These were not times of flexible working hours and more vacation time than you can use. My Dad had just a fortnight for his holiday, and was determined to make the most of it. So we left home straight after he finished work on the Friday evening and drove to Dover for the midnight sailing, arrived in Zeebrugge just after 4, and hit the road straight away. I remember a much needed snooze break somewhere near the Belgium-Luxembourg border! Crossing at night is not the best for enjoying the view, but it is fun watching the lights of the distant shore getting ever larger and closer, and wondering exactly which dot corresponds to where you are eventually going to dock. But one of the downsides of crossing in a ro-ro ferry is that you always need to be back in your car by the time the boat docks and you can never be on deck to watch your final arrival.
17 years later, in 1987, the MS Herald of Free Enterprise capsized as it left Zeebrugge harbour bound for Dover resulting in the death of 193 passengers and crew, by far the worst accident of the modern era on the cross-Channel ferries. As so often the accident was caused by a combination of events. The direct reason was that the bow loading doors remained open while the ship was under way allowing water to flood into the vehicle deck and destabilise the vessel. But underlying all this was that the cross-Channel ferries had become a very competitive business, and the operators had been pushing the limits to make their services as efficient as possible. By then I had been living in Canada for 8 years, but the news of the accident still hit hard.