Category: Blast from the past

Blast from the Past: Norwave & Norwind


Norwind & Norwave, “grandmother and grandfather to today’s ferries”, especially for Timo Selkala.

The early and mid-1960s saw a series of very notable, independently owned car ferries introduced on services around the British Isles. We have previously looked at the introduction of the Thoresen Vikings and I stand by my suggestion that these were perhaps the most significant of all for they were the first drive-through ships and showed directly what modern ferry design could do on areas of operation previously dismissed as unprofitable.

Amongst the other significant independent British-based car ferries of the 1960s however were Townsend’s Free Enterprise, Normandy Ferries’ Dragon and Leopard, Burns & Laird’s Lion, Tor Line’s Tor Hollandia and Tor Anglia, Lion Ferry’s original Prins Hamlet and not forgetting Svenska Lloyd and Rederi AB Svea’s paradoxical Saga and Svea.

Somewhat easy to overlook amongst this cavalcade are North Sea Ferries’ (NSF’s) tiny Norwave and Norwind. The former entered service on the new Hull-Rotterdam (Europoort) service in December 1965, followed three months later by the Norwind and, to celebrate the new operation and its new ships, the celebratory brochure shown here was produced (see also the ships’ deckplan here). If the term has to be used then these were truly Britain’s first ro-pax ships – the ASN vessels, prior to the Europic Ferry, were really freighters which carried passengers whereas NSF offered a true tourist passenger service alongside the freight operation. Only 109m in length, the pair had revolutionary twin enclosed freight decks which could accommodate 47 12m lorries plus 70 cars, a remarkable feat for ships of such limited hull size (the Hengist and Horsa of 1972, virtuous and modern passenger, freight and car ferries of not dissimilar dimensions but a slightly later generation, could only carry three fifths of the NSF sisters’ freight load).

The ships were victims of their own success, fast becoming too small for the route they were designed for. Replaced on the Europoort operation by the Norland and Norstar of 1974, then the world’s largest car ferries, the original pair remarkably survived until 1987 on the secondary Hull-Zeebrugge route where they latterly required permanent backup with parallel sailings by dedicated ro-ro ships.

Beyond NSF, the sisters were sold to Ventouris Ferries (George Ventouris). Alas, both vessels were caught up in the mysterious happenings that afflicted the Ventouris family’s shipping operations in the 1980s and 1990s: the Norwave (renamed Italia Express) lasted only one season before being sunk during refit at Drapetsona following an explosion caused by limpet mines attached to the ship’s hull; the Norwind (Grecia Express) survived until 1994 when she was also sunk in equally mysterious circumstances whilst laid up in Perama (see pictures here). This was a sad end for a pair of revolutionary and much-loved early car ferries which operated in tandem throughout their respective lives and died almost predictably parallel deaths.

Blast from the past: Sally Line

Sally Line, 1985 advert.

Sally Line, 1985 advert.

Blast from the past: British Ferries’ Orient Express

The Orient Express at Venice

The Orient Express at Venice. Click all images for a larger version.

The arrival yesterday off Piraeus of the Arberia (ex-Wasa Queen), newly acquired by Halkydon Shipping (see pictures from shipfriends here and here), marked a belated return to very familiar waters for the ship. Built in 1975 as Bore Line’s Silja ship the Bore Star, she later passed to Silja partners Effoa but remained on the Baltic routes until a sale in early 1986 to a company within the Sea Containers group. Although subsidiary Sealink British Ferries were in need of replacement tonnage on several routes, it was announced that the vessel would be deployed under the name Orient Express on a ‘cruise ferry’ service on which the ship performed a weekly round trip on the circuit Venice-(Corinth)-Piraeus-Istanbul-Kusadasi-Patmos-Katakolon-Venice. Painted in a modified Sealink livery, the ship met with a degree of success and operated for five Summers in this trade (1986-90 inclusive).

