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Thread: River Mersey Ferry History

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    Creator & Administrator Kev's Avatar
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    Default River Mersey Ferry History

    For over 850 years the Mersey Ferries have provided a transport link from the Wirral over the River Mersey to Liverpool.

    History

    Birkenhead Priory and the days of sail


    The first known ferry began in 1150. It was operated by the monks of Birkenhead priory, who used to row passengers by hand across the river. This was extremely hazardous at the time. Back then, the shape of the Mersey was rather different, with a large pool and sandstone shorelines. This meant that it could take a minimum of two hours, even with flat calm conditions. Sometimes, the ferries were cancelled due to thick fog or extreme weather.

    As technology advanced, so did the ferries and by the 1500s there were fully rigged sailing ships travelling across the Mersey. These ferries were also at the mercy of the Mersey.

    Steam power and the heyday of the ferries

    During the Victorian years, steam power became popular. The first steam ferry, Etna, was a strange affair with extremely large steam reciprocating engines and two side-mounted paddle wheels. More steam ferries followed. By this time, there were two ferry companies operating on the Mersey. Birkenhead Ferry Corporation and the Wallasey Ferry Corporation. Birkenhead operated to Woodside, Tranmere, Rock Ferry, New Ferry, Bromborough and Eastham. Wallasey operated to Seacombe, Egremont and New Brighton. It was a golden period for the ferries and this continued for some time. There were luggage boats which carried goods across the river. Business was booming.

    Wallasey Ferries used to use devises known as extension stages which were wheeled out into the river at different tidal levels. The power for this was provided by steam winches. Birkenhead has already incorporated floating tidal stages. The last of the extension stages was seen at Egremont. It was destroyed during the second world war and was never re-opened.Seacombe gained a floating stage and also a floating roadway for goods traffic.

    There was a large number of ferry boats purchased by both corporations throughout the 19th and early 20th century. The first signs of todays boat designs can be seen in the Snowdrop, Royal Iris and Royal Daffodil of the early 20th century. This trend of ferry building continued. The Royal Iris the second was the rivers first triple decker. All the Wallasey ferries carried black and while funnels. Birkenhead operated from the 1930's with a a group of ferries that were narrower in the beam than the Wallasey boats. Birkenhead carried an orange and black funnel livery. In 1951 Wallasey took delivery of its two diesel twins Egremont and Leasowe. This put preassure on Birkenhead to replace its foursome of coal ferries, however they argued their engineers were experts in steam propulsion and the ferries had proved reliable.

    During the First World War, two Wallasey ferries, Iris and Daffodil, were commissioned by the Admiralty for active service. They went into action at Zeebrugge, and although badly damaged, they survived and were granted the prefix "Royal" to their name.

    The "Fish and Chip" boat


    Perhaps the most notable of all the ferries was the third of the boats named Royal Iris. Built in 1951 on the Clyde, she had a futuristic-looking hull, smooth lines and a dummy funnel. Compared to the traditional-looking Wallasey fleet of the time, the Iris was rather out of place.

    She became the best known and most popular of all the Mersey ferries, hosting evening entertainment cruises played by bands such as Gerry And The Pacemakers, The Searchers, The Beatles and Elvis Costello. The Royal Iris was the first in the Wallasey fleet to be driven by a diesel electric powerplant. She was known as the "fish and chip boat" because of her café, which served fish and chips.

    In 1979 the boat was host to ITV's The Mersey Pirate[1] hosted by Duggie Brown. The ferry served the Mersey faithfully for over 40 years, eventually being laid up in Bidston dock in 1990 to await her fate. She was sold for use as a floating night-club in 1991, but by 2003 she was in London, tied up near the Thames Barrier. She is currently undergoing restoration and should be returning to service for pleasure/party cruises on the Thames very soon.


