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.
When we arrived in Durban in March 1992, I was very happy to see the Avalon alongside. Recently retired from her St Helena role, she was in Durban under the name Avalon, and theoretically starting a series of voyages carrying passengers on cruises to the Indian Ocean Islands. She was berthed alongside at Ocean Terminal, and had to vacate that berth as the QE2 was due to occupy it on the next day. By some skullduggery we managed to wangle a short hop across the harbour on board her.
What we did not know at the time was that this small vessel would never get to make any money and would end up laid up in Durban until she was eventually sold for further trading in the Indian Ocean Islands.
I did however have a soft spot for her, and a part of me really wanted to sail on this mini mailship. As RMS St Helena she had a loyal following, and she was a real oldie that was way too small for the service she was in. Following her Falklands service she was succeeded by the new RMS St Helena, a ship I was fortunate enough to sail on in 1993.
Following our trip across the harbour we were fortunate to be invited to view the QE2 arrival and sailing from her decks. At this point we were hoping that we would manage a visit to the QE2, and I could not help remember that at that point when she arrived there would be two Falklands Veterans in Durban at the same time.
And then it was time for the QE2 to arrive, and we posed for a shot with Avalon and the QE2 in the background. You can see how small the old RMS really was, but she was still one of my favourites.
The ship visit did not happen and eventually some of us returned to the RMS to glower and grumble at the ship that we would label “the other ship” for a year or two. But, the RMS had been friendlier, providing us with a place to view the Cunarder sailing later that afternoon.
And the Avalon?
Things did not go well for her, she was moved to the layup berths at Salisbury Island and then put on the market. The venture to take her cruising had failed, and high prices were probably to blame for that, Realistically though, she was a tired old ship, worn out by the long voyages she made between the UK and South Africa, as well as her Falklands service as a minesweeper mothership.
When we returned to Durban on a later trip we found her berthed around the corner from N Shed, her hull was a darker colour than when we had last seen her. It is possible that she had just been sold by then.
And I would see her once more as she was getting ready for her new role in Mauritius, under the name Indianoceanique. I never saw her after that, and I heard that she was broken up in at Alang in 1996.
This image may have been taken in 1994 as the Achille Lauro was still afloat, yet it was taken off the back of a cruise ship, and I suspect it was from Kazakhastan II.
The RMS left me with a hunkering for her replacement, and she too is a fine ship and I am glad I did get to sail on her. Sadly though, the former Northland Prince/St Helena has faded into history, although I have never forgotten her.
Visited March 1990 in Durban. I was not really impressed by her though. The ship visit was a bit of a damp squib too, and the weather was not particularly nice either.
She stayed overnight, and we went down to try get night shots of her. I don’t know why I have no sailing shots of her, logically there should be, but possibly we returned to JHB shortly after we took the night shots.
I would see her once again in 2013, sailing under the name Saga Ruby, and she really looked beautiful, although she was in her last days of commercial service as a cruise ship. She was much more memorable in Southampton than I remembered her when she came to Durban as Vistafjord. She was also the first “Cunarder” that I visited.
On 12 April 2017 the former Vistafjord was beached at Alang for demolition.
The sinking of the Oceanos off Coffee Bay in 1991 would have serious repercussions for our already struggling cruising industry in South Africa. However, it also brought change and helped to create a whole new dynamic operator who has since dominated the local market.
I have an interest in the Oceanos because she was my third cruise experience, and I really enjoyed my trip on her. A lot of the material on this page comes from pages that I created many years ago, and I have left them unchanged since then. As you read it, so it happened.
But first a bit of history:
The Oceanos was originally built as Jean Laborde, and was the last of four sister ships built for Messageries Maritimes. All ships were twin screw with Burmeister and Wain diesels developing 12 500 BHP with a maximum speed of 18,5 knots. They were designed for use on the Marseilles to Madagascar and Mauritius service.
