LOUIS AURA CHARTERED TO ESTUR FOR 2017 SEASON

LOUIS AURA
Louis Aura

According to the well respected Cruise Industry News website (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) the laid up, 1968 built Louis Aura will begin a season of three and four night cruises for the Turkish operator, Estur, this summer.

The much loved ship, originally famous as Norwegian Caribbean’s Starward, will operate from the Turkish port of Cesme on a series of three and four night cruises to the Greek Islands. The cruises begin effective June 24th this year, with prices beginning at 199 euros per person.

If true, the news represents an astonishing, albeit very welcome reprieve for one of the cruise industry’s original pioneers; a much loved ship that has introduced many people to cruising over five successful decades.

For a few years, the Louis Aura was chartered out to a French operator called Rivages du Monde. This author can remember seeing her in the unlikely setting of Saint Petersburg in the summer of 2015. But, once that final charter finished, the ship was laid up and Celestyal Cruises, the offshoot of original owners Louis Group, showed no interest in reviving the ship. Most people took this as a sign that the Louis Aura had, indeed, come to the end of her days.

So the news that this lovely ship looks like having at least one last season in the sun will be welcomed by ship lovers all over the world. Let’s hope that Estur make this a yearly event.

For any updates, stay tuned.

STAR FLYER- THE WIND AND THE WAVES

 

STAR FLYER
The stately Star Flyer in her natural element

She seems like a living, breathing anachronism in an age of ever more gimmicky, sensational cruise ships. There is no rock climbing wall, no dodgems, floor shows or ice rinks. No raft of alternative restaurants or string of glittering gift shops. But sometimes, less truly is more.

‘She’ happens to be the Star Flyer, one of a trio of sailing ships run by the Monaco based Star Clippers. Though she has mechanical power, the bulk of her progress is achieved via the vast acreage of sails that drape each one of her quartet of towering masts.

Bathed in early spring sunshine as she lay snoozing in the afternoon sun at Piraeus, the Star Flyer was a stunning spectacle. With the sharp, needle point bowsprit and the long, languid sheer of her snow white hull, she is a renowned jaw dropper of epic proportions. But step aboard, and you enter what seems to be a kind of time warp.

On deck, ropes and rigging dominate the bone white wooden decks. Sure, there are sun loungers, and even a pair of plunge pools. But if ever a ship showed her sinews at every turn, it has to be the Star Flyer.

Inside, you are drawn deeper into the world of this awesome, seemingly anachronistic dream. A world of polished wood and brass, glittering glass and walls framed with paintings of long gone sailing ships. Carpets are dark blue, with old rope knots weaved into the pattern. The cabins are compact little bolt holes, with just about enough storage space. There’s a functional bathroom, beds with duvets, and a pair of gleaming, glass framed port holes that would soon be regularly assailed by sparkling blue Aegean salt water.

It’s all surreal, very ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ stuff. But when the Star Flyer unfurled a series of vast sails like so many lowering theatre curtains, the silence could have been cut with a knife. Conversations stopped; jaws dropped. And, without even the suspicion of a shudder, this magnificent, sea going cathedral of a clipper ship ghosted out of a moonlit Piraeus harbour, and out on to Homer’s ancient, fabled ‘wine dark sea’ of history.

Only the barely audible strains of Vangelis’ ‘1492- Conquest of Paradise’ flooded the air as a milk warm breeze caught the sails of our ship. The Star Flyer seemed to give a delighted shudder, she heeled smartly in response and, without ceremony or frivolity, we began our week long dance with the wind, the waves, and a gathering sense of wonder that would carry us as if on some magical flying carpet…….

WAS CAPTAIN SMITH CONCERNED ABOUT TITANIC?

CAPTAIN SMITH OF TITANIC
Captain Edward Smith in tropical white uniform, possibly on the bridge of the Olympic

Over the years, the much maligned and romanticised Captain Smith of the Titanic has posthumously come across as something of a casual, urbane chancer; a man whose breezy manner of doing things was the ultimate catalyst for the worst maritime disaster of the time. But was he really so blase about commanding the largest moving object on the face of the planet?

