One of the many ships I was fortunate enough to visit was MV Marco Polo. when she called at Durban. She was originally one of five identical sisters of the Ivan Franko class and built by VEB Mathias-Thesen Werft, East Germany, for Baltic Shipping Company (BLASCO) and was completed in June of 1965. She was in service until 1990 when she was laid up.
A year later she was bought to form the nucleus of what was to become Orient Lines. Being extensively rebuilt for service around the world and to the Antarctica. She called in Durban on 2 December 1993 on her maiden call, and we were fortunate enough to be able to go on board for a ship visit.
A lot of work was being completed on board when we visited her, but we literally had the run of the vessel, including the engine room. The crew were very friendly, and went out of their way to provide us with any information (or goodies) that we wanted.
As at 2001 she measured in at 22080 GRT, with a capacity of 848, principal dimensions: 578x77x27. Ivan Franko Class: Ivan Franko, Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Shota Rustavelli, Taras Schevchenko.
In 1998 Orient Lines was acquired by NCL, who retained the brand and name and added in Crown Odyssey as a running mate. This was a short lived partnership, and Orient Lines was closed in 2008 and she was put on charter to Transocean Tours until they went bankrupt in 2009. She then passed to Cruise and Maritime Voyages who still operate her. She is a proper ship with a loyal following, but it is probable that her days are numbered. Crown Odyssey now operates for Fred Olsen as Balmoral.
Royal Viking Sun was scheduled to call on 22 November 1996, and we headed down to Durban to see her. Originally built in 1988 for Royal Viking Line, she was currently carrying the same name, but with Cunard branding. It was a confusing period in her history, but it is better explained on her website
As usual she was an early arrival, and I can see we went out on the pilot boat to drop off a pilot.
She was not a pretty ship, almost a bit top heavy and bulky, I think stretching may have improved her looks. She did however have a well deserved reputation as being a top ship in the world, and the prices for voyages on her reflected that reputation.
She had been in South Africa before, although on that occasion Royal Viking Line was still in operation. Once we had completed our pilot boating for the morning we dashed across to Ocean Terminal to do some photography. It can be quite a race to be there before the ship, fortunately they often swung the vessel before bringing her alongside while we would be navigating our way over speed bumps, security guards, railway lines and potholes, all the while trying to see where the ship was. Sometimes we got dropped off at the quayside by the pilot boat, although that usually meant we would have to hoof it back to where the car was parked.
I seem to recall there was somewhat of a ruction on board the pilot boat because the ship was not flying the courtesy flag, and of course people were muttering about getting hold of the APC and chasing her out of the harbour. The situation was remedied though, so no harm was done.
By now I think we were in the “lets change clothes quickly” mode for when we went ship visiting, and naturally would have used the dirtiest toilets in Durban for the purpose (the smell had to be seen to be believed, it was the sort of smell that had a life of its own, and that held down a steady job and had kids and attended church on a Sunday). Once on board we headed our own way, I know we had seen pics of her forward lounge and there had been a lot of pre-publicity about the ship in the local rag. The one thing I do recall about her was that she had a huge dining room, big enough to seat all the passengers in a single seating. That dining room was one whole deck!
I have to admit she was beautiful on board, really tastefully decorated and overall well maintained. The promenade deck was an attraction for me because I am a sucker for a prom deck.
Whereas the pool area did not really do much for me, but then I am not the type who finds lounging by the pool a lot of fun (that’s why we have promenade decks).
The visit was not particularly memorable, but that’s because you spend so little time on board and it is a rush to see everything as quick as possible, added to that the almost 6 hour road trip ahead of us in the middle of the night. I know, we must have been crazy, but looking back so many years later I can say that I am glad I did saw some of these ships because the amount of classics still afloat is small, at the time of writing she is now almost considered a classic ship.
Royal Viking Line is but a memory, and they had a wonderful reputation for efficiency and service. Their ships were always immaculate, and oddly enough during those dry days when we had almost no callers in our waters there was a Royal Viking Ship calling. I don’t know where they went wrong, it is possible that catering for the market that they did meant that they did not have mass appeal. However, the legacy that they left behind is surprisingly big with all of their ships still afloat and in service somewhere. How many other cruise lines can boast of that accomplishment?
Then it was time for us to get off as the ship started to embark passengers and those who had gone on tours around Durban. The weather was still quite good so it did hold out for a semi decent sailing.
Unfortunately though, the light was going fast as she swung from the quayside, and by the time she came into the channel it was becoming very difficult to photograph her with the low light.
And then she was gone. And there was no more reasons left for us to remain behind. So we headed off home.
