Haynes World - ships, ferries, a laugh on the ocean wave, and other interesting things...


MINERVA 14th May 2016 Part 1

MINERVA 14th May 2016
Glorious Gardens and the Chelsea Flower Show

In late March I discovered an extremely good offer to sail on the ship MINERVA from Portsmouth Harbour in Hampshire, England, in May. The ship and 13 night itinerary from Swan Hellenic were both enticing and I was soon booked in a guaranteed inside single cabin .

14th May 2016
After a pleasant train journey along part of the UK's South Coast, I took a taxi from Portsmouth Harbour station to the Cruise Terminal, marvelling at high-rise buildings amongst ship masts on VICTORY and WARRIOR. My suitcase was taken, my passport entrusted to Swan Hellenic staff (and I still wonder why their A-Z boxes on a shelf behind them were actually set out as Z-A, left to right...) in exchange for my Passenger Cruise Card. After a short wait in the cruise terminal, a group of us were asked to join a coach outside and were taken to the ship side to embark.

Once on MINERVA I joined a short queue and discovered the Captain was there shaking hands with everyone as we came on board. I was shown to my cabin by a smiling female member of staff, found my suitcase already outside the door, and was soon unpacked and out on deck. I seem to have been allocated a spacious top-grade inside double cabin, which was a pleasant surprise.

According to Cruise Ships Fourth Edition, by William Mayes, MINERVA was constructed as OKEAN in 1987 in Ukraine, then launched incomplete in 1989. V-Ships bought her, towed her to Genoa for completion, and in 1996 chartered her to P&O for use by Swan Hellenic as a replacement for ORPHEUS, and re-named MINERVA. At the end of the charter in 2003 she returned to V Ships then in summer 2003 she was re-named SAGA PEARL for Saga Holidays; winter 2003 re-named EXPLORER II for Abercrombie & Kent's expedition cruises; summer 2004 SAGA PEARL II for Saga again; November 2004 with Abercrombie & Kent; summer 2005 with Phoenix Reisen as ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT; January 2007 with Voyages of Discovery on long-term charter. However in June/July 2007 Voyages of Discovery acquired Swan Hellenic and she was re-named MINERVA. After a couple of Antarctica charters, she is now exclusively with Swan Hellenic as MINERVA. At just 12,449 gross tons she is a delightful little ship.

The brochure

The itinerary

Minerva as I saw her later in the trip

Deck Plan of Minerva

Swan Hellenic of course started in the 1930s with the Hellenic Travellers Club cruises to Greece, stopped during the War, but the Club, owned by W F and R K Swan, started up again in 1954. The famous archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler brought fame to the company on these cruises beginning in 1955, and their success with various ships continued. P&O bought Swan Hellenic Cruises in 1983, and in turn they were owned by Carnival Corporation, until Carnival announced in February 2007 that the Swan Hellenic brand was not going to continue; Lord Sterling of Plaistow soon acquired the company but sold it on to Voyages of Discovery, who started trading again in spring 2008, using MINERVA. The Chairman of Swan Hellenic is Lord Sterling, and Swan Hellenic is now part of All Leisure Holidays. The group also includes Voyages of Discovery and Hebridean Island Cruises.

Out on the Bridge Deck stern I could have tea and watch the constant flow of vessels coming into Portsmouth Harbour - there was lots to photograph. Lifeboat drill followed at 4.30 p.m. and we left the port at 5.00 p.m. I noticed that the temperature of the swimming pool was just 13⁰C, so it would seem that the pool water being heated through the engine room was not having enough effect for my personal comfort!

The blue sky was almost cloudless in the sunshine as we left Portsmouth, but the wind was chilly as many of us photographed the ships around. Soon I left the deck, changed for dinner and went for a drink in where else but Wheeler's Bar. I found it a comfortable and friendly environment, with a picture of Sir Mortimer on the wall of course. One of the people I was chatting with told me there were 284 passengers on board, but this may not be right.

Shackleton Bar

Sir Mortimer Wheeler

Bridge Deck looking forward

Builders Plates

Minerva life ring reflected in the pool

Promenade Deck - 8 times round is 1 mile

Swan Hellenic logo

Forward view

Endurance with her red hull


HMS Victory in the background


Leaving Portsmouth

A hovercraft at speed

Bretagne of Brittany Ferries heading into Portsmouth

Oh dear, that looks top heavy from here...

It's Emerald Princess

Braemar of Fred. Olsen

Normandie Express of Brittany Ferries

We noticed that the ship's speed was very slow, and we appeared to be going astern in circles; the Captain had warned us that after leaving Portsmouth the ship's Engineers needed to do some tests; hmm, this would account for the same views of the English coast we could see repeatedly! The maritime author and publisher Anthony Cooke writes that MINERVA did suffer from vibration problems at one time, so this may be connected.

Dinner on board is served in The Swan Restaurant with open seating dining. I was a little apprehensive about this but the Maitre d' welcomed me and immediately showed me and another lady to a table with 4 others already seated; introductions done, and delicious food ordered, I could enjoy the company of the other guests. It was fascinating to talk with one lady who told me her great interest was the island of St. Helena in the Southern Atlantic Ocean; I decided to tell her of my Union-Castle Line Mailship background, as a Purserette at sea, when on the CAPETOWN CASTLE we called at St. Helena ("Union-Castle Line Purserette", published by Mallett & Bell) and we had an interesting chat together.

After an enjoyable and lengthy dinner, I headed for my cabin but was side-tracked by seeing the large jigsaw laid out on the Library table. I helped for 10 minutes but then remembered that clocks must go forward this evening to take us onto European time. Tomorrow we arrive at the French port of Honfleur and I am booked on an excursion, leaving the ship at 9.15 a.m. - how lovely.

Ships seen: Minerva, Caribbean Star, Mont St. Michel, RN ship 23, Warrior, Crown Topaz, Normandie Express (Brittany Ferries), Emerald Princess, Braemar (Fred. Olsen), Bretagne, a hovercraft coming in from the Isle of Wight, St. Faith, Wight Ryder II, St. Cecilia, Wight Light London, Harbour Spirit, HMS Victory, Daring, Illustrious, A791, ex-HMS Endurance used from 1991-2008 as a polar ship, which had been sold for scrap in 2013. (She was finally towed away from Portsmouth Harbour soon after my return home, leaving on 31st May 2016, and heading for the breakers in Turkey.)

To be continued...