The 'C' Class comprises a trio of sisters - Cenred, Cenwulf and Caedmon. They are now over thirty four years old and their replacement has been discussed for at least two decades! Finally, Wightlink, the ferry operator, has got new tonnage on the way in the form of the 'Wight' Class, which are being built in Croatia.
The 'C' Class were proceeded by a larger and less successful near-sister, the Cuthred, introduced in 1969. She was built for the Portsmouth - Fishbourne route but did not have a happy career due to being woefully underpowered and was subsequently withdrawn in 1986. The later sisters were introduced in the mid-70s and were a great advancement on the small and rather basic car ferries they replaced.
The Cenred and Cenwulf were introduced on the Lymington - Yarmouth route while Caedmon was pressed into action on Portsmouth - Fishbourne duties, switching to the Lymington route with her sisters following the introduction of the 'Saints' at Portsmouth. Since the mid-80s the three ships have spent most of their time on the Lymington - Yarmouth link with occasional visits to Portsmouth for overhauls and deputising for the 'Saints' when they've been out of service.
The 'Wight' Class ships which will replace Cenred, Cenwulf and Caedmon don't look terribly dissimilar and in terms of size are only slightly larger. The reason for this being the narrow navigable channel of the Lymington River and fears that anything larger would cause an unacceptable amount of wash, damaging the river bank environment. Environmental concerns is the main reason why the introduction of these new ships has been so protracted. Full details of the new Wight Sky, Wight Sun and Wight Light can be found on the Wightlink web site.
It will be sad to see the 'C' trio disappear as they are the last of what I would term 'traditional' ferries to serve the Isle of Wight. The former 'Castles' operated by Red Funnel were replaced by the modern-looking 'Raptor' Class ships some years ago and the Shearwater hydrofoils are now a distant memory as are the Southsea and Brading, the classic passenger ships that served the Portsmouth to Ryde route. Since 1986 this has been in the hands of high-speed catamarans and is also shortly to see investment in new ships, albeit catamarans again. Even the 'Saints' used on the Portsmouth - Fishbourne route are to see changes with two being 'jumboised' and one of the four original 'Saints' likely to be withdrawn altogether.
Finally the closest to a 'classic scene' on the Lymington to Yarmouth route in the 70s & early 80s as it is possible to get. Here is unit 1497 restored in a not entirely authentic BR livery of the 1970s at Lymington Pier awaiting departure with the branch service to Brockenhurst. In the distance is Caedmon, loading for her return crossing to Yarmouth. Now, if only she'd been repainted in BR Sealink colours this scene could easily have been mistaken for the late 70s!