Since 2002 Royal Viking Sun was operated by Holland America Line as Prinsendam. She does look better with the darker hull and the bulk is less noticeable.
In 2018 Prinsendam was sold to Phoenix Reisen but chartered back to HAL, and operated scheduled cruises until 1 July 2019. On 2 July 2019 she sailed to Blohm+Voss in Hamburg for conversion and on 12 August 2019 she left Hamburg for Bremerhaven for her first cruise on 16 August 2019 with Phoenix under the name Amera.
Having seen Vistafjord before, I was not all that keen to see Sagafjord, I found Vistafjord very disappointing, and didn’t really expect too much from Sagafjord, Her arrival in Durban was slated for 14 February 1994 and a ship visit was not confirmed. However, we never really let that stand in our way and we headed off for Durban on the evening of the 13th. We did not go out on the pilot boat to the ship, instead waited her out at North Pier, and looking at my images it seems as if she arrived in the late morning.
She was much better looking in real life than she is in pictures, and she wasn’t exactly small either. The one issue that worried us was an upcoming march/riot in Durban which was sure to interfere with passengers plans, but we held our breath anyway. Our biggest concern was actually getting on board!
She was berthed up at “N” shed, and immediately we were on the lookout for our contact. So far the chances of a ship visit were small, but we hung around the ship, trying our best to look inconspicuous. There was a lot of movement at the gangway and eventually our contact came, he had not been able to organise anything for us, but we were to stick around and he would try his best.
As time passed it became increasingly evident that we would have no joy, however our contact re-appeared and said that he was only able to organise for one person to go on board. Rudi, the person who organised the trip to see her was the obvious choice and we all sat down to wait his return. In fact he returned much quicker than we expected and said that he had asked that his “assistant” be allowed on board too, and I was the nominated assistant. And so it was up the gangplank I went. On board she was truly magnificent, she had a beautiful dining room and I will always remember the Caronia model she had on board. It was easy to see how she was always able to rate so highly in the cruising guides. As we roamed the passages we encountered some Scandinavian Stewardesses who asked if it was safe to go ashore. I was not sure how to answer them, the situation in Durban was tense with the march and associated violence, and I couldn’t help but wonder what impression that would leave on the passengers on board this ship. We did try to persuade them to come back to Johannesburg with us, but alas they declined.
We walked the ship flat, I had a video camera with me and was filming as much as I could, but it turned out later that the camera was an NTSC device and not compatible with our TV system in South Africa, so I never did see that video. Then it was time to go ashore. I seem to recall that she stayed overnight, and I know we watched her sail because I still have images of that sailing.
As usual we tore through the harbour to get to the North Pier before she entered the channel and then we settled won to watch her sail past us. A beautiful lady, and one that was to lead a long life as Sagafjord, and later as as Saga Rose. Sadly, her ending was not as wonderful and I believe she paused in South Africa for bunkers on her way to the breakers.
The week of 26-29 March 1996 was a busy one for our group of ship watchers. We had three ships lined up for that week, starting with Island Princess and ending with Holland America’s Rotterdam. In between these 2 visit was a cruise on board Rhapsody, but that isn’t covered in this blog entry. Of the three ships we experienced that week Rotterdam was easily the biggest and most impressive. Sadly though, she was on borrowed time, this being her last world cruise before she was sold out of the HAL fleet. There was talk of her being bought by Premier Cruises and being renamed “Big Red Boat Somethingorother” but she ended up operating as Rembrandt instead before ending up in layup where her future became increasingly more uncertain. My notes for her read as follows: “Built for Holland America Line. Launched 13/09/1958. Last in service with Premier Cruises lines as Big Red Boat IV, (apparently she never formally carried the name Big Red Boat IV) was to be re-enter service for Cruiseshares. However, citing forthcoming SOLAS regulations, CruiseShares indicated that they would not be putting her into service and she remained laid up at Freeport until May 2003 when it was announced that she had been bought by the Port of Rotterdam and her original builders who intend refitting her back to 1960’s style and using her as a static museum ship. In mid July 2004 she arrived at Cammel Laird in Gibraltar for further refurbishment before returning to Holland. Since moved to Poland for refurbishment and removal of hazardous material, then to Germany for more refurbishment. Due to enter service as a static hotel/museum in May 2008. This was delayed until 2010 and the ship has finally been opened to the public. ” Even today her future is still uncertain as rumours abound that she is up for sale.
