British Railways Board, owners of the port and operators
of the ships which used it, placed an order for a pair of new ships with the naval dockyard in Brest, France. The ships were
to be specifically built with Folkestone in mind, although they would also serve Dover, and the port of Folkestone itself
would receive the much-awaited upgrading to car ferry service. The ships, scheduled for delivery in the summer of 1972,
received the names Hengist and Horsa.
Whilst the Hengist and Horsa were built for the short-sea routes from Dover and Folkestone, they were also developed
with possible alternative future use in mind. With the Channel Tunnel scheduled to be built within the first decade of their
careers, British Rail wanted some flexibility to redeploy their new vessels when/if the ferries were displaced from Dover
Strait traffic. The result was that the new ships were built with possible transfer to the Heysham-Belfast route in mind. They
came equipped with a stern docking bridge, to enable the traditional stern-first navigation into Heysham harbour, and an
unusual twin-funnel casing arrangement on their car decks. This latter feature (as explained in Don Ripley and Tony
Rogan's book, Designing Ships for Sealink) was so that the upper car deck outside of the casings could be converted to
passenger lounges in use out of Heysham, leaving space for just one level of cars below, whilst the centre section of the
vessel remained full height for the continued transportation of lorries/coaches.
Almost inevitably, the Channel Tunnel did not materialise until well after the ships left Sealink service, but it cast a shadow
over their entire UK careers, from planning to retirement. In between times, the vessels lost the stern bridge in a thorough
post-privatisation refit in 1986 - since the bridge was little used, the area it occupied was opened up for passenger use.
Elsewhere the forward motorists' lounge emerged as the Orient Express Lounge, with seating to match that on the train
whose passengers used the ships en route to Paris and beyond. The waiter-service restaurant disappeared, with the
space used for more shops; this reflected Sealink style at the time with self-service "free flow" restaurants the order of the
The Hengist had a couple of notable incidents in her Sealink career. In April 1987, not long after the Herald of Free
Enterprise disaster, she sank a French trawler as she swung upon departure from Boulogne. Three members of the
trawler crew were killed. Six months later, on the night of the 'Great Storm' that hit southern England, the Hengist was
forced to put to sea where the waves almost capsized her. Losing electrical power, the ship drifted helplessly onto the
beach where she was badly damaged and holed. She remained beached for nearly a week, and repairs took well into the
next January to complete.
Hengist remained on the Dover Strait, in later years specifically on Folkestone-Boulogne, right until the bitter end. After
the sale of Sealink British Ferries to Stena Line in 1990, the ship gained the amended Stena Hengist name whilst the
company became Sealink Stena Line. The Folkestone-Boulogne route finally succumbed in December 1991, with little
prospect of further use for the ship within the Sealink Stena group. And whilst relief work at Holyhead, Fishguard and
Stranraer followed, the inevitable sale to Greece eventually happened in March 1992.
|Below: A brand-new Hengist seen at Dover in July 1972.
|Below: A superb view of Hengist in her debut season. After the initial year the original grey coloured deck was
repainted green, and the lip of the gangway door astern on B Deck (which had been painted white) became
monastral blue flush with the rest of the hull. (see next picture).
|Below: The classic and much-used Sealink portrait of Hengist after the application of the minor livery
modifications noted above.
|Below: Hengist leaving Folkestone with the stern docking bridge prominent.
|Below: Hengist seen leaving Folkestone early in her career.
|Below: During the mid-1970s, the ships' names at the bow and stern of Hengist and Horsa received enlarged
lettering. Here is Hengist leaving Dover after the change.
|Below: Hengist making a regular stern-first arrival at the Folkestone linkspan and terminal which had been
purpose-built for the ship and her sister.
|Above & below: With the privatisation of Sealink UK imminent, a new livery featuring a white hull was
introduced during 1984. Several ships in the fleet were selected for application of the livery in the opening
year, and Hengist received the white hull well in advance of the actual unveiling of the new scheme. To
prevent her upstaging the official unveiling on flagship St Nicholas at Dover on 27 March, Hengist ran after
returning from overhaul in late February in an intermediate scheme retaining the old red funnel (minus the
BR double arrow logos) and with the white hull, but not the new application of the trading name.
These pictures show the ship in April 1984 after the livery had been confirmed, with the new funnel logo
part-way through being painted (above) but still without the new Sealink titling on the hull. In the Fotoflite
image (below) the funnel markings are complete.
|Below: A further modification in 1985 saw the addition of 'British Ferries' to the trading name. This was to be
the final year before the major 1986 refit and the removal of the aft docking bridge.
|Above & below: Hengist on the beach in The Warren, near Folkestone, after becoming a casualty of the Great
Storm of October 1987. Picture above courtesy Roy Thornton collection.
|Click here to continue to the Hengist Story Part 2: Conquering Greece
Click here to return to the Hengist index
|Below: A Fotoflite image of the Stena Hengist and the still-unrenamed Horsa together at Folkestone in early
|Below: The freshly-launched Hengist being manouvered at Brest. Courtesy Roy Thornton collection.
|Below: An early view of the Hengist showing the forward windows from the lower lounge - for the vast majority
of the ship's career, these have been covered over. Courtesy Roy Thornton collection.