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    Mountwood, Woodchurch and Overchurch

    The Mountwood, Woodchurch and Overchurch are the ferries that still serve the Mersey today, although they have been extensively refurbished and renamed Royal Iris of the Mersey, Snowdrop and Royal Daffodil respectively. The Mountwood and Woodchurch were launched onto the River Dart in 1959. They were built by Phillip and Sons shipbuilders. The ferries were commissioned by Birkenhead Corporation and were in service by 1960. Contrary to most books on the ferries, their original funnel colours were not black, red and black, but in fact black, orange and black. This is supported by numerous photos from the era. The Overchurch was commissioned to be built by Cammell Laird in 1962 and soon after joined the fleet of ferries. When the two separate corporations merged to create "Mersey Ferries" in the late 1960s, the ferries joined Leasowe, Egremont, Royal Iris and Royal Daffodil 2 from the old Wallasey fleet. After the merging of the two separate ferry companies, all the ferries were given a new livery of cream funnel with sky blue cap. This was then changed to green and black, rather like the buses at the time. The ferries operated on this livery for a considerable time, but the longest kept livery is the current livery which has been employed for over 16 years.

    In the 1970s passenger traffic had dropped considerably and this resulted in less sailings, with Leasowe, Egremont, Mountwood and Woodchuch being docked in the East Float for a lengthy period whilst the slightly larger Overchurch, and the big ferries Royal Iris and Royal Daffodil (which by the time had dropped the "2" suffix), operated the daily service. It was then decided to put Leasowe, Egremont and Royal Daffodil up for sale. Royal Daffodil and Leasowe were sold within weeks and are still in operation today under different names. Egremont was not so lucky. She sprang a leak which ruined her engines, rendering her unusable. She was actually purchased by the island cruising club of Salcombe in Devon, and she now spends her days preserved and tied up in a sandy cove where she is used as the club house. By 1989 only Royal Iris remained of the Wallasey ferries.

    During the late 1970s and early 1980s the Woodchurch was taken into Clarence dry docks where she was dry docked and left in a somewhat laid up state. Damage had occurred to her hull due to deficiencies in the metal used during construction, and rumours abounded that she was being used to supply her sister ferries with spare parts. She returned to service in 1983 after a repaint and some repairs. In 1984 the ferries were repainted into red, white and blue for the Flower Festival at Otterspool.

    In 1990 Woodchurch and Mountwood were taken from service and were extensively refurbished (although still retaining their original character and bridge equipment). The work included fitting of modern Fruno radar and substantial repairs to steelwork. Their bridges, which originally consisted of two wing cabs and a central wheelhouse, were plated to form one large navigation bridge. Unusually, the separate cabs each had a large brass binnacle and compass in them which were not removed when the bridge was made whole, so this meant that the ferry actually had three binnacles on the bridge. Lots of re-wiring took place and years of neglect were slowly righted. Whilst Mountwood and Woodchurch were in dry dock, Overchurch operated on its own in a triangular service similar to the commuter run used today. Mountwood and Woodchurch were back in service in time for the QE2's first visit to Liverpool in 1990, with a new livery of red and black. After a busy few days, Overchurch was dry docked and given a well-earned break, during which her hull was painted and lots of internal work took place. For some reason, the Overchurch had a café fitted into the forward shelter on the promenade deck, rather than into the main saloon, which resulted in a rather cold and draughty seating area. Overchurch was a tired old ship; her engines were repaired but due to Mountwood and Woodchurch operating the service between them on alternating rotas, she saw very little service for several years, apart from peak times or special cruises.

    In 1991, the Mountwood was withdrawn from service after an accident. Whilst berthing the vessel at Liverpool, the crew lost control for a few seconds. Mountwood crashed into the landing stage at Liverpool, causing around £90,000 worth of damage to the bow. The ferry was repaired and returned to service soon after.

    In 1998 the Overchurch made a journey up the Manchester Ship Canal. Work was soon to begin on a multi-million pound transformation that would see most of her old superstructure replaced with modern saloons, new engines, new navigation equipment and almost everything else. The ship managed to retain its binnacle and brass helm wheel; the rest of its old brass instrumentation has been put into storage at Mersey Ferries for future display. She was launched and renamed Royal Daffodil in 1999 and soon after returned to service with much fanfare. She is now the flagship of the fleet. Mountwood and Woodchurch were also re-fitted; Mountwood was re-named Royal Iris of the Mersey and Woodchurch was re-fitted and re-named Snowdrop.

