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  • Writer's pictureAlexandros Vrailas

HIGHSPEED 4 Tribute and Moments of Trip

Trip: 29 July 2018. From Paros to Piraeus, with the HIGHSPEED 4 of Hellenic Seaways.

Among the best high speed craft and ships of the Greek coastal service, the HIGHSPEED 4 was built in 2000 in Australia, being the fourth high speed ferry to join Minoan Flying Dolphins (three of them were built in the same shipyard, Austal). This company, formed in 1998 by the late Pantelis Sfinias as a subsidiary of Minoan Lines, had become by late 1999 the main Greek coastal service company on the Aegean Sea, having acquired almost all ferries from traditional family-based companies (such as Agapitos Express Ferries, Agapitos Lines, Lindos Lines, Nomicos Lines and more) and all the high speed craft (hydrofoils and passenger catamarans) of Ceres Flying Dolphins. Having become the company with the largest market share on the Cyclades, the Sporades, the Saronic Gulf as well as having a strong presence on the Dodecanese, Crete and the Northeast Aegean Sea, Minoan Flying Dolphins sought to strengthen its presence by introducing the 'Highspeed' brand, which consisted at the time of four high speed ferries that were to be deployed on the Cyclades. The first one, the HIGHSPEED 1, had already been built in 1996 in The Netherlands and had served under Minoan Lines from 1997 to 1999. The other three were all ordered for 2000 at the well-known Austal Shipyards. The HIGHSPEED 2 and the HIGHSPEED 3 were completed in early 2000 and entered service on the Cyclades. The larger and faster HIGHSPEED 4 followed them a few months later, and she began service on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos line, where she immediately earned much acclaim for her fast and comfortable service. She made such an impact that her success was enough to prevent her company from collapsing, notably due to the tragic sinking of the ferry EXPRESS SAMINA on 26 September 2000. Despite the instability of her company, she was still able to uphold strong competition, notably against Blue Star Ferries which had also deployed newly-built ferries on the Cyclades. Minoan Flying Dolphins was renamed Hellas Flying Dolphins in 2002. She was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line in 2003. 

In 2005 her company was renamed Hellenic Seaways, and she was deployed on the Piraeus-Chania line, making the trip in just four-and-a-half hours! Despite this success, Hellenic Seaways preferred to operate a conventional ferry there, while having the 'Highspeed' brand primarily on the Cyclades. Thus, in 2006 she was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Chania line. In 2008 she was deployed on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos line. In 2009 she was on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, and in 2010 she operated on the Piraeus-Syros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos line, forming a formidable duo with her fleetmate, the HIGHSPEED 5, during both seasons. She stayed there in 2011 and in 2012, before being deployed solely on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos line in 2013. In 2014 she was deployed on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Koufonisi-Amorgos line, where she was very successful. In 2015, following the fire suffered by the HIGHSPEED 5 (which later became the HIGHSPEED 7 and is now the SANTORINI PALACE of Minoan Lines), the HIGHSPEED 4 replaced her on her planned line, the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Paros-Mykonos line for the summer. She returned to the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Koufonisi-Amorgos line in 2016, where she has since been remaining.

Based on this detailed historical background, everyone can clearly see that, for almost two decades, the HIGHSPEED 4 has been among the most successful ships in the Greek coastal service and a major force for her company on the Cyclades, which she has served in every year of her career except during the 2005 summer season (when she was operating on the Piraeus-Chania line). Her long presence in the area, combined with her extremely fast and comfortable service, has made her a favourite amongst Cyclades residents and tourists, and she has been praised for contributing to a faster connection between the islands and Athens. Rarely hit by engine troubles, she has also been able to efficiently cover service left by her fleetmates when they would be having an incident, including during the summer. Throughout her career, she has also done some popular overnight trips, notably in Paros (which she has been doing since 2016), as well as in Santorini, Syros and Mykonos.

