Ferrying in July 2018 Part 4 St. Damian
Monday 16th July - afternoon
We arrived in Bari just over an hour later and I had to alter my wristwatch to show Italian time, one hour behind Greek time. We took the train from the airport to the city's railway station and discovered that some of the longer-distance trains were delayed for all the usual Italian reasons. There was time for a meal in a favourite small restaurant near the station before heading back for a train down south to Brindisi, leaving at 6.29 p.m. This is where we are to embark on our next sailing, on board ST. DAMIAN. She is another vessel with an interesting history, and we are keen to catch up with her in her current guise.
After arriving in Brindisi we took a taxi to get to the terminal, but saw no sign of our ship. That began a rather tedious evening of waiting, watching, strolling around; Marine Traffic showed her as approaching but that was all. The outside temperature was down from the 38C of Piraeus to the tolerable 34C here in Brindisi, but we were all very pleased to see ST. DAMIAN arrive and berth. Of course she was behind the usual security fencing and well beyond easy sighting but at least she was there.
It was now dark and then suddenly someone had been told that we should start to queue and wait at the only security office to be seen in the fencing. We and lots of other passengers walked across the big car park and began our wait. It was all fairly orderly but vast numbers of people gradually joined the queue and it stretched as far as the eye could see. Many of us resorted to sitting on our baggage on the ground, and wonder about the workings and mindset of the local immigration officials here at the port of Brindisi. Passengers and traffic from the ship had left long ago; we knew the ship had to be prepared for the next passengers, but there was just no sign of anyone to keep us informed.
After over an hour of queuing a port official suddenly came out of the security office and began to check the passports of the first people in the queue. They were then told they could join the ship, way over in the distance. He was alone for some time and finally it was our turn to have our passports checked and be waved across to the ship. He was joined by another uniformed official so the queue was dealt with a little faster.
I see that my first photo of the ship as we walked across to her was taken at 11.15 p.m. and we had probably been in the first thirty passengers in the queue; I felt so sorry for those people still waiting far back in the lines.
We all had to show our passports again at the gangway, and again at the top of the gangway and I think again inside the ship at Reception before we could get keys to the cabin.
What a relief to get on board, leave bags and then be able to look around this little ship. I noted that my first impressions were that she is old but small (6,728 gross tons) and lovely.
One of my friends told me that:
"The St DAMIAN is one of nine sister ships, six of them for Viking Line and they were the ships which really transformed Viking Line into a force in the early 1970s. The other three were built for Mexican service where they enjoyed quite long lives as well. They really are quite smart little ferries and were memorialised in the 1980s by the book, 'The Papenburg Sisters' which, although it is somewhat biased towards the two which served UK-based operators for long periods, is an excellent overview of a famous class of ferry.
The ROSLAGEN is the ex-VIKING 3 of 1972 and was sold by Viking Line as early as 1976 when she went for more service on the northern Vasa-Umea route. By 1988 after a brief return to Viking Line and a trip to the English Channel she was sold to Eckero Line, became the ROSLAGEN and enjoyed almost 20 years which included various refits which largely made the ship look like she does today on board.
Agoudimos Lines took her on in late 2007 and, as the IONIAN SPIRIT she eventually inherited the Brindisi-Vlore route from the KAPETAN ALEXANDROS A (RIP). When Agoudimos went bust she languished in Brindisi for years. ( I remember that we last saw her in Brindisi in darkness on 22nd July 2016, as IONIAN SPIRIT.) So desperate are ferry companies for tonnage nowadays that even the most unlikely ships are being reactivated and put back into service so after four years of layup and at 44 years of age her current owners European Ferries bought her at auction and she was eventually resuscitated as the St DAMIAN, inheriting a Corsica Ferries yellow hull livery from the company's first ship the ex-CORSICA SERENA SECONDA (now MOBY NIKI).
The main changes on board since her Eckero days are the installation of reclining seats in parts of the open-plan central section which was previously general seating/spill over seating for the cafeteria, the slightly sad conversion of the forward smorgasbord restaurant into an additional bar and the conversion of the lower passenger deck with some cabins being put back in where the Duty Free shop had been extended. The rest of the shop is now home to large reclining seat lounges."
This is the ship we have finally embarked on and she was due to sail at 11.30 p.m. from Brindisi overnight to Vlore in Albania. That departure time has obviously been and gone, so we shall have to wait and see what happens next. What happens next included walking around the ship and taking a few photographs and noticing that in our cabin we could hear a conversation going on in the next cabin because there was a gap in the top of the cabin partition/wall separating us.
There seemed to be several parties of students on board, some sharing a cabin nearby, and there was much activity for some time. It didn't worry us. I think the air-conditioning or ventilation system on board didn't work in our cabin and we got round that little problem by propping the door open with a big thick blanket all night. I think we all got to sleep about 2.15 a.m., mostly from exhaustion. My friends were particularly happy to be on board this interesting little ship.
Ships seen in Brindisi: St. Damian, Red Star 1
To be continued....