Posts tagged: stena hollandica

Picture of the week: Stena Hollandica

Stena Hollandica. Click for larger image.

Stena Hollandica. Click for larger image.

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That Was The Year That Was – 2010

The Vis (ex-Sydfyn) at Ubli in July. The ship has since been withdrawn from service.

The Vis (ex-Sydfyn) at Ubli in July. The ship has since been withdrawn from service.

In ferry terms, 2010 will perhaps be remembered as a year in which dozens of classic ships from Southern Europe were despatched for scrap. Over twenty ships on which I had sailed headed to the breakers during the past twelve months including some of my absolute favourites such as the former Senlac (Apollon), Mette Mols (Istra) and Svea (Ancona).

On the other hand there were relatively few significant new ferries introduced in 2010, as delivery rates slowed and shipyard orderbooks thinned out – the new Stena Hollandica and her sister proved to be the real highlight of the year in this respect. 2011 promises a little more and the arrival of P&O’s Spirit of Britain this month offers a first chance to see if that company can finally offer anything innovative, followed (definitely maybe) by LD Lines’ Norman Leader.

On a personal level, 75 ships were sailed on and two visited in port, whilst 33 nights were spent at sea. In an effort to make a final farewell to some of those doomed classics, the average age of ships sampled in 2010 was 22 years old compared to 17 in 2009 – and indeed nine of the 2010 ships have subsequently been withdrawn.

Based purely on subjective feelings on those 77 vessels, here are some bests and worsts of the year.

The Stena Hollandica at Hoek in November.

The Stena Hollandica at Hoek van Holland in November.

Best new ferry
Looking at ships delivered in 2009 or 2010 and new to me this year only one vessel really stands out – the new Stena Hollandica on the Harwich-Hoek route. Her sheer size marks her out but she also gives a useful indication of where Stena see the future – a ferry version of “the vision thing” from one of the industry’s leading operators with the deepest pockets. Relatively luxurious and expensively-finished accommodation above huge and flexible freight decks seems to be the answer for an operation which, as with many of Stena’s legacy routes, still has a strong passenger element.

There was not really much competition on the new ferry front – other recently-delivered ships sailed on in the past twelve months were Norfolkline’s Humber Viking (an interesting and efficient ro-ro), Wight Ryder I and II (awful), Minoan’s Cruise Europa (dysfunctional), Nova Ferries’ Phedra (pleasant enough) and Jadrolinija’s Jadran (generic).

The Habib leaving Genoa.

The Habib leaving Genoa.


Best classic ferry and favourite crossing
Four of us travelled between Tunis and Genoa on Tunisia Ferries’ 1978-built Habib in July and, looking back on the year, all agreed that the sailing on this ship was the highlight. Although it still seems uncertain, it is to be hoped that this beautiful ship of state will continue sailing in future years – despite her age, she seems in reliable mechanical condition and her largely original 1970s interiors with dozens of pieces of bespoke artwork are quite remarkable. The Habib is one of the all-time classic car ferries.

The oldest ship sailed on in 2010 was the local Lisbon ferry the Eborense of Transtejo e Soflusa, built in 1954 – whilst she is not and has no need to be a Habib, she is certainly a delightful little ship and, happily, looks set to be retained despite the delivery of new vessels.

The cross-river Lisbon ferry Eborense.

The cross-river Lisbon ferry Eborense.

A rainy day in Gdynia.

A rainy day in Gdynia.


Worst crossing
There was something indescribably horrific about sailing on the Stena Baltica (ex-Koningin Beatrix) between Karlskrona and Gdynia on a wet day crossing in June. This ship received a major conversion to drive-through loading with twin freight decks and a complete refurbishment of the passenger lounges just before Stena’s new enlightenment with regard to interior design. The new freight arrangements seemed to work well enough, but ten hours staring at shiny plastic laminate flooring, wipe-down surfaces and jarring decor would be enough to drive anyone to distraction, never mind the forgettable food and the depressing weather. Wherever she ends up next, hopefully the Stena Baltica will get some urgent attention to revive her passenger spaces which, whilst originally slightly spartan in places, were at least previously coherent and pleasant.

The Sveti Stefan II at Bar in Montenegro.

The Sveti Stefan II at Bar in Montenegro.

Worst maintained ship
No doubting the winner of this one – Montenegro Lines’ Sveti Stefan II (ex-Prinz Hamlet, Nieborow). Bruce has written a bit more about what was a rather sad and run-down vessel in a piece in which the pictures speak for themselves.

