THE EMERALD Of Eleusis And Piraeus To Petrola-ing — Updated

September 22, 2011 update featuring newly enlarged images from Peter Knego’s October 2010 trek to find THE EMERALD of Eleusis.  Both the THE EMERALD and SAPPHIRE are now being inspected by Indian scrap buyers while the wreck of the MEDITERRANEAN SKY and the hulk of the unfinished ZOE (the would-be REGENT SKY) seen in this blog have since been demolished.  An era in classic Greek shipping is about to draw to a close.

Join Peter Knego for a day in the Piraeus region on a trek through the “forbidden” anchorage of Eleusis to spend a morning on board Louis Cruises’ still sparkling steamship THE EMERALD (ex SANTA ROSA — the last intact American-built ocean liner), a stop in adjacent Petrola to see the half sunken wreck of the MEDITERRANEAN SKY (ex CITY OF YORK) and roam past the busy docks of Keratsini, Drapetsona and Piraeus to see cruise ships and ferries, old and new…

Louis Cruises

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

EUROPEAN EXPRESS at Piraeus.

The morning began aboard Windstar Cruises’ MV WIND SPIRIT with a final breakfast before disembarking at the port of Piraeus (see prior Sea Trek for a detailed report on the charming WIND SPIRIT). As we said good bye to the ship’s tireless and friendly crew, it was hard not to take stock of all the incoming, outbound and still traffic in the harbor around us.

These ladies are lingering...

Two clusters of four G.A. ferries lay at opposite ends of the port, looking faded, bedraggled and not long for this world. A very spruce EUROPEAN EXPRESS glinted from across the channel but then any ship would look nice with such dynamic Japanese lines and NEL Lines’ smart blue livery.

I normally avoid the clot of taxi drivers at the main terminal like the plague but today, I would have to hire someone to take us up the coast to Eleusus and Petrola. The last time I hired a taxi to get to Eleusis, where so many fantastic ex liners lay at anchor, was 2001. I returned once more in 2003 with the late George Graikos, a kindly sea captain who chauffeured me around for a long day of ship-chasing espionage. After that trip, which included parting views of the still intact STELLA SOLARIS, STELLA OCEANIS, PRINCESA VICTORIA, OCEAN EXPLORER I, PRINCESA CYPRIA, AUSONIA and REGENT STAR, I thought I would never return. However, the good people at Louis Cruises gave me a great reason to venture back by granting me permission to visit their SS THE EMERALD, which has been laid up since November of 2009, awaiting a charter or sale.

After haggling from a ridiculous 30 Euros per hour to 120 for six hours, we gave up and began wheeling our luggage towards the good Hotel Glaros, conveniently located just off Akti Miaouli, the main road that encircles the port. One enterprising driver named Maik (30-6944521878) managed to whip along the road and turn back, intercepting us at the half way point to the hotel. “I will give you the best rate!”, he exclaimed. We set the day’s rate for 100 Euros, which would include him waiting for us at Eleusis and Petrola and returning us to the hotel in the eve. Deal done, we dropped the luggage at the hotel, stopped at a store in Perama for water and peanuts to sustain us and then zoomed along the barren, rocky landscape to Eleusis.

Only Alang is worse than Eleusis as far as access is concerned. A navy base at the entrance to the bay means no photographs are allowed and permission to visit any ship must come with a signed document from the ship owner, followed by a long haggle with the port police for a permit (very hard to get even with permission), then a hugely expensive boat ride (provided the boat can squeak past Greek customs). The Louis people know this process all too well and thankfully have their own system and boat.

My first visit to Eleusis was a shiplover’s dream come true. The date was 13 October 1992 and the rafts of old ships stretched as far as the eye could see. I had come to see the ALFERDOSS (ex AMERICA), William Francis Gibbs’ pre-war masterpiece and precursor to the legendary UNITED STATES. Ironically, the subject of my latest visit was another Gibbs creation, the 1958-built SANTA ROSA, which in most architectural respects was a miniature, single funneled UNITED STATES. She had been vastly rebuilt in 1992 for Regency Cruises as the REGENT RAINBOW, with extra decks, a prolonged bow and restyled funnel. Underneath the added layers, however, beat the heart of an old American lady — one of just three major passenger-carrying steamships left.

