Posted on Friday, October 12, 2012 by Peter Knego
Exactly 20 years ago, I made my first visit to Piraeus. At that time, my mission was to visit the former SS AMERICA at her anchorage in nearby Eleusis. During that memorable week, I would also take a three night Greek Islands cruise on board Sun Lines’ sparkling STELLA OCEANIS as well as visit and/or photograph a luminous list of classics from the PALLAS ATHENA (ex FLANDRE) to the ACHILLE LAURO, ODYSSEUS, STELLA SOLARIS, MARGARITA L (ex WINDSOR CASTLE) and many more. I’ve lost count of how many times I would return to document scores of great old liners and cruise ships that are now faded footnotes of maritime history. Despite its challenges and industrial grittiness, I have come to love Piraeus and each time I visit, I savor seeking out its collection of ships, old and new.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Prior to embarking Windstar Cruises’ recently renovated sail/diesel yacht WIND STAR, I would have a couple days to recuperate from the long flights and go exploring. Upon arrival, we took the E96 bus from Athens Airport into Piraeus “central”, then rolled our luggage along the bustling waterfront up to the friendly Glaros Hotel, our home for the next two nights.
It would be a crime to visit Greece without having at least one horiatiki (villager’s salad) and there is no better place to do that than at Drosopita, a cafe located in the heart of Zea Marina, the ancient port for the Athens region and now a picturesque yacht harbor a few blocks away from Piraeus central.
Friday, October 12, 2012
Piraeus harbor was bustling with cruise ships today. After getting an espresso and a delicious spanikopita at the cafe across from our hotel, we headed out for a walk around the harbor. Side-by-side at the main terminal were Crystal Cruises’ CRYSTAL SERENITY (2003/68,870 gross tons) and Holland America’s NOORDAM (2006/82,500 gross tons).
We would pass several other ships that will be shown later in this report on our way to the outer waterfront via a network of steep, winding streets and stone facades.
While waiting for Louis Cruises LOUIS CRISTAL to sail, we sat on a bench overlooking Piraeus roads and watched several local ferries come and go, among them the arriving VINTSENTZOS KORNAROS, originally built in 1976 as the VIKING VISCOUNT for Townsend Thoresen.
At 11:30, the wedge-like LOUIS CRISTAL made her way out of Piraeus en route to Mykonos. The ship, which was built in 1992 as Effjohn’s SALLY ALBATROSS before being sold to NCL as their LEEWARD, looks better than ever in Louis’ new blue funneled livery.
We then made a full circuit around the Piraeus peninsula to Zea Marina where we found the exquisite, 1931-built MARALA tied up in a row of handsome mega-yachts.
After another horiatiki at Drosopita, we walked back over the hill to central Piraeus and boarded the ferry to Paloukia on Salamis Island. This provided an excellent vantage of all the ships in Piraeus port, including the splendid, still active AGIOS GEORGIOS, which was built in 1972 as Sealink’s HENGIST.
One of the more handsome deluxe category newbuilds, Compagnie du Ponant’s L’AUSTRAL (2010/10,944 gross tons) was dwarfed by the adjacent CRYSTAL SERENITY.
Our little ferry was moving along very quickly but not too fast to get a quick shot of the diminutive-but-eternally-gorgeous, 3,077-ton SEA CLOUD, which was originally built in 1931 as the private yacht HUSSAR for Marjorie Merriweather Post.
The panorama included MEIN SCHIFF 2 (1997/76,522 gross tons), the former MERCURY of Celebrity Cruises, which is now sailing for German-based TUI cruises and sporting a train station’s worth of graffiti on her dark blue hull..
Next in line was the 2009-built, 3,004 passenger COSTA PACIFICA, a near-sister of the recently lost COSTA CONCORDIA.
Holding a regal sentry at the entrance to Piraeus central, was Cunard’s 2010-built, 2,092-passenger QUEEN ELIZABETH.
Meanwhile, on the north side of the harbor, no less than five ferries were tied with sterns to the quay for their winter layups or, perhaps to be sold…
With all the cruise ships on the south side of the harbor, I almost missed the fetching HELLAS LIBERTY, the 1943-built former ARTHUR M. HUDDEL, one of the last surviving Liberty ships, now preserved as a museum.
Our little ferry pitched her way into the seas just outside of Piraeus. As we passed Keratsini, at the end of a line-up of laid up ferries was the OCEAN LIFE, which last operated on Indian-based cruise service but was originally built in 1981 as the 9,885 gross ton, 710 passenger LEV TOLSTOY.
At the far end of Keratsini was the LOUIS OLYMPIA, formerly Royal Caribbean’s popular 37,584 gross ton, 1,575 passenger SONG OF AMERICA of 1982.
This would also be my first chance to see what little was left of the wreck of the MELODY, a handsome little cruise ship that caught fire and was beached off Atalanti Island on July 6, 1990. The former French colonial liner DJEBEL DIRA of 1948, she lay partially sunk with bow dramatically pointing to the sky until being cut down about two years ago.
I was very surprised to see another important wreck, the RASA SAYANG, looking much more exposed than on prior occasions. As we neared, it looked as though the hulk was in the early stages of being raised and removed.
This was the first time I had ever been able to see the rusted lettering that spelled out her name and port of registry (Singapore) on her stern. The RASA SAYANG was built as Norwegian America Line’s gorgeous, 18,739 gross ton BERGENSFJORD in 1956.
BERGENSFJORD briefly served as French Line’s DE GRASSE before becoming RASA SAYANG for Cruise East in 1973. In 1980, she was moved to Greece to be refitted as the cruise ship GOLDEN MOON but caught fire at Perama and was towed to her current resting place off Kynosaura on August 17, 1980, where she capsized. Her superstructure was eventually removed and the hull was used for many years as a place to tie up local fishing boats.
A floating crane is now tied up near the bow of the former BERGENSFJORD.
While it was hard to not stay entirely focused on the RASA SAYANG, there were a number of interesting ferries as well as the laid up cruise ship HAPPY DOLPHIN, now sporting “etstur” on her hull, in the seemingly endless line up of tonnage at Perama. The 21,884 gross ton HAPPY DOLPHIN was originally the ORIENT VENUS for Japan Cruise Line and was laid up in 2011 following the collapse of last operators, Spanish-based Happy Cruises.
As we neared Paloukia, there was a quick view of the vast, now mostly empty Bay of Eleusis, once home to the world’s largest and most fascinating collection of vintage passenger ships.
Our day of ship chasing in Piraeus had come to an end and it was now time to enjoy another one of the local delicacies, a tyropita (cheese pie), along with a frappé and an espresso.
Very Special Thanks: Martin Cox, Rob Di Stefano