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  • Alexandros Vrailas

SUPERFERRY Tribute and Moments of Trip

Trip: 14 June 2018. From Rafina to Ios, via Andros, Tinos, Mykonos and Paros, with the SUPERFERRY of Golden Star Ferries.

The SUPERFERRY seen leaving Mykonos a few days after my trip with her.

The passenger ferry SUPERFERRY was built in Japan in 1995. She was initially known as the KOGANE MARU of Japanese company Sado Kisen, and was deployed on the Naoetsu-Ogi line, which connects the two Japanese islands of Honshu (Japan's 'main' island) and Sado, where her initial owners are based. She had one sister ship, the OKESA MARU (built two years before her), which still operates for Sado Kisen to date. She had an extremely successful stint there, as she was a very modern, comfortable and reliable ferry operating throughout both day and night. After spending twenty years on the line, she was replaced by a newly-built high speed ferry, the AKANE. As a result, she was sold in 2015 to a Greek company, the Andros-based Golden Star Ferries.

This company has been one of Greece's most promising coastal service companies, as it has experienced an impressive growth over the past years. It was founded in 2010 by the brothers Georgios and Dimitris Stefanou, shipowners originally from Andros and who had experience in shipping through the freight company Bright Navigation. Golden Star Ferries had its first breakthrough in the Greek coastal service by acquiring the legendary SUPERFERRY II of Blue Star Ferries in order to extend her career on her highly-acclaimed line: the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line. She was delivered in 2011 and resumed her service on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos line. As her service continued to be extremely successful despite strong competition, the company decided to expand its fleet by initially deciding to buy another ship from Sado Kisen, the 1988-built OSADO MARU in 2013, with planned delivery to Greece in 2014 and a conversion that would be completed in 2015. Sado Kisen agreed to sell the ship to Golden Star Ferries, but when the time came for them to take over the ship in Japan, the two owners were amazed by her younger fleetmate, the KOGANE MARU, and thought that she would be more efficient for service on the Cyclades. Hence, as the KOGANE MARU was supposed to depart the fleet of Sado Kisen in 2015, they decided to buy her, selling the OSADO MARU to Indonesian company Sekawan Maju Sejahtera (where she now operates under the name SMS SAGITA). Despite initial reports suggesting that the ship would be converted in Portugal, she was instead converted in Perama throughout the whole of 2015, in order to enter service for her new owners in 2016.

She arrived in Perama under the provisional name GOLDEN FERRY, and underwent a major conversion which lasted almost a year, seeing completely renovated interior areas and improved passenger accommodation. She finally entered service in 2016, having been renamed SUPERFERRY and having been registered in Andros. She was deployed on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line that summer, operating alongside her new fleetmate, the SUPERFERRY II, which was serving the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Paros line. Her introduction to the Greek coastal service was immediately successful, and she was praised for her impressive amenities and outdoor areas, as well as for the professionalism and friendliness of her crew. In 2017 she was on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos line instead of the SUPERFERRY II. Success continued, and she was a key contributor to her company's nomination as the 'Passenger Line of the Year' that year at the popular Lloyd's List Greek Shipping Awards. 2017 also saw her company acquiring its third ship and first high speed craft, the SUPERRUNNER (ex-SPEEDRUNNER IV of Aegean Speed Lines), which was deployed on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line. Her service was also very successful, and formed a fierce rivalry with the equally-successful TERA JET of Sea Jets. Due to the success of both companies on the Rafina-Cyclades lines, competition became extremely strong (highlighted notably by price wars during the summer of 2017), and Golden Star Ferries sought to expand both its fleet and operations on the Cyclades and Crete, where Sea Jets also operates extremely successful connections from Heraklion and Rethymnon to the Cyclades. As a result, two new high speed craft were purchased in order to enter service in the 2018 summer season, while the SUPERFERRY and the SUPERFERRY II were to be deployed on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Ios-Santorini-Heraklion line, hence connecting Rafina with Crete for the first time in Greek coastal service history. Despite doubts and pessimism by the media, the service was very successful in its first summer, and the company hence cemented its place in both the Cyclades and Crete, despite the length of the line and the big amount of stops in different islands.

