ESPECIALLY ESPRIT- CRYSTAL’S NEW YACHT GOES HIGH TECH

Imagine being able to glide right up to the wreck of the Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic, as she lies sprawled like some great, fallen beast on the bottom of the Aegean. Getting up close and personal to her giant, thirty eight ton propellers; almost close enough to touch them, in fact.

Imagine cruising around the nine hundred foot long hospital ship as she looms over your small, two man submarine like some ancient, felled building.

Sounds like something straight out of the pages of a James Bond novel, right?

But soon, thanks to the newly wrought Crystal Yacht Cruises, this kind of experience could be one of the items on the menu for the sixty-two privileged guests of the soon to be commissioned new luxury yacht, Crystal Esprit.

The Crystal Esprit will carry a small, two passenger submarine on board for expedition dives on each of its voyages; a truly remarkable first for any line. And, while the circumnavigation of the Britannic, outlined above, is not an advertised activity offered on the yacht, it does serve to illustrate the sheer range of undersea possibilities that Crystal can add to complement it’s ‘wonderful world’ of adventures on the surface.

Currently being converted from the platform of the luxury yacht, Megastar Taurus at the Sembawang shipyard in Singapore, the Crystal Esprit will take highly styled, mega yacht cruising to new heights. And, on an adventurous level at least, to new depths as well.

Due to debut this winter with a maiden season in the Seychelles and Dubai, the Crystal Esprit will move to the Aegean and Croatian Riviera for the summer of 2016.

For those sybaritic souls in search of true, all inclusive style in a very intimate atmosphere, the Crystal Esprit will offer the best of all worlds, and comes complete with the all inclusive fares, together with the superlative service and cuisine that the Crystal brand is synonymous with.

At just 3,300 tons and with a capacity for sixty-two guests, the yacht will feature sumptuous, all suite accommodation, both indoor and outdoor restaurants, as well as some very expensively primped outdoor maritime real estate; think plush sofas, pod beds, and the sort of poolside service you would expect to get at a really top notch Ritz Carlton hotel- but without the bill.

In addition to the submarine already mentioned, the Crystal Esprit will also offer the use of four, ten passenger Zodiacs for exclusive adventures ashore, as well as a one off, 12 passenger, 32 metre long yacht, built by Winder, for out of this world meandering around the islets and waterways where the ship sails.

If you’re not quite ready for the level of playing Captain Nemo, there will be a whole raft of less tech-intensive ‘water toys’ available for use from the yacht. These include jet skis and wake boards, and there are also options such as scuba diving, water ski-ing, or even just fishing.

Crystal Esprit has been cruising as a deluxe yacht for Star Cruises, ever since the company acquired her in 1994. She was originally built in Germany for the long defunct Windsor Line as the Lady Sarah, back in 1991.

As things stand, the yacht has a maximum capacity for eighty passengers, which Crystal intends to pare down to sixty two. Public rooms and accommodations are spread over some four decks in all.

This hip, beautifully styled little adventurer raises the bar yet again on small ship cruising. And, for those really wanting to play at being James Bond in an amazing underwater world, there is also the welcome assurance that, this being Crystal, the Martinis served up topside will be superb as well.

Quite the fascinating premise, this one. As ever, stay tuned for further news.

Sail the best of the balmy Aegean on a stunning Crystal Yacht cruises adventure from 2016.

Sail the best of the balmy Aegean on a stunning Crystal Yacht cruises adventure from 2016.

CUNARD AND LIVERPOOL- 175 YEARS OF AFFILATION

The Mauretania was a famous 'Child of the Mersey' in her early days

The Mauretania was a famous ‘Child of the Mersey’ in her early days

Liverpool’s attempts to re-establish itself as a premier UK cruise port have received a massive psychological boost, with the news that Cunard will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2015 with a historic meeting of all three current Cunard Queens in the Mersey port on May 26th, 2015- 175 years after the diminutive paddle wheeler, Britannia, inaugurated Cunard service from Liverpool to the New World. Flagship Queen Mary 2 will actually arrive on May 25th, and overnight on Merseyside.

It is sure to be an incredible spectacle, and a massive media event. And, with Cunard having been largely homeported in Southampton for the better part of a century now, it’s perhaps worth remembering just how close the links once were between the first- and last- company offering a regular transatlantic service, and the famous port on the North West coast of England.

At the turn of the 20th century, Liverpool was the pre eminent port of the British Empire, at a time when it covered fully one quarter of the earth’s surface. The Royal Navy and the British Merchant Marine were the largest of their kind in the world. From Liverpool, liners sailed from the famous Landing Stage to quite literally all corners of the globe.

