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  • Writer's pictureAlexandros Vrailas

OLYMPIC CHAMPION Tribute and Moments of Trip

Trip: 25-26 August 2018. From Patras to Ancona, via Igoumenitsa, with the OLYMPIC CHAMPION of ANEK Lines.

The cruiseferry OLYMPIC CHAMPION was ordered in 1999 by the Cretan company ANEK Lines, being one of the two sister ships that were built at the well-known Fosen Shipyard in Norway. The two ships had been ordered following the successful deliveries of three cruiseferries by the same shipyard to ANEK Lines' rival operator, Minoan Lines. These were the ARETOUSA (built in 1995, now the GIROLATA of the French company Compagnie Méridionale de Navigation, or simply La Méridionale), the IKARUS (built in 1997, later the IKARUS PALACE, and now the CRUISE SMERALDA of the Italian company Grimaldi Lines) and the PASIPHAE (built in 1998, later the PASIPHAE PALACE, and now the JEAN NICOLI of the French company Corsica Linea). With all three ships being successfully deployed on the Adriatic Sea, ANEK Lines sought to strengthen the competition against their arch-rivals by ordering two newly-built ships for service on the Adriatic Sea. The two ships were ordered as the KRITI III and the KRITI IV. The first one was to be completed in 2000 and the second one in 2001. Their construction initially began in Sweden, before they moved to Norway after they were launched. Before their launching, the KRITI III was renamed OLYMPIC CHAMPION and the KRITI IV was renamed OLYMPIC SPIRIT, in honour of the impending Olympic Games that were due to be held in Athens in 2004. The OLYMPIC CHAMPION was completed in 2000, and was deployed on the Piraeus-Chania line in her debut season. She became the second-ever newly-built ferry of ANEK Lines, and became the company's new flagship, taking over from the EL. VENIZELOS, which had held this role since her entry to service in 1992. In 2001, as her sister ship, which had been renamed HELLENIC SPIRIT, was completed, both ships were deployed on ANEK Lines' most important Adriatic Sea route, the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Ancona line. They replaced the KRITI I and the KRITI II, and collaborated successfully alongside the EL. VENIZELOS. The OLYMPIC CHAMPION quickly became one of the best ferries of the Adriatic Sea, and was praised for her modern amenities, her excellent cabins, restaurant and self-service, while also making the crossings in a much faster time than the ships of Minoan Lines. She spent the following 6 years on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Ancona line, before being sent back to the Piraeus-Chania line to compete with the ARIADNE of Hellenic Seaways in late 2007. The latter had just been introduced by Hellenic Seaways, and marked a threat to ANEK Lines on their main line. The deployment of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION quickly eased the stress and she quickly won over the passengers and vehicles that had started to familiarise themselves with the ARIADNE. This led to the ship's withdrawal from the line after just four months. After successfully removing the ARIADNE from the Piraeus-Chania line, she returned to the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Ancona line from 2008 to 2011. She remained the company's flagship until 2008, when the then-newly-refurbished ELYROS entered service on the Piraeus-Chania line.

In 2011, following the establishment of the ANEK-Attica Group joint venture (then known as ANEK-Superfast), she was sent back to the Aegean Sea, in order to operate against Minoan Lines in Crete. She was deployed on the Piraeus-Heraklion line, forming an excellent duo with her former rival, the SUPERFAST XII of Superfast Ferries (now the CRUISE AUSONIA of the Italian giants Grimaldi Lines). After three successful seasons there, she operated on the Piraeus-Chania line in 2014, partnering with the ELYROS. She returned to the Adriatic Sea in 2015, again on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Ancona line, where she has since been remaining.

Within eighteen years of service, the OLYMPIC CHAMPION has been acclaimed as one of the best ferries of the Adriatic Sea and generally of the Greek coastal service. Alongside her sister ship, the HELLENIC SPIRIT, she has been praised for her reliable and comfortable service, with very few troubles and many exciting amenities to offer to her passengers. She is generally considered to be one of the three best ships of ANEK Lines, alongside the HELLENIC SPIRIT and the ELYROS. She still seems to be a newly-built ship, and it is notably thanks to her that ANEK Lines, now economically weak, still exists to date. This is due to her continuing to serve passengers very well, which is why they continue to trust her and to travel with her. Of course, the partnership with Attica Group has also been vital to ANEK Lines. Besides her acclaimed service on the Adriatic Sea, she has also successfully operated on the Aegean Sea, when she would be deployed on her company's home island, Crete. She notably managed to successfully remove Hellenic Seaways and the ARIADNE from the Piraeus-Chania line in 2007. And this is considering the fact that the ARIADNE is also one of the best ships in the Greek coastal service. She was also about to return to service in late 2010 in order to also remove the BLUE HORIZON of Blue Star Ferries, which had spent her debut season on the line. Even though she did not arrive there, it was enough to scare Blue Star Ferries, which withdrew the BLUE HORIZON from the line simply due to ANEK Lines threatening to deploy the OLYMPIC CHAMPION there. Now that the company is facing economic issues and the new threat of Minoan Lines' entrance on the Piraeus-Chania line with the MYKONOS PALACE in 2018, perhaps they should consider sending the OLYMPIC CHAMPION on the line once again, as a means of having a fierce competition against their Cretan arch-rivals.

