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  • Writer's pictureAlexandros Vrailas

FLYING DOLPHIN XVII Tribute and Moments of Trip

Trip: 19 July 2021. From Piraeus to Aegina, with the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII of Hellenic Seaways.

The hydrofoil FLYING DOLPHIN XVII was built in Georgia (then part of the Soviet Union) in 1984, after having been ordered by the Greek hydrofoil company Ceres Flying Dolphins. The latter, which had been established in 1975, became one of the most innovative comapnies of the 1970s, as it successfully introduced hydrofoils on the Saronic Gulf and later on the Sporades, with the islands on both areas encountering unprecedented passenger traffic as a result of trips lasting much shorter than with the conventional vessels of the time. Because of this successful start, the company had found itself with a fleet of 15 hydrofoils by the 1981 season, with all of them under the iconic 'Flying Dolphin' brandname. To further expand its services, the company ordered hydrofoils belonging to the Kolkhida-class in 1983. This was in sharp contrast to the other hydrofoils, which belonged to the smaller Kometa-class. The Kolkhida-class featured more modern and larger hydrofoils, which could hence accommodate more passengers. To that end, they ordered two new hydrofoils, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII and the sister ship FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII. The latter was introduced on the Sporades, while the former was deployed on the Saronic Gulf, on the Piraeus-Aegina-Agistri-Poros-Hydra-Ermioni-Spetses-Porto Cheli line, where she went on to spend her entire career. The company kept growing, eventually reaching a fleet of 28 small hydrofoils, three larger hydrofoils known as the 'Mega Dolphins' and two high speed catamarans by 1998. However, in 1999, Ceres Flying Dolphins was transferred to Minoan Flying Dolphins, which became Hellas Flying Dolphins in 2002 and then was renamed Hellenic Seaways in 2005. Despite these changes, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII remained on the Saronic Gulf, always on the Piraeus-Aegina-Agistri-Poros-Hydra-Ermioni-Spetses-Porto Cheli line. Even though she was supposed to be retired in 2014 because of the completion of her 30 years of service, Hellenic Seaways was granted a one-year extension for both her and the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII. Then, even though her service was due to end in 2015, the hydrofoil was again granted an indefinite extension, allowing her to continue her operations on the Saronic Gulf. As a result of the introduction of newer high speed vessels in Greece, combined with the fact that most hydrofoils were aging and were underperforming from a technical perspective, as well as the mandatory forced retirement of these vessels at age 30 (up until 2015), and a few saw their careers end abruptly due to experiencing accidents while sailing or while undergoing their refits, Hellenic Seaways found itself with only three hydrofoils in 2012, and all of them deployed on the Saronic Gulf: the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIX, the youngest of all hydrofoils as she was built in 1993. In 2019, the company's hydrofoil fleet changed as the FLYING DOLPHIN XVIII was destroyed by a fire while she was undergoing her refit, which led to her being scrapped at the end of the year. As a result, the company reactivated the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX, another Kolkhida-class hydrofoil which was built in 1983 and which joined Ceres Flying Dolphins in 1986, which had been taken out of service in 2012 after she had grounded off in the islet of Metopi (located between Aegina and Agistri) and had remained laid-up in Perama. After undergoing an extensive repair and refit, she returned to service on the Saronic Gulf in 2020, joining the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIX.

The FLYING DOLPHIN XVII seen docked in Piraeus in the morning of 19 July 2021, on the same day that I got to travel with her.

So this is a quick overview of the career of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, which has been providing an uninterrupted service on the Saronic Gulf for almost four decades. She is currently the longest-serving hydrofoil in Greece, as well as the longest-serving passenger ship on the Saronic Gulf. Only the one-day cruise ship COSMOS of Evermore Cruises has operated for a longer period than her on the Saronic Gulf (almost 50 years), although she has been only performing cruises since 1984 (the year in which the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII was built). She is currently the third oldest ship of Hellenic Seaways, after the ferry EXPRESS PEGASUS (built in 1977, although likely to be sold for scrap soon) and the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX (built in 1983). Despite encountering more frequent technical issues in the past few years as a result of her aging engines, she nevertheless continues to provide stable service on the Saronic Gulf and to serve the islands during the busy high season, when more trips occur. Hellenic Seaways is however planning to soon replace her and her fleetmates, as it announced in early 2021 that it proceeded to order three newly-built high speed catamarans in Norway, which are scheduled to enter service during the 2022 season. Hence, one wonders whether this will mark the end of the much-acclaimed 'Flying Dolphins', or whether they will continue to operate somewhere else or under another capacity in the future.

As I knew that the 2021 season would likely be the last one for the three hydrofoils of Hellenic Seaways (although the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX can provide additional service due to having underwent a significant refurbishment only a year ago), I had hoped to travel with at least one of them in order to enjoy them as much as I could before their pending retirement. On the occasion, I finally got to write a Tribute Post for a hydrofoil, something which I had not done in the past due to their small sizes and limited amenities, as well as the fact that they are usually fully crowded so their indoor areas cannot be seen adequately.