Bridging the ferry-cruise ship divide (although back then for smaller ships it was still sometimes more real than imagined) proved a challenge. Different markets received different messages; for example, the 1988 brochure for the Venice Simplon Orient-Express (the luxury train) carried the following text in a one page summary about the ship’s services:

NOW THE MV ‘ORIENT EXPRESS’ STARTS WHERE THE TRAIN LEAVES OFF
The Orient Express passenger to Venice may now extend his journey not only to Istanbul, the train’s original destination, but far, far beyond.
By sea.
The mv ‘Orient Express’ commissioned just two seasons ago sails from Venice every Saturday evening. With three bars, four restaurants, two pools, sun decks, a beauty salon, cinema and casino, dancing and cabaret, even a children’s playroom, the eight gleaming decks are dedicated to your convenience and pleasure.
Every cabin, from the simplest to the grandest, has air conditioning and en-suite shower and WC.
The Captain and Officers are British, the crew multi-lingual, the service – like the food – superb.
And the itinerary, whether you prefer simply to cruise, with excursions, for seven glorious nights or stop off for a week (or two, or three) at one of the ports and rejoin the ship on a later sailing, matches the ship herself.
The breath-holding squeeze at dawn between the vertical walls of the Corinth Canal; Piraeus and the Parthenon, the teeming pleasures of Istanbul; Kusadasi for the beaches of southern Turkey and the fabulous excavations at Ephesus; gentle, undiscovered Patmos to see, perhaps the cavern where St John the Divine wrote his Book of Revelations; Katakolon for Olympia and back, of course, to Venice.

Entirely missing from that account of the ship’s operations was the ‘F’ word, which presumably might not have entirely been what VSOE passengers had in mind as a continuation of their journey, other post-train options in the brochure including the 5 star Hotel Gritti Palace, or Michael Winner’s favourite, the then Sea Con-owned Cipriani. On the other hand, they had just been willing to overnight on an excruciatingly expensive train with no en-suite facilities whatsoever.

The Orient Express and the Venice Simplon Orient Express together at Venice.

The Orient Express and the Venice Simplon Orient Express together at Venice.

Sliding through the Corinth Canal.

Sliding through the Corinth Canal.

In contrast, the main brochures for the ship herself brought the matter to the forefront and the 1989 version contained the following as its very first paragraph:

When you think of a car ferry, you think of a vessel that provides, essentially, a service. When you think of a cruise ship, you think of carefree, sun-filled days punctuated by the pleasures of the table, the entertainment and the ports of call.

When you consider mv ‘Orient Express’ you must start again and think of both.

For both is exactly what she is. Below decks a car ferry, her hold lined with the cars of travellers and holidaymakers bound for Athens, Istanbul and the beaches of southern Turkey. Above, a fully stabilised, uncompromising 12,500 ton cruise liner equipped to take you – with car or without – on a very special voyage.

The Orient Express: part car ferry...

The Orient Express: part car ferry...

...part cruise ship.

...part cruise ship.

In 1987 the US brochure for the ship had included some interesting comments amongst a series of passenger testimonials:

“Some of the cabins are a little small. Typical of a North Sea ferry. But what you’ve done to the rest of the ship is just amazing”
“We didn’t know what to expect. A cruise ship that carries cars? But you never see them. They just sit in the hold keeping the prices down.”
“They say the (VSOE) train is far more elegant than the ship. It’s hard to believe. These are some of the loveliest public rooms of any ship of its size.”
“A British-run ship. It’s just what they needed in these waters. No one does it with as much class as the British”.

Winter months were generally spent either on charter or operating cruises around the Canary Islands, including calls at Agadir in Morocco. It was at the latter port that I had the unexpected chance to visit the ship in 1988, having espied the distinctive funnel colours from across town on the beach near to the Hotel Europa, harangued the family into jumping into a taxi and taken the chance to ask for a look around. She was certainly an interesting vessel, and had most definitely been spruced up for service in her cruise-cum-ferry role. Significant sums had been spent on refurbishment, including the installation of a moderately-sized outside swimming pool, and a look around the facilities showed that they were clearly more luxurious than Sealink’s English Channel norm.

Orient Express - 1989 deckplan

Orient Express - 1989 deckplan

Insert to the 1987 brochure.

Insert to the 1987 brochure.

Deck service.

Deck service.

On Deck 7, in an area previously occupied by conference facilities, eight new staterooms were constructed, named after eight of the (then) ten carriages in the British Pullman rake which formed the UK side of the VSOE. The Lucille and the Vera suites were found on the deck below.