Following many name changes and new owners she was acquired by Epirotiki Lines of Greece in 1976 who operated her successfully in Mediterranean waters for many years. In 1988 she came to South Africa where she successfully completed a cruise season. Her return in 1991 was to be the first long term cruise ship deployment in our waters since the 1970’s.
Causes of and factors contributing to the loss of the Oceanos.
On Afternoon of 3 August 1991 the Oceanos sailed from East London bound for Durban. A bomb threat had delayed the ship and she was on a tight schedule. The weather up coast was rough and it would be a bumpy ride for the 571 passengers and crew on board.
In the engine room repairs to a faulty waste disposal system had not been completed and a vital ventilation pipe had been omitted. This pipe ran through the aft watertight bulkhead of the generator room. Non return valves had also been left out of the waste disposal tank. At roughly 09.30 pm, a muffled explosion was heard and the ship lost power. The engineer explained that the ship was taking in water, either from a leak in the hull or after touching ground en route. The water had shorted the generators and immobilised the engines. The hole in the watertight bulkhead was allowing water to flood the waste tank which was then dispersing water throughout the plumbing of the ship and there was nothing that could be done about it except take to the boats.
The rescue of the passengers was accomplished mainly by other ships in the area as well as the South African Air Force which flew an incredible 7 hour mission to land the survivors. It is also the first time in history that such a successful rescue operation by helicopter was carried out on such a large scale.
The conduct of the crew was hotly debated with allegations of dereliction of duty being specifically laid at the master of the vessel. However, it is recognised that many crew members did their duty as long as they were able. The evacuation of the ship was mostly supervised by members of the entertainment and TFC staff on board. Amazingly no lives were lost in this disaster.
There is a very good video on YouTube that explains the circumstances very well. However, at some point this link may go 404. You can also use the image below to access the video.
THE END OF THE OCEANOS AS IT HAPPENED.
Sunday 04/08/91 12H00.
This morning at 05H30 I was awoken by Neville Dolley telling me that the Oceanos was adrift off Coffee Bay, her engine room flooded, the passengers in the boats or still stuck on board. The Air Force was on their way and things did not look good. The Oceanos was the first cruise ship based in South Africa since the demise of all those wonderful vessels that used to call here regularly. She would be the ship that was going to reopen the cruising market properly again. I had sailed on her in 1989 and was hoping to do a coastal later on in the year on her. Some time last night it appears as if she started to take on water, rapidly filling up the engine room and cutting off the power. From then on the Oceanos was in serious trouble.
Fortunately an SOS was sent and a massive rescue operation was undertaken. Meanwhile off PE an oil tanker is also in trouble and the two salvage tugs, John Ross and Wolraad Woltemade are steaming flat out for her. Radio reports are sketchy, Radio 702 is basically giving out standard, non-committal news reports whereas Radio Highveld has reported that 100 people were unaccounted for and the vessel had run aground. We know that things are chaotic and that accurate reporting is difficult under the circumstances. So far I still am not sure of what her actual status is. The Oceanos was a great ship, the atmosphere on board was brilliant, she had a friendly crew, the food was excellent and she had a general friendliness that I had not experienced on any ship I had been on. About 2 months ago my travel agent phoned me, offering this particular cruise at a very cheap price, I even passed the word to others, hoping that we would be able to make a group up and go on her. We would have been on her at this moment!
I have just seen the first visuals on TV, she is listing badly and things do not look good, how could this happen? At the moment I am waiting for the TV news update promised for 15H30 to see what has happened, the news that 100 people are unaccounted for is worrying!
Radio Highveld, 15H30:
SAPA reports that more than than 100 are unaccounted for. It is uncertain how many people have been saved. Durban port authorities have confirmed she sank at 13h30. 220 people were airlifted from the Oceanos to Coffee Bay, 150 people were rescued from sea, there were 580 passengers and crew on board.
