Ulysses: Design and Construction
A First for Freight Capability
The as yet unnamed ferry was to be the first to incorporate four full-height freight decks allowing her to carry an impressive 4,100 lane metres of freight, around twice the amount of the ISLE OF INISHMORE. The fourth freight deck was born out of necessity as the new vessel would have to fit the constraints of Dublin Port, but Irish Ferries had set their sights on doubling freight capacity while still only using the one ship in order to achieve greater economies of scale. At the time of her introduction, ULYSSES was the largest ferry in the world in terms of lane metre capacity and deadweight.
The solution arrived at by the design team at Rauma involved tapering the superstructure of the vessel to compensate for having the weight of a freight deck so high up the vessel. This is known as “tumblehome” in naval architecture. When delivered the vessel would physically be one of the largest in the world (SILJA SYMPHONY was slightly shorter in length but of greater gross tonnage), and would also have the largest theoretical car capacity – some 1,342 cars when a mezzanine deck is deployed on the top freight deck. Only the upper freight deck is fitted with platforms to form a mezzanine car deck. This mezzanine is accessed from the bow via a curved fixed ramp on the port side from the entrance to the main deck – an innovation at the time but one which has been used on subsequent vessels. A similar ramp is also used at the stern of the vessel, also positioned on the port side. This speeds loading and unloading and also puts the majority of car passengers closer to the passenger accommodation.
Despite the motivation behind ordering the new vessel being based around moving more freight, ULYSSES would not compromise on passenger facilities with the usual lounges, restaurants, a twin screen cinema, dedicated freight drivers lounge, passenger cabins, and even a 487 person capacity traditional Irish pub.
The name Ulysses was chosen via an earlier public competition, winning due to both being the name of a famous novel about Dublin by James Joyce as well as also being the latin name for the hero of Greek mythology, the Greek king Odysseus who was cursed by Poseidon to wander the seas for ten years. As the James Joyce novel chronicled a day in the life of Leopold Bloom in the city of Dublin, it was decided to theme the passenger areas of the new ship around the novel.
Arrival and entry into service
ULYSSES‘ first arrival in Dublin Bay was at 07:00 on Sunday 4th March following a six-day voyage from Finland. She then made her way into her home port for the first time around midday. Following a period of crew training and familiarisation, drills, and berthing trials the new vessel was blessed and named on the 21st of March. She then entered service two days later with a 12:15 departure from Dublin to Holyhead. ULYSSES has remained on the same route ever since, only straying for refits and dry docking.
Until recently it could be claimed that ULYSSES had never missed a sailing, whatever the weather. This was in no small part to the high specification of her machinery and the fact she was designed specifically for the Holyhead to Dublin route (despite being based on an Aker concept design) and resulted in her becoming known as one of the most reliable ferries in the world.
This remarkable reliability made her even more popular with freight customers, who depend on the ferry running to be able to meet their own customers’ deadlines. During December 2013 ULYSSES was joined on her route by the chartered Visentini Ropax EPSILON on weekdays, to further increase freight capacity on the Holyhead route – even ULYSSES had been outgrown by the market.
It had been expected that newly constructed RoPax W.B. YEATS would replace EPSILON on the Autumn/Winter schedule from 2018 to release the latter for a week-round Dublin to Cherbourg service, however delays to her delivery now mean that OSCAR WILDE will fill in as
Most recent Belfast visit
ULYSSES‘ 17th year of service proved more challenging than others with technical problems plaguing the vessel and forcing her to be cancelled on several occasions. Her reputation as one of the most reliable ferries in the world was challenged in 2018, with rudder problems leading to the cancellation of a number of sailings early in the year.
In late-June following a period of a few days operating at reduced speed, ULYSSES made her way to Belfast Lough, arriving at around 11 pm on 26/06/2018 to anchor off Bangor. During the afternoon of 28/06/18, she left the anchorage for Harland & Wolff, arriving in Belfast Dry Dock at around 5 pm for what is understood to be a replacement propeller shaft and repairs to her starboard controllable pitch propeller. At present the vessel is still in Belfast Dry Dock, with Irish Ferries saying that she should return to the route by the morning of July 6th. This was delayed after the discovery of further technical issues with the vessel remaining in Belfast Dry Dock for most of the month of July.
