Posts tagged: sealink

Up close: Seafrance Cézanne

Built 1980 as Ariadne for Rederi AB Nordö as a deep-sea ro-ro.
Converted to passenger ferry in 1989/90 and renamed Fiesta for Sealink SNAT Calais-Dover services.
Renamed Seafrance Cézanne 1996.
Retired and laid up since February 2009.
Photographed 25 October 2009, Dunkerque, France, not far from fleetmate Seafrance Renoir.

Link: Fantasia & Fiesta on the main site

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Blast from the past: Sealink British Ferries 1986

Changing for the Better – Full Speed Ahead.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

A visit to the Masarrah (ex-St Columba, Stena Hibernia, Express Aphrodite)

Completed in 1977, the St Columba/Stena Hibernia became something of a legend on Irish Sea services through the 1980s and into the 1990s. Finally ousted by the arrival of the first of Stena’s HSS fast ferries, she was sold for further service exactly twenty years after she had arrived, heading for Greece as the Express Aphrodite. There the vessel seemed set to become a Greek institution, perhaps lasting as long as her former Sealink cousins, the famed Milos Express (Vortigern) or Apollo Express (Senlac).

The Express Aphrodite in 2005.

The Express Aphrodite in 2005.

Alas her triumphant reign on the Piraeus – Syros – Tinos – Mykonos schedule was to end earlier than many could have imagined. She latterly operated other routes for her subsequent Greek owners, Hellas Ferries/Hellenic Seaways, but was withdrawn at the end of the 2005 season, much earlier than her age and condition merited. Technical problems with the Express Santorini saw her unexpectedly return to service as cover in the Summer of 2006 but she was finally sold to Namma Lines of Saudi Arabia later that year. The ship had the bad luck to end up in the hands of HSW when they felt they no longer needed ships of this kind and, following the embarrassing bad experience of selling the Panagia Ekatontapiliani and Express Penelope to rival Greek operators who promptly put them into service against their former owners, were unwilling to sell to the many willing local buyers.

Earlier this year Richard Seville tracked the ship down in Safaga and here recounts his reunion with a ship which many believe should still be operating in Southern Europe.

The Masarrah at Perama in April 2007 undergoing refit prior to departure for her new career. Picture courtesy Nikos Thrylos.

The Masarrah at Perama in April 2007 undergoing refit prior to departure for her new career. Picture courtesy Nikos Thrylos.

As the Masarrah of Namma Lines, the former St Columba and Stena Hibernia is following several of her Sealink predecessors, and a number of her Irish Sea competitors, in spending her twilight years serving the pilgrim trade across the Red Sea. After essentially three incarnations under Sealink and later Stena, she was sold to Greek interests in 1997 and went on to spend a decade as a mainstay of Aegean island services. Somewhat prematurely withdrawn in 2006, she passed to the then rapidly expanding Namma Lines and after refit at Perama, entered service from both Suez and Safaga in Egypt to the Saudi port of Dhiba.

In April 2009, I was able to pay a visit to the Masarrah during a turnaround period in Safaga, and her extremely welcoming Egyptian crew showed me around from top to bottom. On board, given the unfavourable reputation of these routes, maintenance standards were surprisingly good and although rather worn in places, the interior was also relatively clean and tidy. In essence, little has changed since her final Irish Sea days although her new owners have gone to the trouble of renaming all the facilities with locally relevant names as well as removing most of the references to Stena Line which had continued to remain throughout her Greek service.

Key changes include the conversion of the Irish Bar into a Reception Lounge, the fitting of reclining seats in the former Pantry and duty-free shop, and the creation of a crew restaurant in the former pizzeria. I was treated with great hospitality throughout my time on board, given drinks and introduced to almost all the numerous crew as well as visiting officials. Preparations were underway for a midnight departure to Dhiba, and that evening I watched as conservatively dressed passengers loaded onto both the Masarrah and her fleetmate the, the former Superferry, which was lying alongside her. Lasting memories of the visit include a tide of blood running across the galley floor as lunch was being prepared, animatedly chatting with Egyptian officials with a faded promotional poster of Ireland as a backdrop and the tremendous hospitality shown by her crew who were astonishingly tolerant of an eccentric English enthusiast! Here we present a selection of on-board views of this much loved favourite.