So this is a quick historical yet important background of the SUPERFERRY and Golden Star Ferries, as it provides the overall context of the reasons behind a trip which included stops in four islands before I could reach my final destination. I was supposed to go to Ios in order to spend a one-week-long vacation stay in the Cyclades with university friends, with the two islands being Ios and Mykonos (more posts about my experience there to come in the upcoming months). I had just arrived in Greece two days prior to the trip, and decided to do the trip from Athens to Ios in a less traditional way. Indeed, instead of leaving from Piraeus with a high speed craft, I decided to take the conventional ferry from Rafina, which is why I was able to travel with the SUPERFERRY. It was officially my first trip of the 2018 summer season in Greece, my first-ever trip by a ship owned by Golden Star Ferries, my first-ever trip from Rafina to another destination, and, finally, my first-ever trip on the Aegean Sea whereupon the Athens-based port of departure was not Piraeus.

I arrived from Athens to Rafina by taxi cab very early in the morning with my good friend, taxi driver Mr. Dimitris. The SUPERFERRY was due to leave at 07:50 from the port for her first destination, Andros. The scenery upon my arrival in the port was the one that I had expected: full of ships ready to depart for the Cyclades Islands during the day, with ferries from the various companies based in Rafina, such as Golden Star Ferries, Sea Jets, Fast Ferries, Hellenic Seaways, and more. Due to competitive measures, all ships are to leave Rafina between 07:00 and 08:30, though no ships belonging to the same company can depart at the same time or within ten minutes between them. The port was obviously packed and the vehicles and passengers were patiently waiting to board any docked ship.

The ship's lower garage deck, usually filled for vehicles heading to the first three destinations (Andros, Tinos and Mykonos).

The ferry's reception desk right next to escalators transporting passengers from the entrance to the lounge area. As you can see it is quite small and painted in blue, the company's main colour. The script logo of Golden Star Ferries is hung up on the wall, over a nice wreath.

The ship's deckplan.

The first passenger deck, Deck 5, features the lounge areas, which are all decorated with pictures from the islands served by the SUPERFERRY. This one is an aerial view of the old town of Andros, the island of origin of the Stefanou brothers.

The intersection area of Deck 5, which leads to the forward lounge areas and to the staircase and elevators taking passengers to the other decks.

The lounge area located there is the Chora (Andros) Lounge, as shown by this signpost. The Chora is, at it is the case with most Cyclades Islands, the main town and village, basically the island's 'capital'.

The ship's floorplan. Decks 5-7 include the passenger lounge areas, the aircraft-style seats, WC and bars. Deck 8 features the outdoor lounge area (for First Class), the hospital cabin and the bridge. Deck 6 also features cabins.

The escalators connecting Deck 5 with the garage (which is part of Decks 3 and 4). The company's logo can again be seen hanging on the wall.

A view of the Chora (Andros) Lounge, featuring many chairs and tables right next to the windows.

The back of the Chora (Andros) Lounge, featuring a giant TV screen in the background.

At the opposite of the Chora (Andros) Lounge is the Naoussa (Paros) Lounge, named after Paros' well-known village, which is one of the prettiest on the Cyclades.

I quickly went to have a little look at Deck 6. Next the staircase leading me there, a black-and-white picture of the legendary Andros lighthouse and of the Church of Panagia Thalassini was seen attached to the wall.

A quick view of the Achla (Andros) First Class Lounge, featuring nice white and red chairs and a bar in the back.

The signpost of the Achla (Andros) First Class Lounge. Achla is the name of one of Andros' prettiest and most popular beaches.

As one heads towards the stern section of Deck 6, he or she can see aircraft-style seats, all of which feature the logo of Golden Star Ferries.

And even further back is the Pyrgos (Tinos) Lounge, whose signpost is at the entrance of the room.

A view of the Pyrgos (Tinos) Lounge, with white chairs and tables and a small bar right next to the entrance.

The Pyrgos (Tinos) Lounge also features a few exhibits: Ancient Greek sculptures that were most likely made on the Cyclades.

Outside the Pyrgos (Tinos) Lounge is the outdoor area at the level of the stern. It is connected to Deck 7 through the ship's well-known wooden staircase, which underwent a particular refit during the conversion.

The stern outdoor area featuring several chairs and tables.

An extended view of the outdoor area, with a bar located in the middle (it was closed before the ship's departure, and is only operational while the ship is traveling).

Another view of the outdoor area.

At the front section of Deck 6 is the front balcony, from which passengers have a full view of the ship from the bow's perspective. This balcony was already on the ship during her Japanese years.

While heading upwards Deck 7 has, on both sides, two alleys for passengers to walk and sit while admiring the view of the sea. Here is the alley from the port side.

The alley on the starboard side. The accommodation block on this deck features cabins, used by the crew.

