Vronskiy Beat (or: Farewell Prinses Beatrix, Duc de Normandie, Wisteria etc)

This afternoon the Damla (ex-Vronskiy, Wisteria, Duc de Normandie, Prinses Beatrix) arrived on the beach at Aliaga, Turkey for scrapping. The ship, which most recently was in service between Spain and Morocco for Trasmediterranea and FRS, had spent most of the past week at anchor awaiting the final plunge after hopes for a new period of service in the Adriatic came to naught.

Aliaga, 18 January 2021

The Dutch-registered Prinses Beatrix was delivered in 1978 to the Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland (SMZ) for Sealink’s Hook of Holland to Harwich service, where she was paired with the earlier car ferry Koningin Juliana (later Moby Prince) and British Rail’s St George and St Edmund. Like her routemates the ship was two class, with Second Class forward and First aft in her accommodation and sailings connected to boat trains on both sides, especially at the Hook where the route was the best option for travellers heading to Germany and points east.

A handsome, well-proportioned ship, the Prinses Beatrix was relatively broad-beamed and thus able to offer an extra lane of freight space when compared to ships of similar length and concept from her designers at Knud E Hansen (such as the Peter Wessel, with which she was partnered as SMZ’s Zeeland from 1984 to 1986, or the Gotland, second ship on Brittany Ferries’ Ouistreham service in 1988). Her interiors were, though, reflective of their era with Second Class in particular designed to endure heavy use from students heading for Amsterdam and army personnel heading for Germany.

The Prinses Beatrix.
Prinses Beatrix cutaway plan, complete in this rendering with Tage Wandborg’s signature flashes at the bow.

Although the ship was the largest ever built for the Hook-Harwich service, the operating economics of the route were never ideal, with capacity ramped up by second ships offering parallel crossings in peak periods where it would make more sense for one, larger vessel to operate alone. Sealink UK took the plunge first, replacing the ‘Edmund’ and George’ with the chartered St Nicholas in 1983. SMZ upgraded their second ship with the charter of the Zeeland whilst they pondered and then ordered a replacement – the giant Koningin Beatrix of 1986. In the interim the Prinses Beatrix was identified by Brittany Ferries as a good fit for their new route between Portsmouth and Ouistreham (for Caen), which was planned to open in the summer of 1986. When finally taken over by the French operator, she was given a comprehensive refit with almost all vestiges of her, by then tired and careworn, original interiors stripped out in favour of a new, one-class arrangement designed by Architectes Ing?nieurs Associ?s.

The Duc de Normandie at Plymouth in 2004.
Duc de Normandie 1988 Deckplan showing the ship’s original Brittany Ferries layout which was slightly modified in subsequent refits, notably the extension of the Brioche Doree patisserie into the larger Le Devon Salon de the, the introduction of a pair of cinemas in place of the wine bar and the relocation of the playroom to the forward cafeteria. (Courtesy Richard Seville)

The new route was a success and the ship was soon overwhelmed with a variety of vessels employed to support her until the arrival of the much larger Normandie in 1992 established a two-ship service on a more settled basis. Eventually replaced by the Mont St Michel in 2003 the ‘Duc’ moved to the Plymouth-Roscoff route until being sold to a company related to Trans Europa Ferries in 2005. Renamed Wisteria she would spend only brief periods on TEF’s Oostende-Ramsgate service, instead spending most of her time chartered out to the Spanish Trasmediterranea group.

The Wisteria at Oostende, December 2005.

The first charter was to Trasme-controlled Ferrimaroc (whose pioneer ship had been her former Harwich fleetmate the St Edmund) and the summers of 2005, 2006 and 2007 saw her deployed between Almeria and Nador but the ship also saw service in the Balearics as well as regular use on the routes to Algeria. The charter was later taken over by Trasmediterranea themselves and this continued after the demise of her owners and acquisition in 2013 by Nizhniy Shipping Limited, a company registered in the Marshall Islands, who renamed her Vronskiy.

Arriving at Nador, September 2006 in Ferrimaroc colours.
The Vronskiy off Algeciras.