So this is the overview of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION, which is truly one of the Greek coastal service's most precious jewels. It is now time for me to speak about my trip with her. Indeed, it was the last trip of the summer for me in Greece, as I was leaving the country in late August in order to stop by Italy, as my sister was due to begin her first year of studies in Milan. As my parents brought our family car, we decided to head from Greece to Italy via a ferry on the Adriatic Sea. This ferry turned out to be the OLYMPIC CHAMPION, which has been a familiar face for my family. Indeed, we have previously traveled onboard her on three occasions. Indeed, between the summers of 2006 and 2008 (at that time I was living with my family in Belgium), we would always go to Greece by car via Italy and the Adriatic Sea. Thus, we would always travel on a ferry operated by ANEK Lines. In 2006, we traveled from Ancona to Patras with the HELLENIC SPIRIT, and left Greece by heading from Patras to Venice with the LEFKA ORI (now known as the BLUE GALAXY of Blue Star Ferries). In 2007, we again traveled from Ancona to Patras with the HELLENIC SPIRIT, while we made our way back from Greece to Italy (from Patras to Ancona) with the OLYMPIC CHAMPION, in August 2007. In 2008, we made both trips (from Ancona to Patras and from Patras to Ancona) with the OLYMPIC CHAMPION. And now, ten years later, we were back in Patras in order to travel with the ANEK Lines cruiseferry once again. I cannot confirm it for sure, but I am almost certain that our last trip with the OLYMPIC CHAMPION had been on 25 August 2008, hence exactly ten years before the trip discussed in this blog post. Thus, my last trip of the 2018 season ended up being my first trip on the Adriatic Sea since 2008, my first trip on an ANEK Lines ship since 2008, and my first trip with that specific ship since 2008.

At the start of the day, my family and me were still in Aegina, making the last preparations before our departure from the island. We traveled in the morning from Aegina to Piraeus with the ACHAEOS of 2way Ferries, and subsequently headed from Piraeus to Patras via the highway known as Olympia Odos. We arrived in the new port of Patras in the early afternoon. It was my first time seeing the new port, as the ships were still operating in the old port when I had made my last trip with the OLYMPIC CHAMPION back in 2008. The ship was due to depart at 14:30. However, due to delays in Italy, she arrived in Patras just before 14:00 (thus thirty minutes before her planned departure).

The OLYMPIC CHAMPION seen in Patras, shortly after her arrival in the new port.

The very modern and large funnel of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION. It depicts the initials of ANEK Lines and the geographic map of Crete, which is seen in all the ships owned by the company. The OLYMPIC CHAMPION and the HELLENIC SPIRIT became the first ships of the company to have a black background in the middle of the funnel, instead of the yellow and blue that had been carried by their fleetmates. The ELYROS went on to have this feature as well during her conversion which lasted from 2007 to 2008.

While the passengers arriving from Italy were unloading, I decided it was a good opportunity to go and take pictures of the ship. But before I could attempt taking a good picture from a correct angle, I was interrupted by a port authority employee who told me that I was not allowed to take pictures while being in the port. To my disappointment, and following a blunt verbal confrontation, I was forced to go back to the passenger queue that was awaiting to embark onboard the ship. Thus, I was unable to take more pictures of the ship while she was docked in Patras.

Shortly after entering the ship, I was guided alongside other passengers to Deck 9, where I was to stay for the duration of the trip. Unfortunately, even though we had booked the tickets in March, the cabins were all unavailable. This is due to many freight companies booking them for their drivers months in advance. As a result, I was unable to stay in a cabin for this trip. In my past three trips with the ship, I had stayed inside a cabin. I guess that online bookings and prepaid tickets from ten years ago were not as frequent as they are now. This floorplan shows the various decks of the ship and what they feature. The ship has 12 decks overall. Deck 1 is where the engine room is located. Decks 2, 3, 4 and 5 are reserved for the garage area. Decks 6 and 7 also feature the garage, though Deck 6 has additional shower rooms for campers (those traveling by camping cars and remaining there throughout the entire trip), and Deck 7 has 50 cabins. Decks 8, 9 and 10 are dedicated to the ship's accommodation services. Deck 11 is the bridge deck, and Deck 12, the highest deck the ship has, is the helicopter deck.

