Tor Hollandia and Ariadne (1998)

I was waiting in Naxos harbour for the ferry to Amorgos. I had made the journey many times, but this time I was waiting for the Ariadne, a new ship. At least a ship that was new to the route, as many of the ferries running in Greece have retired from routes in northern Europe. The Ariadne glided into the harbour, large, white, and modern. We sailed on a glassy smooth sea to Amorgos, lounging by the small pool on the deck. How different this was to my first trip to Amorgos in 1985, on the Marianna.

Mention the name Marianna to anyone you meet in Greece, and if you get a smile of recognition, you will know that they went to Naxos and Amorgos or the islands in between in the 'old days'. It is like asking someone in England what he was doing at the time of the coronation - a trick - if he was around and remembers what he was doing in 1953, he must be above a certain age. The Marianna was a converted Scandinavian trawler. Well, not so much a converted trawler, as a trawler retired from northern seas and put to use as a Greek ferry with little if anything in the way of conversion. The Marianna was one of the last of a dying breed of Greek ferries. What these old ferries lacked in speed and comfort they made up for in character, and were always laden with supplies. The sea was fairly calm in the harbour. I was sitting on a life-raft box on the top deck; the box looked more comfortable than the rusty old seats up there. As we pulled out of Katapola bay the wind and spray lashed across my face. It was like being hit by the tail of a large fish. The sea was rough. Very rough. Shipping safety regulations have now been tightened in Greece and today even a large, modern ship would be unlikely to sail in such a storm. On a large modern ferry, when the going gets rough you can retreat to a relatively sheltered part of the deck or to one of the inside lounges. On the Marianna, those options were not available. It was too windy to risk the stairs to the lower deck. Even if I could have gone below, none of the decks was sheltered. The only cabin was a stuffy hole below deck smelling of cats and fish. It was too rough to stand upright. I lay on the deck, next to the funnel. My fingers grasped the gaps between the boards on deck (if I had let go I would have been a woman overboard) and my feet fended off low flying chairs. I felt like a supine goalkeeper trying to keep the rusty chair legs off my face. As the Marianna tossed and turned in the rough Aegean seas, I imagined oilskin-clad fishermen toiling on board her in her previous incarnation on the North Sea. Travelling in comfort on the Ariadne was a completely different world.

After my stay on Amorgos, I travelled back from Amorgos to Piraeus on the Ariadne, an overnight trip of about ten hours. In a storm, it took the old Marianna ten hours to travel the much shorter distance from Amorgos to Naxos. Curled up in my sleeping bag on the floor of a lounge I snoozed fitfully. The throbbing of an engine is not conducive to a good night’s sleep. I thought back to my first trip abroad, my first overnight trip on a boat. My first trip overseas, it must have been in 1968, from Immingham to Amsterdam on the Tor Hollandia. I could not remember much of the Tor Hollandia. She was a large car ferry (we took our Morris Minor with us). Of her inside, all I can remember are long corridors of cabins, and the large dining area. We had a cabin. There were also lounges with recliner seats and I think couchettes. We had not thought of sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. In our four-berthed cabin, my parents took the lower bunks; I had the choice of the two upper bunks. The bunks were arranged at right angles. I decided I would rather rock side to side than head to toe. I must have slept well, for I remember little of the crossing. I do remember eating a large smorgasbord breakfast as we approached Amsterdam, so the crossing cannot have been that rough. Until that trip to Amsterdam, I had been on no larger boat than the Humber Ferry. The Humber crossings were not long enough for me: the excitement of being on deck; going down the inside passage to admire the highly polished brass machinery; drinking a cup of tea in the snug downstairs cabin. Then the journey back to Grimsby by train, through stations still in the 1960s lit by gas.

Piraeus docks approached and I woke up fully. I was on the Ariadne in the 1990s. I was not on the Humber ferry in the 1950s or 1960s. I was not on the Tor Hollandia in 1968.

Or had I been on the Tor Hollandia? Back home in Lincoln I came across an interesting little booklet by Geoffrey Hamer, “Trip Out in Southern Europe.” The booklet includes a list of “Old Friends,” ferries formerly operated in Northern Europe and now running in southern Europe. And there she was. The Tor Hollandia is now the Ariadne. After various changes to adapt the former North Sea ferry to the warmer climes of Greece (after all, what use is an open air pool on a North Sea ferry?) the former Tor Hollandia is now sailing around Greece as the Ariadne. The Tor Hollandia’s sister ship, the Tor Anglia, is now (or was in 1993) running from Italy to Sardinia as the Sardinia Nova. I was not able to check on the present whereabouts of the Marianna. “Last winter, big wind blow – Marianna fall over” was rumoured soon after my trip on her. I have travelled on the Ariadne several times since. It is a strange but pleasant experience travelling in Greece today on a ship that carried me from Immingham to Amsterdam all those years ago.

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