The flagship service to New York was handled by the newest and latest steamers of those two age old rivals, Cunard and White Star. Both companies had their head offices in Liverpool, and their ships came and went with the punctuality of express trains for decades. Famous names such as Campania, Lucania, Oceanic, Celtic and Caronia all began their lives on the Liverpool to New York run. Some continued to sail it right through their long working lives.

The Mersey port basically got used to being top dog, a position that became seemingly unassailable when Cunard inaugurated the 1907 express service with the immortal Lusitania and Mauretania. And, in the last days prior to the outbreak of the Great War, the palatial new Aquitania became the largest and most opulent liner ever to call Liverpool home. She made just three round trips before the conflict erupted.

The QE2 was synonymous with the Atlantic crossing for almost four decades

The QE2 was synonymous with the Atlantic crossing for almost four decades

But there had been straws in the wind as early as 1907, even as the Lusitania made her record breaking debut. That same year, the White Star Line quietly moved it’s first string service to New York- the so called  ‘Big Four’- out of Liverpool, and down to Southampton, on the channel coast. The burghers of Liverpool were mortified; but White Star knew exactly what it was doing.

For a start, the Hampshire port was unaffected by the fast tides that saw the waters in Liverpool rise and fall a full thirty-three feet, twice a day. It also provided better wharfage and docking facilities than Liverpool. More importantly for White Star, Southampton offered easy, convenient access to channel ports such as Cherbourg, a rapidly growing place of embarkation and disembarkation for Europe bound Americans, while still being convenient for taking on the masses of Irish emigrants that kept the coffers of both major players buoyant.

Last, but not least, strong winds that buffeted the Mersey had the habit of blowing docked ships clean away from their moorings, with potentially dangerous ramifications. Both the Lusitania and the Mauretania suffered just such mishaps and Cunard, not unreasonably, became increasingly alarmed by such events.

It was amazing that Cunard stuck with Liverpool as long as it did; the premier express service continued to sail from there until the outbreak of war. But once the conflict was over, even that company bit the bullet. The surviving Aquitania and Mauretania left the Mersey for Southampton, never to return. The baton of number one passenger terminal had unquestionably passed to the Hampshire port.

But this was not the end of Liverpool as a passenger port; far from it. Second string Cunarders continued to sail from Liverpool to New York, Boston, and numerous Canadian ports. White Star also introduced its new, medium sized Britannic and Georgic into service from Liverpool to America in 1930. And, when Cunard introduced a second Mauretania into service in June of 1939, this stately, mid sized matriach also sailed on the Liverpool to New York run, at least to begin with.

QE2's funnel became a familiar sight on the Mersey

QE2’s funnel became a familiar sight on the Mersey

Even post war, Cunard ran it’s premier passenger service to Canada- the 20,000 ton quartet of Ivernia, Franconia, Saxonia and Carinthia- from Liverpool. This continued sailing right up until 1967, by which time the liner trade- both from Liverpool and Southampton- was pretty much dead in the water in any event. It would take the slow initial growth of cruising to see any sort of revival for both ports.

But Liverpool has always remained a truly mythical port, steeped in memories and maritime lore. And, if anyone needed any proof on that subject, the first, emotional arrival of the Queen Elizabeth 2 in the Mersey in July, 1990, on the 150th anniversary of the maiden crossing by Britannia, definitely put that to rest. More than a million people blackened the banks of the river to see the legendary Cunard icon on that incredible day. Subsequent calls- and I was on board on both her 25th and 40th anniversary cruises- merely reaffirmed the deep, still unbroken bond between Cunard and it’s true, spiritual home.

So the convergence of the current trio of Cunard Queens on the famous Mersey waterfront in 2015 is sure to be a huge, highly charged media event. I am constantly amazed by the way at which even people who normally have no interest with either ships or the sea, can be moved and carried along by just such occasions.

And, with the iconic former Cunard building open for business as a cruise terminal by then, passengers should be able to embark directly aboard the monolithic Queen Mary 2 for her anniversary crossing on July 4th, 2015, an evocative ten day tempter to Halifax, Boston and, ultimately, New York. With this representing the first opportunity to sail direct from Liverpool to New York in half a century, I fully expect it to sell out in a couple of hours once bookings open.

For those lining the Liverpool waterfront, as well as those actually embarked on the Cunard trio on the day itself, this is sure to be one of those great landmark events that stay with you, long after the day itself is history.

TITANIC; WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Launching of the Titanic

Launching of the Titanic

Titanic. The most infamous name in maritime history. Said by some to be the third most recognisable name in the entire English language; beaten only by Jesus Christ and Coca-Cola. Quite a tag team, that one.

But where did the name come from in the first place? Who came up with it, and did it really smack of the hubristic overtones grafted onto it by an armada of latter day ‘experts’? As so often with these things, we will probably never know the whole truth.