The ship's deckplan, located in Deck 9.

A not-so-good picture of the ship's reception area, located in Deck 8.

The alley leading from the reception desk to the cabins in Deck 8.

A view of the ship's starboard side alley on Deck 8. It leads to a small area which has a few chairs for passengers willing to stay outdoors.

The ship's outdoor starboard side alley in Deck 8. It is located right below the two large lifeboats the ship has on her starboard side. She has two others on her port side.

A poster seen right below the staircase leading from Deck 8 to Deck 9. It is an advertisement of ANEK Lines, which displays a picture of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION, seen from her bow. Below it, it shows the company's destinations and served areas, written first in Greek and then in English. These areas consist of the Greece-Italy service (basically the Adriatic Sea), which is represented by the ports of Patras, Igoumenitsa, Corfu, Bari (though this port is not served by ANEK Lines, it is served by Superfast Ferries, which collaborates with ANEK Lines as part of the ANEK-Attica Group joint venture), Ancona and Venice. Next up is Crete, which is served by the company via the Piraeus-Chania line and the Piraeus-Heraklion line. Below it, the Aegean Islands are advertised. This line basically illustrates the service that the company has on the Cyclades, Crete and the Dodecanese, through the ferry PREVELIS which operates on the Piraeus-Milos-Santorini-Anafi-Heraklion-Siteia-Kasos-Karpathos-Chalki-Rhodes line. Below the destinations, the company promotes itself by showing the social media platforms it uses, its own application available via the Apple Store, the Bonus Miles card (called the ANEK Lines Smart Card) available to loyal passengers, and its website.

The modern staircase leading to Deck 9. Next to it is the lift, which links various passenger decks between them.

The corner walls of the staircase area featured a few items enclosed behind glasses showing different objects. The one on the top represents a figurine of a man wearing a traditional 19th century Cretan dress (in honour of the company's home island), while the one below displays the flag of ANEK Lines.

Deck 9 is undoubtedly the busiest deck, as it features most of the lounge areas, the ship's restaurant and self-service canteen, as well as the onboard stores and casino, and a sun deck. Here you can see the latter, which extends from the stern to the middle section of the ship. The floor was rather in a decrepit condition (as shown in this picture), but featured several plants and multiple plastic chairs for passengers.

A view of the sun deck in the middle section of the ship. It was in a rather abandoned condition, with lots of space, chairs left abandoned in the corner, a decrepit-looking floor and a TV screen which seems to not have been used for a long time.

Next to the indoor area of Deck 9, in the stern section, one can spot the Marina Bar, which serves as the ship's outdoor bar. Though it was closed at the time I took the picture (due to the ship still loading passengers and vehicles), it opened throughout the trip. It famously serves Greek gyro, prepared on a gyro grilling roll and served with pita bread. It also serves coffee, soft drinks and other snacks.

Next to the bar is one of the ship's swimming pools. Although it had been a major highlight of the ship during the 2000s, with myself remembering that it was being used by many passengers during my trips with her in 2007 and 2008, the pool has unfortunately stopped to operate since the early 2010s. This unfortunately happened due to the decline of the cruiseferries on the Adriatic Sea, as companies preferred to operate freight-focused ferries that would simply make the trip operate at a faster rhythm, thus eliminating the 'cruise concept' of such trips in the area. Thus, passengers no longer desired to enjoy their time onboard by taking advantage of the cruiseferries' amenities, preferring to just remain in their cabins or their sleeping bags. Thus, swimming pools onboard ferries stopped to be used. This furthermore explains why the OLYMPIC CHAMPION's outdoor areas seem a bit abandoned. I can assure you that, ten years ago, they were the reason why this ship was so unique. They made the trip more entertaining and enjoyable, as passengers seemed to enjoy being in an outdoor bar and swimming pool while traveling onboard the ship. It is a shame that this mentality no longer exists.

The ship's back pool, located on the stern. Just like its neighbour, it has been completely abandoned for many years.

The ship's stern, which features the Greek flag, which has been proudly flying onboard the cruiseferry since her delivery in 2000.

Another view of the Deck 9 stern sun deck.

The alley on Deck 9, located on the starboard side of the ship, which leads to the indoor area.

The narrow hallway features several posters. This one shows an advertisement of various hotels located throughout the entire island of Crete.

The ship's onboard casino area, which seems to have also been abandoned and inactive for a very long time.