MV ISLAND BREEZE at Eleusis.

Our first interesting encounter was the 1968-built ISLAND BREEZE, originally a ro/ro ferry called STAFFORD but since rebuilt and renamed many times over the years. She might be best known to American ship enthusiasts as the former Starlight Cruises’ MV PACIFIC STAR, which operated for a season of gambling cruises from San Diego.

ZOE, the would-be REGENT SKY, at Eleusis.

After rendezvousing up with THE EMERALD’s Chief Engineer, Mr. Andreas, we sputtered off under a dark gray sky and vast open stretches of lonely water. Before this decade’s purge to the scrappers, Eleusis (also known as Elefsina) was a paradise of forgotten liners and decaying cruise ships. In Greek legend, it was the gateway to the underworld and in modern ship lore, it was literally that. Now only a few hulls lay in its tranquil waters, including the never finished REGENT SKY, now called ZOE, which was laid down as the Stena Line ferry STENA POLLONICA and then purchased by Regency Cruises to be rebuilt into that line’s first “all modern” ship. The company went bankrupt in 1995 and the hulk has been moved from one Greek layup berth to another, awaiting her final destiny.

MV SAPPHIRE and SS EMERALD at Eleusis.

Louis Cruises’ Italian built SAPPHIRE of 1967 (ex ITALIA, PRINCESS ITALIA, OCEAN PRINCESS, etc.) finished off her last season of cruises a week or two prior to my visit and was now tied up alongside THE EMERALD. Sporting Louis’ new blue funneled livery (introduced this past year), she has just been put up for sale.

THE EMERALD at Eleusis.

Were it not for the additions to her hull and superstructure, I doubt the former SANTA ROSA would exist today. Her fuel-hungry steam turbines, low passenger capacity and large cargo holds did not an economic cruise ship make. In the aftermath of her conversion for modern cruising, it takes a keen eye to spot her original architectural features.

Under the overhang.

As we climbed up the rickety metal gangway underneath the overhang of her promenade deck, it was easy to imagine stepping back into time on the SANTA ROSA.

THE EMERALD Reception, facing aft.

We entered the reception area, which is still structurally “as built” with a few modern decorative revisions, including marble surfacing and colored skylights. We followed Chief Engineer Andreas to his office on Deck 2, dropped off our coats and then headed up to the outer decks while he and his crew fired up the ship’s diesel generator.

Facing forward over midships pool area.

As REGENT RAINBOW and THE EMERALD, the ship boasted a large, sheltered midships lido and a huge expanse of deck space on two levels that stretched from above the bridge to a platform overlooking the stern. It was remarkable that with only a skeleton crew to look after them, the decks were still in excellent condition, despite the ravages of relentless summer sun and winter rain.

Midships pool, facing port.

The large pool is one of the surviving SANTA ROSA features. The outline of its basin features uniquely 1950s curves..

Facing aft over midships pool area.

I climbed up a small platform to get a few shots over the pool, then we headed forward along the starboard side.

Funnel from starboard,

Underneath the new paint scheme, grillwork and aft extensions, lies the base of the original Grace Line funnel. Its Gibbs’ trademark “sampan” top with rounded dome and square fins was removed in the REGENT RAINBOW conversion.

THE EMERALD puffs!

I was deliriously startled by the sound of the generators and a puff of black smoke. THE EMERALD had come back to life!

Gibbs on deck.

A bit of still intact Gibbs architecture is the crescent-shaped grill deck housing that still sports its original zigzag window bars.

Over bow.

The bow got an extension in 1992 when the ship was rebuilt but still retains its American-built anchor and docking machinery.

MV SAPPHIRE funnel from SS THE EMERALD.

It was hard to resist a shot or two of the sleek SAPPHIRE’s distinctive funnel, a uniquely sculpted Italian Midcentury feature.

Port promenade, facing forward.

We headed down to the Deck 6 promenade that fully encircles the ship. Most of the port and starboard segments date from the SANTA ROSA era.

Fwd promenade, facing port.