Over the years, the Greek economic crisis and bad decisions made by her company have led to a decline of the 'Highspeed' brand, with Hellenic Seaways selling the HIGHSPEED 2 and the HIGHSPEED 3 to now-defunct Moroccan company Comarit in 2010, the HIGHSPEED 1 to South Korean company Jang Heung Ferry in 2011, the HIGHSPEED 6 to Spanish company Naviera Armas in 2017, and the HIGHSPEED 5/HIGHSPEED 7 to Minoan Lines in 2018. Currently, only the HIGHSPEED 4 and the HELLENIC HIGHSPEED (ex-HELLENIC WIND, owned by Hellenic Seaways since 2009, but operating for them since 2016) are the two remaining high speed ferries that are part of the brand. The HIGHSPEED 4 is notably the only ship of the brand to have operated in every single summer season of Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins/Hellenic Seaways throughout their whole existence. Now that Hellenic Seaways has been acquired by Attica Group since early 2018, her future is uncertain as the latter is not a particular big fan of high speed craft. Nevertheless, she is set to operate this season and to continue her excellent service under Hellenic Seaways, always on the Cyclades.

The HIGHSPEED 4 seen in the port of Paroikia in Paros, three days before my trip with her.

Now it is finally the time to speak about my trip with this much-acclaimed ship. Indeed, as you now know it based on my previous posts, I had spent some time in Paros with my family during the summer of 2018. Indeed, we stayed there between 26 July and 29 July, while having also spent most of 27 July in neighbouring island Antiparos. It was obviously my first-ever trip with this ship, and, as I had already traveled with the HELLENIC HIGHSPEED back in 14 July 2017 from Ios to Piraeus, I had now traveled with both the current Hellenic Seaways ships that are part of the 'Highsped' brand. It was also my first-ever trip with an Austal-built high speed craft, and overall my fifth trip with a Greek high speed ferry (with all trips involving ships operating on the Cyclades).

We arrived in the port of Paroikia in Paros 30 minutes before the ship's planned arrival and immediate departure. She was heading from Naxos, as part of her return trip from the Cyclades to Piraeus during the day. As she was on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Koufonisi-Amorgos line, Paros was obviously the last island in which she would stop before making her way back to Piraeus. Therefore, this trip did not include any stops in any islands (it was therefore my first-ever trip with a Greek high speed craft without making any intermediate stops between my embarkation port and my disembarkation port). She was due to arrive at 14:10 and leave at 14:20, something which she did without any issues.

Before the HIGHSPEED 4 arrived, I witnessed an unexpected but exciting arrival: that of the legendary SUPERFERRY II of Golden Star Ferries, which was arriving from Mykonos.

Built in 1974 in Belgium and present in Greece since 1992, the SUPERFERRY II has spent her entire Greek coastal service career serving the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line, with additional islands being added throughout the years. Surely the best-ever ship to have operated on the line, she is regarded by many as the greatest day ferry, and possibly the greatest Greek coastal service ship, of all time. Her longevity, large capacity, speed, comfortable amenities and exciting outdoor areas have been all hailed. Her conversion is also considered to be one of the best amongst second-hand ships delivered to Greek coastal service companies.

The iconic SUPERFERRY II seen approaching Paros. In 2018, she had her debut season on a new line introduced by her owners, which linked Rafina with the Cyclades and Crete for the first time ever. This service was spent on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Ios-Santorini-Heraklion line, and was also performed by her fleetmate, the SUPERFERRY.

The SUPERFERRY II heading towards Paros. Despite her now being one of the oldest ferries on the Cyclades, her service is still much appreciated and acclaimed. Thanks to a major renovation performed in her indoor areas in 2017 by her company, she can still sail for many years to come.

The SUPEFERRY II seen in Paros. She was bought by now-defunct company Strintzis Lines in 1992. Initially renamed IONIAN EXPRESS and planned to be deployed on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line on the Ionian Sea, it was decided during her conversion that she would take over the service of her fleetmate, the SUPERFERRY (the old one, which still operates today, as the MAHABBAH of Egyptian-Saudi Arabian company Namma Lines, on the Safaga-Jeddah line, which connects Egypt and Saudi Arabia via the Red Sea), which was too big for the line and lacked the necessary garage (despite her tremendously successful amenities), on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Syros-Astypalaia-Kalymnos-Kos-Nisyros-Tilos-Rhodes line, before operating solely on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Syros line beginning in 1994. Having been renamed SUPERFERRY II in 1993, she entered service and immediately earned great acclaim. The ship joined the newly-founded Blue Star Ferries in 2000, after Strintzis Lines were taken over by Attica Group, and remained on the Rafina-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos line. After the 2010 season, she was sold to newly-established company Golden Star Ferries, which refurbished her and redeployed her on the Rafina-Cyclades service. Her success inspired the company to purchase more ships in the following years, with their fleet now reaching six ships as of April 2019.

