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Friday, 17 September 2010

Funchal cruise 5th September 2010 Part 1

FUNCHAL CRUISE 5th September 2010
Part 1

I’ve long wanted to sail on the little FUNCHAL of Classic International Cruises again so I flew to Lisbon in Portugal in time to have a day there before embarking on a 4 night cruise with some friends. I settled into my downtown hotel after an evening arrival, enjoyed fresh olives and then the first fish meal of the trip, and looked forward to enjoying myself in this maritime city.

Saturday 4th September 2010
Shiny cobbles were under the soles of my shoes as I set off for the River Tagus after breakfast, walking through the pedestrianised streets of the area, and marvelling at the local trams and hillside sights in the heat.

I was going on the water for the day, on a River Cruise taking me along the wide river, to stop for an hour at the famous Tower of Belem, before returning up river; the panoramic sights (Cathedral, Castle, Museums, Palaces, etc.) were featured in a leaflet handed out on board, which I found fascinating as we glided along. The loudest part of the cruise on LISBOA PRINCESA DE BELEM came when sailing under the Bridge of 25th April and hearing the noise of the road and rail traffic crossing the river on it. I feared for the ears of the local inhabitants, but thought it a very elegant structure.

Other river traffic included the Hapag-Lloyd cruise ship C. COLUMBUS, moored at one of the two cruise terminals along the riverside, several old and new ferries crossing the river at various points, cargo ships being loaded and tugs bustling around.

Several hours later I was back at the hotel to meet and greet my first FUNCHAL friend (Matt), have a telephone chat with an extremely excited 4 year old grandson about to start full-time school on Monday, before setting out again for the LVT ferry terminal at Soder and another river trip.

This time it was on the 1954 built EBORENSE car and passenger ferry to cross the River Tagus to Seixal. That was fun! On the Seixal side we could see the SINTRENSE berthed at the quay.

Naturally we had to disembark, and then embark to return across the River but the bonus was to see the C. COLUMBUS leave the cruise terminal and cross our stern.

Another FUNCHAL friend (Soren) arrived from Denmark so we strolled out in the hot darkness to find a local restaurant with fresh fish on the menu. Just near the river we found an establishment with hot coals showing where a large fish grill had been set up under a tree, so hunger and thirst were slowly satisfied.

The stroll home went past other street cafes and then past the huge lift (Elevador de Santa Justa), built in 1902 to take people up to one hillside church, and now a National Monument.

Ships seen: Lisboa Princesa de Belem, King Byron, S. Jorge, CCNI Ebro, Svitzer Leixoes, Svitzer Lisboa, C. Columbus, Antero de Quental, Eborense (1954 river ferry), Campolide, Carnide (catamaran), Sintrense (older ferry berthed over at Seixal), S. Nicolau, Leao Holandes

Sunday 5th September
Hooray – Funchal day, and another balmy balconied breakfast before taking a taxi to the Alcantara cruise terminal for our cruise on FUNCHAL. The 1930s building is spacious and its offices also include those of the legendary Mr George Potamianos, Chairman of Classic International Cruises.

Our other Funchal friend (Bruce) arrived from Scotland, so our little group was complete and we happily walked across the vast concrete terminal quayside towards the blue and white balloons tied to the sides of the gangway. No foot-passenger coaches and ISPS fencing here, that we could see! The flags fluttered, the balloons bounced, the gangway gleamed, the ship sparkled and there was an air of happy anticipation all around.

FUNCHAL was built in 1961 as a passenger, mail and cruise ship by Helsingor Skibsvaerft Maskinbyggeri in Denmark, for Empresa Insulana de Navegacao of Lisbon, with a gross tonnage of 10,030, a service speed of 20 knots from her steam turbines, and a passenger capacity of 400 in two classes, with Denny Brown stabilisers, and air conditioning. After new diesel engines in 1973 and conversion to a cruise ship, she moved to Cia. Portuguesa des Transportes Maritimos (CTM) in 1974, from whom she was frequently chartered in the 1970s by the Swedish travel firm Fritidsresor. In 1985 the Portuguese government decided to close CTM and auction the ships, and in August FUNCHAL was bought by Arcalia Shipping, a company set up by Mr George Potamianos, a cousin of the owners of Epirotiki Lines of Piraeus. Thereafter, she began her life with Mr Potamianos’s newly created Classic International Cruises of Lisbon, Portugal. To this day, she continues to provide a delightful small ship experience in a niche market. I’m fortunate to have two of the original brochures with me on board and to be able to compare the ‘then and now’ views of the ship. We loved all the woodwork of the forward staircase and the Reception area, and the comfortable but stylish public rooms and cabins. The friendliness of the staff was another bonus.