Smith was the senior captain of the White Star Line. As commodore, his £1200 a year salary was more than double that of his nearest rival. And no wonder; the socially adept and much admired Smith was considered the most popular skipper on the Atlantic, both by passengers and crew alike. He seems to have been one of those genuinely unique men that could forge bonds with people from across the world.

He was also famously in thrall to modern, twentieth century technology. In the summer of 1907, when he brought the then brand new, 24,000 ton Adriatic into Southampton to begin her maiden voyage, he said this to the assembled press;

I cannot conceive of any vital accident that would cause this ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that….”

But did subsequent events shake that complacent view? There is no record of how Smith reacted to the sinking of another White Star liner- the Republic- just two years after he made that fatuous pronouncement in Southampton. But it cannot have failed to have impacted on him.

It certainly impacted on the management at White Star, but not in a positive way; all of the passengers and crew of the slowly sinking Republic had been safely evacuated to other, nearby ships by the liner’s own lifeboats. And this fact prompted a seismic shift of perspective that would impact the Titanic and her captain just as fatally as the iceberg itself.

Post Republic, the management chose to look on lifeboats in general as ferry boats that would simply convey passengers from a sinking ship to rescue vessels, summoned by the miraculous new wireless telegraphy. They completely disavowed the notion that those same lifeboats might have to serve as survival craft in themselves for everybody on board. This complacent, delusional self satisfaction was at least partly responsible for the fatal dearth of lifeboats on the Titanic on that fateful night in April, 1912.

As for Smith, his triumphant ascent to command of the stunning new Olympic in June of 1911 seemed inevitable. Now he stood on the bridge of a ship twice as large as the Adriatic; in fact, a ship that was bigger than anything else ever seen. And trouble was not long in following.

As the Olympic attempted to dock at her New York pier for the first time, the surge created by her propellers sucked in a harbour tug like a bobbing cork, before the whirling blades neatly severed it at the stern. All told, it took eighteen tugs a full hour to dock the new ‘marvel’ at the end of an otherwise triumphant maiden crossing. Did this incident send any alarm bells ringing in Smith’s ivory tower?

Just three months later, the Olympic began her stately progress down Southampton Water at the start of another crossing to New York. Proceeding on a parallel course on her starboard side was a Royal Navy cruiser, the HMS Hawke.

Somehow, the suction from the giant Olympic sucked in the relatively small cruiser, swinging her to starboard and instigating a collision that left the reeling cruiser’s bow resembling so much sodden cardboard.

As for the Olympic, the impact tore an eighty foot hole in her starboard side, right aft. By God’s good grace there were no casualties, but it did mean the abortion of the voyage, and a trip to Belfast for repairs that took a full six weeks.

At the time of the accident, Olympic was under the command of Captain Smith, though the local harbour pilot, George Bowyer, was in charge of handling the ship at the time. All the same this incident was by far the most serious that Smith had ever been involved in over his thirty seven year career. If that did not give him food for thought, it certainly should have done. Or did the fact that the Olympic survived with no loss of life merely deepen his faith in this new, more technologically advanced breed of super liner?

Whatever, the Olympic accident did nothing to dent White Star’s faith in it’s star commodore. April 1912 found him in command of the newer, slightly larger Titanic. Her sixteen day, round trip maiden voyage to New York and back was expected to be Smith’s last hurrah. Once done, he could look forward to a long, honourable retirement.

It all went pear shaped at the start. As the Titanic edged gingerly downstream from the White Star dock, the suction from her propellers pulled the smaller New York away from her pier. Mooring ropes on the old American liner snapped like cotton, and her stern swung out like a battering ram. Only the frantic action of stopping the engines on Titanic, and the perceptive intervention of a local tug, prevented a serious and embarrassing collision between the two ships.

Up on the bridge of the slowly proceeding Titanic, the same duo of Smith and Bowyer must have seen these events unfold with scarce concealed horror. It had almost been the Olympic and the Hawke all over again. And it did seem to have an impact on Smith.

