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 Unfortunately the ship was withdrawn by Epirotiki Lines and the Aegean Dolphin was substituted instead.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 for a Durban to Mauritius segment 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 asked 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, and 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.
Our pilots safely delivered we returned to the harbour, just in time to see her enter the channel. This was not a pretty ship, if anything she looked warped!
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 ships interior 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 was beautiful 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 (and order toast for breakfast!).
Interestingly enough I found a drawing of what she looked like before her conversion. I believe she was one of five sisters (Narcis Palintis, Iris, Pascani and Peris) 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 was 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 operated doing “historical and cultural” cruises in the Mediterranean http://www.voyagestoantiquity.com with a smaller passenger load. Unfortunately she may have become a victim of the global pandemic of 2020/2021 and it was rumoured that she was laid up with engine troubles and no longer features on the website above. 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 and images have gone missing)
DRW. © 1992-2021. Last updated 14 April 2007. Moved to blog 14/12/2013, updated 18/09/2016. New Images added 01/03/2019, moved to Musings 22/02/2021, tagged at 14/11/2008