PORTUSCALE- IS THIS THE ENDGAME?

Yesterday’s sad departure for the scrapyard of the ailing Lisboa, ex Princess Danae, throws a pretty stark light on the state of parent company, Portuscale Cruises.

With no news of any employment for the company’s flagship, the beautifully restored, 1961 built Funchal, or the smaller, 6,000 ton, 1965 built Porto, things are looking anything but good.

Mercifully, the one success story in this bleak litany seems to be the 1948 built Azores, soon to be renamed as Astoria. The former Stockholm has been chartered by British operator, Cruise and Maritime Voyages, for a few years. In turn, she will go out on an extensive, French based charter for most of 2016. So, for the future at least, her future seems assured.

The potential loss of Funchal and Porto would be devastating for those who love smaller, classically styled ships. Fewer and fewer of these charismatic dowagers remain in service with each passing year. And, while it does not actually bear thinking about, the possibility that these two fine ladies might follow Lisboa on her last, lonely voyage can no longer be discounted.

I hope and pray that this can be avoided. More than ever, the maritime community needs to be able to experience ships that come with no other gimmicks than that of being at sea on a solid, dependable, classically styled ship.

Fingers crossed on this one. As ever, stay tuned.

The Athena, currently sailing as the Azores for Cruise and Maritime, off Kotor, Montenegro

The Athena, currently sailing as the Azores for Cruise and Maritime, off Kotor, Montenegro

AND IT’S ADEUS TO LISBOA…..

Reports are coming in from various sources that seemingly confirm the sale of the partially refurbished MV Lisboa for scrap.

Built as one of a pair of combination cargo/passenger liners for the Port Line back in 1955, she and her sister were later extensively remodelled into high quality cruise ships in the mid 1970’s.

Sailing as the Princess Danae along with her renamed sister, Princess Daphne, this beautiful ship found profitable employment for many years with the popular niche operator, Classic International Cruises. With this company, the grand heritage and fine lines of both ships made them two of the most stellar attractions anywhere at sea..

When CIC collapsed following the death of its’ guiding light, George Potamianos, the Princess Daphne was sold for scrap after a long, debilitating lay up in Crete.

Meanwhile, Princess Danae came under the banner of the resurgent Portuscale cruises, and sailed to Lisbon for a major refit. Renamed Lisboa, work on her ceased a few years ago, ostensibly after the discovery of additional structural and material problems not at first apparent. She has lain in the Portuguese capital ever since.

Her sale for scrap is saddening, soul destroying, but hardly surprising. Since it’s inception, Portuscale has limped from pillar to post.

Of the three remaining ships, both Arion and Funchal remain in lay up, while Azores- soon to be restyled as Astoria- is on long term charter to British cruise operator, Cruise and Maritime Voyages.

The demise of this admittedly long lived ship still constitutes sad news, indeed. Adeus.

Princess Danae alongside at Kusadasi

Princess Danae alongside at Kusadasi

LITTLE GEMS; SHIPS I’M GLAD THAT I ENCOUNTERED…..

For someone like me, born and blessed with a deep and abiding love of the great ocean liners, it has been an incomparable thrill, privilege and pleasure to sail on many of my favourite ‘ladies’ over the years.

The likes of Norway, QE2, Canberra and Rotterdam were all wonders that did not disappoint. And yet, in so many ways, I am just as enriched by sailing on many of the smaller, more traditional ships that have now mostly sailed on beyond the breakers. Many of these ships were- or are- just as big on character as those grand dowagers that have now rang down ‘finised with engines’ for the last time.

There were the two wonderful, heavily rebuilt sister ships that sailed for Classic International Cruises; Princess Daphne and her near identical twin, Princess Danae. I sailed on the Danae twice, and her sister ship just the once.

They were long, low seaboats, with a hull that curved slightly upwards at both bow and stern like some kind of wry, supine smile. The aft lido decks were some of the biggest and most expansive of any ships afloat. Each boasted huge cabins with thick, chunky furniture, and a suite of public rooms that ran out to the hull along both sides, a window walled, heavily mirroed promenade that made strolling a true delight. And, despite being only around 17,000 tons each, they were both superb as sea boats, proper 1950’s paragons that were as elegant as they were warm and unassuming.

The Ocean Countess was definitely of the next generation. Sleek with her swept back, aerodynamic funnel, rakish bow and squared off stern, she was as ‘seventies modern’ as it was possible to get back in 1975. Her cabins were so small that they would have left the average pygmy in agonised contortions.

She had a lofty oberyvation lounge with glass walls that afforded fabulous views out over the bow. To her last days, engraved Cunard ‘lions’ remained etched into the glass doors that led into this room.