Up forward, the promenade is enclosed in the glass and metal facade of the superstructure built in 1992. Just as I completed my circle of the deck, I was called inside — the machinery spaces were ready for a visit.

Chief Engineer Andreas at the controls.

Chief Engineer Andreas led us into the Engine Room and the main control panels. It was amazing to see this steam power plant in such remarkable condition, a testament to just how well-built it was and how well maintained it has been. Green paint, brass, steel and various forms of insulation looked almost as though they were new, despite their 52 years.

Starboard shaft, facing forward.

We passed the stabilizers and various pumps before entering the starboard and port shaft alleys via a series of watertight doors.

Boiler 3 plates.

From the Engine Room, we headed forward to the Boiler Room, which has three huge Babcock and Wilcox boilers.

Grace Line cabin, facing port.

It was time to begin exploring the accommodation and public spaces. Unfortunately, only one cabin in the reception area was unlocked. It was partially original with its portholes, large metal dresser and oversized WC.

THE EMERALD Showroom, facing forward.

From there, it was up to Deck 5, which is devoted entirely to public rooms, beginning with the heavily sheered showroom, added in 1992 during the extension of the forward superstructure.

THE EMERALD face.

I asked for a quick visit to the fo’c’sle head while we were in the area.

Dining Room, facing aft/port.

The lovely Chanterelle Dining Room is one of the most original spaces on the ship. It had a full fledged dome over its center, half of which remains. The angled ceiling was added in the Regency rebuild.

Chanterelle ceiling recess.

There are eight circular recesses that feature floral frescoes.

SANTA ROSA stairs.

The forward stairtower sports a few levels of original Grace Line mosaics depicting fauna of South America. It also features original wrought iron balustrades that are similar in style to those from CARMANIA and FRANCONIA’s ballroom and TRANSVAAL CASTLE’s stair towers.

SANTA ROSA stairs, facing down.

In this area of the ship, it was easy to imagine being back on the SANTA ROSA in her heyday.

SANTA ROSA stairtower detail.
Aft from Dining Room balcony.

There is a wonderful musicians’ balcony overlooking the restaurant where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton reputedly dined during one of their sea-going escapades.

Enclosed port promenade, facing aft.

An enclosed promenade leads aft along the port side of the Chanterelle Dining Room to a midships bar and shopping area.

Midships bar area facing aft/stbd.
Shopping Arcade, facing forward from starboard.

This space was largely rebuilt in 1992, although the bar and bar stools remain from SANTA ROSA.

Casino Lounge, facing aft from starboard.

Just aft of the shopping arcade is the Casino. During the Regency Cruise era, it was overflowing with gamers and often spilled out into the adjacent bar at the stern where extra card tables were often set up. In the ship’s THE EMERALD days, mostly spent on charter to British-based Thomson Holidays, the casino was halved and the remaining space dedicated to a lounge.

Casino Lounge, facing forward from port.

A glass partition was set up between the two areas, otherwise, the space remains structurally the same.

Aft bar, facing port.

The farthest aft bar opens up onto a deck overlooking the fantail. The stern of the ship was vastly rebuilt with a large wedge of accommodation.

Aft bar, facing starboard.

Chief Engineer Andreas was kind enough to turn on some lights and open the doors. As with all of the ship’s public spaces, Louis has done a superb job of covering the carpets and furnishings, keeping the soft fittings in perfect condition for the ship’s next incarnation.

Private dining room, facing aft.

We worked our way forward along the starboard side where there is a private “VIP” dining area just aft of the main restaurant.

Lido, facing aft.

We headed up several decks to the Lido, Le Bistro and the Starlight Lounge, spaces built by Regency atop the ship. In these spaces, tall, angled windows infuse sunlight and nice views.

Le Bistro, facing aft from starboard.

Le Bistro is on the lower of the two levels but when the ship is at capacity, dining space overflows into the Starlight Lounge, above.

Le Bistro stairs, facing forward/port.

A grand staircase with a skylight provides access between the two spaces.

Starlight Disco, facing starboard.

The Starlight Disco and its “wave” shaped windows overlooks the pool area.

THE EMERALD Wheelhouse, facing port.