On the day we arrived back from our cruise Rotterdam was waiting for us, having arrived the previous night to bunker. Our visit had been pre-arranged so it was just a matter of going on board. Like so many ships you only get to appreciate her size once you see her up close and personal, and Rotterdam was big. She has had a number of different liveries in her career, this time around she was in a dark blue with buff lifeboats, and nary a spot of dirt to be seen. The ship, both inside and out was immaculate.
In her early years she operated as a two class ship, but clever design ensured that it was not an obvious split. Her interiors seemed to originate from the 50’s and 60’s but it was not a jarring thing, if anything it lent her a lot of charm. This was not some mass market block of flats, but a very tastefully decorated, grand dame from the old days of passenger ship travel.
She has magnificent promenade decks, and was very well maintained. Our guide was on of the deck officers who was very proud of the ship and its heritage. The bridge was large and functional with a good view over her foredeck and bows.
Part of our visit included a trip to the engine room with its shining turbine installation and boilers. At the time of our visit most of the engine room was shut down with only 1 boiler fired to maintain electrical plant. From there we headed off for lunch at the buffet situated aft. The food was stunning compared to the mediocre meals on board Rhapsody.
Sadly though, it was soon time to leave this beautiful ship as she prepared to sail. We were promised 3 blasts on her whistles when she sailed past the North Pier, and we watched them single her up and prepared to take our last pics.
The light was perfect and made her superstructure glow as it faded. She looked majestic as she made her final turn into the channel,
And as she came abaft of us, her whistle blasted her farewell, we answered with our puny car hooter, and from the bridge wing a solitary officer waved his farewell.
She would never again grace our shores, and if ever I get to Holland she is on my list. Ironically one of my friends who was on this visit was able to see her in Rotterdam and he said that she was still magnificent.
The Royal Viking Line is no more, but the legacy of their ships does live on. They were an upmarket cruise line and had very modern and pricey vessels. They also called in South Africa, usually on round Africa voyages. One of their new buildings was Royal Viking Queen, and we had an invite to see her.
My trusty ship visit book lists her as calling in Durban on 28 November 1992, and we were there when she arrived.
First impressions were of a small modern ship, and not really the sort of ship that would appeal to somebody like me who prefers something more traditional. She was built as one of 3 sisters, for Seabourn Cruises, (Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Pride), but she ended up being completed for Royal Viking instead as Royal Viking Queen.
She had not been in service very long either, so we would get a good look at her workmanship too. The visit had been arranged beforehand, and we were well prepared with a plaque to present to the Master on the occasion of the call, and I often wonder if it still exists somewhere.
Once on board our jaws dropped because she was stunning. Very modern, but done with good taste. We had been given a small press pack to aid us on our walking tour of her, but as usual we headed down below and worked our way upwards,
The one pervading memory I have of her was a lobby that was painted to resemble a four funnel liner, if you looked forward you would see 2 funnels, and if you looked aft the remaining 2 funnels. It was very well done and I really regret not having pics of it.
Her upper decks were clean and shiney with chrome and glass and light woodwork, there was more of a feel of yacht to her as opposed to a ship, and I believe that was the original intention.
On her foredeck was a Jacuzzi that must have been quite nice although it was literally on the front porch of the bridge and the forward suites. She also had a platform that could be lowered from her stern for people to enjoy water sports in ports where she did not go alongside.
She was really a pretty ship inside, but I think she may have been somewhat stuffy for anybody that did not come from the right background. The master was impressed with our plaque and handed us each a Royal Viking keyring as a memento, but alas, a burglary in 1999 saw most of my collection of those mementos stolen. I also recall that he had injured his hand and was very apologetic about the many plasters that his hand was covered in.
And then it was time for us to leave, and we hung around to watch her sail. The sun was starting to go down by then so we got those low light shots so beloved of Durban in good weather.
She was quite a sight sailing from Durban, the sort of ship that you wish you could sail on, but know you will never be able to afford to.
I never saw her again after that, however in 2008 while in Hong Kong, I saw her sister: Seabourn Spririt.
She is still afloat somewhere, and as far as I am aware sailing under the name Seabourn Legend, having returned to the company that she was originally ordered for. She is due to enter service with Windstar in May 2015. Royal Viking Line ceased to exist in 1994. However, all of their ships are still in service.
I have 14 February 1994 down as being a good day for shipwatching in Durban because there were two interesting callers in the port. The first being Sagafjord, and the second: Kazakhstan II
Originally one of five sisters of the Belorussiya class (Belorussiya, Gruziya, Azerbaizhan, Kazakhstan, Kareliya) these ships were quite rare to see in South Africa, although there is a post card of one of them in Cape Town, (date unknown).
