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

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.

PRINCESS DAPHNE- TIME TRAVEL BY SEA

ImageEver wanted to sail on a real ocean liner? Well, it seems that your ship might have just possibly come in. With the rescue of the Classic International Cruises fleet from bankruptcy, the amazing, 1953 built Princess Daphne is to resume sailing for CIC this year. These photos- taken on a Nice to Dover cruise two years ago- are just a reminder of what this beautifully formed little gem has to offer prospective passengers. Enjoy…ImageLooking forward from the huge lido deck towards the bow.ImageThis area also doubled up as an outdoor buffet area for casual breakfasts and lunch in the sun. Oddly, CIC offered no evening buffet as an alternative to the main dining room.ImageThe sheer, anachronistic beauty of that small, perfectly formed hull is still a thing of wonder…ImageThe bow is a pure knife edge, classic fifties styling, and so evocative….ImageInside, it’s pure retro. Deep, chunky furniture and fixtures are reminiscent of the lobby from any grand hotel of the 1950’s. They make much use of mirrors to give the appearance that the space is more expansive than it truly is.ImageThe main rooms run for the length of one continuous deck. Lined on both sides with floor to ceiling windows, they have an amazing amount of light, and a feeling of scale and space out of all proportion to their true size.ImageAgain, mirrored walls and artful wall lighting make these rooms very open and inviting. The cabins are huge for the size of the ship.ImageFrom just forward of the pool, you can see the graceful upward sweep of the stern. The bow curves upwards at a similar, gentle slant. When seen from a short distance away, the curve of the hull looks like a sinuous, bewitching smile. Mona Lisa en mer.ImageThe stern is unmistakably cruiser. Pure HMS Belfast. Here, the aft decks give the optical illusion of being more built up than is actually the case.ImageThat retro maritime architecture extends to the open promenades that encircle the stern. It makes the Princess Daphne almost totally unique. Only her twin sister- the Princess Danae- has anything like it. The good news is that she, too, is slated for a return to service this year.ImageThis kind of simple, honest maritime stuff is all but lost on the floating theme parks of contemporary cruise ships.ImageYou simply couldn’t take such an evocative picture as this on one of the new breed of cruise ships….ImageBack inside, this is the main show lounge, situated amidships on both sister ships.ImageAnd that’s it. At least for now. Hope you enjoyed this little pictorial!!