The Maiden Arrival of the Symphony.
12-03-95 to 14-03-95. Durban-Durban
The loss of the Achille Lauro in 1994, left a sizable gap in the cruising market in South Africa. Fortunately, local agent Starlight Cruises and StarLauro were quick to fill this gap. The ship chosen was the SYMPHONY, formerly known as the Enrico Costa. Strangely enough, the Amerikanis, which was booked to do cruises in our waters, could have filled this gap but had been withdrawn by Chandris.
The Symphony was originally built for Societe Generale de Transports Maritimes a Vapeur S.A. as the Provence, by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, England. Intended for the South American service, she was completed in March 1951. Her principle dimensions were: length 579ft. beam 73ft. draught 25,43ft. She was powered by Parsons steam turbines, single reduction geared to drive twin screws, developing 15000 s.h.p. giving a cruising speed of 18 Knots. She undertook her first voyage for Costa Cruises under charter on April 5, 1957. Finally purchased by Costa in 1965 and refitted, her accommodation being altered to provide 218 1st class, and 980 tourist class berths, her name was changed by Costa to Enrico C. In 1972 she was again refitted to cater for 750 single class passengers in 373 cabins, she was based in the Mediterranean and operated under the name Enrico Costa with a revised GRT of 16 495 tons.
The Enrico had originally been scheduled to visit South Africa in late 1992 as competition for the Achille, however the holding company, Tollgate Holdings, collapsed following massive fraud by its management. This resulted in the cancellation of the ship and smiles all around for Starlight Cruises.
The ship was then acquired by StarLauro as a replacement for the Achille Lauro and was not totally prepared for the coming season with a scratch crew and portions of the ship unpainted. Obviously her refit was not 100% completed and she was rushed to South Africa. She had been re-engined in 1989/1990 and passed all safety inspections in South Africa and Europe. The inspections in South Africa being particularly stringent as a result of remarks made by irresponsible “shipping historians” in South Africa. Quite a lot of original Costa equipment was still on board when she arrived here, although this was being changed as the season progressed.
Enrico Costa Deck Plans
Our visit to the Symphony.
Rudi, Eric and myself made the 5 hour, 570 kilo trip to Durban on the evening of 27 December to see the vessel. Due to bad weather she was 3,5 hours late arriving. Eventually making her appearance, listing to starboard and with clouds of black smoke erupting from her funnel.
First impressions were of a classic old lady with beautiful lines and promising decks. Once on board however, chaos reigned. Passengers were not yet disembarked due to problems with a stowaway and immigration. Cabins were not yet made up and crew were all over cleaning and making the ship ready for the soon to embark passengers. We had caught them unprepared!
As preferred we had no guided tour, so we commenced from the lower deck, working our way upwards. We were in for a surprise on this ship, her lower deck inside berths were really claustrophobic, with very low deckheads and a plethora of passages. There was a definite shortage of maps below deck and it was very difficult to find your way around. The lowest three passenger decks; Capri, Bordighera and Amalfi are given over to cabins while the upper and promenade deck have the restaurant, and “taverna” respectively. A narrow promenade deck runs around the vessel, giving access to the very busy foredeck. The Lounge deck has the balance of public rooms and two pools aft while the sun deck has another pool and a lido area where a buffet would be served.
There was no denying that the Symphony was an old ship, she had that solid feel about her and there was still a lot of woodwork present in her public rooms. I got the impression that she was left to decline somewhat in her latter years and not enough time has elapsed for her new owners to really make something out of her.
Sailing was delayed by two hours, causing the light to fail and the passengers to get more impatient, after all they had been waiting for a long time to get on board. Eventually, after 17H30 she singled up and with much fanfare and blowing of horns pulled out into the harbour and sailed out of the channel. The reason for our being there was gone, so we left too!
A seed had been planted though, and Rudi and I persuaded ourselves that we needed to try out this oldie while she was still available. The only voyage we could really do was a quick in and out of Durban in March 1995. We also managed to lay our hands on a large VHS video camera and I did not take too many photographs during the trip. In fact I do not even seem to have written a coherent voyage report on the trip, or if I did it has not survived to be a part of my webpage.
Between when we had first seen her and the cruise the vessel had settled down into a comfortable routine and was proving to be very popular with passengers. She was definitely an improvement on the Achille, although prices on board were still too steep. She was however only scheduled to do one season in our waters which is why we did the trip in the first place.
We had an enjoyable short flip, and as usual we did not get to do or see everything, although I do recall I had somewhat of a bladder problem after overdoing the midnight buffet. We were also very fortunate to go into her engine room while at sea and her chief engineer was extremely proud of the machinery (like most chief engineers are). She also had a beautiful wood paneled bridge that was from a totally different age.
Lots of unfair criticism was leveled at the ship before she had a chance to arrive and settle down. True, she was an old ship, yes she was not the QE2. However the Titanic was a new ship, and the QE2 has some real plumbing problems. Her lovely open decks and cool promenades made her the ideal ship for our warm climate, and her size would help her in rough weather. There were no pretenses about her age and her origins. She was a proper ship, and very comfortable and sea kindly.
When we disembarked I hoped that we would see her again, and I did get a chance for a second voyage on her, but that is another story for later in this blog.
DRW. © 1992-2019. Last updated 03 Aug 2004. Edited 03 September 2012. Moved to blog 09/12/2013, additional images added 01/03/2019