Friday, 23 June 2017
Sunday 14th May 2017
My phone alarm and the View from the Bridge told me that we were in the long channel approaching the port of Izmir, with ample time to get on deck and have breakfast before our arrival alongside at 08.30. I last visited Izmir (the Turkish name for Smyrna) in April 2013 on the COSTA CLASSICA and there has been much political upheaval in the country since then. We walked along the wide promenades beside the sea towards the nearest ferry station. The timings did not allow us to sail over to another part of the huge bay and get back in time for our departure from Izmir soon after lunch, but we enjoyed the views and warm sunshine.
Coffee back on deck under a shady parasol was enjoyable and then we noticed that a small boy was playing in the children's pool with a Superfast blow-up toy ferry. I went over to speak to the people with the child and after some minutes of conversation in English with the Greek man and woman, we realised that we knew each other from meeting a few years ago when I was with some other ferry friends. The man (Fotis) was a keen ship photographer from the Piraeus area, his sister was married to one of the ship's senior officers, and the small boy was his nephew and God-child. It seemed such an extraordinary coincidence to be sailing on this ship. His sister mentioned that she had sailed with her husband some years ago on a Japanese ship he had been converting, and by another of life's coincidences that same ship was also in Izmir port today, and we could see it in the distance in its latest company paintwork. We all arranged to meet up that evening, which was Gala Night.
After lunch the ship had to wait for the excursion parties to return (late) before we sailed from Izmir (with a cat watching from the quayside), but we enjoyed watching the views of the ever-expanding city and the modern ferries as we left the port and headed out to sea.
We went for a cup of tea at 4 p.m. carrying my friend's current reading book - Theodore W. Scull's latest publication "Ocean Liner Sunset". This book caught the attention of the Head Waiter Christos and suddenly there was another conversation about ferries and cruise ships with someone else who enjoyed talking about them! I showed him my Santorini postcard pictures and he remembered some of the ships in them and of course the cruise ships in Ted's book.
Gala Night meant 'the posh frock' for ladies and drinks and photos with Captain Nektarios Rigas, before heading into the Muses Theatre for introductions of all of his Senior Officers and Department heads. We sat with our new friends, including the lad with his toy model ferries this time. We were introduced to his father (one of the Senior Officers) and I realised that I had met him before: way back in July 2008 I had been with other ferry friends on a visit to a Japanese ship being converted in the Keratsima repair yard near Piraeus and the little lad's father had been kind enough to show us around. The ship then was the AEGEAN HEAVEN, the ex-SUNFLOWER TOMAKOMAI, which was being converted to a ro-ro cargo ship at 23,503 gross tons. She is now named AYSHE, with the EKOL Line, and this is the ship we could see part of this afternoon in Izmir port.
Life continues to amaze I thought, as we all headed into Gala Dinner. This evening we sat with a silent couple, and another lady who was happy to talk about her life in Brazil and working and travelling abroad. At one point the waiters sang Happy Birthday to someone and minutes later some portions of birthday cake arrived at our table with the little lad's mother; he is to be 5 in a few days time and the waiters decided to celebrate his birthday tonight so the creamy-rich cake was shared with his family on their table, and then some brought over to us. I thought that was so kind.
After dinner we were invited to join the family up in the Lounge and that made for an enjoyable time discussing ships and visits. The little lad had brought his toy model ships with him, so he happily played on the carpet with them. It had been a happy and amazing day today and there were many nostalgic goodbyes at the end of the evening.
Tomorrow we are due in Nafplio, Greece, having sailed 247 nautical miles overnight from Izmir, and must disembark.
Ships seen at or near Izmir:
Celestyal Nefeli, Ayshe of EKOL line (ex-Aegean Heaven, ex-Sunflower Tomakomai), Pilot boat 65, Inandilar, Nazim Tur and other ferries
To be concluded...
Wednesday, 21 June 2017
Saturday 13th May 2017
I set my phone alarm and discovered from the View from the Bridge on the television that we had already arrived in the caldera at Santorini. It was such an astonishing sight, knowing we were tied up inside the middle of a volcano and could take a tender ashore after breakfast.
The excursion passengers left the ship first and then at 10.30 a.m. the rest of us could take one of the local tenders the short distance to the shore.
The busy quayside seems to have been extended and there are obvious signs that the walkways under the mountainside will be expanded round the headland in the future. We enjoyed walking around and then talking with a man from New York; we all talked about Santorini and then had an amusing short discussion about the UK's vote to leave the European Union and the USA's vote for President Trump.