On Deck 7, in an area previously occupied by conference facilities, eight new staterooms were constructed, named after eight of the (then) ten carriages in the British Pullman rake which formed the UK side of the VSOE. The other two, the Lucille and Vera suites, were found on the deck below.


The ten staterooms featured 'TV and video... for those who want to enjoy the Mediterranean in real style'.

The ten staterooms featured 'TV and video... for those who want to enjoy the Mediterranean in real style'.

A more compact 'A Category' cabin.

A more compact 'A Category' cabin.

The second-lowest grade, 'C Category' cabin, inside but above the car deck. Fares per person for the seven day cruise in this class of accommodation were as high as £510 for the seven day trip in 1989, and £200 for a Venice-Piraeus single, excluding car. Twenty years later, a peak-season sailing in equivalent accommodation (via Venice-Patras using the Zeus Palace) costs approx. £185 per person.

The second-lowest grade, 'C Category' cabin, inside but above the car deck. Fares per person for the seven day cruise in this class of accommodation were as high as £510 for the seven day trip in 1989, and £200 for a Venice-Piraeus single, excluding car. Twenty years later, a peak-season sailing in equivalent accommodation (via Venice-Patras using the Zeus Palace) costs approx. £185 per person.


The Sultan's Bar could be found on Deck 6 amidships.

The Sultan's Bar could be found on Deck 6 amidships.


The Sultan's Bar.

The Sultan's Bar.


The à la carte VSOE restaurant, starboard side on Deck 6.

The à la carte VSOE restaurant, starboard side on Deck 6.

The floor show in the Olympia Bar, aft on Deck 6.

The floor show in the Olympia Bar, aft on Deck 6.

Shipboard prices were in sterling and in 1988 a Gin & Tonic in the Olympia Bar would set you back £1.40, a Tia Maria £1.30 and a cup of tea, 50p.

Shipboard prices were in sterling and in 1988 a Gin & Tonic in the Olympia Bar would set you back £1.40, a Tia Maria £1.30 and a cup of tea, 50p.

The small library, starboard amidships, deck 5.

The small library, starboard amidships, deck 5.


Meals in the Savini Restaurant, aft on Deck 5, were included in the price of the fare.

Meals in the Savini Restaurant, aft on Deck 5, were included in the price of the fare.


The outdoor swimming pool, at the stern on deck 5.

The outdoor swimming pool, at the stern on deck 5.

Down on Deck 1, the ship had been built with a swimming pool and sauna complex, and these were retained for use in the new service.

Down on Deck 1, the ship had been built with a swimming pool and sauna complex, and these were retained for use in the new service.

Shuttle service in Istanbul.

Shuttle service in Istanbul.

The Orient Express at Kusadasi, alongside the Aegean Dolphin.

The Orient Express at Kusadasi, alongside the Aegean Dolphin.

There was some surprise that, when Sea Con acquired the ship in 1986, she was not deployed on Sealink's core ex-UK routes (although it is debatable which she would have been suited for, she would certainly have been a formidable presence in the passenger market on the Western Channel). She did however make a cameo appearance, mocked up in full SBF livery on the cover of the 1987 car ferry guide. complete with her cocktail-drinking passengers.

There was some surprise that, when Sea Con acquired the ship in 1986, she was not deployed on Sealink's core ex-UK routes (although it is debatable which she would have been suited for, she would certainly have been a formidable presence in the passenger market on the Western Channel). She did however make a cameo appearance, mocked up in full SBF livery on the cover of the 1987 car ferry guide. complete with her cocktail-drinking passengers.

The marginal nature of the business and Sea Con’s need to generate cash urgently to fend off the Temple Holdings (Stena & Tiphook) takeover bid saw the ship sold in late 1989 back to Effjohn (formed by a merger from the ship’s former owners Effoa and Silja partners Johnson Line). One final season as the Orient Express preceded a brief period in Singapore operation before returning to the Effjohn fold as the Wasa Star for subsidiary Wasa Line in 1992. The ship was significantly rebuilt but remained in service through the merger of Wasa Line into Silja in 1993 and remained back with her original operators until 2001. Sold to Star Cruises she forged a new career operating out of Hong Kong, latterly on gambling cruises. Displaced from this role in 2007 she spent a brief period sailing in Malaysian waters but was purchased from lay up by Halkydon for operation between Italy (Trieste or Bari) to Durres in Albania.