That evening, after taking on more passengers at Cherbourg, Smith took the Titanic through a series of lazy ‘S’ turns. He continued this process all the way through the English Channel, and right up to the entrance to his last port of call at Queenstown, in Southern Ireland on the following lunch time.

What provoked this? It seems that this third mishap with an Olympic class liner in enclosed waters prompted some deep, residual concern in Smith. All three near disasters had occurred within the space of ten months, and all in plain sight of the self same captain.

In all, the speed and handling trials of the Olympic had lasted a scant two days. For the Titanic, they took up a mere eight hours. This, for the two biggest moving objects on the face of the planet; two ships that were expected to navigate both huge oceans and shallow, crowded waterways alike. Perhaps the truth of that had finally come home to Smith and, in making his series of lazy, meandering turns en route to Ireland, he was attempting to get a better sense of the intricacies of steering his awesome new command.

However, that concern seemed only to apply to enclosed waters. Once clear of Ireland and with only the open ocean in front of him, Smith reverted to a cavalier, increasingly upped rate of speed. Ultimately, he was doing exactly what he had done- and got away with- for thirty eight years. But this time, it would go horribly wrong.

The long odds finally caught up with this most highly regarded of captains just four nights later, when the Titanic ran pell mell into a vast, eighty mile region of floating ice. The rest is history. If only Smith’s belated concerns about sailing in harbour waters had extended to a more cautious approach to charging head long through ice filled waters, then things might have played out very differently on that starlit Sunday evening of April 14th, 1912.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE ADDS JERSEY BOYS TO ON BOARD ENTERTAINMENT ROSTER

JERSEY BOYS

In line with it’s stated determination to continue offering the best entertainment afloat, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that it will add Jersey Boys to it’s roster aboard the new Norwegian Bliss when she comes into service next year.

The new ship- part of the ‘Breakaway plus’ class- will offer a debut season in Alaska, before switching to Eastern Caribbean sailings for the winter of 2018-19.

The award winning Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and their rise from performing ‘doo wop’ standards in the back streets of New Jersey, to global super stardom in the 1960’s as one of the biggest selling acts in the world.

With most of their songs written or co- written by founder member, Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons created a kind of sound that has been often imitated, but never equalled. From the low bass tones of original member Nick Massi, to Frankie Valli’s soaring falsetto range, the ‘Four Seasons sound’ became unmistakable.

Their first worldwide hit was Sherry, a rhythmic little thumper of a tune with a simple, irresistible hook that swept all before it. By December of 1962 it had become the first of three consecutive American number one records for the band.

Internal wrangles, run ins with the mafia, and the always present tensions within the music industry, all but sidelined the Four Seasons as a major chart act by the turn of the seventies. But a stunning return to form with a series of edgier, more relevant tunes saw them make a massive comeback in the mid seventies, both on the charts and as a live act.

Jersey Boys itself is an evocative retelling of the Four Seasons story, from the point of view of each of the original band members. It’s a bittersweet roller coaster through the hinterlands of triumph, tragedy, loss and betrayal, and the personal element really shines through.

But it’s that deathless roster of hit songs- Let’s Hang On, Rag Doll, December ’63, Who Loves You- that will really bring down the house aboard Norwegian Bliss. Each one of them is like a kind of emotional lightning rod that strikes an amazing connection with people of all kinds, right across the world. With the personal endorsements of both Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio themselves, Jersey Boys took award after award on Broadway (including the Tony). Once it opened in the West End of the UK, it wowed crowds for years.

The unveiling of Jersey Boys aboard Norwegian Bliss is more evolution than revolution in truth; a continuation of mining the rich seam that Norwegian Cruise Line has tapped into in terms of musical entertainment. I expect it to be an enormously popular addition to the entertainment roster on board this fabulous new ship.

THE LARDBURGER’S TIPS FOR VISITING SCOTLAND

MARSBARS
This is one of the local delicacies that Scotlanders eat. Herb and I were not amused…..

