|Folkestone was rather late entering the car ferry era. Neighbouring Dover had been equipped with car ramps at the Eastern Docks since 1953 and had been seen its first purpose-built drive-on car ferry as early as 1949. Some twenty years later, Folkestone finally saw new ships and linkspans of its own. The ships were the splendid Hengist and Horsa of 1972, then the largest ships on the Channel and the first with the 'Sealink' trading name on their hulls. Although usually associated with Folkestone-Boulogne, the two ships spent most of their early years also operating to/from the ports of Dover, Calais and Oostende. By the 1980s though, they were definitely Folkestone vessels; however Dover and Calais had assumed superiority over Folkestone and Boulogne for Sealink generally, and the Channel Tunnel cast a long cloud over the future of the ships and their route.
Despite this uncertainty, an expensive and thorough post-privatisation refit saw the ships emerge with the facilities with which to compete (see the Hengist page for more details on this and on some projected future uses that lay behind the ships' original design). This investment (and the need of Sealink's new owner to have a route that tied in with the operations of his Orient Express train) may have saved the service from closure in the years before 1990. That year saw what some interpreted as a vote of confidence in its future with the transfer of former company flagship St Anselm from Dover after replacement by the new Fantasia. In turn, the Horsa was moved away from the Dover Strait for the first time, with Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire summer services to be operated. This didn't last for long however, and after Sealink was taken over by Stena the St Anselm (by now Stena Cambria) exchanged places with the renamed Stena Horsa as the twins were re-united for one final season on the Folkestone route. The writing was very much on the wall however, and with Stena keen to both save money and focus traffic on the ultra-competitive Dover-Calais service, Folkestone lost its Boulogne link after 148 years, Stena Horsa making the final crossing on 31 December 1991.
Although the route was operated by Hoverspeed until 2000, and a variety of freight operators attempted to provide a service until 2001, this was the time that the port of Folkestone really lost its heartbeat. Boulogne lingered a little longer with the P&O Dover route, but this too closed in 1993 before the new startup Speedferries entered Dover-Boulogne trade in 2004.