Canberra and Rotterdam 20 Years On

Lots of things happened in 1997 including the death of Princess Diana. But to ship nuts, the 30th September was a very sad day as two ships with different fates ended their careers with their respective cruise lines.

SS Rotterdam and Canberra shared a few design similarities, most notably the twin-uptake funnels. Rotterdam’s sailing life began in 1959 with Holland America Line, crossing to the US for the first 10 years before becoming a one class cruise ship, sailing to places including the Caribbean and Alaska. She was a much loved and popular ship. Her retirement was announced in 1996, stating she would not meet the 1997 SOLAS requirements unless they paid $40 million. She was sold to Premier Cruises who did the required upgrade and was renamed Rembrandt. She was with them for three years until Premier Cruises went bankrupt. Finally bought for restoration in 2003, she returned to her home port of Rotterdam on the 4th August 2009 after years of increasing costs. Six months later, she opened as a hotel where she remains to this day under new ownership since 2013. I stayed onboard a couple of nights in 2010 and only a couple of rooms were open if you were a guest. That has changed since.

Across the North Sea, P&O were making plans for a new flagship. Little did they know when Canberra entered service in 1961 that she would end up becoming their best loved and most famous ship. The last passenger liner built at Harland and Wolff in Belfast, at 45,270grt she was the largest post-war one built. Named after the Australian capital, she would be on the UK-Australia run, knocking days off the older ships. The England cricket team travelled on her. She also undertook cruises. Along with Oriana for Orient-Lines, she began the return to Southampton for P&O with berth 106 (Mayflower Terminal) their home. In order to reduce fuel consumtion and sort the soot problem, she had extensions added to her funnels and covered the first class stadium, turning in into a theatre, increasing her tonnage to 45,733grt. With aeroplanes becoming more common, cutting travel time to Australia drastically, her line voyages dried up. P&O attempted to base her out of New York for one class cruising but they weren’t popular. Her withdrawal was announced in 1973, for either scrapping or re-engined with diesel engines. Two months later, they said she would replace Orsova on cruising. With so many going to the breakers due to aircraft and fuel prices, she had a very lucky escape and 9 years later became a war heroine!

Much is made of QE2 in the Falklands while ignoring Canberra’s far greater and more dangerous role. The P&O liner was requisitioned on the 5th April 1982, three days after the islands were invaded by the Argentine military, who assumed Great Britain wouldn’t put up a fight for a group of islands thousands of miles away. How wrong they were! She arrived back in Southampton on the 7th and sailed with almost 4000 troops for the South Atlantic on the 9th after conversion, arriving on the 20th. In the thick of it later in San Carlos Water, she was a very visible target for Mirage Jets, whose pilots constantly tried to claim their prize. Instead HMS Ardent was sunk and HMS Argonaut damaged. Argentine media reported she was sunk.

In comparision, the QE2 was requisitioned on the 3rd May, arrived the 5th and sailed 12th. Canberra was still going strong in her war role by the time the Cunarder arrived in safe waters on the 27th May after being delayed by fog and ice. After a rendezvous to cross land troops at Grytviken, Canberra returned the following day to San Carlos Water while the QE2 sailed home, docking in Southampton on the 11th June. The Argentinians surrendered on the 14th June but Canberra’s role wasn’t over. She helped repatriate prisoners of war and proudly returned home to a rapturous welcome, battle scarred and rust streaked on the 11th July, QE2 in drydock having arrived 30 days earlier. Troops had banners unfurled stating Canberra Cruises Where QE2 Refuses. She was the nation’s and armed forces darling, her popularity increased. She was the Great White Whale, QE2 nicknamed the Black Pig by the military. There had never been a welcome like it before or since.

She successfully returned to service in September even more popular than ever and had even been in port the same day as QE2.

She took part in the Spithead Review with QE2 in 1994 but due to the same SOLAS regulations which resulted in many ships going, P&O announced her withdrawal in 1996. Her replacement had already arrived the previous year in the form of the new Oriana, inspired by Canberra (particularly funnels) but in a modern design.

Canberra set sail on her farewell cruise to the Med on the 10th September 1997. The Golden Cockerel, which signifies the fastest in the fleet, was handed over to Oriana in Cannes. She returned into a foggy Southampton on the 30th September 1997 to a rapturous welcome but P&O were silent about her future.

She was moved from Mayflower Terminal to QEII Terminal on the 1st October after QE2 sailed, as Oriana was due the following day. Emptied of anything valuable or they could sell like crockery and Falklands plaque removed.

Finally, on the 10th October, it was announced she was going to be scrapped and set sail at 9pm that night for Gadani Beach, Karachi.