We went to see where the donkeys are located at the foot of the zig-zag path to the town of Thira way up high; in fact we could smell them before we reached the place where people can get into the saddle for the ascent. I have never been on the donkeys but have walked up using the wide steps cut into the rock beside the donkey walk. It was slightly hazardous at the time and the smell of the animals and their droppings was ever-present. Visitors to Thira are now advised to take the newly-built cable car up to the town and of course this offers wonderful views out over the caldera.
I bought some local postcards which showed ships that called here in the past, and my travelling companion was able to identify the vessels for me, including ROMILDA.
Left to right: local tourist ferry, Apollon of Epirotiki stern onto the quayside then foreground an original R (Renaissance) ship; photo probably taken in the 1980s, photo copyright Haitalis, 13 Astrous Str. Athens
Left to right: an original R ship, Apollon of Epirotiki stern onto the quayside, a small local vessel, then Windstar or Windspirit? photo probably taken in the 1980s, copyright Haitalis, Athens
Top: Marco Polo; below left: Sea Goddess II ?; below right: unknown R-ship 2nd batch (rounded funnel); top left-hand: tiny fast ferry coming in from Crete; photo taken in the 1990s copyright Haitalis, Athens
GA Ferries Romilda, built in 1974, sailing into Santorini probably in the early 1990s; copyright photo by Marmatakis Brothers, Galagado Akrotiri, Chania
We went to a local cafe for coffee, saw occasional ferries calling at their quayside in another part of the caldera, and watched other local tenders going to and from NORWEGIAN SPIRIT and WESTERDAM which were anchored in the caldera. We were also surprised and happy to see the little NEARCHOS, which we had visited in Lavrion yesterday, sailing neatly and fast into the ferry port with her so-recognisable Knud E Hansen profile. That Chief Engineer had obviously done a superb job on her engines.
Back on board I enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine before lunch at the outdoor Thalassa Bar and lido buffet before settling in a shaded steamer chair for an afternoon rest. Later we could see various ships arriving and departing from the ferry port and the tenders taking passengers back to their cruise ships in the caldera. All these big ships cannot anchor because of the enormous water depth, so the engines are constantly working to keep them in position, usually tied up to an allocated and fixed buoy.
Tonight is 'White Night' on board for anyone who wants to wear white clothing, and many did. We didn't know about this so I wore pink. We had sailed from Santorini by this time but the ship took us on a tour around the caldera so we could enjoy the different views from the Deck 5 Eros Bar; we noticed the little NEARCHOS had returned to the port and was sailing parallel to us for a while but soon speeded up and headed out to the other islands on her itinerary. What a delight to see her again; I liked that my friend photographed and sent a picture of her to our maritime author friend Dr Bruce Peter, who wrote the authorised book about Knud E Hanson.
Dinner was enjoyable, and this time we were placed with an American couple and again the conversation was most interesting and topical. This evening the show was a trip around the world in musicals, and we all enjoyed the music and dancing/acrobatics. Tonight we sail for Izmir in Turkey, a distance of 188 nautical miles.
Ships seen at Santorini:
Celestyal Nefeli (Celestyal Cruises), Norwegian Spirit (NCL), Westerdam (HAL), Nearchos of Creta Cargo Lines, Blue Star 2, Champion Jet 1, Champion Jet 2, Nissos Rodos
To be continued...
Friday, 9 June 2017
Friday 12th May 2017
I flew out of London Gatwick Airport on an easyJet Airbus 319/320 at 05.45 in the morning. It was daylight but with heavy cloud and I could see nothing of the English countryside as we headed east. We flew towards Amsterdam and the Low Countries and then headed south towards Greece and my destination of Athens Airport, with a flight time of 3 hours and 20 minutes. I will have to advance my watch 2 hours when I arrive.
We arrived 10 minutes earlier than expected and I had my first glimpse of the mountains and sea as we made our final approach into Athens. I was soon off the aircraft and into the terminal building, before walking outside to enjoy feeling the warmth of the Greek sunshine. It's been a long and grey winter in the south of England. My travelling companion soon arrived and we arranged to get one of the airport buses to our embarkation port of Lavrion, to sail on CELESTYAL NEFELI.
The bus dropped us off in the main square and we decided to walk to the port, which we could see through the trees. A large and dirty stray dog decided to adopt us, at a distance, and acted as an escort as we walked. We noticed he had a used cardboard coffee beaker in his mouth, which we thought might be his own version of a food begging bowl...