The Kazakhstan II was interesting because in October 1992 she had an accident while in dry dock and it was thought she would have been broken up, instead she was refitted and re-entered service as Kazakhstan II. Originally launched as Belorrusiya in 6 March 1974, the sisters were more cruise-ferries with car decks than dedicated cruise ships. At the time of her call she was being operated by the German operator Delphin Seereisen on a round Africa voyage.
We were fortunate to go out on the pilot boat to bring her in, and she was somewhat of a boxey ship with an unattractive funnel. In fact I was not sure what to make of a German operated, Finnish built, former Soviet flagged cruise-ferry!
Looking at pics of her now, she wasn’t an unattractive ship, but definitely in a different league to Sagafjord! Her stern door was still there from her days as a cruise-ferry, and maybe it is the lack of curves that did gave her an almost severe and business-like look.
Looking back at my pics, most of what I took were of her at sea from the pilot boat, but almost nothing of her coming alongside, which probably means I did not have too much film left to mess around with. In the old days it was expensive to take pics, and you were limited by how many rolls of film you had with you, I also used to shoot slides so it is also possible that I did not scan too many of the images of her.
It is also very possible that I had shot too many images of Sagafjord, or was saving my shots for Sagafjord. It was a long time ago.
Once on board we did the grand tour, and I seem to recall not being too impressed by her interiors. She looked almost bland compared to some ships I had seen, functional, but not fancy. I also remember that we were served drinks by a stewardess and we all remarked to each other that that she seemed very tired and somewhat underdressed. I also have a feeling there were restrictions on our photography on board. But I have an image of her aft deck to squish that theory.
And then we were leaving, and I know we never saw her sail, so I am afraid the story ends there. But my all pervading impression of bland still stands, but I am glad that I did get the opportunity to go on board, because even though she was one of 5 sisters, she was still a successful ship in her own right.
It is possible that she is still afloat somewhere, I know, the ships did not really seem to settle into regular service, and Kazakhstan was beached in Jan 2012 for breaking up. However, it could be that SOLAS 2010 did add a nail into their careers, but it is also possible that there are still out there.
The long laid up Royal Zulu was resident in Durban harbour for many years. Originally brought across to Durban she was destined to become THE party ship, operating short cruises and with a disco, gambling, partying and all manner of what were nefarious activities to the previous government.
Alas, she fell foul of the licensing authorities and ruffled quite a few feathers. She was promptly arrested after very little service and ended up alongside a disused quay at the far end of the container berth where she slowly decayed for many years. She was eventually joined by the dormant RA Leigh, and the pair of them rusted away in silence.
Built as Santa Maria de la Nieves, she was one of 3 sister ships (Santa Maria de la Candelaria, Santa Maria de la Nieves, Santa Maria del Pino ) built in 1967 by Union Naval de Levante, Valencia, for inter-island services in the Canary Islands and the Balearics for Trasmediterránea of Spain.
Eventually she was sold for breaking up (possibly in 1992) and one of her lifeboats eventually found its way to Johannesburg. In April 1987 we got on board her and it was a very strange feeling to be board this dead ship. Everything was as it was left, and I climbed the mast and poked around inside her, but we could not get below decks or onto the bridge, I always looked out for her I was in Durban, because realistically she was a part of Durban.
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.
A Voyage on the Aegean Dolphin. 20-01-92 to 24-01-92. Durban-Bazaruto-Durban
Our trip on the Aegean Dolphin started originally when I decided to sail on the Odysseus in the middle of the year. Unfortunately the ship was withdrawn by Epirotiki Lines and the Aegean Dolphin was substituted instead. She is owned by the Dolphin Hellas Shipping Line of Greece and was originally due to make her debut in our waters in October 1988, doing a voyage to Australia, I had tried to get on her then but had had no joy. Unfortunately the whole charter fell through and the ship never made her appearance. And even then I was not even sure what this ship had been before, she was somewhat of a mystery.
Finally in late November I started pestering my travel agent to get a booking, however I was forced to cancel it when the SADF decided to ruin my December holiday instead. Fortunately I got exemption and started to rethink my plans yet again, Howard in the meantime had gone to Cape Town and had managed to get on board the ship, he was impressed and that clinched it!
That night Rudi Van Dijk phoned me and I mentioned in passing if he would like to go cruising, He had no second thoughts! A man of decisions is our friend Rudi! I saw TFC on the 24th of December, booking our passage on a cruise sailing from Durban on the 20th of January, calling at Bazaruto on the 23rd, and arriving back on the 25th. We could only afford an inside cabin and this was allocated on A Deck, cabin 359.