One the two visible lifeboats of the SUPERFERRY.

Finally, the highest point one can reach aboard the SUPERFERRY is Deck 8, which has a completely open outdoor area. The front section is where the bridge is located, alongside the foremast. Behind them are seven wooden houses where pets traveling along with passengers are kept during the trip.

In the open deck is the helicopter landing area in case of emergency. It features the IMO number of the ship (9110016), printed in yellow characters.

A wider view of Deck 8.

At the back of this large open area is the ship's funnel.

The funnel of the SUPERFERRY, painted in blue and carrying the gold star, which is the logo of Golden Star Ferries.

At the starboard side of the SUPERFERRY in Rafina was the high speed ferry PAROS JET of Sea Jets, which was preparing for departure.

The funnel of the PAROS JET, painted in dark blue and carrying the well-known logo of Sea Jets.

The PAROS JET in what was her fourth summer under Sea Jets, and her third consecutive while serving the Cyclades from Rafina. Though the summer of 2018 found her operating across all of the Aegean Sea, as she was Sea Jets' spare ship in case one of its other ferries would have an issue during the summer.

Right next to her, I spotted the high speed catamaran FLYINGCAT 4 of Hellenic Seaways departing Rafina.

The FLYINGCAT 4 in what was her twentieth summer operating in the Greek coastal service, and her fourteenth under Hellenic Seaways. In 2018, she was on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Ios-Sikinos-Folegandros line.

The summer of 2018 was the FLYINGCAT 4's first on the Cyclades and from Rafina since 2015. In 2016 and 2017 she was in Northern Greece, connecting the Sporades Islands with Thessaloniki (and also Agios Konstantinos in 2016).

The FLYINGCAT 4 departing Rafina and heading towards Tinos.

The FLYINGCAT 4 heading towards Tinos at dawn.

A view of the port of Rafina.

The PAROS JET ready to depart. Despite her being in Greece since 2015, this day marked the first time that I saw her with my own eyes.

Just after the FLYINGCAT 4 left Rafina, another high speed craft could be seen departing the port. This time, it was one of the SUPERFERRY's fleetmates, the high speed ferry SUPERRUNNER.

The SUPPERRUNNER, previously known as the SPEEDRUNNER IV of Aegean Speed Lines, seen leaving Rafina.

The summer of 2018 was her second with Golden Star Ferries. Just like it was the case in her Golden Star Ferries debut season in 2017, the ship was operating on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line.

The SUPERRUNNER seen leaving Rafina. She was the first high speed craft bought by Golden star Ferries. Two more have followed since, though they only transport passengers. The first one is the SUPERSPEED, which was deployed on the Thessaloniki-Skiathos-Skopelos-Alonissos line for 2018, replacing the FLYINGCAT 4 which returned to the Cyclades. The second one is the SUPERCAT, which is still being prepared in Perama and Salamina.

The SUPERRUNNER leaving Rafina in order to head towards Tinos, her first destination.

The SUPERRUNNER heading towards Tinos.

The SUPERRUNNER leaving Rafina.

The SUPERRUNNER heading towards Tinos, as seen by her fleetmate.

On the port side of the SUPERFERRY was one of her competitors, the passenger ferry EKATERINI P of Fast Ferries. This is one of her two funnels, displaying the letter Π, which is the Greek initial of her owners, the Panagiotakis family.

Right next to the EKATERINI P was one of her fleetmates, the FAST FERRIES ANDROS, whose turn it was to leave Rafina.

The FAST FERRIES ANDROS, also a former Japanese ferry like the SUPERFERRY, seen leaving Rafina.

The FAST FERRIES ANDROS heading towards Andros. This summer was her fourth under her owners, having been acquired in 2015 by Fast Ferries from Kefalonia-based Strintzis Ferries. She was owned by the latter from 2003 to 2015 and was known as the EPTANISOS.

The funnel of the Fast Ferries, also bearing the letter Π. The funnel's shape is one of the most recognisable in the Greek coastal service. Though she had it since the start of her career in Japan, Strintzis Ferries made it wider and taller during her conversion in Perama after she had arrived in Greece in 2003.

Another view of the PAROS JET, ready to leave the port of Rafina. She was deployed on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line alongside the TERA JET for the month of June. She had previously operated on the same line alongside the Sea Jets flagship during the 2017 season, and both were extremely successful, which as a result threatened Golden Star Ferries, though they also responded to the competition very efficiently.

The PAROS JET leaving Rafina for Tinos.

The PAROS JET seen departing Rafina.