The SUPERFERRY II making her way towards the port of Paros. Since operating for Golden Star Ferries, she has made extensions to Naxos in 2011 and 2012, as well as in both Naxos and Paros in 2016. During her twenty-sixth season in Greece, she was now performing a long trip from Rafina to Heraklion, via six Cyclades islands.

The SUPERFERRY II about to begin her maneuvering procedure in Paros.

The impressive SUPERFERRY II, with her famous stern and front balconies (added after her conversion in 1992-1993), preparing to maneuver in Paros.

The SUPERFERRY II about to maneuver in Paros. She is the last ship among those built in Belgium between the 1950s and the 1970s which went on to have successful spells in Greece (mostly on the Cyclades), after having first operated under iconic Belgian company Regie voor Maritiem Transport (RMT). This group of ships is known as the 'Gentle Belgians', and included legendary ships, such as the late AIGAION of Agapitos Lines (1976-1992) and later of Agapitos Express Ferries (1992-1996); the late GEORGIOS EXPRESS, perhaps the best ferry in the history of the Greek coastal service, of Ventouris Ferries (1980-1983), Ventouris Sea Lines (1983-1996) and later Agios Georgios Ferries (1996-2009, though the company ceased operations in 2001); the latter's sister ship, the BARI EXPRESS, of Ventouris Ferries (1983-1997), and later the EXPRESS HERMES of Agapitos Express Ferries (1997-1999) and then a fleetmate of the HIGHSPEED 4 under Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins (1999-2003); the late LYDIA of now-defunct company Hellenic Mediterranean Lines (1985-1995); and lastly the SUPERFERRY II's sister ship, the PANAGIA TINOU 2 of Ventouris Sea Lines (1993-1997), later the EXPRESS ATHINA of Agapitos Express Ferries (1997-1999), then being a fleetmate of the HIGHSPEED 4 under Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins (1999-2005) and Hellenic Seaways (2005-2007), before ending her career as the EXPRESS LIMNOS of Saos Ferries (2007-2011). The SUPERFERRY II is the only ship from that group that is still alive and still sailing in Greece to date.

The well-known funnel of the SUPERFERRY II. Its shape has remained intact since the start of her career on the Channel. It now features her current owners' logo, that of a star painted in both gold and white. If you can see the funnel more precisely, you can notice the marks of the old logo of RMT, still visible despite having been painted over.

The SUPERFERRY II seen maneuvering in Paros.

The true definition of a legendary ferry: the SUPERFERRY II seen maneuvering in Paros. She would then head towards Ios, Santorini and Heraklion, arriving at the Cretan port towards the evening.

The SUPERFERRY II having finished her maneuvering procedure and beginning to head in Paros. I know that this post should be focusing on the HIGHSPEED 4. However, after having seen the SUPERFERRY II before my planned trip, I could not avoid posting all the photos I took of that legendary ship.

The SUPERFERRY II about to dock in Paros.

The SUPERFERRY II seen docking in Paros.

Several minutes after the SUPERFERRY II had arrived and docked in Paros, the HIGHSPEED 4 had finally arrived in Paros, and began to unload several passengers and vehicles immediately. The ones that were about to board immediately quickly started to approach the vessel. Like all Hellenic Seaways high speed craft, she carries a livery promoting Greek telephone service company Cosmote, whose logo is visible in both her hulls and in her stern (next to the garage entrance). The HIGHSPEED 4 was previously promoting rival operator Vodafone even back in her Hellas Flying Dolphins days, when the two companies agreed to paint all high speed ships (except hydrofoils) with Vodafone's red colours in 2003. This lasted until 2013, when Hellenic Seaways opted to switch from Vodafone to Cosmote. All high speed craft (this time including the hydrofoils) were painted in light green (Cosmote's colours at the time). After Cosmote changed its logo in the fall of 2015, all ships were repainted ahead of the 2016 season in different shades of blue around the stern, white in the middle section of the hull, and different shades of green around the bow.

