THE request for ferry reminiscences (Independent Traveller, 6 February) stimulated an extraordinary array of memories. But first, the facts - for which I thank John Hendy of Ferry Publications.

The Southampton to San Sebastian service was operated by P & O Southern Ferries with the SF Panther between 22 December, 1973, and November, 1975. Other services then operating from Southampton to Spain included Swedish Lloyd to Bilbao and Aznar Line to Santander.

The Eagle was built for the Southampton to Lisbon to Morocco service, also run by P & O Southern Ferries. It operated three trips each fortnight with one extended to Tangier. The service started on 18 May, 1971, and finished when the ship was withdrawn from service in October, 1975. The Tilbury to Calais service was operated by the Stena Nordica, the first Stena car ferry. It started operating on 3 July, 1965, finishing for the season in October the same year. The service was revived with a different ferry but closed for good at the end of the 1966 season. 'At five hours from Tilbury to Calais, it was too long for comfort,' writes Mr Hendy.

Pamela Hadaway of Stoke Poges is another mine of information. She not only supplies a photo of The Eagle, but also the brochure for its 1972 to 1973 season ('The Eagle is Britain's most modern, most luxurious car liner . . . Her public rooms are decorated in a style that ranks with an international class hotel . . . more than 200 cabins and they all have their own private shower, basin and wc . . .')

Mrs Hadaway (who must preside over an enormous travel archive because she has also managed to supply a brochure for the Hotel de la Plage in St Marc, the subject of our recent Monsieur Hulot competition), says: 'The crossing from Southampton to Lisbon took 42 hours and the single cost for a car was pounds 16.' She adds: 'The trip home was rather rough' (rough seas were a problem, it seems). 'Whatever happened to The Eagle?' she wonders. (Mr Olohan of Stena Sealink writes to say that The Eagle was sold to a French cruise company and became The Azur.)

This week we print memories of The Eagle. We will shortly conclude our Ferry Tales with letters on other ferries; we will also announce the winner of the ticket for the new service to Bilbao donated by P & O European Ferries.

YES, The Eagle did run down to Spain, Portugal and Morocco: it was Southampton, Lisbon, Algeciras, Tangier and return. Some of us used to call the ship The Beagle, as it had large twin funnels at the back and looked rather like a beagle lying on its back, ears in air, waiting for someone to scratch its tummy.

It was an 8,000-tonne car and passenger ferry, quite comfortable but inclined to corkscrew badly in the Bay of Biscay. This was very noticeable in the Crows Nest pub, up near the bows, which tended to empty rather rapidly as the sea got up. I think it was shortly before The Eagle was withdrawn from service that, in a wild crossing of Biscay, some caterpillar tractors got loose in the car deck and did a fine job of mashing up most of the other vehicles. No one was hurt, as I recall. But P & O was not happy as demands for compensation for flattened cars rolled in.

John Clarke

Denham, Buckinghamshire

IN 1973 my wife, her parents and myself sailed mid-October on The Eagle from Southampton to Lisbon, and throughout the voyage we were hit by hurricane winds. The ship was standing on its stern end at times, and it was so uncomfortable that no other passengers were to be seen until we reached the calmer waters of the river Tagus. It's hard to believe, but true to say, that my wife and I were the only passengers to be seen taking meals in the dining room during the trip.

The Eagle was not a vessel constructed for the unpredictable areas such as the Bay of Biscay. No sir, no way]

Ronald Savage

Liverpool

I TOOK my family (and car) to Lisbon and back in August 1974. My memories of the journey are few but vivid:

1 It was roughish going out and rougher coming back.

2 The children had chicken pox going out and I succumbed to it coming back.

3 The ship's doctor was tired and emotional.

4 The pilot who came out to join the ship off Falmouth sadly missed his footing and was killed.

Brian Knox

London N6

IN 1972 we thought we were going on The Eagle to Lisbon, having booked and done all the right things. On arriving at Southampton, having spent the previous night with my parents who lived near Lymington, we were told it was not sailing as it had broken down and they had tried to contact us at home. We were then offered a) all our money back; b) a trip overnight to Le Havre, some money back and our return passage guaranteed; or c) a booking a month hence.

We opted for b) and, to my astonishment, they gave me so much money, about three-quarters of what we'd paid, that our holiday cost us very little. The Eagle was repaired and waited for us at Lisbon some three weeks later. We have the nicest memories of everything to do with it, though there was a moment of panic over the thought of driving from Le Havre to Portugal - actually, it was very enjoyable.