Because of her draft, she didn’t make it easy for them and it took a year to completely dismantle her. Later, it emerged Premier had offered to buy her as well as Rotterdam but P&O turned them down. With Rotterdam still being around, you can’t help but wonder what Canberra’s future would have been had she been a fleet mate of the Holland America Line ship. All that’s left of Canberra are a few souvenirs, photos, film and memories but she will never be forgotten or any less loved as she was the day she left.

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Captain Apostolos Bouzakis Passes Away

A familiar face to many who sailed with Celebrity Cruises, the company have announced the sad news that he has died:

“It is with heavy hearts that we regretfully announce the passing of Captain Apostolos Bouzakis, a great man and beloved member of our Celebrity family.

Captain Bouzakis passed away this morning in his home in Greece, surrounded by his wife and two children. As a member of our Celebrity family for 27 years, he was highly admired, respected, and loved by his crew and all who knew him.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time, and to our crew members who sailed or worked closely with him on board Celebrity Reflection.

This is a devastating loss, and he will truly be missed.”

I met Captain Bouzakis during what Celebrity had renamed the “Official Maiden Voyage” (8th-18th August 2009). He was a very nice, friendly man. It was my only cruise with him at the helm. Condolences to his family and friends.

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Cardiff Bay

Cardiff Bay has become the ultimate tourist destination for anyone visiting the capital of Wales. It is very easy to reach by public transport and not too expensive by taxi either. A train runs regularly from Queen Street Station in the city centre. The journey lasts 3 minutes and runs all day. Alternatively, you can get the bus.

The blue bendy Baycar runs from the city centre every 15 minutes during the day and 30 minutes in the evening.

City Circle number 2 runs from the city centre to Mermaid Quay Monday to Saturday.

Number 7 runs from Canal Street to either the Millennium Centre or Mermaid Quay Mondays to Saturdays.

Number 8 has the most frequent buses, approximately every 10 minutes, and runs seven days a week, including bank holidays.

Cardiff Bay has a long history. Originally known as Tiger Bay and most famous as the birthplace of Dame Shirley Bassey, it was once a thriving port, exporting coal from the mines. It was also increasingly multicultural, with an estimated 57 nationalities living in Butetown during the 1950s. Tiger Bay had its seedy reputation, but gradually the close-knit community was torn apart by slum clearance. By the 1980s, the bustling port was virtually silent so plans were drawn up for regeneration. Out went Tiger Bay, in came the swanky Cardiff Bay, home to the Millennium Centre, Welsh Assembly, BBC Cymru and (until September 2017) the Doctor Who Experience. Mermaid Quay incorporated part of those docks, as well as creating wetlands further along the River Severn, a 500 metre freshwater lake as well as shopping and numerous dining options. Meanwhile the port is now part of ABP South Wales which operates a couple of docks near the BBC studios. The occasional small cruise ship docks here.

Millennium Centre

Ivor Novello

Grade I listed Pierhead building, built in 1897

Pierhead building, built in 1897

Doctor Who Experience

Norwegian Church Arts Centre

The Grade II listed Mount Stuart Graving Docks have been left more or less intact and are found by walking from Mermaid Quay along Landsea Gardens.

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 1

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 1

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 1

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 1

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 1

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 1

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 3

Between Mount Stuart Graving Dock 2 & 3

Between Mount Stuart Graving Dock 2 & 3

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 2

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 2

Between Mount Stuart Graving Dock 1 & 2

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 3

Between Mount Stuart Graving Dock 2 & 3

Between Mount Stuart Graving Dock 2 & 3

Between Mount Stuart Graving Dock 2 & 3

Between Mount Stuart Graving Dock 2 & 3

Between Mount Stuart Graving Dock 2 & 3

Between Mount Stuart Graving Dock 2 & 3

Between Mount Stuart Graving Dock 3

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 3

Mount Stuart Graving Dock 3

If you are in or around Cardiff, a visit to Cardiff Bay is a must for any shipping enthusiast or cruise passenger. There is much more to see than I have included as the present meets the past.

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Braemar Visit

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is known for small ship cruising on grand old ladies, daring to cruise where many others avoid by building bigger ships. You know you’re on a Fred as soon as you set foot aboard. The standard of service is the same across the fleet. I have sailed on and visited Balmoral, Black Watch and Boudicca over the past 12 years and enjoyed each experience. Braemar had eluded me until the 5th August.

Braemar is still the baby of the fleet despite being stretched in 2008 (just!), seven years after becoming a Fred. Olsen ship.