In May 2016 I was able to make what, it turned out, would be a final sailing on the ship. She was in service on the Algeciras-Tangier Med. route – a short crossing of only an hour and a half duration for which she was not really suited but where she had been deployed, on and off, for a couple of years. The Vronskiy was in fair condition, but traffic wasn’t particularly heavy when we sailed. The ship was managed by Pulchra Mare, whose name appeared around the ship where it had placed on top of ‘Brittany Ferries’ in signage. Her crew and officers, primarily Croatian and Slovenian, were particularly welcoming and evidently quite fond of their old ship, which was reliable enough and relatively fast and manoeuvrable for her age.

Leaving Tangier Med.

For the next four years the ship remained in Trasmediterranea service until being passed to FRS in January 2020 to take over their Motril to Melilla operation. Sadly, the route was overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic and she had barely got underway before the route was suspended for the duration. The charter was allowed to end and the ship sailed to Bar in Montenegro in search of further duties. It was not to be, however, and her final destination was to be a beach in Turkey.

Presented below are some pictures from that final crossing in 2016.

The Vronskiy was registered in Limassol – the remnants of the weld marks for ‘Duc de Normandie’ and ‘Caen’ were still visible beneath her latest name and home port.
Loading at Tangier.
The vehicle deck, seen from the stern door.
Nice vintage No Smoking signage amongst the cargo lashes.
Looking aft on the vehicle deck. The huge, full-width mezzanine decks are stowed against the deckhead.
The bow door, not used in Trasme service.
Brittany Ferries-era plan adjacent to the car deck (labelled entirely in French save for the universal ‘Self Service’ and “Duty Free Shop’, the presence of the latter dating it to pre-1999).
Heading up via one of the car deck stairwells.
Arriving on the main passenger deck (Deck 6), this is the view at the stern.
The aft-most space on the saloon deck was ‘Le Jardin de Monet’, a seating area added by Brittany Ferries on what had previously been part of the First Class sun deck.
‘Jardin de Monet’ looking across to starboard with the bottom of one of the pair of pyramid-shaped skylights visible top left, above the (fake) palm tree, the latter a nod to several of the namesake artist’s paintings.
The interior windows visible to the right are the original ones which overlooked the outside deck from what was once the First Class lounge.
Moving forward, on the starboard side was l’Alambic Bar, renamed in Trans Europa ownership as the Neptune Bar.
Neptune Bar counter.
Wood carving above the counter, similar to one later installed in ‘La Licorne’ Viennoiserie on the Duchesse Anne.
Starboard side looking forward. The heavy doors here led originally into the first class reclining seat lounge. Brittany Ferries first converted the seating lounge into a wine bar, ‘Le Bec a Vin’, before an early ’90s refit changed this to two cinemas. The cinemas were instead accessed off the aft stairwell but a small area in front of the doors was left as an area for slot machines.
When the ship operated in Moroccan service the slot machine area was converted into a small mosque, as pictured. The door to the right led into the aft of the two cinemas.
Neptune Bar overall view.
On the port side, opposite the bar, was the former Salon de the, Le Devon. This is the view looking aft.
Looking aft on the port side.
Le Devon counter area.
Heading forward again, this passageway led forward to the aft main stairwell.
The aft hallway on Deck 6.
Amidships on the port side was what had been the Honfleur restaurant, originally the First Class dining saloon and initially with Brittany Ferries the Reine Mathilde Restaurant.
The restaurant was converted into a reclining seat lounge when the ship first sailed with Ferrimaroc in 2005 but the menu holder and Front of House desk remained in place.
The desk at the restaurant entrance.
Now surrounded by seating the old buffet counter remained in place.
The Honfleur Restaurant in its previous guise aboard the Duc de Normandie in May 2004.
BF-vintage decor details also remained.
Looking aft.
Forward section of the former restaurant.
At the front of the ship was the self-service restaurant, l’Estacade. This space was originally the Second Class lounge and adjacent cafeteria.
Vintage menu options.
Port side of the self service.
Looking across to the starboard side.
