Tag: Starlight Cruises

Returning home on Symphony

Returning home on the Symphony
25-03-97 to 28-03-97.  Cape Town-Durban 

My second voyage on the Symphony happened the day after I had sailed to Cape Town on the Oriana. I had been fortunate enough to be able to book Symphony for my trip back to Durban. When we arrived at the “passenger terminal” where she lay it was midday and as usual, the wind was howling in Cape Town. There was no real wait either and I was able to board almost immediately. The ship quickly started to fill up and  I see that they had managed to speed the embarkation up considerably and within 90 minutes all passengers were on board.
 
Alongside in Cape Town

Alongside in Cape Town

The ship was looking much better than when I had last seen her, but there were a few structural changes which in my opinion didn’t enhance her looks at all. She was also wearing the funnel colours of MSC instead of StarLauro like she had when I had first seen her when I did a short trip to nowhere on her in March of 1995, and I was curious to see what she looked on the inside again.
MSC Postcard of the Symphony

MSC Postcard of the Symphony

 
Symphony sailing from Durban from Oriana

Symphony sailing from Durban from Oriana

 
I must say I was pleasantly surprised. She was clean, her decks shone and she was looking better than ever. Granted, she was not Oriana, but she is comfortable. I had a 4 berth cabin midships on B deck, almost directly under my old cabin from 1995. There were only 3 of us in the cabin so it was not too crowded.  We sailed at 15H00 amidst much streamers and noise. The sea was force 3 and Symphony proved yet again that she is a great sea boat, rolling gently and effortlessly. Surprisingly we held lifeboat drill two hours later and by the time that was finished, the first entertainment was underway. At night there is always something on the go, whether it is a cabaret, movie, quiz or just music in the lounge, things happened all the time. My one cabin mate turned in just after supper and spent most of the next two days sleeping! The food had improved considerably since we had last been on board and our table steward was really one of the old school. The next day was cold and most passengers congregated  indoors. There was a mixed bunch on board, with a group from a pharmaceutical company making a lot of noise. The usual honeymoon couples were on board and they were really made a fuss of. The ship was full and there were crowds all over, finding a spot at the cabaret was a real problem as well.
 
The time passed quickly on board, the days spent relaxing and enjoying the voyage, unfortunately cruises always leave me in need of a holiday and this one was a recovery trip from the hectic days on Oriana. When I looked it was all over, we were alongside once again. I took my leave of the ship and came back to a wet dismal Johannesburg. It was like leaving an  old friend. Unlike the Achille which was tatty and dated, Symphony is beautiful. She is well maintained, comfortable and good looking too. Unfortunately they spoiled her looks somewhat by removing her kingposts and adding a hance to her foredeck. The spike on the tip of her bow looks odd and the winged funnel is not as nice as the original. Yet she has a loyal following and was booked in South Africa for an extended season, the closest thing to a full time cruise liner since the death of cruising in South Africa all those years ago.
 
Symphony arriving in Durban

Symphony arriving in Durban

It is now 2004 and many years have passed since my last cruise, the Symphony is but a memory. Her career after her South African sojourn was not a happy one and she was eventually arrested at Dover and taken out of service as  being “unseaworthy” and sold at auction. She arrived at Alang for breaking up in October 2001. Symphony was perfect for what we wanted in our waters, big enough to handle our weather, professionally run with brilliant entertainment, good food and reasonable service, its just a pity she never saw out her days here.
 