8th May & 11th July 2008

Like the rest of the fleet, she felt much larger than she is. One thing about Braemar is the amount of natural light coming in throughout the ship. The atrium has a beautiful mural spanning four decks.

With many modern ships removing deck space to cram in more passengers, as well as adding windscreens to the forward observation areas, it is always wonderful to see a line not interested in taking those areas away.

Two restaurants feature on Braemar for main dining. The Thistle can be found on Main Deck while The Grampian is on Marquee Deck. Your restaurant is allocated at the time of booking. Fred. Olsen, like all cruise lines, also deal with dietary requirements.

The Thistle

The Grampian

Other places to eat are The Grill and Palms Cafe. The Grill can be booked for dinner and found on the outside deck aft on Lido Deck. Current price is Β£20 per person. Breakfast and lunch is also available. Palms Cafe is the buffet, a very spacious room. Only one door to the deck opens to prevent too much wind.

Palms Cafe

The Grill

There are several rooms you can just relax during the day. Braemar has a library, found between the Morning Light Pub and Bookmark Cafe. The Neptune Lounge is forward with generally good views but bear in mind some is restricted by pillars. Speciality tea and coffee by Taylors of Harrogate is available to buy at the Bookmark Cafe. Here you can also purchase chocolates. The Coral Club aft is for dancing, which has a door either side if you fancy some fresh air. Up on Marquee Deck is the Observatory, a Fred Olsen staple. This section was added during the 2008 stretching. White gloved afternoon tea is available here or a fee of Β£7.50 per person.

Neptune Lounge

Morning Light Pub


Bookmark Cafe

Bookmark Cafe

Coral Club


As someone who has currently sailed 32 out of 64 cruises solo, it is good FOCL recognise single travellers are on the increase and have set aside a number of cabin grades. You do still need to pay a supplement but occasionally they have a no supplement offer to book a selected twin.

Single Interior (M)

Single Ocean View (L)

Single Superior Ocean View (K)

Single Superior Balcony (J)

Disabled passengers are also catered for with several adapted cabins. There are no specific disabled cabins for those needing a wheelchair so talk to your travel adviser or someone at Fred Olsen.

7017 Adapted Interior (G)

6097. Adapted Superior Ocean View (C)

6097. Adapted Superior Ocean View (C)

6097. Adapted Superior Ocean View (C)

The rest of the cabins vary from port holes, windows, balcony and suites. The middle section, which was added in 2008, has rooms slightly larger than the original ones.

Ocean View Porthole (F)

[caption id="attachment_5858" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Obstructed Picture Window Superior Ocean View (B)


Balcony Room (BC)

Interior (I)

Superior Suite (SS)

All cabins currently use a European round two-pin plug. Adaptors are available to rent from Guest Services for Β£5, which is refunded when you return it. While onboard, you have the choice of the laundry service or launderette.

All in all, I was very impressed with Braemar. Like her fleet mates, she feels larger than she is while being smaller makes her cosy. I have noticed many Americans say they prefer small ships yet what they’re talking about are 70,000-90,000 tonnes, which we call mid-sized. Thank goodness the main lines ditching older tonnage have given us in the UK and Europe a real choice. If FOCL ever decide to build a new ship, I hope they will retain every aspect their passengers already like, especially lots of fabulous deck space.

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Blue Funnel Cowes Firework Cruise

Each year, Blue Funnel Cruises runs a party cruise from Ocean Village to see the Cowes Week fireworks. Due to Lee Rayment acquiring the Hythe ferry earlier in the year, they added a pick-up from Hythe pier this year (4th August). As it was my dad’s 76th birthday and he has a few mobility issues, that was ideal rather than tackle the pontoons at Ocean Village. It turned out to be a wise move as a lot of people also decided to book. Prices were Β£19.95 which included chicken & chips (or vegetarian option upon request) plus a voucher for one free drink, alcoholic or soft. Due to electrical issues with Hythe Scene, it was a bit frantic as they had to bring the gangway back across. Lee Rayment took Jenny Ann to do just that, returning as Ocean Scene arrived. We began boarding at around 7.50pm.

We arrived off Cowes and manoeuvred into position. There were many pleasure boats out. Shieldhall had been the first to head out of Southampton right at the time Hythe Scene limped back to the pier. Princess Caroline had come from Ocean Village before Ocean Scene. Red Osprey came from Cowes, Red Falcon from Southampton and Spirit of Portsmouth was there too. Sister line Solent & Wightline Cruises had several out. Ali Cat of Cowes meandered about while we got up close and personal with Wight Scene for a few minutes. Solent Cat arrived. The babies Jenny M and Jenny Lee were also full of passengers.