Time running short, Mr. Andreas took us to the wheelhouse where we remained while he shut off the generators and returned THE EMERALD to darkness and silence once more.

SANTA ROSA plaque in bridge.

Although the wheelhouse is entirely from the 1992 rebuilding, it did contain a small treasure from the SANTA ROSA era in the form of a port plaque given to the ship on 2 July 1966 in Kingston, Jamaica.

Forward from starboard wing.

I had a few moments to get some shots from either wing.

Aft from port wing.

Since the bridge was rebuilt so far forward, there is a “bend” to look around to see all the way aft.

Post visit view of THE EMERALD at Eleusis. Photo by Mike Masino 2010.

The boatman was waiting at the foot of the gangway as scheduled at 1:30. Our short visit to THE EMERALD was over. The encouraging news is that Louis is working hard to find a charterer or new owner who will continue to operate the ship. She is 2010 SOLAS compliant and in excellent condition.

Sunken SKY at Petrola.

Our taxi driver Maik next whisked us off to the promontory overlooking Petrola where the wreck of the 1953-built MEDITERRANEAN SKY has lain since capsizing in early 2003.

Fishing for photos. Photo by Mike Masino.

We hiked down a hillside of weeds and chaparral and took to the shores with several fishermen who shrugged as though it was pretty common for the curious and camera clad to venture into their domain.

Sunken SKY detail.

The capsized ship was originally one of four combi-liners built for Ellerman Line’s round Africa service from Liverpool. They were fitted with some of the finest accommodation of their time and were considered a notch better than first class on Union Castle Line.

Sunken SKY.
Wrecked off Petrola! Photo by Mike Masino 2010.

In the early 1970s, the CITY OF YORK and her sister CITY OF EXETER were rebuilt into the futuristic car ferry/cruise ships MEDITERRANEAN SKY and MEDITERRANEAN SEA, respectively, for Karageorgis Lines. The MEDITERRANEAN SKY was the last to survive and was dragged to shore where she rolled over after taking on water during a storm at Eleusis. A barge and crane lashed to her bow indicatse she may have finally come to the end of her suffering.

Sheep Petrol.

Back up the hill, past a herd of disgruntled sheep we climbed into the taxi, then sped off to Keratsini in Perama Bay for a look at the laid up tonnage there.

MV EXPRESS POSEIDON at Keratsini.
MV SCOTIA PRINCE at Keratsini.

Highlights were the former British Rail vessel now named AGIOS GIORGIOS and the Knud E. Hansen-designed SCOTIA PRINCE.

MV DIMITROULA at Drapetsona.
SS HELLAS LIBERTY at Drapetsona.

As we neared Piraeus, the tonnage in Drapetsona included the handsome Italian-built DIMITROULA and, hidden in a slipway alongside one of the new waterfront buildings, the HELLAS LIBERTY, which was recently brought to Greece for preservation.

MV WIND SPIRIT off Piraeus. Photo by Mike Masino 2010.
THOMSON CELEBRATION off Piraeus.

We bid farewell to the good-natured Maik and then walked past Piraeus port where MV WIND SPIRIT was preparing to depart. From the promontory overlooking the harbor entrance, we watched as she hoisted her sails and slipped off into the sun. The good-looking THOMSON CELEBRATION (ex NOORDAM) followed.

An octopus garden in the sun? Photo by Mike Masino 2010.
From Piraeus to Athens on a brilliant afternoon. Photo by Mike Masino 2010.
MARALA the Magnificent in Marina Zea.

We took the long way around to Zea Marina for our routine dinner of Greek salad (Horiatiki) and chicken gyros at Drosopita On the way, there were spectacular views of Athens and the Acropolis as well as the handsome yacht MARALA berthed in the outer slipways of Zea Marina.

Magical Marina Zea.

After dinner, it was time for a crispy, honey-soaked baklava and some much-needed rest at the Hotel Glaros before sailing off the following day on our short EUROPA adventure.

Special thanks: Chief Engineer Andreas, Martin Cox, Nicholas Filippides, Captain Vassilios Gazikas, Captain George Koumpenas, Captain Mikhalis Maratheftis, Michael Masino, Mihalis (number), Marlene Oliver

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego
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