© DRW. 1992-2018.  Last updated 03 Aug 2004. Edited 01 June 2012, Moved to blog 08/12/2013
Updated: 05/01/2018 — 07:53

To sea on the Rhapsody

A cruise on the Rhapsody
26-03-96 to 30-03-96. Durban-Bazaruto

Faced with the seemingly plethora of cruise ships visiting our shores, Rudi and I were faced with two possible affordable vessels. Namely Russ or Rhapsody. Of course there has to be an ulterior motive to everything, so we chose our voyage with care, finally deciding on a Bazaruto cruise on the Rhapsody, sailing from Durban on the 26th of March and returning on the 30th. The reason behind this particular voyage? well, the Island Princess was due in on the 25th while Rotterdam was due to call on the 30th! we could kill three birds with one stone.
Unfortunately by the time we made our booking (Early January), the ship was full and we struggled to get a berth. In an effort to bring the cost down, we opted for a third person to go with, namely Neville himself!
As per usual time dragged on and after 3 centuries passed we were on our way to Durban in a rainstorm on Sunday night. Our arrival coincided with the change of shift at the pilot boat. Rudi had been doing some pre-preparation and soon we were on our way out to drop the pilot on the Island Princess. I had always taken a fancy to her, there is something about that design which is really attractive. She was outside awaiting our arrival, spotlessly white with only a dark green portion to her funnel and upper deckhouses. What an incredible sight she was!
 
Island Princess arrival in Durban

Island Princess arrival in Durban

After being dropped off at the small craft harbour, we hurried across to have a closer look and prepare for our visit which had been ably organised by Rudi. Soon we were on board the “love boat’s” sister and in for quite a surprise. The ship is reasonably plain, obviously comfortable but slightly different to what we are used to over here. There is a strong American influence on board with much of the show type lounge effect in the public rooms. Her upper decks are quite nice except for the astroturf which was about 2 inches under water above the Lido area. Alas for the poor passengers, our tummy rumblings were too much and Rudi persuaded the chief steward that he needed to feed us! The omelettes and waffles went down great! Incidentally, the coffee had to have been the strongest that I had ever tasted! After a thorough look around the ship we had to disembark and we quickly popped into visit the Port Captain and obtain our permit for a visit to the Port Signal Station.
This we achieved with no quibble at all and soon were were climbing up to one of the more well known and inaccessable landmarks in the harbour. The view, needless to say is stupendous and we spent the next few hours admiring it and talking ships with the guy on duty. From our vantage point we even got to see Island Princess sail!
 
 
The next day there was no sign of Rhapsody, she was delayed! Our embarkation was due to start at 12h00 but the ship only arrived at the pilot station shortly before.
 
rhapsody175
Naturally chaos reigned at N shed as embarking passengers got in the way of disembarking passengers and vice versa. Of course in that heat things were not very pleasant. Rudi licked his way to the front of the queue, much to the chagrin of those whom we had to shoulder out of the way! We then found out that our cabin had been upgraded again, from three deck to four deck!
 
Things were looking up. Late that afternoon we sailed into nice weather with three days of food, relaxation and entertainment.
 
For those unfamiliar with the ship, she has most of her accommodation on the three lowest decks, with the restaurant midships on 5 deck, showboat lounge forward on 6 deck, 8 bells disco/lounge aft on 6 deck and the outrigger cafe aft on 5 deck. The Topsail lounge sits above the bridge with the pool midships on 7 deck.
The ship is quite easy to find your way around and generally quite pleasant inside. She was not an unattractive ship, but she did not really endear herself to me, even though she was an ex-Cunarder. I think if anything she seemed to be lacking character, or maybe I was not used to more “modern” ships?

Daily program (1500×789)

We even spotted quite a few faces from Symphony and quickly settled into the shipboard routine. The most popular place on board was obviously the 8 bells disco/lounge with hordes visiting the outrigger cafe for lunch and breakfast.
The midships pool and jacuzzi’s were always crowded and the spacious decks were always populated by cancer seeking sun-bathers. Generally the food was adequate, however it tended to get monotonous at the buffet.
Our cabin was reasonably large, with a fold up Pullman berth, double window and very small bathroom. On the first day out we had lifeboat drill and did as little as possible. That night we met the Captain, while Neville tried to burn the cabin down while ironing his shirt. The next day our arrival at Bazaruto was late and once there they found that there was a swell running and the landing was unsafe. We shifted anchorage but it didn’t help so we all dumped our goodies back in the cabin and resigned ourselves to a day at anchor. From the ship Bazaruto looked like a pretty dismal sort of place, a lighthouse, tree, sand, sand and scrub seemed the only features, it was not my idea of paradise.
With much tugging Rudi persuaded Neville and myself to join him in a shady spot by the pool where we did some talent scouting and serious criticising. I was even persuaded into the Jacuzzi and pool (shock! Horror!).

