• Alexandros Vrailas

CHAMPION JET 1 Tribute and Moments of Trip

Trip: 12 July 2015. From Santorini to Piraeus, via Ios, Folegandros, Milos and Sifnos, with the CHAMPION JET 1 of Sea Jets.

The high speed ferry CHAMPION JET 1, a wave-piercing catamaran, was built in Australia in 1997, as the INCAT 044. After a period of advertisement by her builder, who sent her initially to Portland in the United Kingdom and later to Aarhus in Denmark, she was taken over by the French company Condor Ferries. She began her career on the Channel, operating as the CONDOR VITESSE on Poole-Guernsey-Jersey line, until 1999, when she was chartered to the New Zealand-based company Interislander, operating on the Wellington-Picton line. She returned to Condor Ferries the following year, and she was deployed on the Cherbourg-Poole line, under a partnership that was made between her company and Brittany Ferries. This lasted until 2011, when she was deployed on the St Malo-Jersey-Guernsey-Poole-Weymouth line. Along with her sister ship, the CONDOR EXPRESS, and later with another Incat-built ship, the CONDOR RAPIDE, she became a beloved ship amongst Channel residents, and in particular those in Guernsey and Jersey. Their speed and their reliability were constantly praised, and were key to their company's dominance in the high speed sector. In 2014, Condor Ferries announced that they would replace two of their three high speed craft with a new and super modern high speed ferry: the CONDOR LIBERATION. Though she was built in 2010 in Australia, she never sailed as she did not manage to find an operator, until Condor Ferries came to bring her to the Channel. The CONDOR LIBERATION was completed in 2015, and she replaced the aging CONDOR EXPRESS and CONDOR VITESSE, which were immediately sold to Greek company Sea Jets. The sale of the two ships was met with disappointment by the Guernsey and Jersey residents, and this briefly affected Condor Ferries' reputation. That path later became worse, as the CONDOR LIBERATION has experienced many technical problems and has been criticised for her unconventional service.

Sea Jets is a high speed craft-based company founded in 2002 by the shipowner Marios Iliopoulos. The company initially had the sister ships SEA JET 2 and SUPER JET, before acquiring their first high speed ferry, the MEGA JET, in 2008. The company was among the small operators that operated on the Cyclades and in Crete, with the islands being connected from both Piraeus and Rafina. Initially not as known as bigger companies like Hellenic Seaways, Minoan Lines, ANEK Lines, Blue Star Ferries or NEL Lines, the company saw a huge rise in the early 2010s. Indeed, Sea Jets acquired the MASTER JET in 2011, and then deployed the giant high speed ferry TERA JET in 2014 on the Heraklion-Santorini line, which turned out to be a very successful move. Similar successes from the SUPER JET on Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line and from the MASTER JET on the Piraeus-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line made the company even more present on the Cyclades, and later also acquired the sister ship of the MASTER JET, the ex-ÉMERAUDE FRANCE of Émeraude Ferries (which had been laid-up in Tilbury since 2007), and renamed her SEA SPEED JET. In 2015, with the company continuing to grow, the purchase of the CONDOR VITESSE and of the CONDOR EXPRESS was announced, with their pending arrival generating excitement from the Aegean Sea residents. Furthermore, Sea Jets acquired the high speed ferry CORSICA EXPRESS SECONDA, which became the PAROS JET, which became the fifth purchase of the company in just two years. Hence, with these pending arrivals, 2015 was a summer full of expectations for Sea Jets, with most of the focus centered on the new sister ships bought from the Channel.