As usual, time dragged on until the morning of the 20th, when we arrived in Durban at about 05.30am. We went straight to the point, hoping to see her, however she was conspicuously absent, a quick visit to Port Control revealed that they had not heard from her either! We decided to go to the pilot’s wardroom to see if they had any info and maybe hitch a ride out with the pilot. Alas their information was even less , however a promise by the pilot clinched us that trip out to sea on the pilot boat. Eventually the pilot was called out to a ship and we all headed to the R.P. Jackson. The sea was reasonably rough, and we pitched steadily out to Lloyd Triestino’s Europa, the sea was cascading over the decks and very soon we were very wet, it was worth it though because the trip was exhilarating. In between troughs we searched for the Dolphin, no joy!
We started to head into harbour again, and then the master told us the good news, the Dolphin was only a few kilometres away! He had been ordered to pick up three pilots and return to the bay, dropping them off, one being destined for the Dolphin. We picked up a pilot from the jetty as well as from MSC’s Valeria and Regina D, before going out again into the bay, the weather was still rough but as we cleared the harbour entrance, I spotted her in the distance. We first had to drop our pilots, the first ship was easy, however the next one was a problem, the pilot boat came in too fast and we whacked the side of the ship badly, sending the contents of the wardroom flying all over.
Then we headed for the Dolphin, we had been watching her all the time and we agreed that she was not a pretty ship, her stern was a square, ungainly shape and her funnel looked hideously out of place, with a bit of imagination, she looked like a mini Europa. We moved alongside the ship, she was rolling badly in a beam sea and as the hull lifted, so the water smashed out from underneath. To complicate the situation further, the pilot ladder was very far aft and it was clear that getting the pilot on board was not going to be easy. The Dolphin was forced to pick up speed and alter her heading before we could even get close enough to her, fortunately the pilot got safely on board and we headed back to the harbour and our cruise.
A quick thank you and we charged up to the Ocean Terminal to take some photo’s. We had received a letter from Portnet to the affect that due to alterations in the Ocean Terminal, we would be boarding from the citrus sheds and it was there that the ship was going to berth. From close up she looked even worse, however we decided that once you were on board, you couldn’t see her outside anyway! We bumped into Cecil from Port Natal branch and after a quick gossip, headed for the Wimpy and a quick scoff.
After a quick visit to the Estrella Do Mar we both popped off to the citrus terminal for boarding, a sign informed us that we were to begin boarding at 14H30 as opposed to 13H45 as per our ticket. Luckily Clive Bush and his wife helped us pass the time because it was soon evident that we were not going to get on board at 14H30! We stood around as the rumours flew, our luggage had still not been loaded and the gangway had been raised. It was a very ominous sign. The immigration officials appeared at about 15H30 and after much stamping of papers and looking up in lists, we finally climbed the gangway.
Our first impressions of the ship were favourable, the gangway is on A deck, the deck where our cabin was. The cabin was small and plain but very nice. We quickly had a much needed shower and change of clothes and went for a quick looksee.
The public rooms are mostly situated on Allegro deck, with the main lounge for`ard, the gift shop and Rendezvous lounge midships, and the Lido lounge and bar right aft. On either side of Allegro deck are the lifeboats, 5 per side. Access to the bridge decks is through the companionways under the lifeboats. The bridge is very low down on the ship and there is deck space under, in front of and on top of the bridge. The aft decks connect all decks via companionways and they finally end up on the pool deck. The ship has a huge space behind the funnel with the pool between the funnel and the suites.
The bridge is under the suites and the piano bar above them . The piano bar is one of the best public rooms on the ship, however it is used as a creche during the day and only at night does it come alive. Right at the bottom of the ship in the bows, on D deck is the cinema, it is almost under water and actually showed some very good movies.
We finally sailed an hour late, not before being told that we were no longer calling at Bazaruto because certain South Africans had ruined everything by raiding shipwrecks. Whether this was true, we do not know. By now we had discovered that some of the crew members were anything but willing to do their jobs, the bar service was indifferent and as we saw when we went to dinner, the service could be very bad.
The dining room is situated on C deck and is beautiful, there are lots of engraved mirrors and glass which made the room look much bigger than it really was. We had decided to go to the 2nd sitting dinner (more menu’s to collect) and ended up at table 4, with George as our steward. George decided to do things his way, he dumped our starters down, decided on our soup course and even thought that we all wanted salad. However we soon showed him that it did not work like that and as the voyage commenced, so our service at the table improved. The food was not spectacular, obviously the chef was an Italian as the food seemed very Achille Lauro like. The wine was reasonably expensive and we were content to drink water, which tasted very much like chemicals.