Bridge tour handout

Later that day they started to land passengers, but by then we were no longer interested in going ashore and spent the rest of the time around the ship. Shortly before 15h30 the passengers were recalled as the weather was getting up and by 17h00 we were underway once more. That night the swell increased and the Rhapsody was sending spray over the bridge. It didn’t dampen the spirit at the tropical evening though and by the next day the weather had cleared, much to the relief of one of the women at our table.
On our last day we were booked for a bridge tour, and with a bit of persuasion we had managed to swing an engine room tour as well. The bridge tour was very short, just a quick in and out before we scuttled below to meet up with the chief engineer who would take us on our own personal engine room tour. There is something very special about being in the engine room of a ship while it is at sea.
That night we had our farewell dinner and packed our junk, and said our farewells. The next day we were hoping to see Rotterdam at sea and take some great shots. However the next morning she was nowhere in sight and we sailed into Durban more tired than when we had left!
 
Luck played into our hands once again as Rotterdam had arrived early the previous night to bunker and was awaiting us. We found Howard in the crowd and headed for her. Rudi had organised the visit as well and by 09H30 we were on board this great ship.
rotterdam190
On board she is like a time capsule of 50’s and 60’s life. The furniture is from the past, the wooden panels are real! and the ship is spotlessly clean. We quickly made friends with Hans Hoffman, the 2nd officer who proved to be an amiable ship enthusiast with a love of tugs.
Bridge of the Rotterdam

Bridge of the Rotterdam

An engine room visit was quickly arranged and we descended into the greasy bowels of the vessel. An impressive engine room and a starting platform straight out of history! Then a bridge visit and lunch in the lido cafe was appreciated, and the food was astounding!!!
 
We were very sorry to get off and we headed for North Pier to watch the Rhapsody sail.
"Crossing the bar"

“Crossing the bar”

She was so different to Rotterdam, almost insignificant. And I remember Island Princess and Rotterdam more than I do Rhapsody. She just did not really leave an impression on me, and while she was comfortable she was not special. Most of the other ships I sailed on had something that made them stick out. Rhapsody stuck out as having nothing to remember her by.
Shortly thereafter the Rotterdam sailed from Durban, lit by the setting sun, into an uncertain future. She was sold out of the Holland America Stable and served with Orient Lines before going to Premier Cruise line under the name Rembrandt, aka “The Big Red Boat IV”. Ships will never be built like that again. Sadly, in our plastic world we will be hard pressed to produce such a fine ship. (The Rotterdam was laid up for many years before she was towed to Gibraltar for restoration and then finally back to her home in Rotterdam where she is now restored). Sadly Pacific Princess went to the breakers in 2013, while Rhapsody’s sister Cunard Countess suffered an accommodation fire also in 2013.
 
Rotterdam sailing from Durban

Rotterdam sailing from Durban

However for us there was no reason to stay and we set off for home.
 
 DRW.  © 1992-2018.  Last updated 14 July 2011. Moved to blog 17/12/2013
Updated: 02/03/2019 — 06:30

Symphony Maiden Arrival

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.
Publicity image for Enrico Costa 1992 South African season

Publicity image for Enrico Costa 1992 South African season

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

Deck Layout

Deck Layout

Sun Deck (1506×529)

Sun Deck (1506×529)

Lounge and Promenade Deck (1506×454)

Lounge and Promenade Deck (1506×454)

Restaurant and Amalfi Decks (1505×489)

Restaurant and Amalfi Decks (1505×489)

Bordighera and Capri Decks (1506×478)

Bordighera and Capri Decks (1506×478)

 
Our visit to the Symphony.
 
