|THE VORTIGERN STORY
PART ONE: BRITAIN'S LAST TRAIN FERRY 1969-1988
The complete 1985 Vortigern deckplan
Pre-service publicity and Vortigern launch pictures
On board Vortigern - general
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|The final British-built train ferry, Vortigern entered service in the summer of 1969. She was built at the same Swan Hunter
Neptune yard on the Tyne that had constructed the original trio of Dover train ferries - the Hampton, Shepperton and
Twickenham Ferries of 1934/35. It was these three ships, along with SNCF's Saint Germain of 1951, which still maintained
the Dunkerque train ferry link by the time Vortigern entered service but the new vessel would have a dual role and would
not be a direct replacement. Technically, she replaced Hampton Ferry in the local fleet, but Vortigern was deemed to be a
multi-purpose vessel and would operate as a train ferry mainly in Winter, being more productively occupied as a
passenger/car ferry on the premier Dover-Boulogne link in Summer.
Vortigern also marked a revolution for the local Railway-owned fleet. She was the first Dover BR vessel to be
diesel-engined as well as the first with a drive-through car deck, complete with bow visor. Over time, with the arrival
especially of the Saint Eloi the ship was required less and less on the train ferry link. This was reflected in the 1978
conversion of the aft car garage on B Deck (used primarily when the ship was in use on the Dunkirk link) to an extra
passenger lounge. The ship consequently spent most time on car ferry operations, although with the gradual
winding-down of Dover-Boulogne, this tended to be Folkestone-based, usually running to Boulogne but also Calais and
After the sale of Sealink to Sea Containers in 1984 and with moves towards a rationalisation of the short-sea French
routes to just Dover-Calais and Folkestone-Boulogne already in progress, Vortigern's future on the Dover Strait was
unclear. Folkestone-Boulogne was safe in the hands of Hengist and Horsa as lead vessels so the route's third ship was
linked with a variety of transfers to the farthest-flung parts of the Sealink route network. An announcement was made that
she would move to Stranraer for the Larne service, replacing Antrim Princess for 1985, but this never materialised. She
was also linked with SNCF as a replacement for Saint Germain on the Dunkerque train ferry run, whlist Sea Containers'
President James Sherwood wrote of his ambitions to reinstate the Night Ferry using Vortigern on both the inward and
outbound crossings from Dover to Dunkirk.
In 1986, the ship was connected with a move to Weymouth on charter to British Channel Island Ferries but BCIF eventually
rejected the offer. Instead, she spent a final season operating to Boulogne but making just one return crossing each day
whilst providing back-up for Hengist and Horsa in the event of break down or other problems. This last summer ended on
27 September and after a period of lay-up in Dover Vortigern was sent to Fishguard in January 1987 to cover the
Rosslare route during St Brendan's overhaul - her first period of service away from the English Channel. With Sealink still
unable to locate a new superferry to operate to Rosslare, she was linked with the position of second ship on this route for
the summer - in the event the role was taken by the recently redundant Senlac. Returning to Folkestone, the next major
period of use was on charter to Townsend Thoresen for sixty days in the aftermath of the loss of the Herald of Free
Enterprise. When this finished, Vortigern was called to Newhaven to cover for the errant Versailles in August.
In the late summer of 1987, consideration was given to placing Vortigern on the Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire freight route in
place of the chartered Stena Sailer, but in the event this latter charter was extended. However it was to be in this capacity
that Vortigern would finish her Sealink career - in place of Stena Sailer in March 1988.
|ABOVE & BELOW: The Vortigern beached off Oostende in 1982. Waiting for the Horsa to clear the port in the
early hours of March 4th, the ship stranded on a falling tide across a stone groyne, opening up ten of her
double bottom compartments. She was refloated two days later and sent for repairs which cost over £1m.
After returning to service in late April, Vortigern was back in trouble in July when she collided with the end of
Folkestone harbour pier and required further expensive repairs. Click on the picture below for a larger image
|BELOW: A superb overall view of the Western Docks at Dover with the Vortigern berthed in the old train ferry
dock and a stretched SRN4 hovercraft mounting the pad at the hoverport.
|BELOW: A stern view of the ship leaving Folkestone dating from after 1978, when the aft garage was
converted into a lounge and various other visible external deck changes happened, including the addition of
two further lifeboats, aft. Courtesy Roy Thornton collection
|BELOW: With the privatisation of Sealink in 1984, the fleet was gradually repainted into a new livery - unlike
her Folkestone fleetmates Hengist and Horsa, Vortigern did not receive these colours in the initial season and
had to wait until 1985 before receiving the slightly modified 'British Ferries' version. The ship is seen here
speeding across the Channel in the new livery.