After dinner it was off to the “Welcome Spectacular”, the entertainers on board were Anne Power, Terry Fortune, The Carlo Spetto Dancers, Keith Cooper and Carol, Andre Schwartz, and Martin Clifford and the Pantopuppets. Our compere was the hero of the Oceanos, Robin Boltman, who soon proved again that he was a total mister cool when he was faced with a drunken heckler. Needless to say the show was great and we finally got to bed, having not slept for 40 hours.
Breakfast was only served in the dining room in an open sitting, the juice was some very unidentifiable yellow stuff which tasted like dead Eno’s! and when you ordered toast, they brought you toast! each slice was the size of a big paperback book! it was huge, we found hundreds of uses for it, and had we written a book on it, they could have sold it on board! It became the standard joke of the trip.
Lifeboat drill, was held at 10H30 on our first day out, oddly enough it was taken very seriously on the ship and was very thorough. The boats and all of the life saving gear are almost new and it was very comforting too.
We reached Bazaruto the next morning and turned around, heading back to Durban. That afternoon saw the “Fiesta Tropicale” held on the pool deck, the ship was decorated and lunch was held on deck with an abundance of food and some red stuff that could have been sangria, but was definitely not sangria!!! This show was well received by the passengers who were obviously very upset at not getting ashore. That night was the Greek night, which was a flop, the crew being badly let down by the steward who was doing all the singing.
The last night saw our farewell dinner and “A Touch Of Blue”, a naughty comedy by Robin Boltman, this went down very well, however it was not for the prudish but it was enjoyed by all. At this point in time we heard that we were just outside Durban and were travelling in a very slow circle. We were due to arrive at 06H15 off the pilot station, and sadly our cruise was almost at an end. Our arrival in Durban harbour was a non event, it was almost as if the ship was just another caller, we disembarked at about 09H00 and arrived back in Johannesburg just after 15H00.
Effectively we had had a three day cruise to nowhere, not a cruise to Bazaruto as we had booked. There was not sufficient time to really build up a spirit among the passengers, however in spite of all the problems that we had experienced most people enjoyed themselves.
The ship itself is magnificent inside, she is easy to find your way around and is well maintained, tidy and potentially a winner. Her public rooms are smartly done up and light and airy. Unfortunately the bar service was bad, the drinks were expensive, a coke costing $1-25 for a glass with more ice than coke. Dining room service improves with time and the cabin stewards are very discreet. The food is not brilliant and is cold lots of the time. Entertainment on board is excellent as are the TFC staff. unfortunately they ruined things by not announcing what was the hold up in the beginning and by trying to keep us in the dark. There were lots of rumours around and frankly it did make for lots of speculation. There were passengers who had gotten their cabins very cheap and there were those who had booked superior accommodation on the Odysseus and had ended up being short changed on the Dolphin.
I know that there were some very cheesed off passengers on that ship. Personally I enjoyed the cruise, it was too short and I am sorry about Bazaruto, I finally did get to sail on the ship that I had missed in 1988, and having sailed on her in 1992, I would gladly sail on her again.
Interestingly enough I found a drawing of what she looked like before her conversion. I believe she was one of five sisters built at Santierul Navali in Romania for Zim Israel Lines. Supposedly with a length of 111.5m and a beam of 20.5m. They were designed as ro/ro cargo ferries capable of carrying 150 vehicles.
To my surprise she is still afloat and operating under the name Aegean Odyssey, and was extensively refurbished in 2009/2010 which saw the addition of balcony cabins and a new funnel casing that has improved her looks a bit. She operates now doing “historical and cultural” cruises in the Mediterranean http://www.voyagestoantiquity.com with a smaller passenger load.
She had four sisters (Palintis, Iris, Pascani and Peris) and there are very few images of her as built. However, there is a good source of information on her and her sisters at http://www.faktaomfartyg.se/narcis_1973.htm (text is not in English)
Following the Betsy Ross debacle I did not expect that we would be seeing any more ships doing cruises from South Africa again, but I was very wrong as it was announced in 1989 that Epirotiki’s Oceanos would be doing a season in our waters along with the Achille Lauro in December. This was good news as we never expected to see any ships at all that year. The Oceanos was considered to be one of the better ships in the Med and her reputation was based on many satisfied passengers.
Once again I hummed and hawed, toying with doing a possible voyage. Most were not within my price range although a Radio 702 fly cruise from Seychelles to Durban seemed very promising. It included the flight to Seychelles, 2 nights in the Sheraton Hotel in Seychelles, the cruise to Durban and a call in Comores. This time I dallied till there were 4 months left before I made my booking. Once again I chose a 4 berth cabin, only this time it was an outside cabin and somewhat of an improvement on my previous submarine suite on the Achille.