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    Junior Member johnlemmon's Avatar
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    Cool Mersey Ferries

    hey Kev, you are indeed a font a knowledge...

    i have just read this story over a couple of times and am fascinated by the sheer history of our Ferries...

    maybe this type of local history & culture should be taught in schools. Apart from regular history which everyone hates at school (me included). But now I love all sorts of history, and recognising how 'local' some history stories are then there is a good case for kids learning local history.

    well done, keep on investigating...

    do you know the history of the Bidston Hill Conservatory, we used to go there many years ago as kids...

    Lemmo...

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    Member Scousemouse's Avatar
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    Default Everything you ever wanted to know...

    Ermine tastes much the same as sackcloth when there's nothing left to eat.

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    scouserdave
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    I'm hoping to start a campaign

    to get the Royal Iris returned to Liverpool. This is the actual ship that The Beatles played on and it's currently rotting on the

    Thames!




    [IMG]http://www.liverp

    oolpictorial.com/ri003.jpg[/IMG]

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    Junior Member johnlemmon's Avatar
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    Cool royal iris

    i'll support you dave..

    let me know what plans you have and we can look at some

    fundraising...

    Lemmo...

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    Senior Member Norm NZ's Avatar
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    Default Re: Royal Iris

    Quote Originally Posted by scouserdave View Post
    I'm hoping to start a campaign to get the Royal Iris returned to Liverpool. This is the

    actual ship that The Beatles played on and it's currently rotting on the

    Thames!




    [IMG]http://www.liverp

    oolpictorial.com/ri003.jpg[/IMG]
    "What a sad sight"! I celebrated my 21st birthday on the Royal Iris in 1953, the wife and I (we were only

    courting then) had spent the day at New Brighton, then the evening on the Dance Cruise, Scouserdaves, last photo shows the dance floor area , upper deck,

    which had a small 'cocktail' bar, the larger bar was down below, where the fish and chips were supplied! Great memory! I still have one photo of that day,

    taken in July 53, taken by one of the 'roadside' photographers on the road coming down from the Tower fairground.

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    scouserdave
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    Norm, thanks for sharing your memories. You mention a Cocktail

    Bar. I think this could be it.

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    PhilipG
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    Default QE2 at Liverpool. 24 July 1990.


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    Senior Member ChrisGeorge's Avatar
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    Actually I you made

    me smile when you called the Royal Iris the "Fish and Chip Boat" -- had not heard the name for years! Thanks!

    Chris
    Christopher T. George
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    Dave, any more pics of her interior?? When were these from?

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    Senior Member Waterways's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisGeorge View Post
    Actually I you made me smile when you called the Royal Iris the "Fish and Chip Boat" -- had not heard the name for years! Thanks!
    Chris
    No one ever called it that. The papers did. The same applies to the the Catholic Cathedral. I have never heard anyone refer to it as "Paddies Wigwam" - ever. I have only ever read it in papers. I believe the Paddies bit came for Orange Lodgers who in their narrow minds believe all Irish are Catholics and Catholics are Irish.
    The new Amsterdam at Liverpool?
    Save Liverpool Docks and Waterways - Click

    Deprived of its unique dockland waters Liverpool
    becomes a Venice without canals, just another city, no
    longer of special interest to anyone, least of all the
    tourist. Would we visit a modernised Venice of filled in
    canals to view its modern museum describing
    how it once was?


    Giving Liverpool a full Metro - CLICK
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    Default Model Kit

    Is a plastic model kit available of the Royal Iris?
    The new Amsterdam at Liverpool?
    Save Liverpool Docks and Waterways - Click

    Deprived of its unique dockland waters Liverpool
    becomes a Venice without canals, just another city, no
    longer of special interest to anyone, least of all the
    tourist. Would we visit a modernised Venice of filled in
    canals to view its modern museum describing
    how it once was?


