Loading the Queenscliff-Sorrento car ferry

A while back I wrote about the history of the Queenscliff – Sorrento car ferry and the two very similar vessels that are used on the service – MV Queenscliff and MV Sorrento. So how do they get such a massive ferry into the berth and loaded up with around 80 car during a 20 minute turnaround?

Empty car deck of the MV Sorrento

Built to the same basic design, each vessel has an opening door at the bow and a hinged ramp at the stern, allowing cars to drive straight through the ferry without needing to turn around inside the car deck. With the two ferries crossing each other in the middle of the bay mid-voyage, while one ferry is loading cars at Queenscliff the other one will be doing the same over at Sorrento.

On the eastbound voyage cars drive aboard the ferry at Queenscliff via the bow door and leave via the stern ramp at Sorrento, with the reverse applying for the westbound voyage. So lets start at the Bellarine Peninsula end.

Ferries approach Queenscliff Harbour at speed, only slowing when they reach the ferry terminal at the tip of Larkin Parade.

MV Queenscliff crosses the bay, Pope's Eye and Chinaman's Hat in the background

On arrival at Queenscliff the ferry makes a straight in approach to the berth, lining up the bow door with the concrete ramp along the wharf.

Overview of the Queenscliff ferry terminal, with MV Queenscliff arriving

At the berth a number of concrete mooring dolphins are used keeping the ferry in place during loading and unloading operations: three on the port side along the breakwater, with a single dolphin at the bow on the starboard side.

MV Sorrento arrives at the Queenscliff ferry berth

Once the ferry is tied up, the bow door can be opened and the cars driven off by their drivers.

Cars drive off the ferry at Queenscliff, cars to the left waiting to drive on

The next load of cars can then be loaded – but this time they face the stern of the ferry.

Bow door open of MV Queenscliff, cars driving on

At departure time the ferry reverses out of the berth, with the captain swinging the stern end around towards Swan Island using the bow thrusters.

MV Queenscliff turns around at Queenscliff, on the way to Sorrento

After the bow is clear of the breakwater, the captain can then engage the main propellers and head on towards Sorrento.

After turning around, MV Queenscliff departs Queenscliff

On arrival at Sorrento the captain slows some distance away from the pier, as a number of smaller boats use the nearby boat ramp.

Car ferry arrving at Sorrento pier

By the time the ferry has passed the pier, the captain is using the controls on the starboard side of the wheelhouse, in order to get a better view of the berth.

MV Sorrento arrives at the Sorrento ferry terminal

The next step is to swing the ferry around, and reverse in: six concrete mooring dolphins surround the berth so it is a tight fit, with only a metre or two clearance along each side.

Reverse parking the car ferry at Sorrento

The reverse parking move is over once the ferry touches the rear set of dolphins, after which the mooring ropes are tied up and the stern ramp lowered, allowing the cars to be unloaded.

Unloading the ferry MV Sorrento at Sorrento

The next load of cars can then be driven aboard, facing the opposite direction to the cars that just departed.

Loading the car ferry at Sorrento

When departure time comes it is a speedy getaway: up goes the stern ramp, and the ferry powers straight out of the berth, making a 90 degree turn and then heading back across the bay to Queenscliff.

Departure time for the car ferry at Sorrento

The car ferry passes fishermen packing up

It looks like it is home time for me as well!


Loading the much larger Spirit of Tasmania ferry has always intrigued me – I’ll have to book a trip on it just to find out how they do it.

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7 Responses to “Loading the Queenscliff-Sorrento car ferry”

  1. Andrew says:

    I’ve learnt more from this than I have from watching the ferry depart and arrive at Queenscliff quite a number of times. There is a nice cafe at Station Pier where you can watch the Spirit unloading and loading. The freight loading is quite interesting.

  2. Andrew says:

    A bit more. I am unsure if it is hired or owned by the company but there a barge like vessel to supplement the service on the day of Around the Bay bike ride.

    • Marcus says:

      That’d probably be the ‘Peninsula Princess’ – it was what they used until the first ‘big’ ferry arrived 1993, and still appears on a random basis today:

      'Peninsula Princess' off Chinaman's Hat on Port Phillip

  3. enno says:

    It was 30 years ago, this week I think, that I last caught the Sorrento-Queenscliff ferry.

    I don’t think it was a car ferry in those days.

    It was a Wednesday. It was darn hot. Lizzie and I took the ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliff and back. I don’t remember much about the ride. I recall telling some incredulous German tourists about the disappearance of Harold Holt. I don’t think we even got off the boat at Queenscliff.

    It was darn hot. By 1 PM, I had drunk four litres of coca-cola. The woman in the store told me it was 44 degrees. At Flinders, that’s hot !

    I remember driving over Red Hill, about 6 PM, and seeing nothing but smoke. It was darn hot.

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