It was now time for us to board the ship. The entrance can be accessed through both sides of the stern thanks to the side ramps (used only by passengers). They each lead to an alley which takes passengers to the upper decks, where the indoor lounge areas are located. Above the entrance to this alley, one can see the logo of Hellenic Seaways. Underneath it, there are welcome signs written in Greek (top) and English (bottom), as well as the company's website and telephone number.

After arriving at the first accommodation deck thanks to the staircase, one can spot the company's reception desk near the starboard side. The small reception desk features a glass poster featuring the logo of Hellenic Seaways, hanging in the background.

Next to the reception desk, I spotted a large poster featuring the company's logo (known for its famous three dolphins). Above it, the company states, in Greek, 'For 18 years, the Aegean Sea has been our destination'. Hence, the poster was to commemorate the company's 18 years in service (though the company was founded in 1999, their first summer was during the 2000 season). Thus, despite being known under that name since 2005, Hellenic Seaways still considers her predecessors, Minoan Flying Dolphins/Hellas Flying Dolphins, as part of the corporation's history.

Next to the reception desk, the lounge area could be already seen. As it is common with high speed craft, most of the seats are aircraft-style seats aligned throughout the length of the of the area.

The aircraft-style seats on the starboard side of the ship. The first indoor deck is part of the Economy Class. The VIP section is located on the deck above.

The aircraft-style seats area, featuring very comfortable seats, some of which are surrounding tables, while the ones next to the windows are usually aligned by pairs one behind the other.

In the middle part of the area, between the free alleys, there are some aircraft-style seats with a blue cover, all of them having a table in front of them.

Not far from the reception desk, the ship has a large bar, which is operated by Greek coffee and snack brand Everest. The modern bar has a large range of products for passengers, namely coffee, water, juices, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, fruits, sandwiches, snacks and biscuits.

The ship's onboard retail store, called Shopping Island, which sells various products such as clothes, bags, jewelry, toys, books, gadgets and more.

The front section of the Economy Class lounge area, also featuring aligned chairs around wooden tables. At the back of the room are the ship's well-known front-side windows..

At the corner of the lounge area, one can see a small alley leading to a staircase which heads towards the front section of the ship's garage.

A quick view of the ship's garage, which is only accessible to cars, motorcycles and small vans.

At the center of the indoor area on the Economy Class deck is the ship's well-known glass-made staircase which leads to the upper deck featuring the VIP lounge area. The glass underneath the rails was decorated with stickers promoting Coca-Cola beverages on the Cyclades.

The small outdoor area of the HIGHSPEED 4, located on the Economy Class deck. It is only accessible to passengers when the ship is in a port and hence at low speed. You can also see the ship's Greek flag and the electronic destination board underneath it.

While I was exploring the HIGHSPEED 4's outdoor areas, I noticed that the SUPERFERRY II had already departed for Ios. Instead, I saw another ship having arrived in Paros. It was the high speed ferry ANDROS JET of Sea Jets, which operates on the inter-Cyclades service, alongside the fleetmate of the HIGHSPEED 4, the ARTEMIS.

The ANDROS JET seen in Paros. This was her first summer under Sea Jets, after having been bought shortly after the completion of the 2017 season. In her first year, she operated on the inter-Cyclades lifeline, on the Lavrion-Kea-Kythnos-Andros-Tinos-Syros-Paros-Naxos-Donousa-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Schoinousa-Irakleia-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Thirassia-Santorini-Anafi line.

The ANDROS JET seen departing Paros. Her first season under Sea Jets was quite turbulent, as she had several engine failures, which caused her to experience significant delays. This was problematic, especially when considering the long and demanding line on which she was operating. Though, when she was operating normally, she would perform the service much faster than the ship that she was replacing on the line, the ferry AQUA JEWEL (also owned by Sea Jets), which had been sent on charter to Azores-based company Atlântico Line for the summer.

