Holyhead Ferry 1 (later Earl Leofric) had an incredibly short life: after making her first Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire sailing in July 1965, she was withdrawn from service in December 1980 - an operational career of just fifteen years five months - before sailing for scrap in Spain in May 1981. The scrapping came just five years after the ship underwent a major conversion to drive-through operations, having been built as a stern-only loader.

Seasonal diversions to Dover and Weymouth apart,
Holyhead Ferry 1 remained on the Dun Laoghaire route until 1974 when she was transferred to Dover for Calais operations (exchanging places with her half-sister Dover). 1975 saw the ship mainly on Dover-Boulogne sailings. For 1976 the ship returned to her Tyne birthplace for the drive-through conversion (this time to the Swan Hunter yard rather than her builders, Hawthorn Leslie), although she failed miserably to return in time for the Summer season, not making her debut under the new name, Earl Leofric, until September. Even with the added vehicle capacity and operational improvements the conversion had brought about, the ship was still being quickly outstripped by both the competition as well as the traffic on offer. Sealink's Dover-Calais fleet for 1979 comprised Earl Leofric, Earl Siward (the ex-Dover which had received a similar conversion) plus the relatively modern Chartres. To indicate both how much things had changed (and how out-of-place the British sisters especially now were), by the end of 1981 the fleet had been completely renewed, the replacements being St Anselm, St Christopher and Cote d'Azur respectively - all modern ro-ro ships with twin drive-through freight decks.

Holyhead Ferry 1 was really a ship that should never have been built - or at least not in the form she actually was. The previously-mentioned lack of drive-through capability was compounded by BR's persistence with steam machinery for their new vessels. The ship's contemporaries for other operators included the Viking I and sisters of Thoresen, Townsend's Free Enterprise III, Tor Line's Tor  Anglia and Lion's Prins Hamlet, all of which had been built with diesel engines, through car decks and all of which were still in operations of one form or another come the turn of the century. Even North Sea Ferries' tiny Norwind and Norwave had these features (drive-through vehicle decks being included despite having leisurely day-long turnarounds which were denied to the railway ship). Although the vehicle deck problem was resolved with the conversion of 1976, the steam machinery was soon out-of-place and expensive to operate and this must be the main explanation for the inability of Sealink to find a willing operational sale for such a young vessel.

Holyhead Ferry 1 was to be scrapped at a young age, her sister escaped this fate, instead being sold by Sealink in 1981 to Sol Lines of Cyprus becoming their Sol Express. Five years later and she was back in the UK, becoming the nightclub Tuxedo Royale, and assuming the prime Gateshead location (beneath the Tyne Bridge) previously occupied by former Sealink fleetmate Caledonian Princess (Tuxedo Princess). The latter returned to the Tyne in 1999, Tuxedo Royale being moved to a new Middlesborough location.
Holyhead Ferry 1/Earl Leofric
British Rail/Sealink
TOP: Holyhead Ferry 1 in her original guise (albeit with the 'Sealink' legend on her hull added in 1972/73)
ABOVE LEFT: A British Rail postcard view of the ship as she was when entering service in 1965.
ABOVE RIGHT: Earl Leofric after the conversion to drive-through of 1976. Despite a reduction in passenger capacity from 1,000 to just 680, the ship acquired a further four lifeboats, bringing the total to twelve - a number unmatched by any cross-channel ferry apart from her sister, Earl Siward. The modifications cost 1.85m and increased capacity from 153 to 205 cars.
ABOVE: A superb view of the port of Calais in the Sealink years. The presence of the Earl Leofric complete with her new bow visor dates the picture to the late 1970s. Astern at berth 2 is Hengist.
e-mail: matt@hhvferry.com
ABOVE: Holyhead Ferry I as built.
BELOW: Cut-away diagram of Holyhead Ferry I in her original condition.