The two Condor Ferries high speed craft, the CONDOR VITESSE and the CONDOR EXPRESS, then aged 18 and 19, departed Falmouth for Greece. The former arrived in Piraeus in March and was renamed CHAMPION JET 1, while the latter arrived in May under the name CHAMPION JET 2. Following a conversion in Elefsina and in Chalkida, the CHAMPION JET 1 entered service in May, operating on the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Mykonos line for a few days as a cover for the Sea Jets flagship TERA JET, which was having a few delays while undergoing her refit. She then went to her originally-planned line in June: the Piraeus-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line. Though she began well, she suffered a major engine failure which was not fully repaired and which made her operate at lower speed rates, thus producing many delays. When her sister ship, the CHAMPION JET 2, was ready for service in July, it was decided that the latter will be deployed on the Piraeus-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line, therefore switching her originally-planned Western Cyclades service with her sister ship, the CHAMPION JET 1. The high speed craft as a result went to the Piraeus-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini line, where she remained until August, when she returned to the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Mykonos line as the TERA JET was chartered for the transportation of Syrian refugees in Piraeus and the Northeast Aegean Sea. She completed her season there, before she was laid-up in Piraeus in order to undergo her winter refit.

The high speed craft CHAMPION JET 1 in Piraeus, awaiting a departure to Sifnos. This picture was taken nine days before my trip with her.

Despite her speed and her operations, the ship's first season on the Aegean Sea was not very successful, a contrary to her previous success on the Channel. Because of her engine failure, she sailed at very low speed rates, which were sometimes the half of those of other high speed craft such as her sister ship, the TERA JET, the HIGHSPEED 4, the HIGHSPEED 6 and the FLYINGCAT 4 of Hellenic Seaways. Her delays did not please passengers, and she was also involved in a collision with the hydrofoil FLYING DOLPHIN ATHINA of Aegean Flying Dolphins while the two were docking in Piraeus, causing the latter to miss 10 days of service at the heart of the high season. When the most recent acquisition of Sea Jets, the PAROS JET, entered service on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Koufonisi-Amorgos line in August, the MASTER JET, which was operating there at the time, even got to replace the CHAMPION JET 1 on the Western Cyclades, and the latter was temporarily laid-up in Elefsina, before returning to Crete after the beginning of the TERA JET's charter.

The CHAMPION JET 1 in Piraeus in late July.

But now, let's talk about the trip and my personal experience. The reason why my family and myself took this ship was because we needed to take the earliest ship departing from Santorini in order to arrive in Piraeus early enough to then go to Kyllini in order to board the final ship that was going to Zakynthos for the day. The earliest departure was at 08:00 with a high speed craft, the CHAMPION JET 2, as we booked the tickets before the switch with the CHAMPION JET 1 occurred. Upon learning about this switch, I notified my parents about the CHAMPION JET 1's speed problems, which could delay our arrival to Piraeus. However, we decided to stick with the ship and go to Zakynthos the next day. We arrived in the port of Athinios in Santorini barely in time in order to board the ship. The ship's garage was empty, so it was easy to park. This moment marked the first time I ever boarded a high speed craft that was not a hydrofoil, the first time I ever boarded a high speed ferry in the Greek coastal service, and the first-ever return from the Cyclades to Piraeus, while also going to see (only while docking) the islands of the Western Cyclades for the first time. It also marked the first time I ever took a ship owned by a Greek company in the Greek coastal service which did not carry the Greek flag (the ship flies a Cypriot flag as she is registered in Limassol, like most Sea Jets ships).

We found seats on the Economy Class, located in the first of two passenger decks. However, I went outside to spend the trip in order to see the Cyclades and other ships. I went to the highest point possible on the second deck, located on the ship's stern and right behind the bridge and the crew cabins.

During the moment of the departure, the CHAMPION JET 1's fleetmate, the passenger catamaran SUPER JET, was also loading in Santorini and was preparing her departure to Ios. She was operating on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line for the second summer in a row. She usually spends her nights in Ios, before leaving it early the following morning in order to arrive in Santorini.

The port of Athinios in Santorini, seen upon our departure.

After only 45 minutes, we arrived in Ios. However, the ship's slow speed was proven as the SUPER JET, which had left 20 minutes after the CHAMPION JET 1, managed to reach the island before the latter. The reason behind the CHAMPION JET 1's slow speed was due to her difficulty of reaching a potential accelerated speed immediately after departing a port. Therefore, minutes are added, thus explaining the delays.