    Giving Liverpool a full Metro - CLICK
    Rapid-transit rail: Everton, Liverpool & Arena - CLICK

    Save Royal Iris - Sign Petition

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    Senior Member SteH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Waterways View Post
    No one ever called it that. The papers did. The same applies to the the Catholic Cathedral. I have never heard anyone refer to it as "Paddies Wigwam" - ever. I have only ever read it in papers. I believe the Paddies bit came for Orange Lodgers who in their narrow minds believe all Irish are Catholics and Catholics are Irish.
    I've heard one person call it Paddy's wigwam and he was just as you describe - narrow minded, never missed a marched on 12th July, supported Rangers.

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    Senior Member lindylou's Avatar
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    I often call it Paddy's Wigwam.

    I've heard loads of people call it that.

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    Creator & Administrator Kev's Avatar
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    Paddys Wigwam - called so by Liverpool people. I don't know why WW is denying this?!
    Liverpool in Pictures/ YO! Liverpool has taken me over 10 years to develop and maintain.

    All server & domain costs are covered by myself & kind donations of individuals.

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    We've been through this before a few times, he just keeps repeating it hoping it will convince people it's true.
    You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.
    Winston Churchill

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    There's no harm intended either as people call it this with affection for the place.

    I've never heard anyone say it in a nasty tone.

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    Senior Member Waterways's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kev View Post
    Paddys Wigwam - called so by Liverpool people. I don't know why WW is denying this?!
    Because I have never heard it.
    The new Amsterdam at Liverpool?
    Save Liverpool Docks and Waterways - Click

    Deprived of its unique dockland waters Liverpool
    becomes a Venice without canals, just another city, no
    longer of special interest to anyone, least of all the
    tourist. Would we visit a modernised Venice of filled in
    canals to view its modern museum describing
    how it once was?


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    scouserdave
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    Quote Originally Posted by XL391 View Post
    Dave, any more pics of her interior?? When were these from?
    I took loads of pics. These were in February 2006. Here's a few more. I took some in 2003, but couldn't gain access at the time.
    http://www.liverpoolpictorial.co.uk/...ris/index.html










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    Newbie w141's Avatar
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    How about getting a local celebrity to showcase plight of the Royal Iris and start the ball rolling Billy Butler for example

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    Senior Member Waterways's Avatar
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    I may be cheaper to build a replica (externally) than renovate the old girl. I like the old light yellow (colour of Wallasey buses) and light green colours.

    Friends of mine were tugmen. One Saturday night they received a mayday from the Royal Iris immobile in mid river - on the Saturday night cruise yobs worked over the crew. A bunch of tugs went to her aid and the crews of the tugs (don't mess with these fellas, my mate was 6 foot 2), stormed the Iris with the police launch behind. They bent a few noses that night. When the police had control they left.
    The new Amsterdam at Liverpool?
    Save Liverpool Docks and Waterways - Click

    Deprived of its unique dockland waters Liverpool
    becomes a Venice without canals, just another city, no
    longer of special interest to anyone, least of all the
    tourist. Would we visit a modernised Venice of filled in
    canals to view its modern museum describing
    how it once was?


    Giving Liverpool a full Metro - CLICK
    Rapid-transit rail: Everton, Liverpool & Arena - CLICK

    Save Royal Iris - Sign Petition

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    Senior Member Waterways's Avatar
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    The new Amsterdam at Liverpool?
    Save Liverpool Docks and Waterways - Click

    Deprived of its unique dockland waters Liverpool
    becomes a Venice without canals, just another city, no
    longer of special interest to anyone, least of all the
    tourist. Would we visit a modernised Venice of filled in
    canals to view its modern museum describing
    how it once was?