We passed the white bench that two other ferry friends thought had been in use on AGIOS GEORGIOS (ex-HENGIST); the ship had been in lay-up here at Lavrion some years ago. The dog kept looking back at us to check on our progress and once we all reached the port gates he left us to our own devices and collapsed slowly in the shade of a snack bar. We thought he was probably known there.
We passed the laid-up TAXIARCHIS, and then went into the Cruise Terminal building to check in for CELESTYAL NEFELI which we could see her at a nearby quayside. We were offered a ride in the shuttle bus to the ship, but it took us only 5 minutes to walk the distance, along the side of the inevitable metal fencing. Before we got there however we could see something interesting, tied up at another quay. It was NEARCHOS, of Creta Cargo Lines, looking empty and rather forlorn. As we walked towards the stern ramp we could see an overalled man walking towards us from the deck and he said he was the Chief Engineer and invited us on board. We stood at the top of the ramp and I noticed that this little ship had once been a train ferry, as I could see 3 sets of train lines that were now covered up. The Engineer said she was built in 1968, is 4,163 gross tons, and he was obviously really proud of his little vessel and engines (IMO: 6727193). Another man soon appeared and made us feel unwelcome so we all walked back down the ramp; the Engineer explained that it was the owner. We thanked him for letting us see the car deck and telling us about his ship and the removal of much of the stern hull/superstructure, and then walked a few yards to board CELESTYAL NEFELI.
It was a great relief to walk on board and locate my inside cabin on Deck 2. The last forty-eight hours have been rather unexpected and it was good to have a few minutes to get things in perspective again. The plan to sail on CELESTYAL NEFELI for 3 nights on 12th May from Lavrion was made recently, and plans were also made to add some ferry trips after the short cruise. Arrangements were made and all was well until 48 hours ago when one of the ferry companies notified my travelling companion of 3 days of strikes by Greek seamen on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. Naturally this meant we could not sail on anything later in the week after disembarking from CELESTYAL NEFELI. Things were cancelled or abandoned but it was decided to continue with the short cruise and then enjoy a full day in Piraeus port before flying home to the UK on Monday evening. I changed the date of my flight home, removed unneeded items from my rucksack, let my family know of my changed plans, and set off for Gatwick airport on Thursday evening. My son was due to fly into Gatwick from a business trip that evening so we met there for a short while, before he headed home. Nine hours later I flew out to Athens.
Now here I was on this little cruise ship, looking forward to a good time on board but without the planned ferry trips after that. CELESTYAL NEFELI was built in 1992 for the Effjohn Group at 19,090 gross tons as CROWN JEWEL, then became CUNARD CROWN JEWEL, went to Star Cruises as SUPERSTAR GEMINI, VISION STAR, MV GEMINI, before being chartered by Celestyal Cruises (the new name for Louis Cruises). I have enjoyed several trips with Louis Cruises over the years.
Lunch was being served up on Venus Deck 6 in the Leda Casual Dining room and outside deck so we enjoyed that and had a giggle at the thought of this being named 'A Euphoric Cruise'. We sail this evening about 9 p.m., arriving tomorrow morning in Santorini for the day, then sailing on to Izmir in Turkey for Sunday. After a day there we sail back to Greece and the port of Nafplion and that could be the end of my Euphoria.
Boat drill was held at 6 p.m. and we discovered there were one or two different styles of life jackets on board. The top of the life jackets fitted as expected but men wearing shorts or trousers fitted the extra, unfamiliar, strap fairly easily between their legs, with some adjustment back and front; those of us wearing a skirt or dress became aware that wearing this unfamiliar extra strap would cause what I shall call unexpected limb exposure. Hmm, I made a mental note to exchange my life jacket when I could.
We had spent time in the afternoon enjoying the sun in the aft Thalassa Bar with its delightful tiered curved decks around us, but after Lifeboat Drill it was time to change and enjoy pre-dinner drinks and music in the Deck 4 Eros Lounge Bar. Dinner is served from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Aegean Restaurant, which covers the full deck width of the ship, with excellent views of the sea from every table. The observant Head Waiter ensured that all passengers were made welcome; the menu offered a good selection of dishes which were professionally served by his staff. The cruise package price includes almost all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, plus excursions, and we found that the bar staff were also most attentive to passengers' needs, whether in the Aegean Restaurant or in the many Bars.
The evening's entertainment at 9.45 p.m. was a Mythology Show - a trip around the Greek Olympus and the Greek Gods. I enjoyed most of this, but extreme tiredness suddenly overtook me and I had to return to my cabin. It had been a long and busy day, but I was at sea again and happy to be there, as we sail 108 nautical miles overnight.
Ships seen at Lavrion, Greece
To be continued...