The car deck.

The car deck.

Reception in the Irish Bar...

Reception in the Irish Bar...

...which is otherwise unchanged.

...which is otherwise unchanged.

The former pizzeria is now a new crew mess.

The former pizzeria is now a new crew mess.

Forward on Deck 5, this area was the Show Bar as the Stena Hibernia and First Class on the Express Aphrodite.

Forward on Deck 5, this area was the Show Bar as the Stena Hibernia and First Class on the Express Aphrodite.

Moving up to Deck 6, the former self-service restaurant, The Pantry, has now become a reclining seat lounge.

Moving up to Deck 6, the former self-service restaurant, The Pantry, has now become a reclining seat lounge.

Aft of the former Pantry, the shop has also had seating installed. This area originally housed the ship's rather avant-guarde discotheque.

Aft of the former Pantry, the shop has also had seating installed. This area originally housed the ship's rather avant-guarde discotheque.

The old crew mess is virtually unchanged since the ship was built.

The old crew mess is virtually unchanged since the ship was built.

The aft lobby on Deck 7 still retains Hellas Ferries branding...

The aft lobby on Deck 7 still retains Hellas Ferries branding...

...whilst elsewhere reminders remain of even earlier times in the ship's career.

...whilst elsewhere reminders remain of even earlier times in the ship's career.

Masarrah pictures © and courtesy Richard Seville.

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.

The ‘new’ Stena Caledonia

. . .

In January 2009, Stena Line confirmed they were continuing their recession-busting modernisation programme by investing £1.8m in a thorough upgrade of the Stranraer-Belfast route’s single conventional vessel, the Stena Caledonia (ex-St David of 1981). This followed on from a not dissimilar amount spent on the route’s HSS Stena Voyager in 2008. The plan appears to have been to move the ‘Caledonia’ back into primary use for passengers, rather than the reserve/freight/night ship she had tended to become by default with the Voyager taking most passengers. Falling oil prices since the decision to invest was made however seem to have changed things – the refit went ahead, but in the event the HSS has remained in full use and so the Caledonia’s new facilities have, in the brief period since she returned from refit, been largely underused.

For anyone who has sailed on the ship before, upon boarding it is quite hard to orientate yourself as the entire centre section of the ship has been swept away – of all of the four ‘Saint’ class ships, the main deck of the former St David perhaps most lived down to billing with a predomination of fairly uninspired fixed seating. Save for the cinema and shop at the stern (largely unchanged) and the cafeteria forward, this has now all gone, replaced with a very open plan Barista Coffee House with a small Stena Plus lounge to starboard in the area formerly housing part of the Motorists’ Lounge.

The effect is a little overwhelming but certainly, given the ship is destined to remain on the North Channel for a few more years yet, she was overdue a refurbishment. Stena, and their house interior designers Figura, have been stung by criticism in the trade press recently concerning some of their more recent refurbishments and, as in parts of the refitted Stena Nordica, a determined effort has been made on the ‘Caledonia’ to allow quiet spaces where one can simply sit and read, snooze or work on a laptop. Although the open-plan nature of the Barista Lounge mitigates this to an extent, areas have been notionally designated for families and as a quiet lounge although this may take some policing if it is to be effective on a busy sailing.

In summary however, it was great to see the Stena Caledonia revitalised. Even if the ship is going to have only a relatively short future in her present operation, it is clear that Stena don’t intend to let the ship be run down before retirement. The refurbishment is certainly fairly dramatic and doubtless not to everyone’s taste – I’ll let you draw your own conclusions and below are some recent images from on board the ship, with a few pictures of the same spaces interspersed as a reminder of what used to be. Click on the pictures for larger versions.