    Giving Liverpool a full Metro - CLICK
    Rapid-transit rail: Everton, Liverpool & Arena - CLICK

    Save Royal Iris - Sign Petition

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    Quote Originally Posted by w141 View Post
    How about getting a local celebrity to showcase plight of the Royal Iris and start the ball rolling Billy Butler for example
    Well, maybe. Although I should think bringing back the Pooley Gates that used to be at the Sailors' Home might be a more achievable goal.

    Chris
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    Newbie w141's Avatar
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    My parents both come from Liverpool so as a kid growimg up in Seacombe hardly a week went by without us using the ferry because every one of our relatives lived over the water, I always looked upon the Royal Iris as being something quite regal saved for the New Brighton trip and river cruises.

    I am finding it rather strange but the photo's of her rotting on the Thames are tugging at my heartstrings, the origional Iris made a triumphant return to the Mersey after her exploits in Zeebrugge how fitting it would be to see the class of 53 sail into the Mersey for her resturation as a highlight of 2008

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    How did you gain access Dave? Was the owner about? I would love to see her back home. Is she in a REALLY bad way? Do you have any more internal pictures of her? The bridge? The engine room?

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    Hi Folks

    The plight of the Royal Iris reminds me of the similar straits of the S.S. Catalina, a ferry boat once used to carry passengers from the mainland of California out to Catalina Island. The old ferry boat, commissioned in 1924 by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley to ferry mainlanders to his island, is now partly submerged in Ensenada harbor, Mexico. Preservationists are hoping to salvage her and bring her back to California. The shots of the S.S. Catalina in her present state are as depressing as those of the Royal Iris.

    Chris
    Christopher T. George
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    Creator & Administrator Kev's Avatar
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    A MERSEY ferry service from Liverpool Pier Head to Crosby is being planned as a new tourist attraction for the region.

    It would enable passengers to take a ferry past the Gormleys, as part of a plan to make better use of the River Mersey.

    With other proposals for a new ferry landing stage at New Brighton, the project would enable summer- time cruises taking in Liverpool, Crosby beach, home of Antony Gormley’s Another Place statues, as well as the regenerated New Brighton resort. Last night, the director of Mersey Waterfront, Louise Goodman, said talks with Merseytravel about the Crosby landing stage were already under way.

    It would cost an estimated £6m to create the stage, linked to the redevelopment of the former radar tower at Crosby Beach.

    Ms Goodman added: “We are already looking at the radar tower as a tourist attraction, with a project known as The Observatory.

    “It is technically feasible to go one stage further and build a new ferry landing stage as part of the Observatory project. It is something I would like to see and the early indications are that Merseytravel are supportive.

    “If we have a ferry stage at New Brighton, we could have a brilliant cruise programme. We are sure that being able to sail from Liverpool or Wirral to view the Gormley statues would be a major attraction. It is also part of our determination to make much better use of our waterways.”

    The Mersey Partnership is now marketing the Gormley work of art as a national attraction and examining more ways of improving access to the waterfront at Crosby.

    The proposed expansion of the ferry service, with one or two new landing stages, is now a realistic option for a development programme. Talks will centre on how the Crosby scheme can be funded.

    Managing director of Mersey Waterfront Sara Wilde, also managing director of Trinity Mirror Merseyside, said the scheme was part of a vision to develop the Mersey as a world-class visitor destination.

    “The Mersey Waterfront will plan an increasingly important role in ensuring consistently high-quality design standards and visitor experiences in the coming years,” she said.

    A Merseytravel spokesman said: “We're happy to explore this further and would look seriously at any genuine opportunity to expand other ports of call for the Mersey Ferries. We will certainly discuss the plans for Crosby Marina further and would consider operating ferries to the location if there is a good enough business case.”

    A spokesman for Sefton Council said: “This is an interesting proposal which we will look at as it moves along.”

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    Senior Member Jericho's Avatar
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    Sounds a good idea. I wonder who will finance it? At least once a year we get a story about the ferry link to New Brighton being revived, so maybe this is in that category?

    In the meantime, I hope Mersey ferries (or better still a more ambitious company) reintroduces the old Liverpool and North Wales Steamship Company sailing trips to Llandudno and North Wales.

