She served for so briefly and it seems so long ago now that (P&O) Southern Ferriesâ€™ Eagle of 1971 has almost been forgotten when reviewing the history of the British ferry. She was, however, a remarkable ship, straddling the ferry/cruise ship divide we take so for granted today that it is almost retrospectively applied to the past. Things were not quite so clear cut back then however and the Eagle, with her all en-suite cabins, meal-inclusive fares and built to US Coast Guard standards with potential future use in mind, followed a similar pattern to her predecessors on sailings to the Iberian peninsular, Klosterâ€™s Sunward (1966, briefly) and the Patricia of Svenska Lloyd (1967 onwards) in offering a mini cruise option which at times almost dominated the car ferry aspects in publicity.
The Eagle, as imagined.
The real thing.
More from the introductory brochure.
Fares for the 1971 season: the cheapest mini cruise was Â£29 per person between Southampton and Lisbon in one of the C Deck 4 berth cabins; the most expensive Â£75 in one of the B Deck suites. Standard singles and returns were more expensive. Passage was also offerred between Lisbon and Tangier only.
The Eagleâ€™s introductory brochure covers all bases by calling her â€œthe new cruise liner car ferryâ€ and, operating a Southampton-Lisbon-Tangier service, she sailed direct to some of the most fashionable holiday regions of the age. Algeciras in Southern Spain was later added to the schedule. The ship’s hull lines were designed by ferry specialists Knud E Hansen, and supposedly optimised for the Bay of Biscay whilst there was a noticeable bulwark aft of the mooring deck to keep the worst of the waves off the forward superstructure, a feature missing from the Eagle’s two half-sisters, Fred. Olsen’s Bolero and Paquet’s Massalia.
The passenger accommodation was rather intriguingly finished, much use being made of bold colours and vinyl wall coverings, with the Red Room Lounge Bar and the lime-green Panoramic Lounge particularly notable although the choice of a quite distracting paisley orange and green colour scheme in the ten cabins de luxe was maybe regrettable. The design ethos of architects George Trew Dunn however was perhaps the Eagleâ€™s most long-standing contribution to the evolution of ferry design, the firm conceiving an almost â€œdisposableâ€ interior which could be renewed every five or ten years rather than the â€œlast for lifeâ€ attitude which had heretofore prevailed. Dismissing concerns as to how the most contemporary aspects would look in the long run, as they could be replaced, would supposedly enable interior design to be more â€œof the momentâ€, and, alas, just as quickly â€œof the pastâ€ as the cycle of fashion moved round. None of which carried much weight with Design Magazine, the house magazine of the Council of Industrial Design, which quite scathingly commented that â€œgood taste is not usually the top priority of the holiday maker, and though the architects have used the better furnishing firms available the mixture they have produced is at best entertaining, at worst restless and irritating. But â€¦ as the architects say, [it] can always be replaced.â€
C Deck, above the garage, was essentially a cabin deck with reception and a shopping centre amidships.
Moving upwards, on B Deck forward were more cabins whilst, aft of the forward lobby was the first of two restaurants, the more informal Garden Restaurant.
The Garden Restaurant.
This starboard side arcade connected the forward lobby to the aft Aquila Restaurant; a playroom, nursery and hairdressers could be accessed off the arcade.
The hairdressing salon.
The Aquila Restaurant.
On A Deck, forward was the sombre Club Room.
Aft of the A Deck forward lobby was a grand sweep of public rooms beginning with the Red Room lounge and bar. This is the view looking forward in the bar area with the counter on the left.
The forward lounge section of the Red Room.
The Red Room at night.
Leading on from the Red Room was what was originally the Golden Eagle Discotheque, provided with stylised glassfibre eagles and bronzed mirrors.
The disco later served as the Lido Bar.
The Lido bar counter.
The highest public room on board was the Panoramic Bar on the Sun Deck, above the Bridge Deck. This is the view looking forward in the starboard side entranceway.
An overall view of the Panoramic Bar.
The ship's bridge.
Looking at the cabins, all had en-suite facilities but the most basic were inside with four berths on C Deck.
An outside 4-berth cabin, as found on C, D and E Decks.
The more expensive cabins were found on B Deck and Bridge Deck, being a combination of suites and De Luxe cabins, the latter as shown here with decor which the 'Shipping World & Shipbuilder' not unreasonably described as 'startling'.
The Eagle managed to last just five seasons; the recessionary aftermath of the OPEC oil crisis in 1973 severely undermined traffic and she was sold to the Nouvelle Compagnie de Paquebots, already owners of her half-sister the Massalia, becoming their Azur. Like the flamboyant Sunward, which had crossed the Atlantic and become the first successful modern Miami cruise ship, securing a place as perhaps one of the Worldâ€™s most influential passenger ships in the second half of the twentieth century, the Azurâ€™s future lay in cruising, and she was permanently converted in 1981 with additional cabin accommodation on her former garage deck. Chartered to Chandris from 1987 to 1994, slightly renamed as â€˜The Azurâ€™, the ship retained this name for the subsequent decade operating for Festival Cruises. Since the latterâ€™sâ€™ demise in 2004 the ship, now the Royal Iris, has remained a familiar sight in mainstream Southern European cruise destinations, catering specifically for the Israeli market of operators Mano Maritime.
The Eagle passes beneath the Salazar Bridge (later the 25 de Abril Bridge after the Carnation Revolution of 1974) in Lisbon.
The ship in her second guise as Paquet's Azur.
The Azur transits the Corinth canal.
The Royal Iris at Heraklion, Summer 2008.