The salvage tug Wolraad Woltemade has reached the tanker Mimosa which is adrift about 45 kilometres off Port Elizabeth. The ship is leaking oil and her steering gear is damaged. The harbour tug PJ Du Plessis was first on the scene. The John Ross is expected to join in the operation later.
The Oceanos has sunk. However the passenger situation is still unclear. The visuals that were shown are frightening, I am glad that I was not on board when this happened.
By now the whole drama has played itself out. The real heroes are the SAAF chopper pilots who braved extremely hazardous conditions to rescue those in trouble. The passengers remained calm and it appears as if the band played music to calm the nerves. There are disturbing stories about the crew abandoning the ship to save themselves and of the master being taken off the ship in the early morning. The representative from Epirotiki is very evasive, he does not even know the Captain’s name! There is still confusion about the amount of people missing, however it seems to be about 27.
TV1 06H30. 05-08-91.
As I got up I switched the TV on and they showed the final moments of the Oceanos. There was an unreal quality about the footage, here was the whole thing in colour, the blue sea, the cream coloured hull, the white deck chairs and this ship that I got to know so well slowly being swallowed by the sea. Eventually only debris was left behind. She was gone. The time had now arrived for postmortems, accusations and speculation.
As the day has gone past so the papers have told their story and the survivors have come home. All that is left are questions. Those will hopefully be answered once an inquiry is held.
It is Wednesday, all the passengers are safe and there are allegations flying left, right and centre. It is going to take a very impartial look at the circumstances. Too many hysterical passengers have said things that were not strictly true, they have laid the Master’s career on the line and discredited the shipping company. On the other hand the Master has not exactly played his cards straight and frankly things are very uncertain. Hopefully the success of the rescue will overshadow the bad things that have surfaced. I hope this is not the end of cruising in South Africa.
It is well worth reading “Against All Odds” by Andrew Pike (published by Jonathan Ball Publishers 2019). It provides a new look at the disaster and the conduct of the crew, and puts forward more information as to why the ship went down. It is interesting reading, but does not have all the answers.
The vessels are double ended with a wheelhouse on either end and a central engine room with an open lower deck (cheaper) and an enclosed upper (more expensive).
The debate is out though as to whether the upper deck is better than the lower.
From a price perspective the lower is more affordable, while from a view point perspective the upper is. But, the lower deck is so much nicer because you are so close to the water.
Rough dimensions are: Length Overall 36.28m, Extreme Breadth 8.57m, Net tonnage: 39.69, Gross Tonnage 164.01, Passenger capacity 551, Minimum crew 5. They were all built at Hong Kong & Whampoa Shipyards. Golden Star and World Star were built in 1989 by Wang Tak Engineering & Shipbuilding Ltd and can carry 762 as opposed to 576 for the rest of the fleet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A VOYAGE ON THE ORIANA. 22-03-97 to 24-03-97. Durban-Cape Town
The announcement that Canberra would be replaced by a new ship was greeted with much dismay by everybody. The concept vessel shown to the media was criticised as being too much like a wedding cake and too little like Canberra. She was built by Joseph Meyer of Papenburg, Germany and entered service in 1995. Soon it was announced that this ship, known as Oriana, would be calling in Durban during her 1997 world cruise. The time had come for us to sail again. I was one of the first South Africans to book the short Durban to Cape Town trip, I phoned as the voyage was made available. Needless to say I took what I could get! The berth that I chose was a shared 4 berth inside cabin. This berth was guaranteed but I would only know my cabin number once the ship arrived, something that would play in my favour once she was in Durban.
Then it was time to wait and watch the exchange rate. The ship was due in Durban on 22 March, arriving in Cape Town on 24 March, a short 1 day and two night hop. By now Rudi had booked as well and we started counting the days.
As the sailing grew closer I decided that I would return to Durban on Symphony just for fun and went ahead and booked that as well. Now I had two ships to look forward to and an empty bank account.