There was a centrally sited pool and hot tub lounging area midships, perfectly shaded from the wind, and a fabulous indoor/outdoor night club that extended out over the stern. On warm summer nights in the Aegean, there were few more perfect places anywhere for watching a mellow sunset. She was a fine, funky little ship, one whose heart and character more than made up for her shoe box sized accommodations.

The Marco Polo, happily, remains with us. Now in her fiftieth year, she is literally unmistakable for any other ship, with her glorious, curved prow, stately single funnel and series of elegantly stepped terraces cascading down her stern in a veritable torrent of immaculate teak.

Inside, a run of perfectly proportioned Art Deco lounges and bars allow for a stately evening’s progress through a series of softly lit venues, suffused with wonderful live music. The trim blue hull and sparkling white superstructure truly mark her out as a thing apart. Whether stealing into a magnificent, mist shrouded Norwegian fjord at dawn or lounging off the hot spots of the French Riviera, the Marco Polo looks- and feels- utterly different to anything else out there today.

I remember the stately little Odysseus, too. Built in 1962, she endded her days with Epirotiki, which then became Royal Olympic Lines before it went bankrupt in the wake of 9/11.

She, too, had a long and low hull, swathed in shades of pristine royal blue. Her funnel- small, domed and slightly swept back- seemed out of all proportion to that seemingly endless, long hull.

Truth be told, she had quite a short superstructure and, like the CIC twins, she boasted an enormous, seemingly excessive amount of outdoor deck space aft, running all the way to the fantail. My most vivid impression of this quirky, quite intersting little ship was that she felt a hell of a lot bigger than her supposed 12,000 tons.

So, there we go- just a few of the ships that flit in and out of my memory like patches of Atlantic fog. If this article appeals, please let me know, and I’ll look at the possibility of a follow up piece in similar style.

On board the magnificent Marco Polo in Flam, Norway

On board the magnificent Marco Polo in Flam, Norway

WEB REPORTING MS LISBOA FOR SALE

The Princess Danae at Kusadasi

The Princess Danae at Kusadasi

Reports are circulating that the partially refurbished MS Lisboa of Portuscale Cruises is up for sale.

The ship broking site http://www.ship-broker.eu has the vessel listed for sale as of December 2nd last year.

Built in 1955 at Harland and Wolff in Belfast as the combination cargo/passenger carrier, Port Melbourne, the vessel was extensively rebuilt by Costa Cruises, re-emerging as the luxury cruise ship, Danae, in 1975.

After passing through various owners, the vessel was reunited with her twin sister, Daphne, as part of the Classic International Cruises fleet. From 1996 to 2012, she sailed as the Princess Daphne for the Portuguese niche specialists, attracting passengers who preferred her unique styling to that of the more modern ship in service.

After the collapse of CIC, the Princess Daphne, along with former fleet mates Arion, Athena and Funchal, were purchased by Lisbon based, start up operation, Portuscale Cruises, with the intention of refitting the vessel and returning her to commercial service. At that stage, she was renamed Lisboa. And, although work did indeed begin, it was suspended last year for reasons not yet made fully clear.

The website reports that the ship is in good enough order mechanically to sail, but cites that work would first need to be done on certain bridge instruments. Bids are invited, but no bottom line price is cited.

As always, stay tuned.

PRINCESS DANAE PHOTO ESSAY

The photos you’re about to see capture scenes from on board what is, in effect, a floating time capsule. They were taken aboard the Princess Danae of Classic International Cruises on a cruise from Rhodes through to Piraeus in the early Autumn of 2009.

The sun at that time of year casts a wistful, almost melancholy light on the waters of the Aegean. And there, you’ll see it throw parts of this venerable, 1954 built ship, with her riveted hull, into amazing relief.

As of now, the ship, now owned by Portuscale Cruises and renamed Lisboa, is part way through an extensive, presently suspended refit in Lisbon. 

The Princess Danae at Kusadasi

The Princess Danae at Kusadasi

Broadside view, Rhodes harbour

Broadside view, Rhodes harbour

At sea, looking forward from the stern

At sea, looking forward from the stern

Long, narrow outdoor promenade

Long, narrow outdoor promenade

Looking aft at the pool deck

Looking aft at the pool deck

Shaded lido buffet area

Shaded lido buffet area

View from upper terrace out over stern

View from upper terrace out over stern

Port side boat deck, facing the stern

Port side boat deck, facing the stern

Looking forward, from fantail to funnel

Looking forward, from fantail to funnel

Aft deck, nice place for a glass of wine

Aft deck, nice place for a glass of wine

Wicker furniture is just right on a ship like this

Wicker furniture is just right on a ship like this

Pool and lido

Pool and lido

Twilight on the dreamlike Aegean....

Twilight on the dreamlike Aegean….