Hi folks, it’s Myrtle Lardburger here again! Herb and I went to Scotland recently to sample some of the culture and hospitality on offer, and Anthony asked us if we’d be kind enough to write a blog for his website. So, here we go!

We flew over on a wide bodied jet from the mid west US of A to Edinburgh. We had to fly over England because some guy called Adrian has built a wall to keep the Brits out of Scotland, apparently. Go Scotland!

(Otherwise, next thing you know, that Mrs. De May will be up there, rounding up every Dalmatian puppy she can get her hands on. Can’t be too careful around THAT woman, let me tell you!)

Anyway, back to the subject in hand. The Scotlanders are very proud of their heritage and history, so Herb and I decided that we would try to fit in. We stayed with what is called a Laird and his Lady in an old castle. Dreary place, no air conditioning. Still, when in Rome….

We both had a kilt made especially. Ours were made from curtains taken from the old Royal yacht, Britannia. We so, so wanted royal hair for our sporrans, but you can’t get it because it’s illegal. Apparently, the last monarch- Mary, Queen of Scots- died of a bad head injury or something. And Prince Phillip is as bald as a coot.

However, the Lard of our castle very kindly ponied up some of the hair from his beard for the front of Herb’s sporran, and his wife did the same for mine. Winners!

Having seen Westminster and York Minster last year in England, we were really looking forward to seeing the Loch Ness Minster this year. Apparently, it’s a monster. Being something of a culture buffer myself, I expected this to be a highlight of or visit.

Well, I took the high road and Herb took the low road, but damned if we could find sight or sound of the damned place. Maybe it’s just one of those urban mists that you read about. There’s lots of that stuff up here. Can’t see your damned hand in front of your face at times.

There is also a local dish called Haggis, that everybody here eats. The Haggis roam wild in the Glens, and are hunted and cooked by a band of hunters called the Haggi, or ‘Hag’ for short. They take their work very seriously indeed.

We went to a Haggis feast, and when Herb asked one of our lady servers how long she had been a professional hag, she went bright red, and then slapped poor Herb across the face with a big, wet haddock. Poor Herb- his jowls wobbled like jello on top of a washing machine on spin cycle, and all for asking a perfectly simple question. We won’t be going Haggi hunting again any time soon, and would not recommend anyone else to, either!

You also have to be aware that the Scotlanders do like to spin the old folks tales as well. We kept hearing about something called ‘Battered Mars Bars’, so of course we had to try one…

More local exaggeration, I’m afraid. These things are sold from behind a shop counter, and they have obviously never been in orbit, never mind to Mars. When I pointed out that mine wasn’t even vaguely battered to the help in the shop, he hit me across the head with the durned thing! Five times! Then had the cheek to ask me if it was ‘battered’ enough now? How rude, and how cheap!

So don’t fall for this baloney. Luckily, Herb and I are sophisticated, well masticated world travellers. Two of life’s beautiful people. I mean, I’ve eaten sushi in Stockholm, for crissakes.

So sorry, no, we won’t be going back to Scotland-on-Sea any time soon, I’m afraid. It’s damp, wet and scary, and full of strange creatures lurking in the undergrowth. Kinda like the Everglades, but without the sunshine.

See you all soon!

CRUISE AND MARITIME VOYAGES TO SAIL FROM FOURTEEN UK PORTS IN 2018

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The veteran Marco Polo, a mainstay of the 2018 Cruise and Maritime Voyages programme. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

In what amounts to the most ambitious programme of regional cruises ever offered by a mainland British cruise operator, Cruise and Maritime Voyages will offer departures from no less than fourteen UK departure ports aboard five different ships for the 2018 season.

Line voyages to and from South Africa and Australia for the premium range Astor begin and end in Tilbury, as does the entire  2018 season of cruises offered by new flagship, Columbus, currently on line for a scheduled UK debut in June of 2017.

New to the 2018 programme is a series of seven cruises, departing from both Portsmouth and Poole aboard the retained Astoria. This series of cruises extends the programme for the former, 1948 built Stockholm right through until almost the end of 2018.