Despite a mix-up in the cabins by the Lisbon office (resolved on board thanks to Bruce) we were soon unpacked and ready to enjoy the first Restaurant meal on board, before sailing from Lisbon at 3 p.m. in the bright sunshine. We headed down the River Tagus and out into the Atlantic, towards our first port of Gibraltar. During the afternoon I was thrilled to see a big whale emerging from the deep blue waters and blowing, before submerging and rising again several times.

The Cruise Director Mr Telmo Miranda came to say hello and welcome us on board. He also mentioned that during the ship’s recent Mediterranean cruises it had been so hot that some of the plastic chairs on deck had started to soften! This resulted in some passengers suddenly lurching to one side as their seat softened and tilted them sideways. He laughingly recommended that we might like to put one chair on top of another before sitting down!

Captain Antonio Albuquerque invited all 400 passengers to a Cocktail party that evening in the Ilha Verde Lounge, followed by a Gala dinner, so it was ‘posh frock’ night and a very convivial time in the original Tourist Class Dining Room. From our second sitting Lisboa Restaurant midships table, we were able to enjoy the sea views out to both port and starboard.

Ships seen: tug Valente, Clara Maersk, various little Portuguese fishing vessels, so like the ones we used to see from the Union-Castle Mailships when sailing down to Africa.

Monday 6th September 2010
Portugal is on British Summer Time so, as we are heading east today, our clocks and watches have been put forward to be the same as in Gibraltar, where we are due to arrive at 3.30 p.m. Boat Drill was held at 10.00 a.m. but, as the only English speakers on board, there was another Drill especially for us, conducted in English.

During the morning we were interested to see the ship REGINA BALTICA, heading north en route to her charter in the Faroe Islands as a domestic ferry.

Soon we were approaching the Straits of Gibraltar and, just as I hoped, there were the dolphins in the water, leaping around the ship for many minutes, dozens and dozens of them, and so beautiful to watch. At the same time there were lots of ships to see and the cameras were in constant use.

After berthing we ventured out into the tremendous heat, to walk into the town and along Main Street. High above us was the famous Rock of Gibraltar (mythologically one of the Pillars of Hercules) and all around us the historical sights of this place, which is a British Overseas Territory, situated at the southerly point of Spain. We stopped at the Mission to Seafarers’ Flying Angel building, as I wanted to say hello on behalf of the Eastbourne Committee, but no staff were on duty at that time.

We were interested to see the Trafalgar Cemetery, for those who died in Gibraltar after the 1805 battle, the rest having been buried at sea, and the Museum containing the John Mackintosh Hall.

Back on board we hoped for a swim but the pool had been netted over for the night, so we had to content ourselves with a drink in the wonderful forward Gama Lounge on the Promenade Deck. It is still so similar to the original design in one of my brochures, and such a joy to be able to step through one of two doorways and walk on the forward deck above the forecastle.

After dinner we could return to this deck to watch our departure from Gibraltar at 11.30 p.m., and see the current IBN BATOUTA of Comanav pass nearby, going into a planned dry docking here in the port. Only a couple of months ago I located my 1970 leaflet of the 1966-built IBN BATOUTA, which was needed for research purposes, so I was pleasantly surprised to see this ship. The day ended in the warm darkness of Gibraltar, with FUNCHAL sailing overnight to Malaga in Spain.

Ships seen: Atlas, Kingdom of Fife (off-shore supply ship), Comanav something, Spabunker Twenty, a Baluda Lines ship, Vemaoil IX, Pacific, Obo carrier, Ievoli Shine, Aeolos from Monrovia, King Darius (Majuro), Nisyros, a Russian ice-breaking tanker (SCF – Safety Comes First) of COMFLOT – State-owned Russian Oil Company, Asiaborg of Wagenborg, Federal Pioneer, Acciona ferries, East Express, NYK Line ship, Excelsior of GNV, a Fred. Olsen ship, Rooke – our tug, Ibn Batouta - the Comanav ship going into a planned dry docking

to be continued...

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