Lido lounge and funnel at night

Lido lounge and funnel at night

Inside the lido pool lounge

Inside the lido pool lounge

Main bar on board the Princess Danae

Main bar on board the Princess Danae

The show lounge, sited amidships

The show lounge, sited amidships

Side view of show lounge, looking forward

Side view of show lounge, looking forward

Lounge bat, Princess Danae

Lounge bar, Princess Danae

The beautiful, riveted bow

The beautiful, riveted bow

Princess Danae alongside at Kusadasi

Princess Danae alongside at Kusadasi

Princess Danae bow shot

Princess Danae bow shot

Starboard side shot of hull and superstructure

Starboard side shot of hull and superstructure

Funnel with the old CIC logo

Funnel with the old CIC logo

Interior of my suite- very fifties retro

Interior of my suite- very fifties retro

View aft from starboard side bridge wing

View aft from starboard side bridge wing

Bridge telegraph on the Princess Danae

Bridge telegraph on the Princess Danae

Same bridge shot, very different light

Same bridge shot, very different light

 

AU REVOIR PRINCESS DAPHNE (Updated)

The classic lines of Princess Daphne

The classic lines of Princess Daphne

It is with more than a little personal sadness that I have to report that the former Classic International Cruises  stalwart, Princess Daphne, has left her lay up berth in Souda Bay, Crete, bound for the scrapyards of Alang.

The ship had been there since the collapse of CIC in October of 2012. While the other four ships were rescued and reorganised as the nascent Portuscale Cruises– including her Belfast built sister ship, Lisboa ex Princess Danae– there was sadly to be no reprieve for this classically beautiful ship.

Originally built on the Tyne in 1955 as the Port Sydney, a combination cargo/passenger ship for the Port Line, the ship was remodelled into a cruise ship in 1975 at great expense. For many years she sailed, along with her similarly rejuvenated sister ship, for Costa Cruises.

The Italian company in those days was a very different operation to the Carnival affiliate of today. The two sister ships, renamed Daphne and Danae respectively, were very high end, luxurious vessels that operated on long itineraries all over the globe. In the seventies and eighties, they were among the most sought after luxury ships in the world.

After years of bouncing around various budget operators, the two sisters were reunited under the banner of Classic International Cruises. Under the guiding wing of the brilliant George Potamianos, the two ships were brought back to a level of pristine cleanliness and aesthetic perfection that no large scale operator would have even dreamed of attempting.

Along with the rest of the CIC fleet, Princess Daphne offered an elegant, intimate seagoing experience that was a million miles removed from that found aboard the conventional mega ships. She was, in essence, a floating time capsule; long, lean and low, with gracefully sweeping lines at bow and stern.

There were no rock climbing walls or five story showrooms. Nor were they needed; the ‘theme’ of Princess Daphne and her sisters was simple; a well run. traditional ship on a timeless ocean. I had the pleasure of sailing on her twice, and she was, quite simply, a joy to be aboard.

The elegant cruiser stern of  Princess Daphne

The elegant cruiser stern of Princess Daphne

George Potamianos cared for each of his ships like babies, lavishing his own love and paternal care on them on a scale that would give most of today’s accountants a nose bleed. But his sad death in May of 2012 presaged the end of his elegant, Elysian dream. By October, the company had collapsed, and all five ships were arrested.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Rui Allegre and Portuscale Cruises, four of the original five ships were saved, restructured, and massively refurbished. Two are back in service, with work on the other pair- including Lisboa- proceeding apace.

Sadly, there was to be no reprieve for Princess Daphne.

Despite being repurchased by the sons of George Potamianos in 2013, the ship remained in lay up at Souda. Her sale to Indian breakers was, sadly, inevitable, and now her time has come.

3/6/2014: Princess Daphne is expected to arrive at Alang today, though it is unclear whether she will be beached immediately.

 

For some excellent historical information and photographs on Princess Daphne, may I recommend the first class SHIPS AND THE SEA blog by the always excellent Portuguese maritime authority, Luis Miguel Correia. Anyone wanting detailed information on these wonderful ships can do no better than look there.

CLASSICS TO INFINITY…. AND BEYOND

ImageIn the world of modern cruising, the miraculous salvation of the former Classic International Cruises fleet must rank as the most staggering comeback since Lazarus. OK, well at least since Take That.

When the banks foreclosed on the fleet of classic liners so lovingly maintained by the late, great George Potamianos, scrapyard owners everywhere opened their cheque books and sharpened their knives. And who could really blame them for scenting blood?

ImageHere was what had been a modern cruise accountant’s nightmare. A fleet of low density ships, floating anachronisms that were incredibly expensive to sail and maintain. Labour intensive, with only a handful of balcony cabins across the five ships. A complete lack of modern, time killing attractions and, above all, their sheer age working relentlessly against them. Though I remained outwardly optimistic, in my heart I had also written those lovely, fondly remembered ships off.

I have never been so glad to be proven wrong.

