Gone but not forgotten: Gabrielle (ex-Prinsessan Desiree, 1965)

The Gabrielle at Vlore, July 2003
The Gabrielle at Vlore, July 2003
From time to time I’ll dig out some older pictures from classic ferries which are no longer with us, having been scrapped – or worse. No. 1 is an interesting ship which had a lengthy Scandinavian career with two very distinguished operators before sailing off to Vietnam, and then the Red Sea, where everyone in Europe assumed no more would be heard from her. Rather unusually however she made a return, spending an eight year Indian Summer on the Southern Adriatic routes out of Bari and, latterly, Brindisi.

The ship is the Prinsessan Desiree, built for GFL (Sessan Linjen) in 1965 where she was pitched straight into the developing Battle of the Kattegatt against newcomers Stena Line on the Goteborg-Frederikshavn route. Sessan Linjen for me are one of the most interesting of operators – a car ferry pioneer who had stylish and upmarket ships but who were – ultimately – outmanoeuvred by a wily, innovative and populist competitor in Stena. The ‘Désirée’ was fairly quickly superseded and in 1970 was sold to the Vasa-UmeÃ¥ Line as the Fenno Express. And there she stayed, operating between Northern Sweden and Finland until the start of her Eastern adventures in 1989.

Less than half a year before she was finally sold for breaking, I made a sail on the ship as the Gabrielle, from Vlore in Albania to Brindisi in Italy. The ship was operating for a company called Prosperity Navigation although it is doubtful that they achieved their titular aim.

The 2001/02 Prosperity Navigation Brochure
The 2001/02 Prosperity Navigation Brochure

The Brindisi-Albania traffic is always very marginal but the ship found herself in competition against two fellow 1960s classics – the Europa I (ex-Jens Kofoed of 1963) and the Media V (ex-Viking I of 1964). If one had to classify these in terms of their condition, the Media V would be top and the Europa I bottom with the Gabrielle somewhere in between, so it is a matter of some surprise to me, in fact probably a matter of some regret, that the Europa I is at the time of writing the only one still surviving.

The Gabrielle was in fair condition, although the first thing you would probably notice as you came on board was the crumpled and ragged condition of much of the lino flooring, particularly in what had been the self service (now with a section partitioned off as a reclining seat lounge). However equally notable would be the acres of shining woodwork throughout the passenger spaces and the photo murals in the lobby spaces which were by noted Danish photographer Keld Helmer-Petersen. Sadly, the English Dining Room on the upper passenger deck (seen here on vasabatarna.se during her Fenno Express days) had been converted into cabins. A stylish and intricate restaurant was a feature of Sessan ships, right up to the last one, the Prinsessan Birgitta of 1981 (later Sealink’s St Nicholas) and the ‘Desiree’ had been no exception.

The Gabrielle and the Media V in the morning sun, awaiting clearance to enter Vlore
The Gabrielle and the Media V in the morning sun, awaiting clearance to enter Vlore
On the berth in Vlore
On the berth in Vlore

On our sailing there were few passengers, which might explain Prosperity Navigation’s swift demise soon after. A few couples and families apart, who took lunch in the old Smorgasbord restaurant aft, most seemed content to sit in the forward bar on the lower deck, which became a smoking den where they played cards and drank the crossing away.

All of which left the rest of the ship to us to explore and photograph. That didn’t take too long however and my happiest memory is of sitting in the sun on the ship’s forecastle amongst the mooring ropes, half reading a book whilst keeping an eye out for passing ships as our old vessel chugged slowly towards Italy. One of the ships which sailed by, incidentally, was one of the old Holyhead container ships, the Peliner or Peltainer (ex-Brian Boroime or Rhodri Mawr), in service for Sarlis who would also cease operation in 2004.

Below are a selection of photographs from on board.

Arriving at Brindisi
Arriving at Brindisi
The Smorgasbord restaurant, aft on the lower passenger deck
The Smorgasbord restaurant, aft on the lower passenger deck
Another view of the Smorgasbord  restaurant
Another view of the Smorgasbord restaurant
The alleyway leading aft to the Smorgasbord
The alleyway leading aft to the Smorgasbord
Two views of the old self-service, amidships
Two views of the old self-service, amidships

To starboard, this reclining seat lounge had been installed
To starboard, this reclining seat lounge had been installed

The lobby spaces forward of the old self-service; the black & white photo murals were by Keld Helmer-Petersen.
The lobby spaces forward of the old self-service; the black & white photo murals were by Keld Helmer-Petersen.
The information desk
The information desk

Upstairs, the alleyways were wooden-panelled and narrow. Where the wooden panels were missing indicated areas where new cabins had been added.
Upstairs, the alleyways were wooden-panelled and narrow. Where the wooden panels were missing indicated areas where new cabins had been added.

Forward on the upper deck was the very largely preserved 'Club Bar'
Forward on the upper deck was the very largely preserved 'Club Bar'
Partly obscured by slot machines, old artwork remained
Partly obscured by slot machines, old artwork remained

Club Bar detailing
Club Bar detailing
Two more overall views of the Club Bar - in the second, the door leading out onto the forward upper deck area can be seen
Two more overall views of the Club Bar - in the second, the door leading out onto the forward upper deck area can be seen

And a view highlighting the intricate ceiling treatment
And a view highlighting the intricate ceiling treatment
The promenade deck
The promenade deck
Aft outside deck
Aft outside deck

The ship's bell
The ship's bell

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