There was a slight rocket at 9.30pm which signalled the start. The vessels blew their whistles and the show began.

The fireworks lasted about 25 minutes and the boats blew their whistles again. Then it was back to Hythe pier for us followed by Ocean Village for the rest.

The pier train was waiting to take everyone back. Lee Rayment said there would be another trip if required, but those who couldn’t get in decided to walk before Lee drove the train to the other end.

We’d always enjoyed our Blue Funnel boat trips since our first on Jenny R from Town Quay in 2006 to see the brand new Freedom of the Seas and this was no exception. It had been an excellent trip and very well organised adding Hythe for boarding.

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Dispatches: Secrets of Your Cruise

I’m sure many of you watched this on Channel 4 last night (3rd July). I, along with my friend Maureen, were participants as they wanted people who had cruised to take part.

Our little bit was recorded aboard the Princess Caroline in Southampton’s Ocean Village on the 2nd June. We were joined by three other people who were related (husband & wife plus sister of the man). We were not onboard Oceana with Tazeen Ahmad as some believe.

Princess Caroline in Ocean Village

With Maureen Hunt

Contrary to some thinking, we were not “lambs to the slaughter” there to be made fools of. We had been told it would be about growth of the cruise industry and effect on the environment before being given the filming location, so went into it with our eyes open.

The ITN team and Tazeen were really friendly and put us at our ease, though we did start an hour later than intended due to them having lunch. We weren’t sailing on the Princess Caroline, but it was an odd choice to discuss the topic.

It was a small but very professional team, though the main cameraman was wearing shorts which was distracting! πŸ˜‰ The producer/director, Ben Laidlow, had a smaller camera for wide shots.

The footage in Southampton of Black Watch, Queen Elizabeth and Celebrity Eclipse was filmed on the 19th May. There were six ships in on the day of our recording – Navigator of the Seas, Marina, Silver Explorer, Norwegian Jade, Aurora & Silver Whisper. With so much pollution on tap, you have to wonder why they didn’t do any particulate measurement or check the air quality.

Also bear in mind that at one end of Southampton Water is the Esso Refinery while at the other is Marchwood incinerator. Car carriers, container ships, tankers, ferries and pleasure craft make up more river traffic on a daily basis than cruise ships. And Southampton is not the only port that applies to.

The filming process took around 3 hours due to reshoots, different angles and too much talking. The others were worrying about getting a parking ticket, but then one of them was enjoying the attention so much she waffled on, often off topic resulting in a telling off each time. Maureen wisely paid for an extra hour.

The transmission date was originally thought to be the 10th July. Channel 4 began advertising on the 26th June and we received the call about the date the Friday prior.

Ironically, the 3rd July was 67 years since my paternal grandfather died. Although it was simply a case of losing the will to live after my grandmother died, he had followed his father’s footsteps working at Liverpool docks, first as a docker then ship planner. My great-grandfather smoked, drank and breathed in far worse from liners and trains than we do, yet lived to 85.

There is no arguing we need to do something about pollution but we could start by removing the poisonous chemicals in various products. More from things such as shampoo, washing powder etc, get flushed from our homes daily than cruise ships. Recently there was the recent trend of adding hazardous micro beads to body washes which are plastic and end up in the food chain.

However, pollution today is far less than it was in the past. The cruise industry is constantly regulated and making improvements but without changing to oars, nothing will be perfect in our lifetime.

My dad suffers COPD yet struggles more around traffic than anywhere near any seagoing vessel. His COPD was caused by diesel fumes from road vehicles after decades being around them.

I had breathing tests in February 2017 and my lung capacity is 98% despite 64 cruises and smoking from 1986-2008.

I also once dated a crew member so know more about what ships do than the average viewer or cruiser, having seen it for myself.

I don’t regret being part of this programme in the slightest. It was interesting in many ways and educational. Overnight ratings peaked at 1.7 million which is a strange feeling knowing so many saw you.

Will I stop cruising? Not until the green lobby get rid of their cars, boats and no longer fly.

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Queen Mary 2 Celebrates US-France Cultural Legacy

On the 24th June, QM2 will return to her birthplace of Saint Nazaire to take part in a special charter commemorating 100 years since American troops landed there in World War I.

Once there, The Bridge, a celebration of cultural influence between the two countries, will take place. France imported such things as basketball and jazz from their American visitors in 1917.

She sets sail on the 25th, challenged to New York by the largest trimarans in the world, which set records at faster speeds than the Cunard liner. She should arrive as scheduled on the 1st July.

She set sail from Southampton at 9pm on the 22nd, stopping in Cherbourg the following day.

Bonne chance!

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