Rosemary Macaulay

Wells, Somerset

ON ONE occasion, in early August 1972, having driven to Lisbon with our teenage son and daughter, we embarked at Lisbon for Southampton.

Incident number one occurred when dolphins were seen by the ship and people rushed to look over the side. A mother holding up an infant girl was somehow pushed and the child was dropped overboard. She was out of sight by the time the ship stopped and a small boat was lowered to search.

Miraculously she was found about three-quarters of an hour later, still alive, floating face upwards with her white dress, apparently, acting like a parachute.

The second incident was an SOS message from a freighter. A deckhand had been caught by a winch wire and his arm had been wrenched off. We had doctors and nurses among the passengers to give immediate aid and so he was hoisted aboard on a stretcher (quite a long job) and next morning, at first light, was taken off by helicopter to hospital in the UK.

Before we landed at Southampton, we were told that the poor chap was 'doing well' and a collection was made.

Audrey Harrison

Chippenham, Wiltshire

I SHALL never forget my voyage on The Eagle in August, 1972. We were several hours out to sea when we were startled by a sudden voice over the loudspeaker system announcing that there was a fire on the car deck and ordering us to proceed immediately to lifeboat stations.

My 10-year-old daughter, our friend and I grabbed our life-jackets and, with pounding hearts, rushed from the cabin and started to climb the stairs. By the time we reached the next level, an apologetic voice was explaining that the message had been for crew only and was a fire practice. By mistake the message had been relayed to the whole ship.

Relief was tremendous - and universal]

Mary Mallinson

Cheshire

WE travelled from Southampton to Lisbon in March, 1973, taking an E-type Jaguar for a month's tour of Portugal; the car was a source of admiration wherever we went.

I suffered from seasickness on the ferry both ways; The Eagle was very high-sided and rolled badly in Force 8 and 9 gales which we experienced each way in the Bay of Biscay. I was unable to use most of the facilities provided as I was confined to my bunk.

There was a cinema which was regarded as an unexpected luxury, I think; there was also a swimming pool, a disco of some sort and I recall clay pigeon shooting from the deck.

Elaine J Austin

Norfolk

I CAN well remember sailing with my husband and seven-year-old son up the River Tagus to Lisbon. On the way back there was a terrific delay and we sat around on the quayside for hours. The delay was due to engine trouble - a common occurrence with The Eagle. Once on board we took to the open deck because the weather was glorious, just like a 'proper' cruise. I think we had a lucky trip because I know the boat suffered all sorts of disasters afterwards.

Glenda Pepper

Norfolk

THERE is a soft spot in my memory for The Eagle. After a non-stop drive from Liverpool to Faro in our brand new Spitfire (a distance of 2,080 miles), my fiancee and I were horrified to find we had booked ourselves into a hippie commune.

The fact that the hippies were outnumbered by the bugs in our accommodation meant that a speedy and costly change of location to the Vilamora Golf Hotel was called for.

Money was not exactly flowing, so we could only stay four or five days, but what bliss. However, so as not to ruin our short holiday, I refused to drive home but rather we decided to catch the ferry.

As luck would have it, there was space for the car on The Eagle from Lisbon to Southampton, but our accommodation was not

guaranteed.

We bit the bullet and booked ourselves on board. My fiancee was to be billeted in a women's dormitory somewhere in the bowels of the ship, where all the women were totally non-English speaking, and I was to sleep somewhere else. As you can imagine, this was a less than satisfactory arrangement.

But, as luck would have it, my last pounds 5 note changed hands and we found ourselves in a wonderful cabin which included breakfast and all facilities. Money was now really tight and, with only coins in our pockets, the first evening looked grim until I walked past the roulette table, placed a 10p coin on number 19 - and yes, you guessed it - it came up]

We ate well on that super ship, and we even had a go at clay pigeon shooting (we have photographs to prove it). My fiancee and I have been happily married for almost 23 years. It brings back fond memories.

Andrew M Sington

Southport

For a complete list of Ferry Publications' exhaustive literature on the subject of car ferries and their history, please write to:

Ferry Publications,

12 Millfields Close,

Pentlepoir, Kilgetty, Pembrokeshire SA68 0SA.

Comments