A view of the alley and of the ship's onboard shop.

A closer view to the shop, which was closed at the time of the departure. It sells various products, notably bags, suitcases, jewelry and fashion products.

Another view of the alley, with the shop located on the left side.

The ship's tiny kid's corner area, which is known as Kid's Planet.

Moving more forward, one can see the Atrium Bar, which serves as the ship's main bar for Economy Class passengers. It really gives the impression that it looks like a 1950s-style bar, though decorated in a more contemporary style with various blue tiles hanging on the wall.

A view of the seating area of the Atrium Bar, which was a bit dark and completely empty (though this was due to passengers not having boarded the ship yet).

Moving even more towards the front section of the ship, one can spot the entrance to the ship's self-service canteen and seating area, named Dionysos (after the Greek mythology God). This area is very famous, as it has a very beautiful floor and an entrance made out of marble and displaying the name 'Dionysos' in an Ancient Greek font. On the left side of the entrance is a poster promoting the ANEK Lines Smart Card.

A continuation of the alley, with the Dionysos self-service canteen seen in the left. The floor is decorated with a very nice blue carpet featuring aligned squares of different colours. On the right side, one can spot the ship's windows and some turning chairs. This is where my family and myself installed ourselves for the duration of the trip. They were very comfortable, so I had no complaints.

Another illuminated poster promoting ANEK Lines. It displays traveling dates and discounts available on the company's services in Crete, on both the Piraeus-Chania line and the Piraeus-Heraklion line. It also shows the ANEK Lines Smart Card once again, at the bottom right corner of the poster. The ship shown in the picture is the fleetmate of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION, the KYDON. This Japanese-built ship was acquired by ANEK Lines in 1998, and was initially known as the SOPHOCLES V. She began service in 1999 on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Trieste line. She was joined by her sister ship, the LEFKA ORI, in 2000. Both ships were transferred to the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Venice line in 2005, where they became extremely successful. Unfortunately, due to the effects of the Greek financial crisis on the coastal service sector, ANEK Lines was forced to charter the ships to the South Korean company Jeju Cruise Line as a way of reducing their debts in 2012. The charter ended up being a complete failure as the ships remained laid-up in Busan for a year. They returned to Greece in late 2013. The LEFKA ORI was subsequently transferred to Blue Star Ferries and was deployed on the Piraeus-Chania line in 2015 as the BLUE GALAXY. The SOPHOCLES V also underwent a refit and resumed service under ANEK Lines on the Piraeus-Chania line, having been renamed KYDON (which was also the name of the first ship ANEK Lines ever had, having bought her in 1967 operated her from 1969 to 1989). She spent two summers there (2015 and 2016), while also serving the Piraeus-Heraklion line during the winter of 2015-2016. Unfortunately, in early 2017, she left Greece for the second time, having been chartered on a multi-year deal to Ferries Del Caribe, which operates on the Caribbean Sea, connecting the Dominican Republic with Puerto Rico. Thus, seeing a poster of her in 2018 while she has not been in Greece since 2017 shows that it is outdated. I nevertheless felt nostalgic when seeing the ship, and hoped (as I still do now) that she will one day make her return to Greece.

The second entrance of the Dionysos self-service canteen.

A view of the self-service area, which has a significant amount of space for passengers. It has had an excellent reputation in terms of food quality and diversity. I remembered having eaten very well when I had traveled with the ship back in 2007 and 2008. In 2018, things were not different at all. ANEK Lines continues to have excellent cooks serving passengers onboard their ships.

A closer view to the seating area of the self-service canteen. All tables are decorated with checkerboards. The area extends to the windows located in the port side of the ship.

The walls in the area featured various beautiful paintings, two of which are seen here. They depict Ancient Greek amphorae alongside grapes and pears. This is an allusion to the way wine was being produced in Ancient Greek according to the mythological tradition of the God Dionysos, after whom the area is named.

Having seen most of the indoor areas of Deck 9, it was now time to head towards Deck 10. One way to get there is by using the iconic staircase of the ship, which is located right next to the large window glass located towards the middle section of the ship. This staircase really makes the OLYMPIC CHAMPION look like a cruise ship. The HELLENIC SPIRIT also has the exact same staircase and overall deck structure

In Deck 10, the middle section (which is located right next to a hallway leading to many passenger cabins) features the disco bar called 'The Observatory'.

An overview of 'The Observatory'. It features a large bar area with high seats, as well as some lounges on the side. In the middle is a small dance floor area made out of light blue tiles.