Not far behind in this particular race were Blu Navy’s Primrose (ex-Princesse Marie-Christine), Le Rif (ex-Galloway Princess) of Moroccan operator IMTC and P&O’s soon to be withdrawn Pride of Calais. The most dismal single passenger space I saw on a ship operating for a mainstream operator however was another ship near the end of her P&O career: on the Pride of Bilbao what was once the Flash Disco, later a ro-ro lounge, was in use as a smokers’ area with giant ashtrays, ripped sofa seating and fag ash ground into the carpet. Not a pretty sight.

P&O's premier cruise ferry.

P&O's premier cruise ferry.

Best food
At the heart of any great ferry trip lies a decent meal and one operator stood out above all others in 2010 – Unity Line’s Polonia and Skania both provided memorable fare in the restaurants on their route between Swinoujscie and Ystad.

On the downside the Polonia also offered the most unpleasant crew member of the year – a ‘bouncer’ at the entrance to the forward lounge whose main aim in life was to bar entry to anyone who had any luggage with them – including small rucksacks and handbags. Since one cannot get access to the restaurant without passing through this lounge, it was no surprise to find that we were the only diners. As the forward bar stayed empty, all the other passengers could be found cooped up in the rather unluxurious self-service.

Unity Line food - fish soup (Skania)...

Unity Line food - fish soup (Skania)...

... the lamb (Skania)...

... the lamb (Skania)...

... and apple pie for dessert (Polonia).

... and apple pie for dessert (Polonia).

Elsewhere on the food front, the kitchens on Tunisia Ferries’ Carthage rustled up a superb couscous served with lamb, the lunchtime smörgÃ¥sbord on Scandlines’ Hamlet was low in cost and high in quality, SNCM’s Napoleon Bonaparte offered an unexpectedly good buffet whilst the excellent food in the restaurant of Fastnet Line’s Julia almost made up for the somewhat run-down nature of the rest of the ship.

Lunch on the Carthage.

Lunch on the Carthage.

Worst food
Alas, the Sveti Stefan II strikes again; in her restaurant all the main courses arrived still box-shaped.

The restaurant on the Sveti Stefan II.

The restaurant on the Sveti Stefan II.

Forward stairwell on the Eritokritos T.

Forward stairwell on the Eritokritos T.


Best Jap
Former Japanese ferries in Southern Europe continue to receive, perhaps not unsuprisingly, scant attention from north European enthusiasts, but there are some very interesting vessels worthy of attention. In the past couple of years I have mentioned two superbly-converted ships – the Ariadne and the Elyros – but in many respects even more engaging are those which retain elements of their original Japanese design. Japanese ferries have evolved a quite distinct look both inside and out compared to their European counterparts and the Eritokritos T (which has now sailed for scrap) and her sister the Lato showed how intriguing and attractive surviving elements of this can be in the passenger spaces.

That said, although both the Erotokritos T and the Lato had some interesting bits and pieces, probably the most impressive Japanese-built ferry of 2010 was Agoudimos Lines’ Ionian King. Whilst obviously very similar to her sister (Endeavor’s Ionian Queen), this ship has been slightly more impressively reconditioned. A trip on either vessel is to be recommended – they are probably the best ships sailing out of Southern Adriatic Italian ports today. If budgets permit, travelling in one of the super-luxury ‘Emperor’ suites would be the best way to travel.

The Lido deck on the Ionian King.

The Lido deck on the Ionian King.

Lastly, NEL Line’s chartered European Express (ex-Takachiho Maru) wins the award for most laudable onboard signage.

On board the European Express.

On board the European Express.

Cool Hollandica conquers Stena Blandica

Despite being one of the world’s most successful ferry companies, the mundanity of Stena Line’s modern on board offering has always been puzzling, almost as if the company were determined to portray a ferry crossing as something everyday, nothing to get excited about. The food has never been too much to write home about and the decor from ship to ship was broadly consistent – there were the myriad different ‘Globetrotter’s, dear old Spike’s Sports Bar, Rudi’s Diner or, latterly, the dreaded Food City. Perhaps this familiarity was meant to be reassuring. For a company with such a wide variety of operations I have always found it rather constraining and the chosen decor somewhat depressing – descriptions of floating motorway service stations have not been far from the mark.

Food City - Stena Baltica

Food City - Stena Baltica

I will not, cannot, argue though against Stena’s success. There was once a memorable, possibly apocriphal, quote from Gothenburg that the company just couldn’t find enough things to do with its money. In the ferry part of the Stena sphere, in addition to operating ships, that money was made from building and rebuilding, buying and selling, predicting how the market was going to grow and ordering the right ships at just the right time – when prices were cheap, yards were desperate or demand about to explode.

Yet I had wondered if no one in Gothenburg in more recent times has ever really understood anything other than the freight market, that to many passengers even the shortest ferry crossing IS extraordinary and perhaps the experience deserves to be a little exceptional.