The SUPER JET loading passengers in Ios.

The SUPER JET departing Ios immediately afterwards. During her maneuvering procedure, she almost hit the hull of the CHAMPION JET 1, but the captain was good enough to avoid any potential accident.

The SUPER JET leaving Ios, with her next destination being Naxos. She was the first ship in the history of Sea Jets, as she joined them in 2004. Before that, she had operated as the SEA JET 1 for Strintzis Lines (1995-2000) and Blue Star Ferries under the Blue Star Jets division (2000-2002), and then as the JET ONE of Aegean Jet Maritime (2002-2004).

The SUPER JET leaving Ios. She is the high speed craft with the most experience in the Greek coastal service (excluding hydrofoils), after the FLYINGCAT 1 of Hellenic Seaways.

The SUPER JET seen leaving Ios.

One last view of the SUPER JET in Ios.

We left Ios a few minutes after the SUPER JET, since there were more cars and passengers that boarded the ship. After a few minutes, we reached the two Easternmost islands of the Western Cyclades: Sikinos and Folegandros. We passed by the first one and then went around the second one in order to reach its port, which is located in the Northern part of the island. Though the service seemed quick, I heard from other Greek passengers that normally high speed craft make that crossing twice as quickly as the CHAMPION JET 1!

The beautiful island of Folegandros.

The tiny pier of the port. Just like Ios, it can hardly fit more than one ship. The reason why the pier's size is like this is due to the fact that the island used to belong to itineraries of coastal service lifelines, which meant that the island was sometimes unreachable. Ever since it was incorporated into daily crossings, the pier has still not been expanded.

Passengers and cars awaiting to board the ship.

The ship's maneuvering procedure in Folegandros was particularly slow. However, she loaded the passengers quickly enough to depart only 10 minutes after docking. After that, I spent two long hours in the ship's exterior stern deck, awaiting the arrival to Milos. The ship seemed as if she was operating like a conventional ferry rather than as a high speed craft, due to her poor speed. It took her approximately an hour to go around Milos and enter the bay of the island's main port, Adamantas.

The exterior deck of the CHAMPION JET 1, with Kimolos in the background.

While going around Milos, I saw a local ferry: the landing craft PANAGIA FANEROMENI of Kimolos Link, which operates on the Milos-Kimolos line. The port from which she departs in Milos is located in the Southeast part of the island, and is called Apollonia.

Houses near the bay of Adamantas.

Another view of the bay of Adamantas.

While going around the bay of Adamantas, another high speed craft was leaving Milos. It was the SPEEDRUNNER IV of Aegean Speed Lines, which operates on her company's main service on the Cyclades, which is the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line. It is the main line because it is there that the company spends the largest part of the season, and also because its CEO, Leonidas Dimitriadis-Evgenidis, is from Sifnos.

The speedy SPEEDRUNNER IV leaving Milos, en route to Sifnos, Serifos and Piraeus.

The SPEEDRUNNER IV leaving Milos. In her first season on the Western Cyclades since 2012, her service managed to be more successful than those of the CHAMPION JET 1 and of the MASTER JET.

The SPEEDRUNNER IV heading towards Sifnos. The previous summer saw her operating on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos line, before she returned to the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos line in 2015. She has been owned by Aegean Speed Lines since 2009.

The village of Adamantas, which is the capital and the port city of Milos.

The port of Adamantas seen from the exterior deck of the CHAMPION JET 1.

Next to the ferries' pier was the traditional sailing boat GALILEO of Variety Cruises, which operates around the Aegean Sea.

