Posted on Sunday, December 23, 2012 by Peter Knego
Peter Knego continues “Deck-ing” the historic, 98-year-old DOULOS PHOS with an impromptu visit to the then 80-year-old ship in Naples.
In 1977, FRANCA C was purchased by Operation Mobilisation, a German-based Christian organization that was seeking a ship to serve as a floating library and bookstore to promote Christianity to the far corners of the earth. Renamed DOULOS, which is Greek for “servant”, she was given a modification that included the installation of a bookshop atop her lido. In 1993, the DOULOS was drydocked in Cape Town for a complete mechanical overhaul that saw the replacement of her electrical plant and switchboard as well as significant work on her air conditioning system.
October 5, 1994
My first encounter with the DOULOS was purely by chance. In October 1994, I was aboard the beautiful, if star-crossed ACHILLE LAURO at the end of a cruise to Egypt and the Holy Land (not unlike the infamous voyage during which the ship was hijacked in 1985). Our planned call at Sorrento was called off due to rough sea conditions, so the grand “Nave Blu” proceeded to Naples, instead. As we stood on deck deciding what to do with our day, a small white speck of a ship appeared with the jagged silhouette of Capri as her backdrop.
When that speck became recognizable as the approaching DOULOS, our day’s agenda became all-too-clear. As we cheered her on, I marveled that I was not only witnessing the world’s oldest active large seagoing vessel “in action” but also watching the former FRANCA C returning to one of her original homeports.
FRANCA, rather, DOULOS, entered the breakwater and spun around with the aid of two tugs before berthing stern first at Stazionne Marittima.
When we arrived at the DOULOS, she had just cleared Italian customs. Public tours were to begin a few days later and the staff were looking forward to a short break and a little time to sort things out before the ship was opened up. We nonetheless begged our way on board and promised to not take too much time if we could just have a short tour.
I took a few hundred slides and, to save time, stashed the film camera, relying on Kevin Anthoney to capture what prints he could with his. My slide scanner is unfortunately not up to the task so I am posting many images taken by Mr. Anthoney.
At the time of our visit, DOULOS had served as a missionary ship for seventeen years and her Costa soft fittings and furniture were getting a bit threadbare but still were in use along with some bits that were added in more recent years. Little changed since her FRANCA C days, she still bore her ROMA and FRANCA C “conversion builder’s plate”, Italian signage and much of her timeless Zoncada style with velvet-covered Cassina chairs and key works of art from his cabal of masters.
The wheelhouse had its brass and mahogany compass, wheel, telegraphs and fittings dating from 1914, still in use along with modern radio, satellite and communications systems.
Captain’s Deck was occupied and thus off-limits. Sun Deck, which will be more lavishly illustrated in the next installment, began with a narrow terrace under the superstructure and continued aft via teak promenades under a canopy of lifeboats that led to what was once the lido, since transformed into an awning-covered book shop and display area.
Inside Sun Deck at the forward end of the superstructure was the Staff Library. Portholes in the forward bulkhead overlooked the bow.
In the aft Sun Deck vestibule leading down to Lounge Deck, the landing sported a large melamine panel by Enrico Paulucci. All of the postwar Costa, Sun Line and Adriatica ships designed by Nino Zoncada had similar works. At the time of my visit to DOULOS, I had no idea who Paulucci was, nor was I particularly smitten. Hindsignt is 20/20 and now, not only am I a huge fan of the late, Roncole-based artist, I am the proud owner of several sets of his panels from EUGENIO C, STELLA SOLARIS, STELLA OCEANIS and STELLA MARIS. One or both of the Paulucci panel sets from DOULOS were given to the Costa family archive in recent years.
The forward portion of Lounge Deck was a bit cluttered with equipment and gear but the interior still boasted its large Paulucci melamine panel in the stairtower vestibule leading down to the dining room. The Lounge was unfortunately off-limits due to ongoing construction.
The reception lobby was a bit disheveled as it was also in the process of a small renovation.
The sheltered Lounge Deck fantail was apparently the children’s play area throughout the ship’s DOULOS incarnation.
I recall my delight at having been granted access to the fo’c'sle area on Promenade Deck as the lighting on the superstructure was perfect that day.
In the dining room on Promenade Deck, there was no evidence of the Majoli panel in the aft part of the forward section but there was an interesting work by a less-familiar artist in the Zoncada cabal.
On the forward bulkhead, directly across from where the Marangoni panel once was, there was a painted triptych by Sirotti in similar fashion to the works of Majoli and other post-war Italian artists who contributed to ships designed by Zoncada and his rival, Gustavo Pulitzer.
On the aft bulkhead, the Restaurant featured a ceramic mural by the late, great Emanuele Luzzati, the Genoese artist renowned for his animation, stage design and children’s books in addition to his prolific shipboard works. Luzzati was a master ceramist, painter and sculptor. At least one smaller disc-shaped Luzzati ceramic in the aft/starboard corner had gone AWOL by the time of our 1994 visit.
We even had a tour of the engine room and machinery spaces, which along with the rest of the ship, will be covered in more depth in the next chapter or two.
In 2009, DOULOS was sent to drydock for a refit intended to keep her in service through at least October of 2010 when strict new SOLAS regulations would challenge her continued operation. During the process, it was discovered she needed some $10 million worth of steelwork, too costly an investment for a ship that was already 95 years old. DOULOS was subsequently withdrawn on December 31, 2009 and offered for sale. Indian scrappers looked to be the only interested buyers, so she was largely stripped of historic items and anything deemed valuable in preparation for a one way voyage to the beach. At the 11th hour, Singapore-based businessman Eric Saw intervened, saving the vessel from certain destruction.
End of DOULOS PHOS Decked!, Part Two
Much More to Come…
Very Special Thanks: Kevin Anthoney, Jonathan Boonzaier, Martin Cox, Maurizio Eliseo, Reuben Goossens, Mike Masino, Eric Saw
Primary References: Author’s collection and “The Costa Liners” by Maurizio Eliseo and Paolo Piccione