Stena Danica (1969)

Stena Danica (1969)

Despite being founded on a philosophy little short of ‘pile em high and sell em cheap’ earlier Stena ships were in many ways very beautiful indeed: the Stena Danica of 1969 ranks as perhaps the most beautiful ever Swedish ferry, inside and out. The Yugoslav quartet of the early 1970s were rather striking when one got past the flower power touches; the ‘Danica’ and ‘Jutlandica’ of 1983 as built actually were rather lovely and even the potentially soul-lessly huge Kiel ships of 1987/88 had endearing touches.

Stena Olympica (1972)

Stena Olympica (1972)

Stena Germanica (1987)

Stena Germanica (1987)

In the 1990s however what we can call the ‘Stena Blandica’ look took over. Wipe clean surfaces and slightly cheap looking shiny laminate flooring predominated. Worst of all, the desire to apply this look to every ship, regardless of service, took over and so, for example, one found on the overnight ships ‘Germanica’ and ‘Scandinavica’ where once there had been a series of delightful inter-connected à la carte restaurants a dreary Food City was installed instead. Passenger numbers have fallen dramatically from their peak: social and economic factors outside Stena’s control doubtless accounts for much of this yet one still wonders if Stena needlessly abandoned some of the non-transport market it once had.

Food City has now been discarded – the standardisation of onboard names and styles remains however. Yet, in recent times, there has been a marked uptick: starting with the Irish Sea fleet, suddenly Stena has endeavoured to decorate its ships in a most Scando-trendy and sympathetic style. The 2008 and 2009 refits of the Stenas Voyager, Caledonia and Nordica were perhaps the first hints of this movement, whilst the rebuild of the newly acquired Stena Navigator was the first really coherent evidence.

Stena Voyager (in 2008)

Stena Voyager (in 2008)

Stena Nordica (in 2009)

Stena Nordica (in 2009)

Stena Nordica (in 2009)

Stena Nordica (in 2009)

Stena Caledonia (in 2009)

Stena Caledonia (in 2009)

Stena Navigator

Stena Navigator

Which brings us, at last, to the Stena Hollandica, newly built for the Harwich-Hook of Holland route. Here, for once cast free from the constraints of converting existing tonnage, Stena’s house designers, Figura, had the chance to show just what they could achieve. A first glance of the ship’s guide is all too familiar: here is your C-View Bar, there your ‘Taste’ Buffet and over there a Riva Bar. Yet despite the familiarity somehow the whole coheres in a quite striking way. Carpets, seating, some bulkhead finishes and even layouts are replicated from other recent ships yet now it all makes sense and is often quite beautiful. Some unpleasant finishes remain such as a couple of the once uniform shiny metallic ceilings; the outside decks have, with more work still to do, thus far failed to remotely replicate the progressiveness of those on the ‘Navigator’. Yet these are quibbles, for in the ‘Hollandica’ Stena have introduced probably the newbuild ferry of 2010. One thing which is striking is the choice of a wood-effect laminate for many of the bulkheads in the corridors and arcades. This is all a mirage of course – doubtless there is not a single grain of wood in any of the wall panelling – and one could choose to take them to task for choosing effect over reality. However the effect is to make the ship feel distinctly warm in a quite endearingly old-fashioned way, perfect for an overnight ship.

The new Stena Hollandica: Metropolitan Restaurant

The new Stena Hollandica: Metropolitan Restaurant

Taste

Taste

Taste Restaurant

Taste Restaurant

Taste Restaurant

Taste Restaurant

Riva Bar

Riva Bar

Stena Plus

Stena Plus

Freight drivers' lounge

Freight drivers' lounge

Freight drivers' lounge

Freight drivers' lounge

Conference room

Conference room

Aft lounge

Aft lounge

Suite

Suite

Stena Line has since the loss of Duty Free focussed on freight – and the ‘Hollandica’s vast vehicle decks show that for good reason this will continue to be the case. But the passenger side did seem to have become a little neglected: the agonised debate on LandgÃ¥ngen as to why the Stena-dominated Swedish West Coast can no longer support “cruise ferries” whereas on the East Coast ex-Stockholm mini cruises continue to thrive offers a few pointers in what could be perceived to have gone wrong. “Sterile” and “easy to clean” are two descriptions from that discussion which apply certainly to the current state of the Stena Danica, rebuilt in 2003 along much the same lines as Fishguard’s Stena Europe. The ‘Danica’, on the company’s premier route, deserves more than any other ship to be rescued from its sad ‘Blandica’ era and given just a little hint of the ‘Hollandica’ treatment. And maybe, just maybe, Stena will discover that people in the company’s home town will once more feel the urge to head out to sea – and that beautiful ships and profitable services are not as mutually exclusive as they perhaps had come to believe.

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