Arrival in Durban

Arrival in Durban

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.

Postcard of the Symphony before she was altered

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.
Afternoon sailing

Afternoon sailing

Morning arrival

Morning arrival

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.
 
Alongside at "N" Shed

Alongside at “N” Shed

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.

Information sheet

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. 1992-2018.  Last updated 03 Aug 2004. Edited 03 September 2012. Moved to blog 09/12/2013, additional images added 01/03/2019
Updated: 01/03/2019 — 06:58

To sea on the Dolphin

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.
TFC Issue postcard of the Aegean Dolphin

TFC Issue postcard of the Aegean Dolphin

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!
 
Image purchased on board

Image purchased on board

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.
Aegean_dolphin_33
 
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.

Available cruises. Deck Plan and luggage label

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.
 
Aegean_dolphin_59The 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.

Lunch menu

Dinner menu

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.

Daily Program for 21/01 (1500×937)

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.
Aegean Dolphin as built

Aegean Dolphin as built

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.
 
Update 18/09/2016
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)
 
©  DRW. 1992-2018.  Last updated 14 April 2007. Moved to blog 14/12/2013, updated 18/09/2016. New Images added 01/03/2019
Updated: 21/03/2019 — 06:31

A cruise on the Achille Lauro

Durban-Mauritius-Durban. 26/12/1986 – 02/01/1987
 
When I went down to Durban in February 1986 I had specifically planned it   that I could see the QE2 while she was there. It was her last world cruise as a steamship and I had never seen her  before. Come to think of it I had never seen any passenger liner up close before either. As luck would have it I scored a double bonus as the QE2 and Royal Viking Sea were both in Durban during my stay. I also missed seeing Canberra by a week. This trip planted the cruising bug in my mind and left it there to smoulder.
 
When I got back to JHB I did inquiries about possible voyages. Alas, the Astor had proved a failure in our waters and was no longer available. The only alternative was the Achille Lauro which was due to do a season from December till early January for what was then TFC tours. The Achille, a not so famous ship, had gained notoriety in 1985 when it was hijacked by a terrorist group, on board had been a group of South African travel agents who were experiencing the ship before marketing it here.

I ummed and aahed for 2 months, avidly re-reading the brochures and trying to make a decision. Eventually while speaking to a friend I decided that I would go for it. We had decided to go together, sharing a cabin for a new years cruise. I made that first fateful call and put my name down for a berth. Alas, my decisiveness scared my friend off and I was suddenly all alone. This however played in my favour as I was able to secure a berth in a 4 berth cabin on A deck. It was an expensive decision, costing nearly R1600 for the 7 day 8 night voyage to Mauritius.

My ticket for the Achille Lauro

My ticket for the Achille Lauro

Then the long wait arrived, nearly 7 months of agony. As the time drew near our fickle money messed us up as an additional fuel surcharge was added to the bill. With prices on board in $US it meant even more money to be found. Still time dragged by, even the SADF was determined to ruin my holiday by calling me up for a camp when I would be away, fortunately I was not a member of that unit and managed to squirm my way out of it.