Click here for a main deck plan photograph of the ‘new’ Stena Caledonia. Fakta om Fartyg has a mid-90s deckplan here (the ship was essentially unchanged up to the recent refit. A plan of the ship as St David can be found here.

Starting forward, the former Pantry self-service has become Food City, although the layout is essentially unchanged.

Starting forward, the former Pantry self-service has become Food City, although the layout is essentially unchanged.


Before....

Before....

... and after.

... and after.

Looking across from the starboard side, pre-refit.

Looking across from the starboard side, pre-refit.


The same scene today.

The same scene today.


The small Ro-Ro drivers' lounge adjacent to the self-service has so far not been refurbished.

The small Ro-Ro drivers' lounge adjacent to the self-service has so far not been refurbished.

The location of the previous information desk...

The location of the previous information desk...

... now a seating area.

... now a seating area.

The forward section of the old Motorists' Lounge, amidships to starboard.

The forward section of the old Motorists' Lounge, amidships to starboard.

The scene now is virtually unrecognisible as the partitions have been stripped away and the space completely opened up.

The scene now is virtually unrecognisible as the partitions have been stripped away and the space completely opened up.

Another view of the pre-refit Motorists' Lounge.

Another view of the pre-refit Motorists' Lounge.

The same area today.

The same area today.

The amidships/forward port side lounge, pre-refit.

The amidships/forward port side lounge, pre-refit.

This is now the Barista Lounge Quiet Area.

This is now the Barista Lounge Quiet Area.

The new, centrally located, Barista Coffee servery - this only seems to be used on busier sailings.

The new, centrally located, Barista Coffee servery - this only seems to be used on busier sailings.

The Barista 'black' area, formerly part of the Motorists' Lounge.

The Barista 'black' area, formerly part of the Motorists' Lounge.

An overall view, looking forward (on the starboard side).

An overall view, looking forward (on the starboard side).

An overall view, looking forward (on the port side).

An overall view, looking forward (on the port side).


The aft section of the old Motorists' Lounge...

The aft section of the old Motorists' Lounge...

... is now Stena Plus.

... is now Stena Plus.

Another view of the new Stena Plus Lounge.

Another view of the new Stena Plus Lounge.


Adjacent to what is now Stena Plus was previously further fixed seating.

Adjacent to what is now Stena Plus was previously further fixed seating.

This is now home to the new Information desk and the Barista Lounge 'family area'.

This is now home to the new Information desk and the Barista Lounge 'family area'.

Before...

Before...

... and after.

... and after.

An overall view looking forward before the refit.

An overall view looking forward before the refit.

A view from a similar location now.

A view from a similar location now.

The old tea bar.

The old tea bar.

This is now the location of the compact Childrens' play area.

This is now the location of the compact Childrens' play area.

Another view aft.

Another view aft.

Right aft, the video games area has also been somewhat refitted - here it is before refurbishment.

Right aft, the video games area has also been somewhat refitted - here it is before refurbishment.

The same area after refit.

The same area after refit.

Looking across to the small shop on the port side, pre-refit.

Looking across to the small shop on the port side, pre-refit.

The same space now.

The same space now.

At the stern, the cinema area is largely untouched.

At the stern, the cinema area is largely untouched.

Upstairs, the two promenade deck lounges have been slightly tidied up but there has not yet been significant refurbishment. This image shows the aft lounge.

Upstairs, the two promenade deck lounges have been slightly tidied up but there has not yet been significant refurbishment. This image shows the aft lounge.

The smaller forward Promenade Deck saloon.

The smaller forward Promenade Deck saloon.

The outside decks were not significantly attended to during the refit.

The outside decks were not significantly attended to during the refit.

However, new doors leading to the main passenger deck have been installed througout.

However, new doors leading to the main passenger deck have been installed througout.

At the top of one of the cardeck stairwells.

At the top of one of the cardeck stairwells.

On Deck C, these couchettes are still available for use by freight drivers.

On Deck C, these couchettes are still available for use by freight drivers.

Lastly, an overall view of the upper vehicle deck.

Lastly, an overall view of the upper vehicle deck.

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