• Alexandros Vrailas

MARE DI LEVANTE Tribute and Moments of Trip

Trip: 30 July 2017. From Kyllini to Zakynthos, with the MARE DI LEVANTE of Levante Ferries.

The MARE DI LEVANTE was built in Japan in 1984. Her initial name was NIIHAMA 2, and she operated for the same company which owned her fellow future Ionian Sea partner, the DIONISIOS SOLOMOS of Zante Ferries (then known as the ROYAL KAWANOE), Shikoku Chuo Ferry, on the Osaka-Kobe-Kawanoe-Niihama line. In 1994 she was sold to South Korean company Kukjae Express and was renamed KUKJAE EXPRESS FERRY 2, and in 1999 she was renamed SEA WORLD EXPRESS FERRY. She operated on the Busan-Jeju line under both names.

In 2003 she was bought by Zakynthos-based company Tyrogalas Ferries and was renamed IONIAN STAR. That company had been founded in 1973 (30 years before the purchase of the ship), and had been operating the ferry PROTEUS (now owned by ANES Ferries and operating on the Sporades) since that year, as well as the small ferry IONIS since 1993. After having acquired the latter ship, she became part of the Zakynthos-based Ionian Ferries joint venture, which was formed with former rival operator Zante Ferries, and later with ANEZ. The company owned the PROTEUS until 2006 when she was sold to ANES Ferries, and the IONIS until 2016, when she was acquired by Saronic Gulf company Leve Ferries.

The IONIAN STAR underwent a major conversion initially in South Korea and later in Greece (in Perama), with a replaced bow, new stabilisers and many new passenger amenities. She entered service on the Kyllini-Zakynthos line in late 2003. She also operated occasionally on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line during the summer. After 12 successful years with Tyrogalas Ferries, the ship was sold to Levante Ferries, a new company in the area that quickly attracted passengers thanks to its new impressive ferry, the FIOR DI LEVANTE. Initially operating independently from Ionian Ferries, this company managed to move two Ionian Sea ships out of the area: the IONIS was transferred to the Saronic Gulf, and the ANDREAS KALVOS of Zante Ferries was deployed on the Western Cyclades for the 2015 season. By purchasing the IONIAN STAR, the company eventually managed to remove Tyrogalas Ferries from its own main area of operations, as they subsequently did not have any ships on the Ionian Sea, and only had the IONIS on the Saronic Gulf, where the latter operated before being sold to Leve Ferries in 2016, and thus marking the end of the company. The sale of the IONIAN STAR therefore also marked the end of the Ionian Ferries joint venture and the beginning of the new Ionian Group joint venture, which was formed by Levante Ferries with two ships and Zante Ferries with one ship (initially the DIONISIOS SOLOMOS). After a short stint on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line from the fall of 2015 to the winter of 2016, the IONIAN STAR underwent a minor conversion in 2016 in Perama, during which she was renamed MARE DI LEVANTE. She subsequently resumed service on both the Kyllini-Zakynthos line and the Kyllini-Kefalonia line, where she has since been operating.

Under both names and owners she has worked for, the MARE DI LEVANTE has been one of the most successful ferries on the Kyllini-Zakynthos line, as well as on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line. She was undoubtedly the best ferry in the area prior to the arrival of the FIOR DI LEVANTE, and has been appreciated for her constant and regular service, being able to operate over the entire year with few days off service in order to undergo her annual refit. The minor conversion she had under Levante Ferries during the spring of 2016 made her even more comfortable and improved her passenger amenities.

So this is a general overview of the ship's history and importance within the Ionian Sea. Regarding my experience with her, she is the ship on which I have traveled the most while going from Kyllini to Zakynthos and vice versa. Indeed, since her arrival as the IONIAN STAR in 2003, I remember using her several times during my childhood. In recent years, I certainly remember having traveled onboard her in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014, with the latter three years always being trips from Zakynthos to Kyllini. Hence, my trip with her in 2017 was my first one with her in three years, and also, symbolically, my first trip onboard her under her new name and owners.

My trip was held on 30 July 2017, just a day after making my return from Sifnos to Piraeus with the SPEEDRUNNER III of Aegean Speed Lines (which was, during the 2016 season, a fleetmate of the MARE DI LEVANTE, being chartered for the summer by Levante Ferries to serve the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line). I left with my family at noon in order to go to Zakynthos, one of the two islands I go to every summer for my family vacation. After being on the road from Athens to Kyllini for three hours, we finally reached the latter, where the MARE DI LEVANTE was waiting for us.

The MARE DI LEVANTE seen in Kyllini. You can also see the FIOR DI LEVANTE maneuvering on the right.

We immediately embarked onboard. Here is a view of the upper deck garage, completely full as it was the beginning of the very high season (late July to mid August).

The welcome sign next to the passenger entrance in the garage, featuring the company's script logo.

The lower passenger accommodation superstructure deck features a passenger lounge area, a small bar and several seats regrouped around tables.

The passenger lounge area of the ship, which was recently refitted following the ship's minor conversion in 2016.

In the middle section of the ship one can find aircraft-style seats, alongside TV screens hanging on the walls.

The front section of the lounge area, full of passengers.

Another view of the forward section of the lounge area.

The front section of the lounge area, with the well-known front section windows of the ship in the background.

The staircase leading to the upper deck, showing posters of sailing boats and of Zakynthos beaches.

