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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Perhaps it was a harbinger of things to come that British Airways lost my luggage as I transited between the Scylla and Charybdis of Paris’ nasty Charles de Gaulle Airport and London’s incredibly inept Heathrow (and the especially dreaded Terminal Five) following my visit to St. Nazaire (see prior blog). Thankfully, dear friends in Valley Stream, just a few miles from New York’s JFK airport, were ready and willing to help me shop for some “emergency” clothing on my overnight before this latest journey, a thirteen night crossing from Barbados to Harwich on board one of the few interesting classic ships left: Voyages of Discovery’s 1972-built 20,216 gt MV DISCOVERY (ex ISLAND VENTURE, ISLAND PRINCESS, HYUNDAI PUNGAK, PLATINUM). I was already well-acquainted with DISCOVERY, having spent youthful days visiting her in Los Angeles when she operated for Princess Cruises and, more recently, sailing on one of her Antarctic voyages.

MV DISCOVERY at Barbados.

As we flew over Barbados’ harbor, just the fin funneled silhouette of our ship lay alongside the passenger terminal.

DISCOVERY gangway at Barbados.

Welcome crew.

Cabin 5406, facing port.

My traveling companion, Rob DiStefano, and I arrived at the MV DISCOVERY in the mid-afternoon following a relatively quick transfer from the airport. Embarkation was speedy and we were almost immediately shown to cabin 5406 on aft/port Deck Five. An outside with two picture windows, two twin beds, a dresser, writing desk, plenty of closet space and a w/c with shower, it was to have been our cozy but comfortable nest for the next thirteen days.

I had been anticipating this cruise for several months. Aside from being my first Atlantic crossing, it would call at three new places for me: Horta, Ponta Delgada and Angra do Heroismo.

In the paperwork laid out on the bed, however, a note read: “Dear Passenger…DISCOVERY recently experienced problems with one of its four main engines while sailing up the Amazon. Initial reports indicated repairs would be completed by the time we were due to depart Barbados today. However, the engineers who boarded the ship in Barbados to asses the work carried out so far have given their final verdict this morning that more work has to be carried out before the engine can be put back into service… Work will continue ‘on the run’ as we cross the Atlantic but it is unlikely this will be finished before our arrival in Harwich. We must therefore plan to operate DISCOVERY at a reduced speed. As a result, it will be necessary to cancel calls at Horta and Angra do Heroismo…As a gesture of goodwill, we have arranged for all passengers to receive an ‘on board credit’ of $200 per person….In addition, we are offering you a 20% discount off any future cruise taken with us before October 2009.”

Even though we were naturally disappointed that the itinerary had been changed, there would be plenty to do, including a chance to savor some extra sea time after a rather hectic few months of travel.

Maritime Memories plaque.

This crossing was a special Maritime Memories voyage, with over 200 former British merchant seamen and their spouses celebrating the glory days of ships as diverse as Elder Dempster’s AUREOL, Shaw Savill’s SOUTHERN CROSS, Orient Line’s ORIANA, and so many others before the empire of the ocean liner crumbled and gave way to today’s generic cruise fleet.

Des Cox and his lovely wife, Ulla. Photo by Rob DiStefano.

The brainchild of Snowbow Videos’ very own Des Cox, a former British pop star and television host, the Maritime Memories cruises have become a huge success in recent years and the DISCOVERY now serves as a home away from home for these colorful veterans of the sea. Houseflags representing most of the major liner companies are flown from the radio mast, models and memorabilia are on display, Cox’s brilliant Great Liners series (the best passenger ship videos available) are programmed on the shipboard television, special menus are recreated from past liners and a lecture program about ocean liners and merchant ships is featured. On the latter, I looked forward to participating, having inundated my laptop with images from ex AUREOL, AUGUSTUS, CATHAY, INDEPENDENCE, ORIANA, AMERICA, UNITED STATES, and more in their final days, as well as studies of the evolution of 20th century passenger ship interiors and a presentation on Alang.

3/4 stern view of MV DISCOVERY at Barbados.

Tired from the flight, neither Rob nor I had much of an urge to explore Barbados, so we unpacked, walked around the harbor area to get shots of our pretty cruise ship, ventured to afternoon tea in the Lido for a turkey and cheese sandwich and attended the muster drill in the handsome, dual level Discovery Lounge.

MV DISCOVERY at Barbados.

More DISCOVERY at Barbados, ctd.