Finally on the 26th of December I boarded the late night flight to Durban and my rendezvous with the Achille Lauro. She had just completed her first of many Christmas cruise of the season and would arrive in Durban a few hours after I did. Just after 9 that morning I was on the North Pier to watch the arrival of what was to be my first ship. I was well prepared with camera equipment and watched the big twin funneler emerge from the glare and sail down the  channel into the  harbour. It was hard to comprehend that in a few hours I would be standing where the passengers were standing now.
Arrival in Durban. 26/12/1986

Arrival in Durban. 26/12/1986

It was something to contemplate while waiting through the next few hours. I do not remember much of the next few hours, I just remember handing over my luggage to the baggage master and joining in the queue of about 90 people in what was then the old passenger terminal in Durban harbour. If only buildings could talk what would this one say to me? this had been the place where so many passenger liners had previously berthed and disgorged their cargo of humanity before loading more for the long voyage elsewhere. Now it spent most of the time empty, the demise of Union-Castle in the 70’s and the downturn in shipping from our ports had robbed us of the passenger liners who had called here so often before.
Alongside the Ocean Terminal in Durban

Alongside the Ocean Terminal in Durban

The day was long and hot and humid, occasionally announcements came from the ship alongside and her empty teak decks and calm exterior beckoned. The queue was not moving… it just grew longer and longer and longer but still nothing happened. As the afternoon wore on occasionally a uniformed Italian would consult with somebody and they would return to the ship. Then what was obviously a purser arrived and they set up their table and started processing the passengers. It was a slow process with tickets being checked against the manifest and table allocations being sorted and passports stamped and security checks. Then it was my turn and being alone I was swiftly through the whole rigmarole and stepped into the long tunnel which was the telescopic gangway which led straight into the vessel. As I stood on the open end of the gangway I was able to look down at the hull of this pre-war ship and see her tumblehome hull and the many rivets which held her together, it was amazing.
 
On board my ticket was checked and I was handed over to an Italian steward who led me down the many corridors and alleys which made up the interior of the vessel, my cabin on A Deck was deep in the bowels of the ship, right aft and next to the engine control room and the open shell doors where the fuel was being taken in from. There was only one staircase which led to this area of the ship and the dining room was just down the passage. The cabin, a four berth inside had its own bathroom and 2 bunks with 2 pullman berths. There was no porthole and while quite a large cabin as 4 berths go, it was no suite ala QE2.
Our Cabin on A-Deck

Our Cabin on A-Deck

The heat was barely stirred by the feeble air conditioning and I was soon wilting even more. The water from the taps was not drinkable and I would have to rely on the vagaries of the steward and a thermos jug which seem to have come from the ark. My cabin mates, all strangers, arrived in dribs and drabs but seeing as I was the first in the cabin I managed to secure a lower berth. My luggage was also at the cabin, having been brought by one of the army of sweating baggage carrying stevedores/baggage handlers. Then it was time to go look around and try find my way up to the deck.
Bridge and Lido Deck

Bridge and Lido Deck

Promenade and Boat Deck

Promenade and Boat Deck

Main and Foyer Deck

Main and Foyer Deck

A and B Decks

A and B Decks

The ship is reasonably straight forward in design, with cabins on all decks, the better class ones being higher up in the ship. Lounges fore and aft, with 2 pools on the aft deck separated by a tennis court. The twin blue winged funnels dominating the whole scene aloft.

Looking aft from the bridge wing

The ship was showing her age, although she was not really tatty at all, maintenance was going on all the time and she was really very clean and well looked after. The riveted lifeboats, recessed into the hull were over the main deck which was the only deck which ran all the way round the hull and this would become one of my favourite spots for strolling around while at sea. On the quayside curious people stood and looked at the ship while I was one of the more fortunate ones who was staring back from the ship itself. Inspite of the chaos of embarkation things were peaceful and quiet on board, but the bustle was increasing as the departure time drew nearer.