The ship's deckplan. It is notable to see that the funnel on the drawing features the logo of her former owners Tyrogalas Ferries, while, on the upper right side of the paper, her former name, the IONIAN STAR, is still visible.

The starboard side outdoor alley of the ship leading to the bow section.

Another view of the starboard side alley.

The upper outdoor deck, featuring several seats, as well as a small accommodation block. Its wooden door now displays the logo of her new owners, Levante Ferries.

This deck has the ship's public restrooms, whose doors are decorated with pictures of sailing boats.

The stern section of the outdoor area of the ship, which features her funnels, the restrooms and, at the back, the exterior sun deck.

The forward section of the outdoor area, featuring the bridge and the crew cabins.

The ship's foremast, which has been painted in black since her sale to Levante Ferries. Prior to that, while being owned by Tyrogalas Ferries, it was painted dark blue, as it was the case with the company's other former ferries, the PROTEUS and the IONIS.

Next to the MARE DI LEVANTE was her former rival and current fleetmate, the FIOR DI LEVANTE, which was departing for Kefalonia.

The FIOR DI LEVANTE departing Kyllini.

The FIOR DI LEVANTE seen departing Kyllini.

The FIOR DI LEVANTE leaving Kyllini.

The FIOR DI LEVANTE seen leaving the port Kyllini.

The FIOR DI LEVANTE leaving Kyllini and beginning to head towards Kefalonia.

The FIOR DI LEVANTE leaving Kyllini. I would go on to travel with her on 7 August 2017, in my return trip from Zakynthos to Kyllini.

The FIOR DI LEVANTE in her third straight season on the Ionian Sea and in Greece as a whole.

The amazing FIOR DI LEVANTE heading towards Kefalonia.

As the FIOR DI LEVANTE began to head towards Kefalonia, I spotted another ship heading this time towards Kyllini.

It was the ZAKYNTHOS 1 of rival operator Kefalonian Lines, which was returning from her namesake island, Zakynthos.

The ZAKYNTHOS 1 was formerly a partner of the MARE DI LEVANTE (when she was known as the IONIAN STAR) when she operated for her owners ANEZ, back when they were part of the now-defunct Ionian Ferries joint venture, from 1993 to 2006 and from 2012 to to 2013.

The ZAKYNTHOS 1 has been chartered to Kefalonian Lines by ANEZ since 2014. 2017 hence marked her fourth straight summer operating for the Kefalonia-based company.

The ZAKYNTHOS 1 heading towards Kyllini.

The ZAKYNTHOS 1 seen heading towards Kyllini.

The ZAKYNTHOS 1 heading towards the port of Kyllini.

The ZAKYNTHOS 1 approaching the port of Kyllini.

Another view of the ZAKYNTHOS 1 approaching the port of Kyllini.

A view of the ship's stern from the upper deck.

As we started to approach the island of Zakynthos, I spotted another ferry heading from the latter to Kyllini. This time it was the ANDREAS KALVOS of Zante Ferries.

The ANDREAS KALVOS en route from Zakynthos to Kyllini. That summer marked her first one back on the Ionian Sea, after having spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons on the Piraeus-Kythnos-Serifos-Sifnos-Milos-Kimolos line alongside the company's other ship operating on the Aegean Sea, the ADAMANTIOS KORAIS.

After spending two seasons on the Western Cyclades with mixed reviews, the ANDREAS KALVOS returned to the Ionian Sea, where she had previously been operating from 2003 to 2014. Her service on the Western Cyclades was taken over by the recently-converted DIONISIOS SOLOMOS, which was deployed on the Aegean Sea for the first time in her Greek coastal service career, which began in 1999.

The ANDREAS KALVOS also spent her first summer on the Ionian Sea since her own conversion, which took place in 2015.

The ANDREAS KALVOS heading from Zakynthos to Kyllini.

The ANDREAS KALVOS seen heading from Zakynthos to Kyllini.

The ANDREAS KALVOS having just passed by us.

Another view of the ANDREAS KALVOS.

After an hour, we began to approach the port of Zakynthos, with the small passenger boat port being the first to greet us. There I was able to spot the ships DIMOSTHENIS and DIMOSTHENIS K, both owned by Top Cruiser.

The DIMOSTHENIS, which has spent her entire career in Zakynthos since being built in 1999. She operates around the island and also stops in the small island Marathonisi.

Next to the two ships of Top Cruiser was the small ship ANNOULA II of TUI Zakynthos, which also performs trips around Zakynthos and stops in Marathonisi.

A view of the DIMOSTHENIS K, which is five years older than her fleetmate, the DIMOSTHENIS.

On the right side of the port's entrance, I could see other passenger boats: the pirate tour ship MENIA MARIA I and the DELFINI, both owned by Voutirakos Cruises.

The MENIA MARIA I and the DELFINI seen together in Zakynthos.

The DELFINI resting in Zakynthos.

The small passenger ship SPARTACUS, owned by Cruisemar, returning to Zakynthos

The DIMOSTHENIS and the DIMOSTHENIS K.

The DIMOSTHENIS K resting in Zakynthos.

And another view of the DIMOSTHENIS, as we began to maneuver in Zakynthos.

And this was the end of the trip, my first one with the MARE DI LEVANTE under her current name and owners. The ship certainly became even better following her small conversion, and is set to provide her efficient and reliable service in Zakynthos and Kefalonia for years to come.

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