We ventured back off after dark to get more views of the illuminated ship as it would be our only chance with the newly truncated itinerary. What I first thought was a large leaf blowing around the pavement turned out, upon closer inspection, to be a frantic crab racing in circles, claws in air. We tried to persuade the frazzled crustacean to run towards the water, but he had no patience for us and skittled cartoonishly toward the terminal, vanishing in the darkness.

Showtime in the Carousel Lounge.

Facing forward from starboard Riviera Deck wing.

Shortly after the welcome on board show in the Carousel Lounge, the gangway was raised, ropes were freed, and DISCOVERY was on her way. We enjoyed the balmy night air and twinkling lights of Barbados from several vantages, beginning at the lookout on Sun Deck, just over the wheelhouse, then as we walked aft via the teak promenades before settling at the stern docking wings as she picked up speed and sloshed her way onwards to St. Lucia.

The Palm Court, facing aft. Comfortable new chairs and olive carpeting have replaced the wicker and pale gray of the recent past.

Since we missed our early seating dinner, we stopped by the newly refurbished Palm Court for a tasty late night empanada and a reasonably priced bottle of red wine ($US22) before retreating to cabin 5406.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Theater, facing forward.

Library, facing at.

Internet Room, facing aft.

I awoke at 6:00 and climbed up to Riviera Deck as DISCOVERY motored along the lush coast of St. Lucia. As most passengers were either still asleep or heading to breakfast, the public rooms were largely empty. It was a great opportunity to photograph the recently renovated spaces with their fresh carpeting, new upholstery and artwork.

DISCOVERY looks better than ever, thanks to a skilled and sensitive ongoing redecoration program, beginning with chic new dark blue carpeting in the corridors and stairtowers.

Lobby, with vintage houseflags, facing aft from Deck 5.

Totally random Lobby carpet shot.

In the famous double deck lobby, new navy blue and yellow “wreath” patterned carpeting has replaced Princess’ once pervasive turquoise. More refurbishing will occur here with a fresh treatment (hopefully just new grouting) on the Carrara marble surfacing.

Discovery Bar, facing forward.

The Discovery Bar has, in anticipation of 2010 SOLAS requirements, lost its mahogany paneling. But new cherry veneers have retained its warm ambiance.

Discovery Lounge, facing forward.

Bronze panel coat of arms detail.

Bronze panel figurehead detail.

Thankfully, the bronze panel in the Discovery Lounge remains the room’s centerpiece. The lovely QE2-inspired Saarinen-like pillars, terrace and double window panels make this a most attractive mid-century space.

Facing aft from the Terrace Room.

The Terrace Lounge, facing port.

Totally random Terrace Lounge carpet shot.

Upstairs, on aft Promenade Deck, the Terrace Lounge, serving as the ship’s secondary card room, has received fresh soft fittings.

Card Room, facing forward.

The Riviera Deck Card Room has been refreshed with new carpeting.

Hideaway Bar, facing starboard.

The Hideaway Bar looks smashingly good in its new gold, deep blue and cherry tones.

Pre-arrival time.

Facing former fleetmate, ORIANA.

Castries, St. Lucia from MV DISCOVERY.

As we approached Castries, P&O;’s majestic MV ORIANA was turning in the harbor and backing towards her berth. She would be the only other passenger ship spotted on this journey.

Carousel Lounge, facing forward/starboard.

Carousel Bar, facing forward.

Sun Face in foyer.

DISCOVERY slowly proceeded forward, allowing me to finish up the Riviera Deck public spaces before climbing up to the observation deck for a view over the bow and bridge wings as we entered the small harbor.

MV ORIANA at St. Lucia.

From former Princess to P&O.;

The good Captain Derrick Kemp was on the starboard wing, maneuvering the ship with great precision as thrusters and screws churned her into position. Lines were looped around shoreside bollards as the ship’s capstans spun them taut.

Facing aft from port Sky Deck, overlooking the Lido area.

We had buffet breakfast in the bustling Lido, with magrodome open to steamy St. Lucia.

With the truncated schedule, I decided I would spend my day at the internet cafe and finish my two prior blogs (whose completion was delayed by lost satellite signals and unrelenting scheduling) as well as load images for this one. It was during this process that I received a message from home, requiring me to make a tough decision. After weighing all options, I had no choice but to terminate the voyage in Antigua the following day in order to be home by May 1 since Antigua was the last stop prior to the ship’s rescheduled Ponta Delgada arrival on May 5.

