Now many years ago, when Union-Castle had gone from our waters and cruising was not even an option in South Africa, along came the Astor. Owned by Safmarine, she had been built in 1981 and had been a failure for the original owners, as she was for Safmarine too. I recall when I was first looking for a cruise in 1986 there were still brochures for the ship, but she had departed from our shores. I believe one of the issues with the vessel was that she was not suited for South African waters and was uneconomical to run in the service they intended.
Safmarine then commissioned an almost identical vessel, albeit slightly larger, and they sold her almost immediately while she was still under construction.
The ship currently sitting at City Terminal is that original Astor. She arrived some time in the morning of 21 November and I was only able to get pics of her alongside when I got home from work and it was already dark.
I was hoping that I could get pics of her sailing the next day, as she had a 4pm sailing time, and Fridays I get off early. Lo and behold she was still alongside when I arrived at Mayflower Park shortly before 2.50. The weather was stunning and the late afternoon sun really made her stand out compared to my almost identical pic from the previous evening.
According to my usual sources her sailing time had been moved forward to 15H45 so I decided to hang around and wait for her sailing instead of going home and then having to come back to the harbour almost immediately.
It was going to be a long chilly wait as the aft crane moved busily between quayside and deck, possibly loading luggage? The sun did not have much longer to shine on this afternoon and the light was deepening all the time.
As sailing time grew nearer I was getting anxious, because the radar wasn’t turning and the tell tale puff of smoke hadn’t happened either. The sun was almost on the horizon by now, and with Adonia due to sail at 16H00 I was beginning to think she was going to be delayed. Yet, according to my handy source she had already left!
Then I saw lines start to come in and the radar was spinning and smoke was coming from that strange tall distinctive funnel. Without the aid of a tug she pulled away from City Terminal and headed my way. The sun was gone and only the faint afterglow remained, turning the sky an orangeish pink. Some of her deck lights were on too, so with a bit of luck I would still get semi decent images of her.
Up at Mayflower Adonia was also getting ready to move so I would be seeing two movements for the price of one.
She is not an unattractive vessel, but of the two ships the second Astor just looked better, the extra few metres in length gave her much better balance.
The strange funnel has always drawn criticism, it does look much too tall for such a narrow beam, and it is not too difficult to envisage a better looking funnel on her, but the funnel makes the pair of ships unique, and at least it isn’t a stove pipe like Costa has. The funnel is supposedly representing a packet of cigarettes with 4 cigarettes poking out of it (I kid you not).
And then she was past me, and I turned to watch Adonia sailing. I was thoroughly chilled by now and did not hang around long after that. I was glad to have seen this ship with a connection to South Africa, and she is now already a classic vessel in her own right. Amongst my goodies I have a publicity pic of her with Hapag Lloyd’s Europa in an Italian port. By 2022 Europa was still sailing but no longer for as Saga Sapphire.
In 2019, Saga Pearl II was replaced by Saga’s first new build: Spirit of Discovery, and sailed on her last voyage from Portsmouth on 16 February 2019 for a 54-day cruise to South Africa. She was then sold to Aqua Explorer Holdings and renamed Pearl II. It was planned to convert her into the world’s biggest private yacht, but that never happened and in July 2022 she was sent for breaking up.
What happened to the larger Astor? She ended up being sold to Black Sea Shipping Company, and reflagged in the Soviet Union under the name Fedor Dostoevskiy, and she called in South Africa, being photographed by a friend in Durban. Following a number of different owners she successfully sailed for Cruise and Maritime Voyages under the name Astor until CMV went bankrupt following the covid pandemic in 2020 and sadly was sent to the breakers in Turkey in November 2020.
DRW © 2013-2022 Images recreated 14/04/2016, added image of model 15/07/2019