Early in the morning, on Friday the 21st we departed on the long drive to Durban. Howard was at the helm and for once we made the trip down in daylight! The problem was that the grotty weather was coming too and we hit the usual rain at Van Reenen and all the way to Durban. Duly arriving we headed off for lunch on board the 40000 ton container ship, MSC Samia. before dropping Rudi and his girl friend off at their sleeping place. The rest of us made for the tug Jannie Oelofsen where we would be spending the night. There were not too many movements on the go and yet they were all very interesting.
Our last movement was to a ship which seemed really decrepit, its lines could not reach the quayside and she was having engine problems. On arrival back at the tug jetty we found Ken Malcolm, who joined Neville and Clive Bush on the pilot boat while Howard and I hopped on to the tug. The pilot boat headed out to sea to drop off a pilot at Symphony and one at Oriana. Our tug was allocated to Oriana, and with the weather finally clearing, we awaited our first glimpse of this great ship. Symphony waddled in first, looking as great as ever but she was soon to be overwhelmed by what was astern of her.
Our first sight of Oriana was of a huge white ship which really was not attractive when foreshortened. However, once she was in view and had turned completely then only could we appreciate her. She was huge, dazzling white and perfectly trimmed onto her waterline. Equipped with three bow thrusters, twin screws, twin rudders and a stern thruster, she berthed herself while the tugs stood off in awe.
Dropped off by the tug we quickly collected the guys and we headed for the ship. There was no doubt that she was big, she towered over everything in sight and made Symphony look like a toy. We headed down to the gangway where I attempted to get the guys on board as Rudi had not organised a ship visit. There was no luck in that department, however I was taken on board to get my cabin number and booked in as well. I now had a boarding pass and could come and go as I pleased. I got off again and we all went around to Symphony to look at her, alas there was no visit organised either. Time was passing, and the smell of food was rather urgent so I said my farewells to everybody and headed for my newest ship….
The 4 images below were all taken in 2013 in Southampton.
The entrance is on F deck where the reception desk and bottom of the 5 deck atrium is situated. The carpets are a light green colour and a fountain gurgles behind the staircase. One deck up are the shops with the Peninsular restaurant midships and Oriental restaurant aft. The next deck has a spectacular wrap around promenade as well as the Pacific lounge, Lords Tavern, Harlequins lounge, the casino, Andersons with its club like atmosphere, and the really spectacular Theatre Royal. D deck houses the children’s playrooms, Chaplains Cinema, library, The Crichton complex and passenger cabins.
The next three decks are devoted solely to cabins with the Lido deck right on top of all of these. Here is found the conservatory where the buffet is served. The two pools are on this deck as well as the gym. The deck surrounding this area has a jogging track around the ship while the entrance to the Crows Nest is found forward. There are three sets of lifts in the ship and they all work!. The terrace pool is situated on the promenade deck aft and the view from the sun deck down to the stern where this pool is, is really spectacular. The massive buff funnel crowns the whole package and is easily recognisable for miles.
Surprisingly enough, the ship, inspite of its size is relatively simple to find your way around. My cabin was on E deck and the number two staircase was just around the corner. Inside, the cabin was small but neat. There were three other guys in the cabin, one of whom was on his sixth world cruise and who had been on since Southampton. There was a fridge, TV, mini-safe and every other amenity imaginable in that cabin. The missing porthole was not really a problem. Once on deck, I watched Symphony sail and as she passed I could almost look down her funnel. By the time we sailed it was late and the light was failing and it looked like rain was brewing again. The wind howled us off the decks and we all headed below. There was very little vibration or motion on board and it was very difficult to think that you were on board a ship.
Being such a big ship, there is never any feeling of crowds of people, in fact I wonder how full she really was? There was quite a bit to do on board, bars to visit, shops to ogle, movies to attend and of course food to scoff. I had eaten lunch at the conservatory and if it was any indication of the standard of service on board then we were really in for a treat. I was not disappointed as we sat down for supper in the Peninsular restaurant.
