Posted on Wednesday, August 25, 2010 by Peter Knego
Updated with larger images on August 15, 2011.
The 1955-built mini-liner MV WAPPEN VON HAMBURG, after a long life and years of neglect, is about to embark upon a new life along the San Francisco waterfront as the MV AURORA. Part one of this Decked! feature details this handsome ship’s history from German coastal liner to pioneering cruise ship and Christian accommodation vessel and, just when hope was all but lost, her gradual, ongoing restoration.
First published on MaritimeMatters, February 6, 2004. Updated and edited August 2010.
All images and text copyright Peter Knego (unless otherwise noted). Updated May 10, 2004.
Built in 1955 by Steinwerder Industrie AG (Blohm and Voss), Hamburg
(hull number 786)
Rebuilt at Piraeus 1960, various refits over the years
293 feet by 40 feet
12 foot draft
Five Maybach 12 cylinder diesels; electric drive; 6,000 bhp; twin screw; 17.5 knots
Passengers: 186 (double occupancy)
AURORA has just been towed from the Sacramento River Delta town of Rio Vista to the San Francisco waterfront — See Sea Treks Blog — and now sits at some prime real estate at the end of Pier 38, adjacent to the bustling AT&T Park. A number of exciting proposals for the ship’s future are being proposed as her ongoing on board restoration continues.
AURORA was built in 1955 for Hafendampfschiffahrt A.G.(also known as HADAG) as the WAPPEN VON HAMBURG by the Steinwerder Industrie AG shipyard at Hamburg, Germany. Steinwerder is better known today as Blohm and Voss and this was their first post war seagoing passenger vessel.
As she was intended for day cruise service between Hamburg, Cuxhaven, Heligoland and Hornum, she had a rather enormous capacity of 1,600 passengers.
In 1957, a similar but not quite identical ship was placed on the Hamburg, Cuxhaven, Heligoland service. The 2,520 gt BUNTE KUH carried 1600 passengers, and was powered by Maybach diesels capable of 18 knots. The most obvious external difference was her uniquely shaped funnel.
In 1960, the WAPPEN VON HAMBURG was sold to Nomikos Lines of Greece. She was renamed DELOS and refitted at Piraeus in 1961 with a swimming pool, full air conditioning and cabins for 186 passengers in one class.
In the conversion, the ship took on a configuration that has pretty much lasted until this day. She had six decks, beginning at the top with a small monkey island type observation platform atop her wheelhouse, meshing into a streamlined, semi-Lascroux type funnel. Its open forward vent allowed air to flow upwards via an angled platform to push smuts away from the decks (A “bonafide” Lascroux funnel would have open vents in the aft portion of the funnel, as well).
Bridge Deck featured a proportionally large wheelhouse, chart room, captain’s and chief officer’s quarters. Bridge Deck had a narrow outside platform in front of the wheelhouse that continued aft on either side past the funnel to an open deck containing ventilators and the engine room skylight.
Promenade Deck began with an observation platform and stretched aft along either side to a sports and sun deck. The interior portion was fronted with an observation lounge and a vestibule leading down to Upper Deck.
Upper Deck began at the fo’c’sle with the postage stamp-sized swimming pool, which could be lifted off the ship for access to the forward hold. It continued inside the superstructure with a series of cabins.
A Reception Hall spanned the width of the ship at the base of the forward stairs with its dramatic elliptical descending staircase, at the time enhanced with a black and gold Greek art panel. DELOS’s eight largest suites followed aft to a smaller vestibule with a mini-grand staircase.
The Lounge was quite large in proportion to the ship, with seating for 135.
It also featured a large, circular inlaid marquetry dance floor.
In its aft/starboard corner, the Lounge offered a small, circular bar. The open fantail finished off this level.
Main Deck began with cabin accommodation, leading to the forward lobby where, at the base of the elliptical stairs, there was a gift shop kiosk and a purser’s desk. A beauty parlor was adjacent, just forward on the starboard side.
Cabins followed aft along the midships portion of Main Deck, leading to the dining room.