Time once again dragged along until I finally stood at the airport waiting for my flight. In between booking and the flight, things had gone awry at Comores, as a coup d’etat had taken place in this enclave and the situation was very volatile. However, this did not deter me as I waited at Jan Smuts Airport for a flight that was delayed by 2 hours for “technical reasons.”
Eventually our aircraft was ready and I stepped onto the Luxair 747SP for the trip to Seychelles. The flight, already delayed by 2 hours arrived at roughly 3pm. on Mahe Island. The heat which struck as we stepped out of the plane was horrific, like Durban at its worst.
The airport was a landing strip next to the sea and customs was very slow dealing with us. Our luggage was slower and when I got to have my room allocated by the tour guides they could not find my name on the list! However I was told to climb on board one of the mini busses and we drove up the road which trailed up the mountain. The road was narrow and winding and there was just jungle on one side and a breathtaking view on the other when we could see it. The islands and pristine beaches were stunning and the ride was worth the agony.
Upon arrival at the Sheraton Hotel I was finally allocated a room to myself and I thankfully plonked my luggage down before having a quick shower and heading downstairs for the briefing about the ongoing Comores situation. It turned out that we would only know if we would be going ashore once we actually got there.
Then it was time to hit the pool before supper. The hotel had its own private beach and was very impressive with a huge pool and lush gardens. The supper was memorable, consisting of a huge buffet which had so much variety I did not know where to begin. Sadly though sleep was impossible because of the thumping noise from the disco which was below my room.
The next morning I went on a tour to the reefs and a private island. The reef tour was in a small semi-submersible boat and was amazing. When we were going back on board our boat we saw the Oceanos arrive, at least our ship was in! We then moved over to the island where snorkelling was available after refreshments. Amazingly we anchored about 500 metres from the island and waded through knee deep sea to get to it. The water was luke warm and not unpleasant at all. A quick drink and we headed offshore to another island where we snorkelled for a while before going for a Seychellois lunch which was very tasty but which would wreak its revenge on me later that night.
We puttered past the Oceanos when we arrived back from out tour and she looked quite impressive from close by.
Then it was back to the hotel in time for a dip in the sea before supper and that night I spent with my head in the toilet, disposing of my lunch and supper.
The next morning I was feeling very miserable, and fortunately was able to get medication from the nurse at the hotel. I believe I was not the only one feeling under the weather. Then we boarded our bus and headed for the harbour where the Oceanos lay.
The harbour at Seychelles was amazing, it is small and compact but was surprisingly full of ships and boats. The 3 tugs we saw were like little toy boats and some very interesting oldies lurked in the roadstead just waiting to be photographed.
I even spotted a small sailing vessel and warships tucked away in an odd corner. The Oceanos, with her corn coloured hull and white upperworks was very attractive.
Much smaller than the Achille Lauro but very sleek and somewhat top heavy she presented a picture of efficiency. Being a 50’s style motorship she had a squat funnel and midships engine room with lots of shiplike features which are sadly lacking on modern vessels. Originally a cargo/passenger ship she had undergone extensive rebuilding and was barely recognisable from her original profile and those of her sisters.
This was my second Greek ship and the hospitality on board was typical of the reputation that the Greeks have. The hull was a bit rusty but painting was being done, and there was lots of evidence of the various conversions she had undergone through the years.
The foyer was on Venus deck which was the same deck as my cabin. Decks are named from top to bottom; Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, Dionysos, Poseidon, and Nereus deck. The Odyssey Lounge is located forward on Jupiter Deck while the Four Seasons Lounge is found below it on Apollo deck. The lounges are furnished in soft colours with Port side being the smokers side and Starboard the non-smokers. Each lounge had a bar and drinks were signed for, the bill being settled at the end of the voyage.
A veranda style promenade connects the aft deck with the interior of the of the ship, this is furnished with cane chairs and tables but it does tend to get very hot during the day. The Casino, disco, pool, boutique and photo shop are also found on this deck. A central companionway gives access between lounges and the dining room on Dionysos deck. Lifeboat drill took place on the first day out and all passengers were mustered in the veranda promenade, and extremely goldfish bowl-like effect occurred very rapidly, it was announced that the drill took only 18 minutes, however they neglected to mention that very rarely do passengers have time to take to the boats in an emergency.
