About NI Ferry Site

On this page you can find out more about the NI Ferry Site project, and how it started.

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The NIFS story

I have been interested in ferries for as long as I can remember.  My first trip would have been on a rail-connected service either from Larne to Stranraer or Belfast to Heysham.  Unfortunately my parents can’t remember which, and as I was only a baby neither can I!  The first trip I do remember was when I was about 7 from Portaferry to Strangford during a school trip, this would be the first of many (the vessel was MV Strangford).  However, I remember being absolutely obsessed as an almost 5 year old with the unfortunate Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, after seeing the famous pictures of the vessel capsized onto a sandbank near Zeebrugge.  There was something fascinating about seeing one of these huge vessels lying on its side that even to this day I can not explain. 

The first trip on a ‘big’ ferry I remember was in 1991 on-board the not long renamed Stena Galloway.  Unfortunately that was a memorable trip for all the wrong reasons!  1992 saw a trip on the ‘new’ Pride of Ailsa and Pride of Rathlin for that years family holiday – the Pride of Rathlin looked far from ‘new’ when she came alongside at Larne despite what P&O’s marketing at the time would have us believe!   

The following year a school trip to Belgium cemented my obsession.  The trip involved a return crossing from Dover to Calais on the superb Fiesta and Stena Fantasia, ferries which were a huge contrast in comparison to those I had experienced on the North Channel.  Of course, back in 1993 Ostend itself was a hub of ferry activity with the new Prins Filip crossing to Dover from the port as well as the veteran Princesse Marie-Christine, Prins Albert, Reine Astrid, and of course the twin Boeing Jetfoils Prinses Stephanie and Princesse Clemetine!  There was also a return trip on the Breskens to Vlissingen ferry involved, though unfortunately I can’t remember the 2 specific vessels.  Unfortunately most of those vessels have gone the way of the Ostend ferry service itself, which no longer operates (despite efforts to restore a crossing to Ramsgate).  I get the feeling my teachers and parents were somewhat disappointed (though maybe not shocked) that most of the pictures taken (and postcards purchased) on that trip were of ferries – after all I had just been to 3 of the major English Channel ferry ports!

Fast-forward a couple of decades (and numerous ferry trips via Cairnryan, Liverpool  Heysham, and Brikenhead), and after a number of years when I lost interest, I caught the ferry bug again.  I can’t think of any single incident or trigger, but on learning that there was no website covering ferries in Northern Ireland I was shocked and disappointed to say the least.  I found myself relying on the likes of the now defunct Mersey shipping website and the Ferries of Northern Europe yahoo group for information.  The excellent Larne Ferry Web was also a go-to place but unfortunately it hasn’t been updated for some time and has been offline for a number of years.  The internet has made being a ferry enthusiast much easier – no longer is the only source of information outside your immediate area books, magazines, and whatever your friends might pass on to you.  There are many excellent ferry websites out there, Dover Ferry Photos and the HHV Ferry Page (sadly not updated as much as it used to be) immediately spring to mind.  However, I felt there was a bit of a “gap in the market’ and so at the end of 2013 with the encouragement of a few friends, decided to create a ferry website myself.  Unfortunately my circumstances at the time meant the project was put on hold until the following year, when the lack of coverage on the beaching of the trio of former Fleetwood ferries in February prompted me to finally bite the bullet and cobble together a website using WordPress on some web space I already owned.  A few years later and that cobbled together website with a single post has grown into something much bigger with the milestone of 1000 posts fast approaching, and is hosted on its on webspace account.

Our Contributors

Unless otherwise stated, articles and any writing are my own.  We are lucky to have a number of photographic contributors, including (but not limited to) Scott Mackey, Gary Andrews, Gordon Hislip, Alan Geddes, Andrew Orr, and Ross McDonald.  In addition we also have photographic contributions from further afield, and from the ferry companies themselves.  Stena Line and Seatruck have been particularly supportive in this way.  The site also makes use of work which is “open source” such as that by Albert Bridge.  There is a strict policy of protecting the rights of copyright holders on the site, and as a result of the theft of an article and accompanying images from the site at the end of 2016, all images are now watermarked apart from a few exceptions (specifically were the license for image use prohibits modification).

Technical Information

Hosting

The site had been hosted from its creation in 2014 by Surpass in the US on a legacy hosting plan originally purchased over 10 years previously for a personal website.  Until NIFS was launched the main use of this hosting plan was for email.  However, on April 7th 2017 the site moved to a new home in Germany with 1&1 internet, having outgrown the Surpass account.  Some technical issues and a case of ‘the right offer at the right time’ led to another, seamless, move to UK based TSO.  This new host offers a more up to date platform which is better optimised for WordPress, and has plenty of room to allow the site to grow both in physical size and in terms of traffic.  The site is now hosted on TSO’s cloud platform meaning that rather than just being served from one server, NI Ferry Site is severed from 12 servers concurrently for added reliability and speed.  The move from Surpass allowed us to move to the latest version of php, php 7.1, for even more speed and reliability.  Although php 5.6 (as used at Surpass) still receives security updates, it is unsupported in terms of bug fixes.  It is also much slower, some say up to 3-4 times slower than php 7.x!   TSO not only own their purpose-built state-of-the-art UK data centre but also have a direct private dark-fibre link to 2 major UK points of presence.

By moving to a server in Europe (now the UK), access and page load times were reduced significantly, even before the addition of AWS Cloudfront CDN (see ‘Content Delivery’ below).  

SSL Encryption/Security

Since April 2017 the NIFS site uses an SSL security certificate, initially provided by Geotrust/Symantec, then LetsEncrypt on the www.niferry.co.uk domain.  The use of SSL ensures secure transmission of data between our servers and our visitors computers.  Until recently SSL has been almost exclusively been used to encrypt data on e-comerce and banking sites.  However, lower costs mean it is now a viable option for all websites (depending on host support).  We are one of the very first Ferry Enthusiast sites to adopt SSL for all data transmitted to and from our site, indeed some of the ferry operators themselves have yet to provide SSL encryption outside of their online payment/ticketing gateway.  You can check if a site is using SSL by seeing if there is a closed padlock (usually grey or green) in the address bar.  Please note that our SSL certificate does not cover external links.

 

 

Domains

The main www.niferry.co.uk domain was registered alongside www.niferry.com with 1&1 in January 2017, before they became our webhost.  Due to the way contracts work with 1&1, these had to be terminated and moved to TSO when we moved host – thankfully this was a seamless transition.  The original www.niferrysite.co.uk domain was registered with GoDaddy back in 2014.  Both www.niferrysite.co.uk and www.niferry.com are set to redirect to www.niferry.co.uk which serves encrypted content using the HTTPS protocol.

Content Delivery (CDN )                

The images on NI Ferry Site had been served via the WordPress Photon Content Delivery Network almost from day one, but since the change of host in April 2017 all static files including images and JavaScript are served via Amazon’s AWS Cloudfront CDN service.  The use of a CDN service significantly reduces the load on the site host whilst also improving site speeds by serving assets from multiple locations simultaneously.  The AWS network consists of over 70 edge locations and 10 regional edge caches (at time of writing, April 2017). Included in the 25 edge locations based in Europe alone (more than some CDN’s provide globally) are 4 locations in London and one in Dublin.  Where possible the site assets are cached using the W3 total cache plugin which also delivers content to AWS. The use of AWS significantly speeds up the site, especially when accessed from outside Europe, and provides more security as files are not only hosted away from our own webservers, but also mirrored at around 60 (and counting) locations around the world.   All content served from the CloudFront CDN is encrypted using a certificate issued by Amazon Certificate Authority.

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