 
It took about 3 hours to get everybody on board, then the flow decreased to a trickle and eventually the gangways started to be raised, tugs arrived and the time had arrived to sail. I cannot really say we left the quayside, if anything it was as if the quayside left us, with us slowly being towed away from the quayside with no discernible motion at all. Then we were swung into the turning basin and the deck started vibrating beneath us as the big blue ship started to head for the channel. The pilot boat drew alongside and accompanied us on our forward progress.
As we had pulled away they started to play the Achille song La nave blu…..
Foremast

Foremast

 
la nave blu
gira per il mondo
scivola sull’onda
come un Delfino fila e va
E’un signo viaggiare
E’un piacere ritornare
sull’ Achille
Re del Mar!
 
la nave blu
dall ‘ Europa all Australia
per i mari ovunque va

Achille, I say Goodbye

 

Then we dropped the pilot  and the Achille blew her whistle. By that time I had moved to the area above the bridge and the whistle, was mounted in the mast was above my head. The three blasts were deafening but worth it. Then the RP Jackson blew her 3 blasts back and I swear she was even louder than the Achille. We answered with one blast and so did the Jackson before she turned and headed back to her berth. 

Achille sailing from Durban with me aboard. (Howard Burr image)

Achille sailing from Durban with me aboard. (Howard Burr image)

The North Pier slid by, people waving as we passed. then the end of the pier and we were out of the harbour, rising to the swell over the bar. The John Rolfe helicopter buzzed us and I suddenly realised I was exhausted and headed for a deck chair and assumed the position I was to prefer…. on each ship I sailed on; feet up against the rail, the sea rushing past, the wind blowing, the feel of being on a ship.

Daily program (1500×610)

I had been allocated a table in the dining salon with an elderly couple and their son, it was agony because the mother dominated both the father and son and I was left to drink my way almost into a stupor from the carafe of house wine on our table. The conversation was desultory, punctuated by “yes dear” and “yes mother”. It was agony. The food however was edible, predominantly pasta and veal with a nice buffet of cold meats and salad and cheese. The desert was really great and all in all supper was reasonably good. The table service was good, our steward being of the old style Italian table stewards from the heydays of Italia Line.
 
Usually there were 2 shows to attend after supper and these were often staggered for first and second sitting passengers, often it was difficult to remember which was which but fortunately a comprehensive program was slipped under the cabin door at night. Our cabin steward left much to be desired though, he spent most of the time serving the 4 girls down the alleyway and it was a major story to get him to fill that thermos jug of water. Fortunately I discovered a water fountain 1 deck up and that helped a lot.
Promenade Deck. My favourite spot

Promenade Deck. My favourite spot

I spent the days lounging on a deck chair in the covered promenade deck, the way it should be as opposed to being cooked to a crisp on the pool deck with its hordes of sun worshippers. The sea was glass calm and there were flying fish galore and birds all around us, inspite of the closest land being beneath our keel. It was a 3 day sail to Mauritius with us due to spend 1 day in Mauritius before returning home. This was my first trip out of the country since the army and I was very excited.

The Achille, was fitted with stabilisers and while she rolled very little she did pitch a lot and it was great fun to sit and watch people staggering around as she moved, I was fascinated by the huge bow wave thrown out by the ship from my vantage point on the main deck and it was even stranger to sit in the forward lounge with its muted music and see the bow as an immovable object moving through the blue sea.

Three days later we arrived in Mauritius, sailing through the harbour with this tropical island all around us. I had heard a lot about the place but this was my first visit.

 
Alongside a band played ineffectual music as we tied up and buses lined up to take us on the prebooked tours. I had elected to take the tour which took in the botanical gardens and the aquarium as well as one of the hotels. The aquarium was stunning and so was the site of the aquamarine sea with its pristine beaches. Unfortunately though, Port Louis was a disappointment and what I did see of the island was not the paradise I had expected it to be.
 