Despite the hydrofoil having been around way before I was born, I never happened to travel with her until 7 August 2019, while heading from Aegina to Piraeus. I then performed three trips with her in 2021, all of them while heading from Piraeus to Aegina. My second trip, on 19 July, is the one covered in the post. I went from Aegina (where I had been spending some time during my vacation) to Athens and then headed back to the island on the same day. I had reached Piraeus with the ACHAEOS of 2way Ferries, and then had, as I did not have a car with me, the chance to travel with the passenger-only hydrofoils as well. And this happened to be with the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII. Overall, I have traveled with only three hydrofoils of Hellenic Seaways: the FLYING DOLPHIN XV (now the SANTA of Greek-Albanian company Ionian Seaways, the subsidiary of Ionian Cruises) back in 2007, the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIX in 2017 and the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII in 2019 and 2021. I have also traveled several times with the FLYING DOLPHIN ATHINA of competing operator Aegean Flying Dolphins (in 2012, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2021).

As I arrived in Piraeus during the evening in order to make my way back to Aegina, I spotted the PHIVOS of Nova Ferries. Built in 1980 in Spain, she began operating in Greece in 2005, when she was introduced by her company on the Saronic Gulf. She first served the Piraeus-Aegina-Methana-Poros-Hydra line, before being restricted to the Piraeus-Aegina line from 2007 to 2013. Since the establishment of the Saronic Ferries joint venture in 2014 (which includes Nova Ferries and 2way Ferries, and also used to have Hellenic Seaways), she has been operating on the Piraeus-Aegina-Methana-Poros line.

Next to the PHIVOS was one of the surprises of the summer. Indeed, it was the landing craft ELENI of Kerkyra Seaways, which was deployed on the Piraeus-Aegina line for the 2021 season. Built in 1993 and having been operating on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu line on the Ionian Sea since 2005, she was called to replace the AGIOS NEKTARIOS AEGINAS of ANES Ferries, which was sent to operate on the Sporades, as her fleetmate operating there, the SYMI, experienced a severe engine failure which caused her to miss the rest of the summer season. As ANES Ferries had no other ship to replace the AGIOS NEKTARIOS AEGINAS on the Piraeus-Aegina line, the ELENI was called. She provided very good service, as she was the first landing craft to serve the line in 14 years.

I also happened to see the small passenger boat ELENA F of Elena F Shipping, which operates on the Piraeus-Salamina line.

The ELENA F seen in Piraeus. Built in 1998 in Greece, she has spent her entire career on the Piraeus-Salamina line, except during the 2013 season, when she was deployed on the Glyfa-Skiathos line on the Sporades.

Facing the E8 gate in Piraeus was the much-acclaimed high speed ferry WORLDCHAMPION JET of Sea Jets. Owned by the latter since late 2018, she entered service in 2019 on the Cyclades, quickly experiencing massive success as she became the fastest ferry in Greece. She spent her debut season on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line, followed by an extended service on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line in 2020, and then by serving the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line in 2021.

The WORLDCHAMPION JET seen in Piraeus, after she had returned from the Cyclades. Following her debut season in 2019, she won the 'Ship of the Year' award given by Lloyd's List, at the 2019 Lloyd's List Greek Shipping Awards.

In front of the WORLDCHAMPION JET was her fleetmate, the TERA JET. While being a major asset for her company, she was kept out of their plans during both the 2020 and 2021 summer seasons, the latter of which she spent in Piraeus. Her last service had been on the Piraeus-Paros-Ios-Santorini line in 2019.

The WORLDCHAMPION JET and the TERA JET, the two best ships of Sea Jets, seen together in Piraeus.

I then got to see the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX of Hellenic Seaways, a sister ship and fleetmate of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII. This was her second season in service on the Saronic Gulf since she was reactivated following her accident in Metopi back in 2012.

A view of the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX, which, like all hydrofoils of Hellenic Seaways, serve the Piraeus-Aegina-Agistri-Poros-Hydra-Ermioni-Spetses-Porto Cheli line.

The WORLDCHAMPION JET seen resting in Piraeus, during her third summer under Sea Jets. I traveled with her on 20 September 2020 for the time, while heading from Piraeus to Syros and back on the same day. As such, she became the fastest ship on which I ever traveled. I also got the chance to embark onboard her in 2021, as I traveled from Piraeus to Ios with her just three days after taking this picture.

Another view of the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX in Piraeus. She is the lead ship of the Kolkhida-class, as she was its first-ever ship to enter service back in 1983, when she operated on the Odessa-Yalta line under Black Sea Shipping Company-Noroflot. She was bought by Ceres Flying Dolphins in 1986, and was deployed on the Sporades. She moved to the Saronic Gulf in 2004, just a year before her company at the time, Hellas Flying Dolphins, was rebranded as Hellenic Seaways.

The WORLDCHAMPION JET seen in Piraeus during the evening, during what was yet another summer for her on the Cyclades.

The ELENA F and the FLYING DOLPHIN XIX, two different kinds of ships serving the Saronic Gulf, seen together in Piraeus.