Blast from the past: Ramsgate 1980/1981

The car ferry port of Ramsgate first saw operation in 1980 when a new company, Dunkerque-Ramsgate Ferries, backed by the founder of Olau Line Ole Lauritzen, operated the former CGT/SNCM ferry Fred Scamaroni as the Nuits Saint Georges.

As can be seen in the brochure for that one-off season, DRF offerred a variety of special offers to entice passengers on board, with ‘Gourmet trips’ including lunch at a “gourmet restaurant in a French village” (£12), Disco Trips on Thursday afternoons (non-landing, £8 including £5 onboard voucher) and
‘Sunday Tea-Dance Trips’ (£8 again). However, with Ramsgate not entirely ready for such an operation at that stage and the ship not entirely suitable, the service ended in failure with the Nuits Saint Georges ultimately arrested due to unpaid debts.

Dunkerque Ramsgate Ferries, 1980

Dunkerque Ramsgate Ferries, 1980


Dunkerque Ramsgate Ferries, 1980

Dunkerque Ramsgate Ferries, 1980

Dunkerque Ramsgate Ferries, 1980

Dunkerque Ramsgate Ferries, 1980


Despite this failure, Ramsgate’s potential was recognised by Finnish shipowners Rederi AB Sally, the most expansion-minded of Viking Line’s three founder companies. With spare tonnage available from their core operations, the Viking 5, last of the Viking Line ‘Papenburgers’, was renamed The Viking and deployed on the same route which operated under the brand name Sally The Viking Line. Shown here is the French brochure for that initial season, which was interrupted by a serious engine room explosion on board the ship in August. That did not prevent the service’s success however and Sally would become a familiar name on the English Channel for the next 17 years.
Sally Viking Line, 1981

Sally Viking Line, 1981

Sally Viking Line, 1981

Sally Viking Line, 1981

The two ships shown have met with different fates – the Nuits Saint Georges never sailed for another European operator and was sold to Egyptian owners. Operating under the name Salem Express she was lost when sailing between Jeddah and Suez in 1991 with the loss of, officially, 470 lives. The wreck today remains, and a video of a dive on it can be seen here.

Sally’s first The Viking ultimately passed to COMARIT in 1988 and has sailed for the company ever since between Algeciras in Spain and Tangier in Morocco as the Boughaz.

Blast from the Past: Thoresen Car Ferries, 1964

1964 saw the arrival on the Western English Channel of the Viking I and Viking II of newcomer Thoresen Car Ferries. British Railways had closed their loss-making services in advance, confident that money simply couldn’t be made out of these operations. Thoresen very quickly showed them how it could be done and a third passenger ship, the Viking III, followed in 1965.

To illustrate just how different the Viking I and II were, consider that they were delivered in between British Rail’s almost embarrasingly conservative Avalon (1963) and the Dover/Holyhead Ferry I (1965). What must have passengers made of these amazing, thoroughly modern ships?

Equally impressive and modern ferries would follow from other operators and, latterly British Rail themselves. Yet the Vikings stood out for more than just their orange hulls. Styled by Tage Wandborg at KEH, these were utterly gorgeous little ships with modern, Scandinavian interiors and, on a practical level, completely clutter-free, drive-through vehicle decks.

The three original Vikings proved successful beyond just their initial careers – each lived to see their 40th birthday with the premier ship, ranking alongside the likes of the Forde, Free Enterprise and Princess Victoria (I) as one of Britain’s most significant car ferries, being the first to be scrapped in 2008. This post however celebrates the halcyon initial days of Thoresen when they were the newcomer and swept all before them in a wave of style and modernity. The sad evolution to ‘establishment operator’ and the services’ ultimate demise under P&O in the early 21st century was not a pretty sight – P&O clearly hadn’t learnt the lessons of innovation and investment taught by Otto Thoresen himself at the outset.

Show below is a Thoresen Car Ferries brochure from that very first season, printed before the ships were even delivered.


Blast from the Past: North Sea Ferries, 1985

First of a new series: ferry brochures & adverts from years gone by. This week it’s a NSF advert from 24 years ago – old livery & the pre-stretched Norland.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

WordPress Themes