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    Default Turn it into a floating hotel?

    I had to google to find this thread, I still can't figure out the indexing here. Anyway, I don't usually "cross post", but have posted this on SSC and wondered if anyone here also had ideas about it.

    My idea is to find out if there is a market for a "floating hotel" ferry with cabins that you could sleep in - so you could board at Liverpool, go for a cruise and then it would spend the night at Seacombe or Woodside before returning you to Liverpool in the morning. It would have its own bar, restaurant and obsevation lounge. Maybe the old Royal Iris could be converted? It would be a really strong business: cruises during the day and evening, and hotel at night. Easyhotels have shown you can create nice rooms in tiny spaces, so it's not necessary to have huge cabins for just one nights stay.

    Currently you can charter one of the ferries for a few thousand quid for the evening, some companies do it for events, and I think that is going to be a growing business with all the conferences in Liverpool from the convention centre. Say 40 cabins @ £100 a night, that is £4,000 a night, and the boat could probably make the same again with morning and afternoon cruises in busy periods and dinners / drinks at night. If it earned say £8,000 a day/night for the busier half the year, and just £4,000 a day/night for the quieter half of the year (ie an average of £6k daily throughout the year) that would be a turnover of £2.2million pounds.

    There might also be a bit of demand for day trips down to Llandundno, which would add to the tourist offer for people staying in Liverpool. Tourists could sail back overnight after a nice day out in north Wales, seeing the glorious Liverpool Bay sunset while they enjoy their drinks and meal on the boat and enjoying a world-famous view of Liverpool over breakfast. Companies could hire it for "overnight" staff away days, which might work out cheaper than doing it on land, or it might also be hired for those companies who want a "captive market" of corporate guests and customers at conferences, eg for evening meal, corporate video etc........although of course you could always jump ship at the Wirral side and get a cab back to town if you did feel a bit trapped I suppose.

    It could also be chartered for weddings, and people spend stupid amounts of money on wedding receptions these days. People could get married in mid-river, have their wedding reception onboard whilst cruising the river, drop off guests at the Pier Head and Wirral at various points in the evening, and the remaining drunken guests who were staying in the cabins could all sleep it off on the boat without the hassle of taxis or getting to hotels etc. I think there would be enough uses to keep demand high year round, which would be important to the economics of the thing. You might close it for a month or two for maintenance work in January and Feb I suppose, if demand was too low, and lay off the casual staff. A staff-sharing deal with the Mersey Ferries might be useful for them and this company. (I don't know the law on this, but if sea burials are allowed, it could also be chartered for funerals, at least tipping ashes into the river / bay if not whole bodies, although presumably that would be a short one hour cruise rather than an overnight thing, and you might not want to publicise that too widely as it might sound a bit gruesome...point I am making is that I think there are dozens of groups of people and companies who might find profitable uses for such a boat).

    http://www.ferryphotos.co.uk/pages/royaliris.htm How many cabins could you get into that boat, leaving space for a large meeting room/bar/restaurant and observation lounge? The economics would I suppose depend upon how big you could go, because a lot of the costs (eg maritime and catering staff, fuel, berthing costs, maintenance) would be fixed anyway. Do you think you could fit 60 cabins in there, say 40 with window views and 20 without? That would make a dramatic change to my back of envelope calculation of £2.2m turnover, which was based on 40 cabins, and its profitability. If the old Royal Iris isn't big enough, there must be loads of larger boats that would be suitable knocking about? Mind you, the value of a boat that the Beatles played on should not be under-estimated, and if it can't be turned into a cruise-hotel-ferry thing, it should certainly be brought back as a floating hotel and be berthed in one of the South Docks. Unlike the replica Cavern, this is the real thing.

  30. #30
    PhilipG
    Guest PhilipG's Avatar

    Default "New" Royal Iris.

    Gerard posted a recent pic of a ferry boat called the 'Royal Iris'.
    I thought names were only passed on when the previous vessel ceased to exist.

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