The PAROS JET leaving right after the FAST FERRIES ANDROS and the SUPERRUNNER (her main competitor). It is fair to say that the Golden Star Ferries-Sea Jets rivalry from Rafina to the Cyclades is impressive from a shipping enthusiast's point of view.

On the left side of the EKATERINI P was Golden Star Ferries' main threat: the TERA JET of Sea Jets. Here is her funnel, which also features the Sea Jets logo.

A view of the Southern coast of Rafina.

With the SUPERFERRY now due to depart, I spotted another ferry, though it was the only one arriving at the port of Rafina (as all were leaving). It was another Japanese-built ferry, the EVIA STAR of Geraistos NE, which operates on the Rafina-Marmari line (Marmari is a port located at the South part of the island of Evoia, on the Petalioi Gulf).

The EVIA STAR was initially a Japanese Ro-Ro carrier which was converted into a passenger ferry in 2000. She was operating on the Rafina-Marmari line for the eighteenth straight summer.

The EVIA STAR approaching the port of Rafina. She operates on the Rafina-Marmari line alongside the PANORAMA of Panorama Shipping, which has been on the line since late 2011.

The EVIA STAR preparing to maneuver in Rafina.

The EVIA STAR seen preparing to undergo her maneuvering procedure in Rafina.

The EVIA STAR ready to maneuver in Rafina.

The EVIA STAR maneuvering in Rafina, as the SUPERFERRY prepares to depart.

The EVIA STAR seen maneuvering in Rafina.

The EKATERINI P seen next to the SUPERFERRY as the latter departs and begins her trip.

The impressive TERA JET, which was however resting that day as she did not have any planned itinerary.

The TERA JET in what was her second season in a row in Rafina. However, in 2018, she also operated in Andros, in addition to Tinos, Mykonos, Paros and Naxos.

The Japanese bow of the EKATERINI P, which was the last ship due to depart from Rafina.

The TERA JET resting in Rafina.

The EVIA STAR having just finished maneuvering in Rafina.

Two rivals, the classic ferry EKATERINI P and the high speed ferry TERA JET, together in the port of Rafina.

Another view of the TERA JET, Sea Jets' flagship.

The EVIA STAR preparing to dock in Rafina.

Three ferries seen from the departing SUPERFERRY: the EVIA STAR, the EKATERINI P and the TERA JET.

The TERA JET seen once again.

The EKATERINI P seen again. For the third straight season, she was operating on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos line, being the only ship of Fast Ferries serving the latter island (she also made stops in Andros in 2017). She has been owned by Fast Ferries since 1999, but has been serving Rafina and the Cyclades since 2012. Before that she was on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu line on the Ionian Sea.

The EVIA STAR having just docked in Rafina.

Another view of the three ferries seen from the departing SUPERFERRY: the EVIA STAR, the EKATERINI P and the TERA JET.

The TERA JET seen again.

About thirty minutes after the ship's departure, the island of Evoia could be spotted from a far distance.

Almost two hours after the departure from Rafina and after having passed by Southern Evoia and the cape known as Cavo Doro (one of the most dangerous places for shipping on the Aegean Sea due to intense wind and narrow rocks), we were now headed for the first destination: Andros, the island of registry of the SUPERFERRY and the island from which her owners come from.

Andros was now clearly visible to us. We now just needed to enter the Gavrion Bay, named after Gavrion, which is the main port of the island.

Right upon spotting the Gavrion Bay, I saw the FAST FERRIES ANDROS leaving, after she had docked in the port. She was now heading towards Tinos.

The FAST FERRIES ANDROS having left her namesake island.

The FAST FERRIES ANDROS, in what was her fourth summer with Fast Ferries. Her first one was spent on the Rafina-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line, where the results were mostly mixed. Since 2016, she has been on her company's main line: the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, which is served by her other fleetmates as well (though the EKATERINI P did not make calls in Andros but in Naxos in 2018).

Andros seen from the SUPERFERRY.

The beautiful FAST FERRIES ANDROS leaving Andros and heading towards Tinos.

The FAST FERRIES ANDROS, nowadays one of the most successful day ferries on the Cyclades. She and the SUPERFERRY briefly served the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line under Blue Star Ferries as the BLUE STAR PATMOS had an accident in Ios in 2017, which required her to be replaced by the BLUE STAR NAXOS, which was due to serve the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line in late 2017. The FAST FERRIES ANDROS was chartered to Blue Star Ferries from October 2017 to February 2018.