The small funnel of the ANDROS JET, which features the logo of Sea Jets under a navy blue background.

The ANDROS JET seen departing Paros. Coincidentally, she was built in the exact same shipyard as the HIGHSPEED 4, at Austal in Australia. She was built three years before the latter, having been ordered by Turkish company İstanbul Deniz Otobüsleri, under the name CEZAYIRLI HASAN PAŞA 1. She operated on the Yalova-Pendik line for exactly twenty years, until she was sold to her current owners, Sea Jets.

The ANDROS JET seen leaving Paros. Though she was built in the same shipyard as the HIGHSPEED 4, she is much smaller in length, width and passenger and vehicle capacity.

The ANDROS JET having departed Paros.

The ANDROS JET now leaving at full-speed.

While the ANDROS JET was leaving the port of Paros (followed by our own eventual departure), I also spotted her fleetmate, the CHAMPION JET 2, heading towards the port, having arrived from Naxos.

The CHAMPION JET 2 seen approaching Paros. Owned by Sea Jets since 2015, she was operating on the Heraklion-Rethymnon-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos line, which she served for the second season in a row.

The ANDROS JET seen leaving Paros, while the CHAMPION JET 2 heads towards the same port.

The ANDROS JET seen leaving Paros in order to head towards Naxos.

The CHAMPION JET 2 making her way towards Paros, while we are departing the port.

Passing by the CHAMPION JET 2 in Paros. She was built in 1996, also in Australia. However, she was not built in Austal, but rather in the rival shipyard, Incat. Most Sea Jets high speed craft were built there during the 1990s. Hellenic Seaways only had one Incat-built ship, the HIGHSPEED 6, which was built there in 2000, the same year as the HIGHSPEED 4. She joined Hellenic Seaways in 2010, and was sold by the company to Naviera Armas in 2017, and now operates in Spain as the VOLCÁN DE TENO.

The CHAMPION JET 2 heading towards the port of Paros. She was previously operating on the Channel as the CONDOR EXPRESS of French company Condor Ferries, connecting France and Great Britain with the British Channel islands of Guernsey and Jersey. She was sold in 2015, alongside her younger sister ship, the CONDOR VITESSE, to Sea Jets. She was renamed CHAMPION JET 2, while the CONDOR VITESSE was renamed CHAMPION JET 1.

The CHAMPION JET 2 heading towards the port of Paros, in what was her fourth season under Sea Jets on the Cyclades. She spent her first two seasons on the Piraeus-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line, before moving to her current service in 2017.

The speedy CHAMPION JET 2 about to begin her maneuvering procedure in Paros.

The CHAMPION JET 2 beginning to maneuver in Paros, as we have already departed the port.

The ANDROS JET on her way towards Naxos.

The CHAMPION JET 2 having maneuvered in Paros, and now beginning to dock in the port.

As the HIGHSPEED 4 begins to depart, I was able to take a picture of her starboard side water jet, which is the main source behind her speed. It located right underneath the passenger ramp. I unfortunately had to head inside the ship's indoor area as no passenger is allowed to remain outdoors while the high speed craft is sailing (a policy found on all Hellenic Seaways high speed ships).

After barely three hours, we had reached Piraeus at 17:30. As access to outdoor areas was still restricted while the ship was heading towards her docking spot, I had no choice but to head to the garage alongside my family. As the garage was at full capacity, we had to wait for a long time before making it out, thus ending our trip.

While this trip with the HIGHSPEED 4 was short and lacked intermediate stops, I was still happy to have finally been able to travel with her, after having been aware of her positive reputation for so many years. Her service is extremely fast, but also very comfortable. In fact, I barely had the time to sit and read a shipping magazine and I had already felt like we were near our destination. Her indoor areas are very impressive and still give the impression that she is a newly-built ship, even though she will be turning 20 next year. While the 'Highspeed' brand is unfortunately on a considerable decline, luckily she is still operating in Greece, showing how she has been one of the best high speed craft of her company, and of the Greek coastal service as a whole, for so many years. It is not surprising to hear that she is one of the favourite ships of the Cyclades residents and tourists. This trip further made me understand the reasons behind their statements.

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