MV DISCOVERY versus MV ORIANA at St. Lucia.

Seven Continents, facing forward.

Seven Continents, facing starboard.

We returned to DISCOVERY in time to enjoy lunch in the recently revamped Seven Continents Restaurant. The most important vintage chairs have been retained and are now covered in a handsome shade of mocha, while other chairs have been replaced with stylish wooden seating. Dark blue carpeting and gold tones combine nicely with the deep browns, making the room look better than it has in at least two decades.

Luncheon menu.

Service was friendly and quick, enabling us to get back up on deck for sailing after I consumed cream of cauliflower soup wth almond slivers, a fresh poached hake, and a very berry summer pudding with vanilla sauce. Bernadette Kemp, the captain’s gracious wife, stopped by the table for a quick moment to welcome us on board. My heart sank knowing that we would soon be saying goodbye.

Leaving Lucia behind.

Midships pool, facing forward from Sky Deck.


Forward from stern.

Stern curves.

From the port Promenade Deck, it was difficult to tell who was saluting whom but between ORIANA and DISCOVERY, three unanswered whistle blasts were emitted.

St. Lucia in her wake, DISCOVERY made course for Antigua, entering the ever-deepening blue seas. The reluctant sun finally broke through in the late afternoon, much to the delight of the prevalent Brit. sunbathers.

I did my best to capture what I could of the open deck areas, then retreated to the cabin to pack my few belongings not lost to British Airways.

The gym, facing aft.

DISCOVERY has a gym with aerobics space, treadmills, and some free weights adjoining the spa on aft Bridge Deck. It was a nice distraction from the monotony of cardio machines to have a view over the stern as the ship maintained course northward past volcanic Guadeloupe and Martinique (on the Mt. Pelee/St. Pierre side).

The Yacht Club, facing starboard.

With my good friend and loyal Maritime Memories stalwart Rod Anderton (ex engineer from AUREOL), I stopped by the Yacht Club for a few photos just as BJ, the ship’s interior designer, was perfecting some final curtain installations. Again, kudos to VOD and BJ for undoing much of the dated design choices implemented in the ship’s final Princess Cruises era.

With no suits or even a blazer, thanks to BA, I felt out of place going to the captain’s formal cocktail party, so ventured up to Riviera Deck with Rob to watch the sunset from a Mies Vanderohe settee through the ship’s full length windows. We then proceeded discretely onwards to dinner, making a quick exit from first seating before the march of the tuxes and tails.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Captain Derrick Kem
p brings DISCOVERY into Antigua.

Port promenade Deck, facing forward.

I managed to get up on deck in time to watch DISCOVERY’s arrival at Antigua. Both Captain Kemp and Croatian Chief Officer Yaksha Kelez were on the wing with the pilot as she made the necessary maneuvers.

All ashore! Photo by Rob DiStefano 2008.

Des Cox and blogger. Photo by Rob DiStefano 2008.

Rob and I spent some time after breakfast in the Lido chatting with Des Cox, his wife, Ulla, and Rod Anderton. Des shared some amazing anecdotes about his early music business career, keeping the lot of us in stitches for the better part of an hour.

Since I wanted to document the DISCOVERY’s departure, we stayed on the ship for the rest of the morning. We watched two episodes of The Great Liners in our cabin, got our passports stamped by immigration, and ventured back up to the Lido for a quick lunch before disembarking at 12:30.

Houseflags reborn!

Rod Anderton and Yaksha Kelez wave from the wing.

DISCOVERY backs and salutes.

DISCOVERY turns before sailing off.

While awaiting the ship’s agent on the pier, we said a quick hello and goodbye to Captain and Bernadette Kemp as they returned to the ship. I asked the captain if he wouldn’t mind sounding the whistle as DISCOVERY sailed off.

Both Rod Anderton and Yaksha waved from the wing as DISCOVERY, with the mightiest of British merchant marine houseflags billowing from her mast, backed into St. John’s. Three whistle blasts and a tear or two later, she turned about in the basin and made her way into the channel.

From the beachfront of our hotel, we watched as DISCOVERY crossed the horizon beyond the turquoise bay, making her way to the Azores.

Special thanks: Rod Anderton, Martin Cox, Rob DiStefano, Mark Flager, Captain Derrick Kemp, Lis Kemp, Pasha and Sharon Prisyon

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 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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