 
I returned to the ship but decided to hire a bum boat to take me around the harbour to see the ships and I did this before going back on board the quiet sanity of our ship. The weather had become grey and gloomy and rain threatened. We singled up our lines late that afternoon and with some help from the pilot boat and the 2 tugs managed to get off the wall and head for home.
Engine Control Room (A Deck)

Engine Control Room (A Deck)

I managed to get down to the engine room and we were even shown the bullet holes in the control room. Below deck the original Sulzer diesels thundered away, the engine room however was very grimy and this would eventually be partially responsible for the loss of the ship. Amazingly much of the original equipment was still in place and apart from the new radar installation not much had changed since she had been transformed from the Willem Ruys to the Achille Lauro.
Left hand down a bit

Left hand down a bit

The bridge visit was enjoyable too as it was the first ships bridge I had been on and I even took the helm for about 30 seconds.
The entertainment on board continued unabated, there were movies and cabaret and Bingo, trivia quizzes, lectures and lots of food. With our second last day before getting to Durban being New Years day. Old years Eve there was a big party but I did not feel like participating too much, much had been happening in my life which was weighing down on me and I was very introspective. The next day we started packing our luggage, queuing to collect our photos and counting out our tips for the stewards, agreement was that our cabin steward did not really deserve much of a tip as we had had very little service from him at all. Before going to bed we placed our luggage outside our door and went to sleep, lulled by the hum of machinery and the gentle movement of the vessel.
Entering Durban Harbour

Entering Durban Harbour

That morning we sailed into a gloomy and overcast Durban, people stood on the north pier and waved as we entered the port, the next voyage would take the Achille to Australia where visa problems awaited the passengers. For me I had a plane to catch and a home to get back to. I watched her sail from my uncles flat and I knew that this had been my first trip, there would be other ships in the future, better ones and nicer voyages. But the Achille would hold that special place in my heart as my first ship.
     A few years on…..
I would see her many times on the trips down to Durban, and she was a regular caller during the Christmas season for a number of years.
I even managing a visit to her a few years later, sadly she was not looking as good as when I had sailed on her in 1986 and it was obvious that she had very few years left in service before SOLAS overtook her. When I had sailed on the Achille in 1986 she was being operated by Flotta Lauro/Chandris, while in 1989 operation was being handled by what was known as StarLauro. The Achille briefly carried a new funnel logo in the form of an L with the 5 pointed star. Eventually sanity prevailed and the ship reverted back to her old 5 pointed star logo.  
StarLauro was then bought out by MSC, and the annual cruise season out of South Africa became longer. The demise of TFC after the Oceanos loss left a much stronger and dynamic Starlight Cruises to handle the operation of the ship for South Africans. Her hull also took on a more attractive dark blue hue and the blue ships popularity did not decrease at all. However, it was obvious that the writing was on the wall.

StarLauro branded towel

Her loss through fire came as no surprise, while cruising en route to South Africa in November 1994, she caught fire, the years of accumulated oil in the engine room contributed to the fire and in the end she went down while under tow. It was a warriors funeral for a ship which had far outlived her contemporaries.

There are 1/1250 models of her out there, the most well known being the CMKR versions of her as Willem Ruys and as Achille Lauro. I managed to snag one in 2019, and was amazed to find that she is available in both the dark blue and light blue iteration. Mine is the dark blue version with unpainted decks.

There is also a plinthed model but I have never seen one in person or know anything about it. I would not mind getting one of them too. The image I found on the internet. 

 

 A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WILLEM RUYS/ACHILLE LAURO.

By Ellen Butland.

In January 1939, the keel of the Willem Ruys was laid down at the De Schelde Shipyard, Flushing, Holland. While under construction, Holland was invaded by the Nazi’s. As a consequence, all work was halted. When the Germans demanded that the ship must be completed for them, the Dutch shipwrights worked as slowly as they dared, and the Dutch resistance committed several acts of sabotage, delaying the work further still. It was only by sheer luck that the partially completed hull was not destroyed by the Germans as they retreated at the end of the war. Seven years and six months after the keel had been laid, the ship finally entered her natural element, and was taken to the fitting out bay to be completed. This took over a year-from July 1, 1946 to early November 1947.
 