Meanwhile, fleet mainstays, Magellan and the veteran Marco Polo will offer a series of regional departures from around the UK on itineraries ranging from two to fifteen nights, plus the occasional overnight, repositioning mini cruise.

The full list of UK departure ports is: Belfast, Bristol (both from the port and Avonmouth), Cardiff, Dundee, Greenock for Glasgow, Harwich, Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle Port of Tyne, Newport, Poole, Portsmouth, Rosyth for Edinburgh, and London Tilbury.

It is also worth noting that the company provides many coach links that coincide with sailings from their various ports around the United Kingdom, making for easy connections with all the different cruises on offer.

In the main, Cruise and Maritime Voyages sail to Norway, the Baltic, Greenland and Spitzbergen, plus the Canary Islands in peak season. Shoulder season sees some attractive, short European coastal and city cruises, with winter heralding a series of short Christmas market jaunts. There is also a handful of cruises that take in the stunning, winter time Norwegian Lights.

The CMV fleet is, for the most part intimate, adult’s only ships, though some high season sailings aboard the new flagship Columbus will offer some child friendly sailings for 2017.

Early year sailings now include a mammoth, round the world circuit from Tilbury, an exotic Caribbean round trip, and an extensive itinerary that embraces the highlights of the Amazon.

SAILING 105 YEARS AGO TODAY; STEAMSHIP TITANIC, DESTINATION NEW YORK…..

titanic-beken
The Titanic begins her stately progress down Southampton Water on April 10th, 1912, in this famous photo by Frank Beken. The incident with the New York was behind her, and the big liner was now Cherbourg bound

Soon after noon on Wednesday, April 10th 1912, the ropes that had shackled the awesome bulk of RMS Titanic to her Southampton berth for a week were shrugged off like so many sodden strands, her trio of giant propellers kicked up the mud and sand of the River Itchen and, under the careful husbandry of six local tugs, the biggest moving object on the face of the planet began to inch gingerly forward to the cheers of a large crowd, gathered on the quayside.

Not everyone was glad to see her go. A contingent of six firemen had signed on to the ship, only to linger ashore over a last pint at The Grapes, a famous local dockside pub. By the time that they showed up to report for duty, the Titanic was already clear of the quay and, with the gangways down, the duty officer on board wasn’t taking their lateness as an excuse. That sudden excess thirst almost certainly saved their lives, but no one knew that then.

Those men watched in sullen silence as 46,000 plus tons of ocean liner, eleven decks high and almost nine hundred feet long, began her stately procession downstream. A wan springtime sun glinted against her quartet of towering, black and buff smokestacks as schools of whooping, shrieking sea birds wheeled and dived in her churning wake. The great siren on board boomed out an exultant, triple chimed salute to her home port, and Titanic began to pick up speed, her escorting tugs resembling so many panting puppies trying to rein back an agitated dinosaur.

Though the departure was intended to be low key, it would be full of high drama. Standing downstream, the wake from the Titanic snapped mooring ropes on the nearby steamer New York like so many cotton strands. The old American liner came loose, her stern looming out into the river until it came within mere feet of the startled, briefly stalled Titanic. As the crowds on shore gasped and strained their necks to see what looked like an imminent collision, one of the tugs got a rope on the New York. She was dragged back to her berth like some reluctant steer. With a sigh of relief almost audible from across the water, the Titanic resumed her stately progress downstream.

On board, the passengers had viewed the incident with a mixture of everything from amusement to outright horror. The ensuing delay while the New York was corralled and returned to the quay had cost the Titanic almost a full hour. Even as his ship skirted the Isle of Wight and dropped down past Ryde, Captain Smith was well aware that he would be late arriving in Cherbourg to pick up his passengers embarking on the continent. It couldn’t be helped; they would simply have to cool their heels until the Titanic made her delayed grand entrance into Cherbourg’s historic harbour.

