Ilfracombe’s boat comes in!

Joseph Bulmer

The long awaited visit of the cruise ship MS Prinsendam is hailed a success as Ilfracombe welcomes hundreds to passengers to North Devon

ILFRACOMBE rolled out the welcome mat in style today (Friday) to great its first cruise ship visit for several years.

As the stately MS Prinsendam anchored off the town just after 7am this morning, final touches were put to the eagerly awaited visit, with local dignitaries, music and entertainment waiting to greet hundreds of the ship’s 700-plus guest as they arrived on shore.

All were met by Ilfracombe Mayor Rod Donovan and the Mayoress, Councillor Janice Donovan, together with Town Crier Roy Goodwin in full regalia and his wife Bea, plus the Chairman of North Devon Council Geoff Fowler.

The 38,000 liner is the sister ship to the larger MS Rotterdam, also owned by the Holland America Line, whose visit on May 29 had to be cancelled because poor weather was forecast, so there was a little anxiety as organisers watched the weather forecast and hoped their efforts weren’t in vain.

A number of the visitors had pre-booked excursions to North Devon attractions including Exmoor, Woolacombe and Chambercombe Manor and they were the first to arrive onshore before setting off in coaches for their destinations.

Mostly American, Canadian and New Zealanders, the guests were clearly delighted with the effusive welcome that Ilfracombe Town and North Devon councils plus Harbourmaster Rob Lawson and the Ilfracombe Tourism Marketing Group as well as local business, community organisations and the police have been busy planning for the past several months.

“It looks lovely,” said Maryann Coons from Virginia, as she stepped ashore with husband Jay.

“When we came ashore the view was certainly striking and we definitely like Devonshire – better a few hours here than nothing.”

When the non stop shuttling of guests to shore by the Prinsedam’s motor launches had been completed, it was the turn of the Mayor and his wife to visit the ship.

They met Captain Tim Roberts and some of his officers, and presented the captain with a framed copy of the Ilfracombe Windows poster created by local architecture enthusiast Bob Mannings.

The captain presented them with a Holland America Line plaque as a memento of the visit.

He told the North Devon Gazette the company never repeated the same cruise twice and always varied the routes from its customers.

“We have a lot of guests who we call ‘port collectors,’ for example there is one on board who has more than 600 hours of cruising with Holland America,” he said.

“So Ilfracombe is top of their list because it is considered so unusual. The access is slightly challenging but apart from that it is very scenic and a part of England that can be accessed from the coast.”

After the presentation there was a great deal of excitement as the RAF Seaking Search and Rescue helicopter began hovering over the ship and a crewmember was winched on to the deck.

As Prinsendam crew members appeared in fire fighting attire, the Captain explained they had agreed to assist the RAF by talking part in a training exercise.

Those who had remained on board were then treated to a ring side seat as the helicopter performed a number of deft flying and winching operations right beside and above the liner.

Speaking of the visit, the Mayor, Cllr Rod Donovan said: “I think it has been very very successful and all the visitors said they were very pleased to be here in Ilfracombe and enjoyed the welcome they had.

“It’s been a big day for Ilfracombe and certainly there’s a really nice atmosphere in the town.”

NDC chairman Cllr Geoff Fowler added: “It shows the type of hospitality we can lay on to attract cruises here. They seemed pleased to be here and look forward to exploring the town and surrounding attractions – I think Devon cream teas were also high on their list!”

Philip Webb, town and district councillor as well as chairman of the Tourism Marketing Group, said: “It’s a great relief to the people of Ilfracombe to see the ship here. The first thing I did at 7.10am was look outside and the ship was sitting there!

“It’s great to see the Mayor, the Town Crier and the Victorian Committee giving such a warm welcome to all the guests.”

* READ more and see more pictures in the North Devon Gazette this Wednesday.