An interesting banner seen next to the port. The sign comes from a ticket agency and represents Hellas Ferries, the main division of the entire Minoan Flying Dolphins organisation (which was later renamed Hellas Flying Dolphins, in 2002), which is the ancestor of Hellenic Seaways. The company was almost a monopoly on the Cyclades, and the lone operator on the Western Cyclades (besides GA Ferries), during their existence which lasted from 1999 to 2005. The ships operating in Milos this time were the legendary EXPRESS MILOS (better known to passengers as the MILOS EXPRESS, which was the name she used during her stay on the Western Cyclades with the company Lindos Lines from 1989 to 1999), the EXPRESS PEGASUS, which also went by the name of EXPRESS DIONYSOS from 1999 to 2002, the EXPRESS APOLLON (in 2003 only) and the EXPRESS APHRODITE. The latter three also operated for Hellenic Seaways, though the EXPRESS APHRODITE was sold to Egyptian-Saudi Arabian company Namma Lines in 2007, while the EXPRESS APOLLON was sold to European Seaways during the same year and finished her career with them as the APOLLON, before heading for scrap in 2010. The EXPRESS PEGASUS is still owned by Hellenic Seaways, and now operates on the Lavrion-Agios Efstratios-Limnos-Kavala line, having been deployed there since the summer of 2015.

We spent another short time in the dock, and we then left for Sifnos. The departure from the Adamantas Bay was longer than the arrival, and we spent the next two hours in the sea, before ultimately reaching Sifnos.

The beautiful village and port of Kamares in Sifnos.

The small and beautiful port of Sifnos.

Sifnos, another beautiful island I hope to visit in the future.

Inside the ship, I got to see an original asset added by Sea Jets: Ancient Cyclades statuettes displayed on glass windows. They thus symbolised the company's traditional presence on the Cyclades.

Some traditional Cyclades pottery work.

The famous Ancient Cyclades statuettes seen in the shelves of the Economy Class section.

After two more hours, we were approaching the Attica region, and I saw Lavrion from a far distance. We were soon arriving in Piraeus. Behind the ship, I saw a small green silhouette which was constantly becoming bigger and bigger as it approached us. It turned out to be the HIGHSPEED 6 of Hellenic Seaways. This ship operates on the Piraeus-Ios-Santorini line. An interesting fact to point out: she left Piraeus at 07:00 (an hour before the departure of the CHAMPION JET 1 from Santorini), arrived in Santorini at 12:00 (when the CHAMPION JET 1 was still trying to enter Milos), and now had managed to get past the Sea Jets ship on the way back to Piraeus. It seems to me that Hellenic Seaways was this summer's winner in the high speed craft sector on the Aegean Sea.

The HIGHSPEED 6 ready to pass by the CHAMPION JET 1. Both ships were built in the same shipbuilding yard (Incat) and both spent the beginning of their careers in Western Europe before being sold to their respective Greek companies.

The HIGHSPEED 6 belongs to the upgraded class of that of the CHAMPION JET 1. Indeed, the latter belongs to the Incat 86m WPC-class, while the former is part of the Incat 96m WPC-class. She is 10 metres longer than her Sea Jets rival, and has a larger passenger and vehicle capacity.

The HIGHSPEED 6 on her way towards Piraeus. It was her third season in a row on the Piraeus-Ios-Santorini line, while it was also her third consecutive season performing evening trips on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos line as well. Before that, she had spent two seasons (2011 and 2012) on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Ios-Santorini line. And before that spell, she had spent the 2010 season (her debut season under Hellenic Seaways) on the Piraeus-Serifos-Sifnos-Kimolos-Milos-Ios-Santorini line, which was an itinerary similar to the one I had with the CHAMPION JET 1.

The HIGHSPEED 6 in what was her sixth overall season with Hellenic Seaways.

The HIGHSPEED 6 having passed by the CHAMPION JET 1 while reaching the port of Piraeus.

A view from the stern, as we begin to approach Piraeus.

We arrived near the Piraeus Roads. There, I saw the first ship leaving the port: my namesake ship, the ALEXANDROS of my WAYS. This ship operates on the Piraeus-Northern Aegina line, serving the ports of Souvala and Agia Marina.

Upon entering the port, the laid-up JET FERRY 1of GA Ferries was welcoming us next to the entrance. This high speed ferry was finally removed from the port in late 2015, and she was sold for scrap in early 2016. The interesting fact is that she was only two years older than the similarly-named CHAMPION JET 1, though the latter came to Greece 16 years after the former.

