Monday, 29 June 2015

Ships in the Sound

This has been a month of cruise ships, starting with the Portuguese Azores at the end of May.  Operator Cruise and Maritime Voyages' website boasts of, "the introduction of the alluring and intimate 550 passenger Azores to the CMV fleet in 2015. Azores replaces Discovery and join’s our traditional fleet of ocean going liners alongside the much loved Marco Polo and stylish Astor." 'Alluring' and 'intimate' she may be, but she's also old, having been launched in 1946. We last saw her off Kilchoan as the Athena, but her first name was Stockholm, a ship infamous for colliding with the Andrea Doria in 1956, resulting in the sinking of the latter ship.

Fred Olsen's Balmoral sailed past in fine style early in June. A young ship by British cruising standards, having been built in 1988, she's only had five names since she was launched - though she's not quite the ship as originally designed, having been lengthened by 30m in 2008.

Magellan is Cruise and Maritime's new flagship, having joined their fleet this year.  Again, she's young by the standards of ships cruising in British waters, having been built in 1985.

Boudicca is another Fred Olsen ship. Built in 1973, she's worked her way through nine names and five different owners before reaching the British cruise market. In January 2015 the ship, carrying more than 1,000 people, was left without power off Morocco after an engine room fire. The fire, in the early hours of the morning, left the ship listing and in darkness.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why cruise companies use such old ships for the British market.

The next three ships are probably on what is called a 'repositioning cruise', moving north from Antarctica, which is now plunged into deep winter, into the Arctic summer.

The first is Quark Expedition's Ocean Diamond, a ship we've seen before in these waters.  She's described on her website as, "one of the newest, fastest, and most eco-friendly ships in Antarctica," which is just as well as she's heading north towards a melting Arctic Ocean.

SilverSea's Silver Explorer is described on their website as a "purpose-built luxury expedition cruise ship designed specifically for navigating waters in some of the world’s most remote destinations, including both of earth’s polar regions. A strengthened hull with a Lloyd’s Register ice-class notation (1A) for passenger vessels enables the Silver Explorer to safely push through ice floes with ease." 

Polar Pioneer is more of the same, a Finnish-built ice-strengthened boat used in polar cruise expeditions.  Australian Aurora Expeditions website is interesting in that it boasts that both captain and stewardesses on the Pioneer are Russian.

The Natural Environment Research Council's Royal Research Ship Discovery came very slowly into the northern end of the Sound on one of our cheerful summer evenings.  She's the fourth ship to bear the name, the earlier ones specialising in Antarctic exploration and research.  The first, built in 1901, carried Scott and Shackleton on their joint, very successful expedition to Antarctica.

The sailing ship Oosterschelde passed us on 3rd June on her way to Tobermory after visits to Lewis and Staffa.  She's a very different sort of cruise ship, a Dutch three-masted topsail schooner built in 1918 for freight but now lovingly restored and sailing passengers around the world.

Built in 2006 to the design of a traditional pilot cutter, this good-looking boat, the 44' Ezra, passed Kilchoan on Sunday 28th June on her way north.  She's available to charter by sailing and/or climbing groups.

We've seen relatively few modern freighters in these waters in the last few weeks.  This is the Cimbris, a Gibraltar-registered cargo ship which looks as if she is carrying some gigantic blades for wind turbines.

This is the Clansman, a CalMac ferry which passes us every day except in heavy weather and on Friday 26th June, when members of the RMT union took industrial action over their terms and conditions.  The Tobermory ferry, the Loch Linnhe, has a crew belonging to a different union, so she sailed as usual.  The RMT's problem is that the west coast ferry contract goes out to tender in the near future, and one of the bidders is private company Serco - CalMac is state-owned - and the RMT fear for their members' terms and conditions if Serco wins.

Finally, this morning the other CalMac boat that is a regular in the Sound of Mull, the Lord of the Isles, was seen passing the Germain sail training ship the Alex von Humbold II.  The latter a classic 'tall ship' but is, in fact, very new, having been launched in 2011.  It's a great shame we didn't see her under full sail as all her sails are bright green so, judging by the pictures on the internet, she would have made a fine sight.

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