Willem Ruys. (Purchased on board)

Willem Ruys. (Purchased on board)

 
The company decided to name the ship Willem Ruys in tribute to the director who had been taken hostage and murdered during the war. The Willem Ruys was delivered to her owners on November 21, 1947. Originally, the accommodation was divided into four classes, with a total capacity of 840 berths. Rotterdam was the home port, and she to be used on the route to Indonesia, via Southampton, the Mediterranean, Suez and Aden.
 
In 1958, the Royal Rotterdamsche Lloyd and the Nederland Line signed a co-operative agreement to create a round-the-world passenger service. Together with the Oranje and the Johan Van Oldengarnevelt, the Willem Ruys underwent an extensive refit to prepare her for this new service. The Willem Ruys made two charter trips to Montreal for the Europa-Canada line. Then, from September 20, 1958 until February 25, 1959, 2000 technicians and workmen laboured day and night to prepare the ship for her new career. Her original four class distinctions became First and Tourist. The addition of 100 new cabins increased her berths to 1167. The Javanese crew members were replaced by Europeans, who required upgraded crew accommodation. The liner received full air-conditioning, Denny Brown stabilisers; a new evaporator plant; and new auxiliary engines as well as having her public rooms refurbished, and some deck areas increased in size. Even her funnels received a lift of ten feet. This new service lasted only five years and the Willem Ruys and Oranje were sold to Achille Lauro, owner of Flotta Lauro of Naples in 1964. The Lauro interests had been planning to build two 27 000 ton liners, but when the two Dutch ships were offered for sale, Lauro immediately negotiated to purchase them. Both ships were scheduled to be rebuilt and modernised, the Willem Ruys (now renamed Achille Lauro) by the CN Riuniti di Palermo; and Oranje (now Angelina Lauro) by Cant del Tirreno, Genoa. An explosion and fire aboard the Achille Lauro resulted in serious damage, but in spite of this setback, the liners were ready for their new role in March/April 1966.
 
Achille Lauro in the Panama Canal

Achille Lauro in the Panama Canal

Outwardly, they were almost unrecognisable, their profiles changed, their bows altered and their stacks heightened and furnished with large smoke-deflecting wings. Inwardly their public room’s and cabins were completely refurbished (with even more berths added.) They went back into service to Australia, hauling immigrants, their leisurely return journeys to Europe paid for by the outward, crammed voyages. However, by 1972, the lucrative immigrant trade was ending, taken over by the airlines. While undergoing overhaul work at Genoa, the Achille was badly damaged by fire on May 19, 1972. By the end of the year, she was cruising full-time. Some uneventful years followed, marred only by Achille Lauro ramming and sinking the 497 ton Lebanese freighter Youssef off the Turkish coast on 28 April, 1975.
 
Achille Lauro cruised on, but her problems were not over. The Lauro lines declared bankruptcy in 1982. The Achille Lauro, about to set off on a long cruise to Africa, was seized and laid up in Teneriffe and later moved to Genoa. The Lauro directors were meantime working on ways to re-finance their company. With a secure charter to the Chandris Line, and a reorganised business, they resumed cruising in 1985. The Achille Lauro was reactivated and began cruising in the Mediterranean but, on 7th October 1985, the Achille Lauro was hi-jacked by a PLO splinter group with the loss of one life. The ship continued to operate for Flotta Lauro until 1987, when it was bought by the Swiss-based Mediterranean Shipping Company, who rebranded the company as Starlauro Cruises.  In 1989 she appeared with a new funnel logo which was not popular and soon reverted back to the familiar star logo. From 1985 until 1993 she spent at least two months a year under charter to TFC tours and later StarLight Cruises of South Africa for the Christmas season. She served with them until November 1994, when she caught fire off the Somalia coast while on a Genoa-South Africa positioning cruise. The ship was abandoned, and foundered 2 days later while under tow.
 
 DRW. © 1992-2019 Moved to blog 06/12/2013. Updated 14/02/2019, some images added 02/03/2019
Updated: 02/03/2019 — 05:31
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