Sunday 17 November 2019

Keeping things calm when everybody else is all at sea

Averting panic is all in a day's work for the chief purser of the 'people's ferry', writes Lucinda O'Sullivan

PICTURE this. You have driven over a thousand miles around France, the boot and the roof box are stuffed with luggage, dirty laundry, and the spoils of the trip in the form of clanking bottles of wine. You have just docked in Rosslare, strategically placed for a quick getaway because the hubbie is on crutches after an accident.

You turn the key in the car -- nothing happens. Panic. This was what happened to us last autumn on Irish Ferries' MV Oscar Wilde.

The lower deck crew rocked the car, lifted the bonnet, shook their heads. Everything came out of the boot, everything went back into the boot. No joy. Cars disembarked, weaving around us. In the midst of all of this arrived an angel in the form of chief purser Paula McDougall.

'Igor and Ivan', giants of men, electricians and engineers, were summoned but they also were flummoxed. Everything came out of the boot again, everything went back into the boot again. Having automatic transmission, the car couldn't even be pushed off the ship. The chief officer arrived with a garage man from Rosslare but his tow truck was too high to reach this particular car deck. The ship was due to sail again for Cherbourg in a couple of hours and we all had visions of us sailing back and forth in aeternum. Eventually, the garage man got the engine started and said, "don't stop between here and Dublin".

Throughout all this, Paula calmly kept everybody sane.

A chief purser is the nautical version of the hotel manager, responsible for restaurants, bars, accommodation, accou-nts, payrolls, and facing the customers. Glaswegian Paula worked as a chef for some years but then decided to do hotel management. Part of her thesis was on setting up facilities on a P&O ferry. She became fascinated by this world and ended up working for P&O on special projects such as setting up new facilities on ships. Eventually this is what she did -- so successfully -- on the new Irish Ferries ship Oscar Wilde. She has now just taken up the post of chief purser on the MV Julia on the newly revived crossing between Swansea and Cork, due to commence on March 1. Paula is part of an extraordinary story of people power and a 'can do will do' spirit demonstrated by the tourism and business people of Cork to bring visitors from the United Kingdom directly to Cork, Kerry, and the whole south west corner of Ireland.

The route between Swansea and Cork had ceased in 2006. West Cork businessmen Adrian Hosford, of the Garden Centre near Bandon, and Adrian Brentnall of Inspired Glass in Ballydehob spearheaded a campaign to revive the route. The West Cork Tourism Co-Op with chairman Conor Buckley was formed to fundraise and eventually purchase what is now being called the "People's Ferry", the MV Julia, and so too was born the Fastnet Line.

David Good, of the Trident and Acton's hotels in Kinsale, is on the board of the new shipping line. He explained how they raised €3m in Cork, Kerry and Wales. They went to Finland where they bought the Julia from the liquidator of another shipping company for €7.8m. Aktia Bank in Finland financed the deal and the ship arrived in Cork at the end of September. It has more than 300 four-star cabins and capacity for 1,860 passengers, 440 cars and 30 trucks. It boasts a cinema, shops, and comfortable kennels for pets! The service will connect directly with the M4 motorway to London, saving 600km on the round trip. Information

Ciaran Fitzgerald, of the Blue Haven Hotel and Old Bank Guesthouse in Kinsale, said the decision to invest money in the project was a "no-brainer" for business people, many of whom took loans of €10k each to invest.

"We get to control the future of the ferry and tourism in west Cork. It was being launched at a very difficult time but maybe, in a way, that helped raise funds as people said they had to do something, and this had the potential to bring back the valuable Swansea Cork business very quickly," he said.

Sunday Independent

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