A bit further down was the cruiseferry FESTOS PALACE of Minoan Lines, which operates on the Piraeus-Milos-Heraklion line since 2020. She was formerly the EUROPA PALACE under Minoan Lines from 2002 to 2012, before she was chartered to Italian company Tirrenia Di Navigazione as the AMSICORA from 2012 to 2018. After returning to Minoan Lines and being renamed MYKONOS PALACE in 2018, she was deployed on the Piraeus-Chania line, before being renamed FESTOS PALACE in 2020.

After seeing all these ships, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII had returned to the port of Piraeus and was heading towards her docking spot.

The FLYING DOLPHIN XVII having just returned to Piraeus, shortly before I embarked onboard her.

The FLYING DOLPHIN XVII approaching her docking spot in Piraeus.

The FLYING DOLPHIN XVII about to dock in Piraeus, with the WORLDCHAMPION JET and the TERA JET right behind her.

The FLYING DOLPHIN XVII now ready to dock in Piraeus, in preparation of her subsequent departure for Aegina.

A view of the upper deck of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, which houses the ship's bridge. Right underneath the bridge's windows, the hydrofoil's name is mentioned.

Here is a view of the main indoor area of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, which pretty much only features several rows of aircraft-style seats. Overall there are 130 seats, as this is the maximum passenger capacity for hydrofoils of the Kolkhida-class.

Another view of the indoor area of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII. The seats were certainly refurbished at some point during the 2010s.

Towards 19:00, we began to leave the port of Piraeus in order to head towards Aegina. The trip was very quick, as it usually is when embarking onboard such ships. There were no weather issues, and the trip was very smooth altogether. After just 45 minutes, the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII had arrived in Aegina and was now disembarking her passengers.

The FLYING DOLPHIN XVII seen in Aegina, right after having completed my trip with her.

Another view of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII in the port of Aegina, as she begins to load passengers in order to then head to Agistri.

While I was walking around the port, I then spotted the conventional double-ended ferry POSIDON HELLAS of 2way Ferries, which was returning to Aegina from Agistri.

The POSIDON HELLAS is seen heading towards her docking spot in Aegina. Built in 1998, she has spent her entire career so far on the Saronic Gulf, just like it has been the case for the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII. She was first deployed under Poseidon Consortium Shipping on the Piraeus-Aegina-Poros-Hydra-Spetses line, before her company was taken over by Minoan Flying Dolphins (later Hellas Flying Dolphins) in 1999. As a result, she became a fleetmate of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, as she entered service under the Saronikos Ferries division, on the Piraeus-Aegina-Agistri-Methana-Poros-Hydra-Spetses line. Her company was rebranded as Hellenic Seaways in 2005, hence she remained a fleetmate of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII. In 2008 she saw her service restricted to the Piraeus-Aegina-Agistri-Methana-Poros line, and she remained with Hellenic Seaways until 2015, when she was sold to her current owners, 2way Ferries.

The POSIDON HELLAS, formerly a fleetmate of the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII, seen about to maneuver in Aegina. This was her seventh consecutive summer under 2way Ferries, which is part of the Saronic Ferries joint venture.

The POSIDON HELLAS approaching her docking spot in Aegina. When she was built in 1998, she became the first-ever conventional double-ended ferry in the history of the Greek coastal service.

The POSIDON HELLAS seen in Aegina. During the summer of 2021, she established a new impressive record regarding my traveling experience. Indeed, I was onboard her for a total of six times during that summer (3 times from Piraeus to Aegina and 3 times from Aegina to Piraeus), which broke the record previously held by the PHIVOS, on which I had traveled four times during two different summers (2007 and 2019). My first-ever trip with her under her current owners was on 16 August 2016, while heading from Aegina to Piraeus.

Another view of the POSIDON HELLAS, which has provided excellent service throughout her entire career on the Saronic Gulf.

The POSIDON HELLAS approaching the dock of the port of Aegina.

One last view of the POSIDON HELLAS right before she docked in Aegina.

And this concludes my Blog post regarding my trip from Piraeus to Aegina with the FLYING DOLPHIN XVII. It was quick and efficient, and it was a good opportunity for me to provide you with pictures of her indoor areas and to finally write a Tribute Post covering a hydrofoil. Despite her age, the ship was very nice altogether, and completed her trip on time. I then got to travel onboard her again two other times during the summer, once on 1 August and one last time on 1 September. It now remains to be seen what the future will hold for her, as Hellenic Seaways expects the arrival of the new high speed catamarans which will replace 'the current older technology', which refers to the three hydrofoils. A sale to another company could be an option, otherwise she might face the possibility of remaining laid-up in the company's ship repair area in Perama, as it has been the case for two of her retired former fleetmates (the FLYING DOLPHIN X since 2008 and the FLYING DOLPHIN XXIII since 2010). Hopefully the former will occur and not the latter. In any case, as I knew that her end was coming up, I really tried to enjoy seeing her and photographing her (as well as traveling with her), as hydrofoils, despite their age and their need to be replaced, remain a huge part of my childhood memories in Aegina.

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