Battlestar Galactica. That’s what I thought she looked like as we sat on the dockside in our coach, awaiting to board the Stena Discovery. It was a college trip to Amsterdam, it was the year 2000 and I was making my first trip on this incredible craft. It looked like no other vessel I had ever seen, more spacecraft than seacraft. I immediately knew I was going to like her.
But now the HSS Discovery is no more. The High Speed Ship may have been fast, but she was still overtaken by global economics. With this post we pay tribute to the passing of an engineering marvel right up there with Concorde and the Lego Technic Unimog.
The HSS Discovery was enormous. At 415′ long by 131′ wide, the HSS ferries were the world’s biggest passenger catamarans. She could carry 1500 gobsmacked passengers and around 375 cars. Using brute force, she cut the crossing time on the 127 mile Harwich to Hoek Van Holland route by half, through the simple expedient of being able to cruise at 41 knots.
I will never forget my first crossing on the Discovery. I remember the sound of the turbines first winding into life before cast-off, then feeling the second phase of acceleration once we left the speed-limited estuary and really starting to fly. I remember the North Sea having a bit of a chop to it, enough to cause the local powerboats to struggle in the swell. There was a Fairline Phantom 38 ploughing its way through the waves, nominally quite a quick boat for its size and it was certainly making 25 knots worth of wake, but then we came up in the Discovery and passed as if it were standing still.
Meanwhile I was sitting in an extremely comfortable chair, drinking a very well made Cappucino.
The wizardry behind this extraordinary turn of speed was found in the guise of four gas turbines, two big ones and two really big ones, running via enormous KaMeWa waterjets. There were two General Electric LM1600s, marinized versions of the F404 engine as found in the F/A18 hornet and good for 20,000 shaft horse power a piece. That’s quite a lot, but nothing compared to the two LM2500s also fitted. These behemoths are based on the CF6 high-bypass turbofan as found on Boeing 747s. 33,000shp, if you’re asking.
She could do 24 knots on just the smaller engines, 32 on just the big ones. Running all four takes you beyond 40 knots. Unladen her record was 51kts. Ridiculously fast.
Of course, for an operator, having a ship as magnificent as this is pointless unless it makes you money, and ultimately that was something that the Discovery eventually found herself unable to do sufficiently well. The same was true of her Stena Voyager sister. Everybody loved the extra speed of the services and HSS crossings weren’t priced a lot higher than on conventional ferries. OK, Stena Line could fit more crossings in per day, but factor in the increased price of fuel as time went by and the profit margins just weren’t big enough. The Discovery was taken out of service by Stena in 2007.
She was sold to be operated under the Ferrymar brand and went Venezuela where presumably cheaper fuel was available, but only served briefly and moved again to Curacao. Here she was laid up awaiting further trade but found herself in legal quagmire over allegations of “irregulatory trade of diesel from the ballast tanks”.
The next step was inevitable and was the same doom that meets anything made out of metal. There always comes a time where the value of the material that something is built from exceeds the value it has as a going concern. Over ten thousand tonnes of mixed metals were involved in building the Discovery, and nineteen years later on they were ready to be used in building something else. This is known only too well by Stena who commissioned the HSS series in the first place; sister vessel Stena Voyager was demolished and recycled in 2013 at Stena’s own facility.
The Discovery’s last voyage wasn’t under her own power. She was towed an enormous distance to Aliaga, Turkey, where she would meat the same fate as so many high-speed ferries, albeit none quite her scale. Soon she would find herself beached, then the gas axes would join in concert to reduce her to parts small enough for the smelter.
This photo was taken in August and I doubt very much that there’s anything much left. Which leads me to contemplate where high-speed marine travel goes from here. If the HSS series has been ultimately stymied by running costs, despite being the most advanced, efficient ships they could possibly have been, what chance have we of ever seeing a true replacement?
Ironically, had today’s lower fuel prices and far lower scrap values been the case seven years ago I doubt the HSS Series would have seen the breakers torches quite so soon.
(All photographs stolen from various corners of the internet via Google Search. Please contact us if you’re cross)