My cabin, V69, was on the port side aft and had a single bed with three Pullman style bunks, the bathroom was to prove to be very small and cramped. A very efficient air conditioner/blower kept the cabin cool and the bunks were comfortable if somewhat low. Roughly 18 towel changes per day were made and the cabin steward kept everything shipshape. Plugs are a problem but most women circumvented this by plugging their hairdryers into the 220V plugs in the passages.
Forward and below the bridge is the sports deck, this is a large open deck with a helipad on it, but unfortunately the railing does not go all the way around it and a considerably large chunk of deck is unused. Wooden deck chairs gave you a great view of the extremely strenuous aerobics. There is no access to the foredeck for passengers unless you sneak over the railing. The sports deck is also closed off at night.
Late that afternoon we sailed into calm weather and soon discovered that the Oceanos rolls in calm seas, but it was a comfortable shiplike roll and was soon forgotten. I watched Seychelles disappear into the distance and considered that it was one place I would love to visit again.
The dinner that evening was informal and there were 2 sittings (7pm. and 9pm.), all other meals are open sitting. The dining room was beautiful, small and tastefully decorated, the tables tended to be a bit cramped but were neatly laid. It is also a non smoking area which was a great idea. Our steward soon proceeded to feed us, the food is good, wine was available in small bottles and there was plenty to choose from. Most nights had a theme for the meal, for example we had a 1001 nights evening, a tropical evening and a Greek evening.
The photographer did the rounds and I was unable to duck and dive away from this shot. And yes, I did have hair back then. The lady in dark blue was very sweet and she had been misinformed about what currency to use on board, but she was so nice to talk to, and was game for almost anything. The onboard currency was $US and because of our horrible exchange rate it was not a cheap experience. I was fortunate that I won $25 on Bingo just when I needed it most.
Entertainment took place in the main lounge and was provided by Alain D. Woolf, Gary and Leslie Spencer, a conjurer, the Ray Cornell dancers, Yorgos Dikeos, Danny Garcie (who is amazing) and others.
The resident band was good and the shows were well worth watching. The Greek evening was excellent with Greek dancing and much cavorting around the lounge. There is also a cinema on board but it is very small and cramped and the sound was terrible
The situation in The Comoros was still questionable when we arrived 2 days later, anchoring in Moroni. The “harbour authorities” came on board, a group of AK wielding people with menacing looks. The list of rules for going ashore was long and many people decided to give it a miss. We were the second of two ships in the harbour, the first being a small breakbulk cargo ship which was offloading bags of rice into a lighter alongside. The wind started blowing hard, causing us to drift down on this small vessel and at one point we were almost on top of her. 3 boatloads of passengers had now been sent ashore but the situation on the island was tense and it was decided to recall them and head off for Durban.
We upped our hook and sailed off into the afternoon, the party getting bigger and the booze was flowing. The spirit on board was very good and as was expected we had much to do, cabarets, movies, games, quizzes and just relaxing. The food was great and the cabin and table service was excellent.
A visit to the engine room was made where I was able to see the diesels which would fail the ship when she needed them most. We were idling along on only one engine and very lax watchkeeping prevailed. But that seemed to be OK because it was a holiday spirit which was enhanced by the Radio 702 team on board as well as the very competent TFC staff.
On Wednesday the 6th the weather turned bumpy with a following sea and largish swells and then we saw how the Oceanos really rolled, but I enjoyed the rolling and it made for a very erratic party that night. The stabilisers were unshipped and we soon had a much smoother ride. We arrived off Durban to see 12 ships in the bay and that was a pleasant surprise as we waddled into Durban harbour, listing to starboard and with many sore heads present at the rails. I disembarked very unhappy to be leaving, I would have continued onwards to Cape Town had I thought about it at the time.
The Achille Lauro was in port too, her funnels sporting the new StarLauro logo.
Many who had experienced the Betsy Ross the previous year had preferred that trouble plagued ship and so did I, but then again I had had a great voyage on the Oceanos.
One of my friends was doing the Durban to Cape Town leg and we stayed behind to wave him goodbye before heading back to Johannesburg.
Two years later the Oceanos was back, this time to do a longer season. Sadly, events overtook her and she sank in circumstances which left a sour taste in the mouth. Fortunately no lives were lost in the disaster, but stories of incompetence, mismanagement, cowardice and inefficiency were rife and suddenly TFC was in trouble.
The Odysseus was supposed to replace her but with Epirotiki in the spotlight she was also pulled out and we were left with another vacuum in our fledgling cruising industry. Epirotiki Lines bumbled forward for a few years but the Oceanos made a huge dent in their reputation and eventually they too folded.