With seating for 125 people, it still boasted fine wood paneling and sturdy glass fixtures from the ship’s WAPPEN VON HAMBURG days. A galley and stores area were aft.
Second Deck featured accommodation forward and aft of the machinery spaces.
DELOS was considered a pioneering cruise ship and outclassed the motley fleet of aged but interesting vessels sailing from Greece to the Aegean at the time. She was so successful that the BUNTE KUH soon followed in her wake, going to the Kesseuglou family who converted her into Sun Line’s first STELLA SOLARIS. In 1971, with the purchase of the second STELLA SOLARIS (ex CAMBOGE), she was sold to the Shiekdom of Quatar and renamed NAIEF for use as a royal yacht and has since disappeared from all registers.
By the mid to late 1960’s an ever-expanding fleet of former liners and ferries were being refitted for Aegean service for an array of companies like Typaldos, Sun Lines, Epirotiki, Efthymiadis, and K-Lines. DELOS maintained her Piraeus to Delos, Mykonos, and Rhodes service until 1967, when she was bought by Westours and renamed POLAR STAR.
POLAR STAR was a perfect fit for the burgeoning Alaska cruise market. She joined stalwart regional mainstays like the CP and CN veterans PRINCESS PATRICIA and PRINCE GEORGE on summer Inside Passage cruises from Vancouver. In the winter, she sailed for Westours subsidiary West Line on cruises along the Pacific Coast to Mexico and even ventured as far as Tahiti and the South Pacific.
In 1970, she was officially transferred to West Lines and renamed PACIFIC STAR.
In 1972, she was sold to Xanadu Cruises of Panama and renamed XANADU.
During her time with Xanadu Cruises, XANADU was touted for her yacht-like external beauty as well as her rather chic interior decor, which, peppered with personal artifacts from the owner’s wife’s collection, had a Southern Asiatic theme.
The ship’s layout was left pretty much as it was during her DELOS period although some of the original paneling and marquetry from DELOS and WAPPEN VON HAMBURG was covered or painted over.
I visited the ship on April 28, 1976 and took some rather crude but rare images of her.
On Promenade Deck, the observation lounge was divided into two separate areas: the Library of Kubla Khan on the port side and the Kinbalu Card Room starboard.
Angkor Deck(formerly Upper Deck)
The forward lobby was given a backlit Asian-inspired panel that replaced the Greek-themed artwork on the stairtower bulkhead.
Bokhara Deck(formerly Main Deck)
Cathay Deck(formerly Second Deck)
Aside from the redecoration, the only other significant change was the relocation of the beauty shop aft.
Despite a loyal following and high ratings, Xanadu Cruises was unable to compete in the soft cruise market of the mid-1970’s. The fuel crisis and general public disinterest in the pre-“Love Boat” era found the XANADU in troubled waters.
In 1977, XANADU was laid up near Vancouver. At one point, she was seized and most of her fittings and navigation equipment were stripped and auctioned off. Her next few years are rather sketchy, but by the mid-1980’s she was sold for use as an exhibition and trade fair ship and brought to an anchorage off Los Angeles under the name EXPEX.
Aside from a large container on her aft Promenade Deck, she was little changed from the XANADU era. As EXPEX fell further into decay and became the target of vandals, her future looked very bleak.
In 1991, she was purchased by Wilmington, CA-based Friendships and renamed FAITHFUL. Their intent was to restore the ship as a Christian missionary and relief vessel and deploy her along the west coast and into Caribbean waters. FAITHFUL’s hull was painted a handsome shade of dark blue, topped with a red band. She was moved from her anchorage to a San Pedro berth in 1994, and some interior work was undertaken, involving the removal of the forward Angkor Deck cabins to make room for a meeting/sermon room.
Friendships maintained their intent to completely refurbish FAITHFUL, but funding never materialized. In the interim, it had been reported that a number of missionaries took residence on board. She was evicted from her berth and returned to her Los Angeles anchorage until finally seized and sold to Florida-based owner who moved her to Southwest Marine shipyard on Terminal Island for a planned refurbishment into a hospital ship in early 2003.
To Be Continued…