The service was brilliant with two very articulate and polite stewards catering for our every need. There was food galore, in fact too much food for one sitting as far as I am concerned. However it was dispatched with great gusto and we all retired that night feeling somewhat bloated.
More food awaited us at breakfast, again in the conservatory. The place was so big that It never really was crowded and the queues were quite small. Our next visit was to reception where we enquired whether it was possible to present our World Ship Society plaque to the master. After some phone calls we were told that we would be informed, so off we scuttled, meeting at the jacuzzi. We spent the morning eating ice cream in the jacuzzi with a howling wind around us. On arrival back at the cabin I discovered that our visit to the master was scheduled for 11H30 and it was 11H20 already. Needless to say I could not find Rudi and I had some quick explaining to do to the captain’s secretary. The visit was rescheduled for later that day and off we went for more food! Lunch over, we were introduced to the master and presented our plaque.
Once we finished off there it was as if we had accomplished all that had to be done and the rest of the time I spent on a deck chair on that glorious promenade watching the sea go by. After all, isn’t that what sea travel is all about?
The next morning it was up early to watch the approach to Cape Town. We passed Cape Point around 06H30 but there were clouds around everything and we could not see very much. We entered Cape Town harbour about 08H30, the tugs were spraying water and on the quayside a band played stirring nautical type tunes. This time Oriana had lines on the tugs and she did not berth herself. A mediocre crowd awaited us as we slowly started our disembarkation. Once off the ship I met up with my lift and we went to drop my luggage before heading out to town. The ship dominated everything and we could see that huge funnel for miles.
That night in cold weather the Oriana took her leave, sailing slowly past us as we stood at the quayside, her lights were all burning and the funnel glowed in the spotlights. As she dropped the pilot I could see the tiered decks that overlooked the terrace pool. I had stood there not too long ago, now it was over and Oriana was on her way home. I had another ship to catch the next day, but would anything ever compare? somehow I doubted it. The Symphony may be a great ship, but she is not in the same league as Oriana was.
Oriana, a retrospect. (2013)
In early 2013 I was living in Southampton and Oriana soon became a familiar face in the port. She has been in service since 9 April 1995, and at the time was considered to be one of the biggest cruise ships afloat. Times have changed, P&O became part of Carnival, and Oriana is now 18 years old. There have been a number of changes on board her, but externally she acquired a new stern addition that has not really improved her looks. She also acquired a new port of registry, and is now registered in Bermuda. If anything she still stands out amongst a crowd of non-descript blocks of flats, and along with Aurora she is a proper ship and looks like one. When I first saw her berth herself I did not know that years down the line it would become commonplace for a cruise ship to come alongside on her own, and unberth herself. Tugs are becoming almost superfluous.
I worked baggage handling on her in June 2013, and we really worked like crazy, moving over one thousand items of luggage. Between shifts I managed to get on board and look around her, and she is familiar, but not so familiar. She does seem to have lost that gloss she had when we sailed on her, and in parts she is looking tired. But, she is still beautiful. I would travel on her again given the opportunity, because like Canberra before her she has acquired a character unique to her, and when you see her she still has those many features that were integrated into her design to make her a worthy successor to the one and only Canberra. But, make no mistake, she is a unique ship all of her own and well worth seeing and sailing on.
The bad news: 2018.
It was announced that Oriana will be leaving the fleet in August 2019 and has been sold to Chinese interests. It was always on the cards that at some point she would no longer fit the corporate image, and sadly that time has come. It is expected that Aurora would be the next to go. So if you want to sail on Oriana you have less than a month left.
I have two of these, the smaller one is by Mercator and is 1/1250 scale. They were selling them on board at the time for £20.
These images were taken on board in 2013 with my phone. I make no excuses for the quality.
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!
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 inaccessible 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.
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?
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
However for us there was no reason to stay and we set off for home.
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.