David Banks was a former American consul at the court of Siam, the country we now know as Thailand, towards the end of the nineteenth century. It was he that suggested to the White Star Line a pair of names for future steamers it might build. Those names were Olympic and Titanic.

At about that time, the world had just staged the first Olympic Games of the modern era; those held in Athens in 1896. They were a worldwide sensation, offering the biggest and best of everything, and on an unparalleled scale. So it’s not really so difficult to see where Banks came up with the idea for Olympic as a name.

It was current, it had international appeal and, aptly for White Star, it contained the ‘ic’ suffix that had marked out every White Star liner since the first Oceanic of 1871. So no great mysteries there.

But what of Titanic? What was the line of thinking there? Here again, there is a link to ancient Greece.

In Greek mythology, the Titans were a breed of all powerful deities. They were a dozen strong in all, and they were said to be the children of Earth and Sky.  These Titans were held to be immortal (shades of unsinkable) and to possess tremendous stamina and strength. In the pantheon of ancient Greek gods, the Titans were platinum chip royalty.

None of which was enough to stop the second generation of Titans from being overthrown and destroyed by a new, younger set of ‘new gods on the block’- the Olympians….

Workmen posing on the shaft of the Titanic's 38 ton, starboard wing propeller

Workmen posing on the shaft of the Titanic’s 38 ton, starboard wing propeller

So the transformation of ‘Titan’ into Titanic as a name was, in fact, simple and obvious, as well as symmetrical. With it’s Greek origins and obvious parallels with the Olympic, it made perfect sense for White Star to adopt those two names; Olympic and Titanic.

In the event, the company chose to hang onto both names for a very special occasion.

When White Star introduced the second, revolutionary Oceanic in 1899, it was originally intended to build a twin sister ship for her. In the event, this second ship was never built. Legend has it that this mythical second ship was to have been called the Olympic.

And, when White Star built it’s ‘Big Four’ at the turn of the 20th century, none of the quartet- the world’s largest at the time- were graced with the two names. Instead, they were called Celtic, Cedric, Baltic and Adriatic. 

It was only in 1907, a full decade after David Banks made his suggestion to White Star, that the Greek themed names were finally brought into play for the two new, world beating sisters that would be laid down in Belfast over the following eighteen months. Respectively, they would be newbuild (yard) 400- Olympic-and yard 401. Titanic.

Unlike many modern liners, their names were never secrets from the start. In fact, they were etched into the hull of each ship, in three foot high golden letters. They were also proudly displayed on massive hoardings that stood beneath the bows of each of the twin monsters as they took shape. Because of this, their names were public knowledge a full three years before either took to the seas.

No one can say with one hundred per cent certainty who signed off on the use of the decade old names at that time; but it was almost certainly Joseph Bruce Ismay, the autocratic managing director of White Star at the time. No detail escaped his notice. A decision like that would be unthinkable without his go- ahead.

The Titanic fitting out at Belfast, early 1912

The Titanic fitting out at Belfast, early 1912

What is certain is that there was no formal naming ceremony; no champagne shattered over the bow of yard number 401 when she lumbered into the steel grey River Lagan just after noon on May 31st, 1911. No dignified lady in a wide brimmed hat ever uttered the immortal phrase: “I name this ship Titanic. May God bless her, and all who sail in her….”

The White Star Line liked it’s launchings to be understated, business like affairs. It never went in for the pomp and ceremony so beloved of it’s great rival, Cunard.

But this should not be misconstrued as false modesty. White Star simply believed that the Olympic and Titanic were so fabulous that no amount of frippery and celebration could truly do them justice. And, up to a point, they were right.

After the sinking of the Titanic, a whole flotilla of pulpit based experts railed against the White Star Line, arguing that naming such a vast and swaggering ship as the Titanic was just asking to bring down God’s wrath. After all, had not the brave and boastful Titans been brought down in the prime of their vanity by a stronger, more vengeful God?

Few people actually bought this clerical claptrap, but the idea haunted the White Star Line all the same. Soon after the disaster, the name of the third ship in the class- originally intended to be the Gigantic- was quietly changed to Britannic instead. It just did not seem wise to provoke the fates a second time.

Fat lot of good it did her; on November 21st, 1916, while on the outward leg of her sixth round trip as a requisitioned hospital ship, the Britannic struck a mine laid by a German U-Boat. She sank within an hour, but with mercifully few casualties. Twenty-one people lost their lives in the sinking of the Britannic.

She foundered in calm waters. Just eight miles from the Greek island of Kea….

Who knows? Maybe the ancient gods of Greece just had a malign sense of humour at the end of the day.