Those were some very well heeled feet waiting for him, too. Among them was a substantial batch of platinum chip American corporate royalty; Astors, Guggenheims, Strausses, plus a whole supporting cast of railroad owners, property magnates, movie stars and professional sportsmen. There were art collectors, newspaper editors, and the simply rich. It was quite an illustrious roster in all; many of them had been regular passengers on the Olympic since her debut the previous summer. That giant ship- the first of the three great sister ships-had proved to be a marvellous advertisement for the newer, even more opulent Titanic. Bookings for both ships were very healthy right throughout that 1912 season.

This must have been a source of pride to both Captain Smith and White Star Chairman, Bruce Ismay, as the Titanic romped steadily across the sunlit English Channel. The sun shone; smoke from the first three smokestacks (the fourth one was a dummy fitted for aesthetic harmony) trailed back behind the ship towards home. On the aft mast, the White Star Line’s pennant fluttered gamely in the afternoon breeze.

Already, passengers were beginning to explore and exult in the ship that they were travelling on. In first class, afternoon tea was being served in the Verandah Cafe. Passengers in deck chairs took soup and sandwiches on the long promenade decks, bundled up in warm steamer blankets wrapped round them by solicitous stewards. People began making dinner reservations for the extra tariff, a la carte restaurant.

In the indoor squash court, the steady ‘thwack’ of ball against wall assumed a tempo that would be silenced only by the sudden inrush of surging, icy seawater some five nights later. The first passengers plunged boldly into the waters of the indoor pool nearby. Even braver souls surrendered themselves to the ministrations of trained masseuses in the garish menagerie of the Turkish Baths.

Others, more cerebral, lost themselves in a brand new book from the library, or wrote last, hasty letters home that could be sent ashore from Cherbourg and, later, Queenstown in Southern Ireland.

Late that afternoon, the coast of France emerged from the haze; a shimmering, low lying sliver that seemed to have a mirage like quality. But before almost anyone knew it, the Titanic arched a graceful turn, and came looming into the slowly darkening bay of Cherbourg. The anchor rattled down with a deafening crash right forward, and the huge liner swung skittishly at rest.

It was a brief break; that hours’ delay had helped nobody, and Captain Smith was anxious to begin his triumphant procession to the west, and the gala fire boat reception that awaited his glittering new command in New York. Two tenders- the Nomadic and the Traffic- came chugging out of the harbour towards the Titanic, like a pair of nervous courtiers paying homage to a new queen.

Aboard Nomadic were the first class passengers, and the mountain of luggage that always accompanied such people. As the Nomadic bumbled out into the bay, her irate passengers gasped in amazement at their first glimpse of the grand, stately Titanic, floodlit from bow to stern as the night took hold. They were ushered with apologies and assurances into the warm womb of the giant liner. A battalion of lift operators and bellboys stood ready at the adjacent trio of elevators to whisk these prized patrons off to their plush quarters, where the beds were freshly made and fresh flowers spilled out across almost every surface.

The second and third class passengers aboard the more plebian Traffic did not receive this kind of effusive, low key welcome. Instead, they and their much less substantial belongings were ushered through the steel shell doors of the hull, and into the belly of the brute. None the less, the same sense of barely disguised haste dominated the proceedings for all those embarking that evening.

As the two empty tenders backed away, the anchor was hauled up from the darkened briny. There was the clang and slamming of the shell doors along the liner’s hull. Once more, the great triple propellers- a full hundred tons of bronze in all- began to thresh up the waters around them.

The tender crews watched in awed silence as the floodlit Titanic swung through a graceful quarter circle, her quartet of great funnels standing like ramparts against the starlit sky. The deep, warm boom of the liner’s whistle echoed across the empty water like peals of slow, rolling thunder. And then, almost before they knew it, she had swept past them and disappeared beyond the horizon.

Disappeared, standing out for a noon arrival in Queenstown the following day, there to embark her last passengers. From there, it would be a stately romp across an agreeable, implausibly calm ocean for five days, before that first, glorious American landfall. Manhattan, and the promise of a freshly minted New York spring.

Several thousand miles to the west, a squat, glacial, salt water assassin waited patiently. Shrouded in darkness and black against the dark, still water, this potential killer- one of the truly deadly ‘great whites’ of the ocean- awaited it’s curtain call……