SUMMER 2016 - July ferrying Part 8
Friday 22nd July 2016
We are staying in a local Corfu hotel (Hotel City Marine, Corfu) overlooking the sea, ferries, ports and nearby island. The air-conditioning had been on overnight but I found it too cold and had to put a towel over me in the middle of the night to get warm again. The 7 a.m. alarm woke me enough to take me out on the balcony where I could see our 11 a.m. ferry RED STAR 1 sailing out of the harbour! She has a distinctive red hull so there was no doubt about it, and of course her Knud E. Hansen design is recognisable too. There was immediate shock and horror from my two friends, plus photo-taking! A quick look on-line showed she was due back here again later this morning, so we can only hope that is correct. While we stood on the balcony the air above me was full of swallows chirping and flying around at great speed.
We hurriedly dressed and had breakfast in a basement room, and went back to the balcony only to hear tannoy music coming out from beside the fortress as the Greek national flag was raised on a tall flagpole. We checked out of the hotel and took a taxi round part of the bay to the ferry and cruise ship port terminal building. The information desk had no information to help us, but my friends discovered that Red Star's office was outside the port and volunteered to go back out of one of the few port gates and find out from them. I was happy to stay in the terminal building and mind our luggage whilst they walked such a long way in the great heat; they do have longer and younger legs than mine, but I was very grateful to them.
My Brave Heart friends returned with the good news that RED STAR 1 will indeed be back here as scheduled but 'may be late'. That's perfectly acceptable news - she was built in 1965 as VIKING 3, and we are so pleased to be able to sail on her that we will be happy with her actual arrival! We bought food as we do not know what facilities will be available on board, and plenty of bottled water. We could see her sailing into the bay as we watched from a shady spot on the first floor of the terminal building.
Photos taken, we went through the security gate and hurried towards her quayside berth. Parallel with her berth was the THOMSON DREAM and AIDABELLA so RED STAR 1 looked quite tiny in comparison, but eye-catching with her bright red hull. Passenger numbers looked quite low, probably about 30 at one time, but we stood on the quayside where requested and waited for the ramp to come down. The nearest Security guard tried in vain to divert many THOMSON passengers walking along our part of the quayside towards their cruise ship, near the descending ramp, but most of them were completely oblivious to their danger and ignored or didn't even see the wildly waving security woman trying to make them keep back.
We three were first of the foot passengers to board and were soon making a little base in the comfortable forward lounge, where we could enjoy the sailing from Corfu, Greece, to Brindisi in Italy. The journey time is expected to take about 9 hours, but on board we were told it could take between 11 and 16 hours, depending on various conditions such as the sea and the weather.
RED STAR 1 started life in 1965 as M/S VIKING III, built at 5762 gross tons in Lubeck for use in Scandinavian waters, and then UK-French waters, with Thoresen Car Ferries. She had various charters and name changes over the years. In 2007 she came to Greece and assumed her 8th name RED STAR 1 with Red Star Ferries/European Ferries. One of her charterers after this was the International Organisation for Migration, who sent her in May 2011 to Misrata in Libya to rescue refugees fleeing from Gaddafi. She came under fire during this operation and I think many of us remember the publicity at the time.
We explored the good ship RED STAR 1, operated by Red Star Ferries, ate our picnic, discovered there was a small hidden restaurant which was open for a little while and cooked menu food to order. One of my friends took advantage of this and the chef himself came out of the kitchen to serve the food.
Water etc. was on sale at a Bar (with noticeable Christmas decorations above it) but this soon closed and no-one knew when it would open again. A few passengers were sitting in the mid-ships seating area watching a film on the big television mid-ships. The man in Reception soon closed up and could be seen 'resting', through the 2 inches gap under the shutter. I think at this point we all followed suit and slept.
Sometime later we all went walking, although the top decks proved far too hot to walk around for long. Two of the crewmen were maintaining doors and I peered through to see where the stairs were going, and recognised the aft end of the restaurant. I asked the men if they knew when the bar or restaurant might open again, and they shrugged and said they didn't know, and sorry they couldn't help. I mentioned that we were wondering about buying more water. Ten minutes later one of the men followed me around the deck and produced a very large bottle of very cold water, which he gave to me, explaining it was crew water supplies and I was to accept it. He wouldn't take any money, but simply smiled and accepted my very grateful thanks. He even gave me three plastic cups, which was very thoughtful. I took the bottle down to the forward lounge and we shared some of the water straightaway. That was such a kind gesture from that crew member, and I was able to thank him again much later when we waited to disembark.
After a necessary rest in the forward lounge, we went up on deck to watch the sea in all its glory. Corfu is north of other Ionian Islands, in the Ionian Sea. This leads through the Strait of Otranto into the Adriatic Sea, and once through the little channel leading from Corfu, we headed north-west towards the 'heel' of Italy and Brindisi. During this passage we heard a hoot of our ship's whistle and went to our starboard side and there was PRINCE heading south-east towards Corfu and Igoumenitsa. We hope to be sailing on her tomorrow, which should be fun. Later I also saw Grimaldi's EUROFERRY OLYMPIA heading south past us.
At first we paralleled the coast of Albania with its mountainous rocky coastline but then turned to the open sea. Sitting on deck with a sea breeze was absolutely wonderful and just what sea travel is all about; the sea sparkled and the breeze took the edge off the heat as we chatted about our ferrying so far.
Soon we could see the industrial chimneys of Brindisi in the hazy distance and it was time to put on a shirt over my T-shirt against the cooling damp air as we sat up on the very top deck. We watched the sun go down in that lovely golden hour before nightfall
and eventually the Pilot came on board to guide us into the port of Brindisi. EUROPEAN VOYAGER was already there in her golden paintwork, and we soon berthed with the stern ramp down. It was 9.30 p.m. local Italian time. Our journey had indeed taken the expected 9 hours but the ship and trip had been most enjoyable, another lovely day.
We disembarked over the stern ramp in darkness, and found a taxi to take us to our overnight hotel (Hotel L'Approdo); a young German lady backpacker from the ship had a lift with us and we arranged that she be taken on to the local station. At our hotel we discovered we had been allocated a suite of rooms, with a locking front door, which was nice. Leaving our rucksacks was a great relief and we could soon head back into the town and join the crowds. IONIAN SPIRIT was laid up just opposite the hotel, and apparently being worked on, but we walked past her and were soon ordering a meal in the famous Betty's Cafe and Restaurant on the familiar waterside. This area has changed a great deal since the days of trains arriving at the nearby Brindisi Maritime Station, and I noticed the rail lines have gone completely now and the buildings converted to general office use.
Ships seen in Corfu: Red Star 1, Thomson Dream, Aidabella, Nikolaos, MSC Orchestra, Agios Spiridon, Marina (car ferry to Albania), Hellenic Spirit of ANEK, Rena II (Albania), Agia Theodora,
At sea: Prince, Euroferry Olympia of Grimaldi
In Brindisi: Red Star 1, Ionian Spirit laid up, European Voyager (ex-Corsica Serena Seconda), Euroferry Sicilia (ex-Humber Viking)
To be continued...