In a move that stunned and surprised everyone, four of the five ships have been bought from the banks by Doctor Rui Alegre, a Portuguese business man. He immediately reinstated the stalled revitalisation of the handsome, 1961 built Funchal. Now, after several years of stop-start work, the ship is scheduled to start sailing again under charter this September. This was originally thought to be in Northern Europe, though another source has the ship going to the Mediterranean.

ImageBaby of the fleet, the 6,000 ton Arion has now been renamed as the Porto. She now sports a smart black hull, and a black and yellow funnel bearing the logo of the newly named Portuscale Cruises. At the time of writing, she is undergoing final refurbishment in Lisbon.

Nearby, the classic, 15,000 ton Princess Danae is being refurbished, and has been renamed the Lisboa, in honour of the Portuguese capital.

Athena, the former Stockholm, is already back at sea, operating charter cruises in the Black Sea for a Russian firm, under her new name, Azores.

It is expected that all the ships will be up and running by 2014, though whether some or all go out on charter is as yet unclear. Portuscale is being quite tight lipped. Indeed, silent.

Also encouraging is the revival of the Classic International Cruises brand itself, with the Potamianos brothers-sons of the original owner- having completed the repurchase of the 15,000 ton Princess Daphne, currently laid up in Crete. Again, details are thin on the ground, but it seems that the brothers have gone to great lengths to buy back the ship so beloved of their late father.

ImageIt remains to be seen how this small, beautifully styled band of survivors can buck the trend of a depressed market that is largely dominated by mega ships. But, having seen these ships come so far, and watch them re-emerge after defying all the odds, it would be a rash man indeed who would bet against them.

I’m not that man. I wish both operations smooth seas, and a rising tide of good fortune.

LISBON PANORAMA- ALFAMA TO THE WATERFRONT

ImageWelcome to Lisbon. In many ways, the most under rated capital city in Europe, and definitely still one of the best travel bargains out there. Sprawled in a kind of petrified, stately jumble along the broad sweep of the River Tagus, it is a truly spellbinding place.ImageThis is the area leading up into the Alfama, the oldest surviving district of the city. Much of Lisbon was laid waste in the 18th century by a devastating earthquake, and rebuilt from scratch. But in the Alfama, time itself seems to be on hold.ImageThis spectacular view was taken from on board the Princess Danae in early morning, after we had made the almost ceremonial procession up the Tagus, past the diminutive Belem Tower and the monument to Henry the Navigator.ImageLisbon was built on seven hills and, while the town centre is as traffic infested as any other city, the easiest and most rewarding way to get up close and personal in those old, winding streets up top is, quite simply. to walk there.ImageEvery winding intersection was a glorious reveal, from the quirky, to the amusing, to the downright monumental. Alfama is a trove of hidden treasures that unravel like successive layers of onion skin. You’ll never see it all.ImageYou get a sense here of a proud, slightly shabby city. Lisbon is dignified, stately and imposing. She might lack the flamboyant grandeur of Rome or Florence, but a wonderful combination of scale and different shades of colour makes visiting Lisbon an exhilarating, unforgettable experience.ImageStreets veer sharply upwards in the Alfama, allowing for amazing vistas out over the entire scenic glut of the city. If you are not the greatest walker, this might prove to be a bit much for you. In any event, be sure to pace yourself.ImageAnother option is to take one of the bright yellow coloured trams. They are as distinctive to Lisbon as those legendary cable cars are to San Francisco. and every bit as iconic.ImageBut however you make the journey, the views are the same. Ragged ranks of terracotta roof tops tumbling down in an amazing jumble to the steel grey river below. Listen closely, and you might hear the strains of an authentic fado. a centuries old, traditional lament. While certifiably old, the plaintive sound is an acquired taste. Or perhaps not…ImageThe Lisbon trams snake through the streets of the Alfama like brightly coloured snails. They also run along the main thoroughfares, such as bustling Rossio Square, and along most of the main arteries of this tremendous, teeming sea city.ImageBack towards the waterfront, buildings assume a more uniform, yet still dignified structure. This was the area of the city largely rebuilt after the earthquake to designs of the Marquis Du Pombal.ImageThe elegant clock tower, seen here, is the main gate that gives access to the city centre. It might lack the artistic largesse of, say, the Gros Horlorge in Rouen but, like everything else in Portugal’s quixotic, welcoming capital, it is somehow enhanced by it’s scale in relation to the surrounding area. In any event, it is an undeniably magnificent focal point.ImagePombal worked styles into Lisbon that had hints of colonial and classical Greece. These buildings today make Lisbon a stunning confection; a city of whimsical wonders, strung along the banks of the Tagus like random showers of confetti.ImageDon’t try and see everything at once. It’s near impossible in a short visit. My advice? For what it’s worth, just walk and enjoy. Let the city come to you. I guarantee you’ll want to come back…..