The JET FERRY 1 of the now-defunct company GA Ferries.

After going through the E1 gate, I saw a ship undergoing drydocking operations. It was Fast Ferries' most recent acquisition, the FAST FERRIES ANDROS (formerly the EPTANISOS of Strintzis Ferries) which was undergoing her final preparations before being deployed on her company's new line: the Rafina-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line.

An oil supply tanker of Aegean Maritime Petroleum, the AEGEAN ORION, leaving Piraeus.

The floating museum HELLAS LIBERTY, one of the rare preserved Liberty ships around the world.

The hydrofoil FLYING DOLPHIN XVII of Hellenic Seaways was seen leaving Piraeus for the islands of the Saronic Gulf.

The FLYING DOLPHIN XVII leaving Piraeus. She operates on the Piraeus-Aegina-Agistri-Poros-Hydra-Ermioni-Spetses-Porto Cheli line.

The FAST FERRIES ANDROS seen the Main Vassiliadis Drydock. Her funnel features the initial of the last name of the owner of Fast Ferries, Theologos Panagiotakis.

On the cruise terminal was the modern cruise ship AZAMARA JOURNEY, owned by Azamara Club Cruises, an American company which is a subsidiary of giants Royal Caribbean Cruises.

The KNOSSOS PALACE of Minoan Lines, awaiting her departure for Heraklion.

The HIGHSPEED 6 having already docked in Piraeus.

Another surprising moment. The SPEEDRUNNER IV of Aegean Speed Lines, which I had previously seen Milos, was leaving Piraeus for her afternoon schedule to the Western Cyclades. This meant that despite leaving Milos 30 minutes before the CHAMPION JET 1 and going to one more island than the latter (Serifos), she had managed to return to Piraeus and to leave at the moment the CHAMPION JET 1 arrived back in the Athens port. So there too, Aegean Speed Lines was the winner. Behind her is the BLUE STAR PATMOS of Blue Star Ferries, which was the ferry I took from Piraeus to Santorini on 7-8 July 2015.

A view of Piraeus from where the CHAMPION JET 1 was standing: (From left to right) The KNOSSOS PALACE, the bow of the KRITI II of ANEK Lines, the SPEEDRUNNER IV departing the port, the BLUE STAR PATMOS and the HIGHSPEED 6.

The SPEEDRUNNER IV seen departing the port of Piraeus..

The SPEEDRUNNER IV seen leaving Piraeus.

The SPEEDRUNNER IV and the KNOSSOS PALACE seen together in Piraeus.

The SPEEDRUNNER IV preparing to exit the port of Piraeus.

The KNOSSOS PALACE and the KRITI II of ANEK Lines seen together in Piraeus. Both ships operate on the Piraeus-Heraklion line.

The impressive KNOSSOS PALACE seen resting in Piraeus. She has been the flagship of Minoan Lines since she entered service for them in 2000. All her career has so far been spent on the Piraeus-Heraklion line.

The KRITI II, which has been on the Piraeus-Heraklion line since the 2015 season. She had also served on that same line from 2002 to 2008, as well as in 2010.

The laid-up PANAGIA TINOU of Ventouris Sea Lines, awaiting her fate.

The HIGHSPEED 6 now resting in Piraeus.

The KNOSSOS PALACE seen resting in Piraeus.

The CHAMPION JET 1 underwent her maneuvering procedure in the departure gate of all Sea Jets ships operating from Piraeus, the E9 gate. We left the ship at exactly 16:00, which was four hours behind the scheduled timetable of the ship. Though the trip was a disappointment due to the long time it took for the ship to arrive in Piraeus, it was still a pleasant experience, as I managed to see the Western Cyclades for the first time, as well as to travel with a high speed ferry for the first time in my life. I am sure that this year the CHAMPION JET 1, now fully-refurbished, will have a great season, which is full of expectations for her company.

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