Central view looking aft.
Overall view of the self service, l’Estacade.
BF relocated the playroom to a spot on the starboard side of the self service during the 1990s.
Les p’tits Mousses.
Next: up the stairs to the Deck 8 Reclining Seat lounge.
Deck 7 forward stairwell.
Seating lounge plan.
Red seats in the forward section of the recliner lounge.
No-tampering with the TV channels.
Grey seats in the aft part of the lounge – this area was an extension added by Brittany Ferries.
Classic BF 24/24 vending machine station, complete with vintage (out of use) machines.
Still accepting Francs in 2016.
One of the relatively few Brittany Ferries logos to be found in the ship’s passenger spaces.
Back down on Deck 5 was the reception desk, shopping facilities and the majority of the ship’s cabins.
Information desk.
A closer look.
Another, earlier, Brittany Ferries logo.
Forward, in a space originally taken by the Second Class reclining seat lounge, was the main shop, used instead for linen storage with Trasme.
Check-out counter inside the shop.
Aft of the reception desk were other shopping areas in BF’s preferred format – La Vitrine, Le Kiosque and La Cave.
La Boutique.
Some more of BF’s favoured neon signage.
Reception-level seating area.
Deck 5 signage.
Car deck stairwell, Deck 5.
Cabin corridor decoration.
Lift signage.
Espace sans tabac.
Only tiny vestiges of the original Prinses Beatrix could still be found. Most notable were bits of signage, easily identifiable in the all lower-case format adopted throughout the ship when new.
Up on the Vronskiy’s bridge, somewhat vintage-appearing after almost four decades of use.
Another view looking across from starboard.
Original control panels.
Looking forward from the port bridge wing.
Bridge wing controls.
Officers’ mess.
Crew mess.
Down on the forecastle, with the lower windows still wearing the storm covers from the ship’s English Channel and North Sea days.
The ship’s bell.
Until the end of her Brittany Ferries days the ship retained the original Prinses Beatrix bell, but that was subsequently removed and replaced with this nameless, blank one.
Time to head outside.
Starboard side promenade on Deck 7 with enclosed shelters next to the doors enabling passengers to transition from the calm of the interior to the gusts of North Sea gales.
The covered section on the starboard side with its distinctive overhead ventilation outlets.
The port promenade.
Perfunctory kennel at the stern.
Right aft on Deck 7 with one of the triangular skylights of le Jardin de Monet visible.
The huge, perfectly proportioned funnel looking perhaps its best in Trasmediterranea colours.
Looking forward on Deck 8 to the reclining seat lounge.
The arrow-shaped plate visible here was added by Brittany Ferries to accomodate their flag logo in 1986.
A view of the funnel and adjacent deck in SMZ colours with fixed green and orange plastic seating.
The side pockets of the funnel provided a useful storage space.
Leaving the Spanish coast and the Rock of Gibraltar behind.
Vronskiy, Limassol.
The Vronskiy at Algeciras.

3 thoughts on “Vronskiy Beat (or: Farewell Prinses Beatrix, Duc de Normandie, Wisteria etc)

  1. Great to see this blog being updated again, and particularly good to see a feature on the Duc de Normandie. I sailed to France and back on a school trip in 1989, but sadly went overnight both ways and didn’t get to explore beyond the confines of the entrance hallway and cabin. Somehow I never got around to sailing on her again and it’s too late now! 🙁

  2. This brings back some wonderful memories. I’m so very fond of the BF era signage. I followed Vronskiy on AIS as she headed to the breakers. She still had fairly modern lines for what was an old vessel; modern era windows, straight decks and she was fairly wide too. Despite her seniority and size difference, she made a wonderful running mate with Normandie.

    I’ve been trawling this site for years – I’m glad to see it’s still getting updated!

  3. The old Duc was a classic Ship. I have had many holiday cruises on her and her fleetmates Armorique and Prince of Brittany, She was the first of a purposely converted line of ships that really made her feel french when you were on board,
    Like Bretagne is now there is a certain old world charm which never seems to fade in my eyes,
    Thank you for these pictures which take me back some 36 years when i was excitedly running around her long corridors on an adventure into the continent with my mum and dad who have both now sadly passed.

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