Astoria & Balmoral
On the 18th September 2008, the 18,000grt German ship Astoria was due to call at Southampton.  She debuted in 1981 as Astor (I) for Hadag Cruise Line but was not successful so she was sold to Safmarine. As they planned a new Astor, she was sold again in 1985 and became Arkona for Deutfracht Seereederi.  After several charters, including to Seetours, she was sold to Sovcomflot in 2001 who owned Astor (II).  A rename to Astoria and subsequent charter to Transocean Tours followed in 2002 where she sailed in a fleet alongside her sister.  In July 2008 Saga Cruises had intended to buy her and from April 2009 she was supposed to become Quest For Adventure as part of their Spirit of Adventure offshoot for the under 50s.  However their intentions changed and she was marketed as Saga Pearl II, her maiden voyage the 30th October 2009, sailing mostly in tandem with Saga Rose who would be on her farewell cruise.  But when Club Cruise suddenly collapsed she was arrested and Saga pulled the cruises from the site until their successful purchase on the 4th August 2009 and from March 2010 she has been undertaking her new cruises.  She arrived in Southampton this day for 7am and was due to sail at 6.30pm.  The annual Boat Show was blocking the view of this gorgeous little ship.  However the departure wouldn't be our only trip out today.  Fred Olsen's Balmoral had propulsion problems so would be coming here instead of Dover to end the current cruise and begin the next.  Whoopeee!!!  She's back!!!  I don't know why we shouldn't see her anyway apart from when she's got mechanical woes.  Well she was due for 11.30am and to sail at 10pm so we went to Town Quay.  It was a glorious day despite the haze and as we sat on the ferry waiting to cross, I just about saw her coming around Calshot and head towards Fawley.
She took us by surprise coming around the QEII Terminal as she was somewhat early.  It was also really difficult to see.  I wish ABP would sort Town Quay out once and for all.  It's a nightmare as it is taking photos through that fence at the end without doing it one-handed while you shield your eyes with the other.  It's been like that two years now with no sign of any repair work.
As she came past us, she gave three blasts but with long pauses between.  There was a speedboat getting in the way so a police boat quickly came out and dealt with them.  As she passed the Boat Show, she gave five quick blasts as they parped back.  Finally we heard that horn!  We missed it in February due to her late departure.
We went back for the orginally planned sailing of Astoria.  The weather had changed considerably.  It had become colder and overcast.  Occasionally I could swear I felt a drop of rain but it wasn't.  I noticed on the way over that morning scaffolding around the funnel of the former tug tender Calshot but forgot to get a photo of that or the new cruise terminal's progress so I rectified that.  It was good to see work going on again on Calshot, as they finished restoring her funnel.  Although it had been half the size so long it looked odd now.
By the time the departure time came round it had become lovely again as the sun was beginning to set, though was a little chilly.  Quite a few people had turned out who weren't fishing.  At bang on 6.30pm Astoria slowly eased away from City Terminal and as she passed the Boat Show, gave 3 blasts as again, they all tooted and parped back.
We got the ferry back and it was full of Boat Show people, either on the stands or visitors.  Those working there were such snobs about the visitors.  Anyway Balmoral's 10pm departure came and went and she cast off shortly before 1am, having to turn, then set off on her cruise.  To see photos of Astoria as Saga Pearl II in 2010, click here.

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© Patricia Dempsey 18th September 2008
Not to be reproduced without permission
26th May 2010