€4m 2019 Refit
During January 2019 ULYSSES went for another dry docking, though this time at Cammell Laird Birkenhead. She returned to the Dublin – Holyhead route four weeks later on February 13th. In addition to the normal hull cleaning, painting, and general maintenance the significant €4m investment also included new propellers, new rudder components, a full refurbishment of her stern thruster, engine overhauls and vehicle deck repainting. Following this work ULYSSES appeared to shake off the reliability problems which plagued 2018.
On the January
- ULYSSES won the Lloyds List Cruise and Ferry 2001 award for ‘Most Significant Newbuild – Ferry’
- ULYSSES has often been promoted as the ‘largest car ferry in the world’, however this is based on her purely theoretical car capacity if no other vehicles are carried. Even before ULYSSES was launched she was far eclipsed in terms of physical size by vessels such as the 13 deck high 58,376gt SILJA SYMPHONY which entered service a decade before. ULYSSES is currently the 5th largest ferry (in terms of tonnage) serving the British Isles, behind Stena Line’s STENA BRITANNICA / STENA HOLLANDICA (currently the longest ferries in Europe along with STENA GERMANICA and STENA SCANDINAVIA) and P&O Ferries PRIDE OF HULL / PRIDE OF ROTTERDAM. The current largest ferry in the world in terms of tonnage is the 223m long COLOR MAGIC, which coincidentally replaced KRONPRINS HARALD (iii) – the vessel which later became Irish Ferries’ OSCAR WILDE before she was sold in 2019, becoming GNV ALLEGRA.
- By the time ULYSSES was ordered, interior designer Claus Horn had entered semi-retirement. He did, however, retain Irish Ferries as a client and employed his daughter Camilla to work on the ULYSSES and JONATHAN SWIFT projects with him. Camilla Horn would later lead the interior design team for Irish Ferries next new-build, W.B. YEATS.
- W.B. YEATS uses the same type of engines, the MaK M43, as ULYSSES albeit in their modern 8-cylinder rather than 9-cylinder guise. This is despite being delivered almost two decades after ULYSSES was ordered. Stena RoRo has also specified this engine type as the main power plant for their E-Flexer class. The reliability of the MaK M43 and its need for little maintenance were factors in its selection for both Irish Ferries and Stena RoRo. The vessel which will displace ULYSSES, FSG hull 777, has not been specified with these engines, however.
Irish Continental Group
Aker Finnyards Oy, Rauma, Finland
SBA Marine, Finland
KAEFER Eristystekniikka Oy, Finland
Naval Interior Team (NIT), Finland
01.09.2000 (floated out)
Interior design (original)
Claus & Camilla Horn (Denmark)
Current Call Sign
C4HP2 (previously EICB until Jan 2006)
Lloyds Register of Shipping
LR + 100 A1, Ice Class 1A, Roll on/Roll off Cargo & Passenger Ship + LMC, UMS, NAV1, IBS, SCM, IWS
Length overall (between perpendiculars)
6.4 (6.6m scantling)
10,722 (6.6m draught)
9.665 (6.4m draught)
Total number of decks
3 (decks 9, 10, and 11)
5* (*assuming the mezzanine plates are deployed on deck 7 to form deck 8)
22kts @ 85% MCR
Current Passenger Capacity
Passenger Cabin Berths
Current Vehicle Capacity
4.076 lane metres
125 (83 crew cabins are provided totalling 121 berths)
Onboard Facilities in use
Home Port / Flag
Limassol / Cyprus (since 01.02.06)
Dublin / Ireland (until 2006)
Click the image below to enlarge
Books and other publications
The below links are affiliate links. If you follow one of these links and choose to make a purchase this website will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. By purchasing through one of these links you are directly helping to keep this resource free for all.
- Id, K., & Peter, B. (2017). Innovation and Specialisation: The Story of Shipbuilding in Finland. Copenhagen: Nautilus Forlag.
- Cowsill, M., & Merrigan, J. (2013). Irish Ferries: An Ambitious Voyage.Ramsey: Ferry Publications trading as Lily Publications Ltd
- Brogren, Klas (Ed.) (2001). “ULYSSES”. Shippax Designs 01
The above article is Copyright © Steven Tarbox, all rights reserved. Unauthorised reproduction or distribution is strictly prohibited. All images are Copyright © of the credited copyright holder unless explicitly stated otherwise.
Format Update: 14.01.19 (Prepared for 2019 format and converted to Gutenberg)