Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Decade of Discovery

For a decade, the Stena Discovery regularly ferried across the murky depths of the North Sea, between Holland and the UK. It was, at first, a sleek, shiny machine. Even after the paint gre tired, it still had a dominating physicall nature. So much so that its approach had to be altered after its huge bow wave caused a number of small boats to become swamped or capsize. The difference between this and your average ferry is similar to te difference between a jetski and a canoe. Huge. It had 100,000 horsepower and could do 50 mph. It was the fastest ferry in the world. Much akin to the retirement of the Concorde four years ago, it feels like a step backward has been taken in the development of maritime technology. I remember leaning over the quayside railing at the Hook of Holland and then, majestically, the Discovery would emerge over the horizon, imposing as ever as it headed straight towards you. There was always an upbeat feeling on board, but that may have been due to the slightly tipsy nature of the chip-wielding, card-dealing passengers. Never did it seem more graceful than when it slowed down near the coast, gliding past the huge container ships at either Felixstowe or Rotterdam. Gazing down at the jet turbines, you really gained a sense of the Discovery's power. Unfortunately, this power came at a cost. For every unit of horsepower, almost 2 litres of fuel were used a day. This ship alone could suck oil fields dry. Stena Line officially cited decreased demand and running costs as the reason for the retirement of the Discovery, but really it would have been immoral to continue running the ship. In its place, Stena is extending its two superferries, the Hollandica and the Britannica, to almost 250m. If they can't have the fastest ferry in the world, Stena will have the two largest ferries in the world. Unfortunately, one of the sailings will be undertaken by the trucker ferry, the Trader until the extensions have been completed in May. Its hard to see many travellers elect to take the 7hr Stena crossing when, for similar prices, they can hop across to the mainland courtesy of the many low-cost airlines. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

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