Another view of the disco dance floor area. Previously a major highlight of the ship's indoor areas (I remember seeing some shows taking place during nights in my trips with the ship back in 2007 and 2008), it has also been inactive for many years, just like the swimming pools. Nowadays, all the area is used by passengers having not managed to find a cabin, who sleep either on the lounges or on the floor. A shame to see this formerly entertaining area now being a bit of a sloppy and disorganised place used solely for sleeping.

A hallway leading to various passenger cabins in Deck 10. Unfortunately for us, this time we were unable to stay in any cabin throughout the duration of our trip.

The staircase area leading from Deck 10 to Deck 11. It also uses the tiles seen in the staircase area linking Deck 8 with Deck 9, which was seen previously.

After having explored almost all the indoor areas on Deck 8, Deck 9, Deck 10 and Deck 11, I decided to head outside once again. I went to the stern section in Deck 10. There, I could again see the ship's large lifeboats. These are from the starboard side.

Another view of the ship's swimming pool area, this time seen from Deck 10 (just above Deck 9, where the pools are located). The pool on the left side is the ship's hot tub, which has been inactive alongside its neighbours for many years.

The ship's Deck 10 alley leading to Deck 11.

A frontal view of the ship's large funnel, seen in Deck 11.

The funnel alley in Deck 11, which leads to the ship's stern.

The large outdoor area on Deck 11. This is on the ship's port side. In front is the ship's bridge and AC room. Behind it (where the two round windows are located) is a small compartment which has some of the crew's cabins.

The ship's AC area, located right behind the bridge and the rest of the crew's cabins.

Heading forward, I could see the ship's port side alley preceding the bridge. There, the ship also features several reserves of inflatable life-rafts.

The port side section of the ship's wide bridge.

The funnel of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION seen from the middle section of Deck 11. The pictures of the funnel from this angle have become iconic to the image of ANEK Lines, and have been used several times by the company in its advertising posters, website advertisements and videos.

The ship seen receiving bunkers on her port side in Patras, shortly before our departure.

The OLYMPIC CHAMPION departed Patras at 15:30, more than an hour after her scheduled departure. There was no other ship to be seen near the port, which disappointed me a bit as I believed that I would be able to see most of the Greek ferries that operate on the Adriatic Sea. Furthermore, it began to rain at some point during the trip, something that is unusual in Greece in late August. As a result, I was forced to spend the first thirty minutes of the trip in the indoor area on Deck 9. At this time, we were leaving the Patraic Gulf in order to enter the core of the Ionian Sea, which guides us towards Igoumenitsa.

At around 16:00, as the weather improved, I headed outside once again. There, I spotted one of the biggest rivals of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION. It was the cruiseferry CRUISE EUROPA of Minoan Lines, which was heading towards Patras.

Passing by the CRUISE EUROPA on the the Patraic Gulf. She was built in Italy in 2009, having been one of four gigantic cruiseferries ordered by the Italian colossus Grimaldi Group. The first two, the CRUISE ROMA and the CRUISE BARCELONA, were finished in 2008 and were deployed on the Civitavecchia-Porto Torres-Barcelona line under Grimaldi Lines, the main company of the group. The other two were the CRUISE EUROPA and the CRUISE OLYMPIA, which were finished in 2009 and in 2010, respectively. They were assigned to Minoan Lines, though they are owned by Grimaldi Group. As a result, both ships carry the Italian flag, making them the only ships of Minoan Lines not to fly the Greek flag. They were both transferred back under the care of Grimaldi Lines in early 2017, though they are still operated by Minoan Lines. Hence, their hulls feature 'Grimaldi Minoan Lines' as their operator.

Passing by the CRUISE EUROPA, which was spending her tenth overall season on the Adriatic Sea. She and her sister ship are the largest ferries operating in the Greek coastal service. But the OLYMPIC CHAMPION'S fleetmate, the EL. VENIZELOS, is the largest one flying the Greek flag. Her entry to service on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Ancona line imposed a major threat to both ANEK Lines and Superfast Ferries, which eventually teamed-up two years later by launching the ANEK-Attica Group joint venture in 2011. Both the CRUISE EUROPA and the CRUISE OLYMPIA began operating on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Ancona-Triste line in late 2012, and, beginning in 2017, they were deployed on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Ancona-Venice line. This summer, they are due to make stops in Corfu, hence operating on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Ancona-Venice line.

The CRUISE EUROPA seen heading towards Patras. She was initially registered in Heraklion while being built in Italy, but changed to Palermo after she was reflagged shortly before her delivery to Minoan Lines.

Another view of the CRUISE EUROPA, the arch-rival of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION, as she heads towards the port of Patras.

After exiting the the Patraic Gulf, we began to head towards the North. We passed by the islands of Kefalonia and Ithaca, and were now in the passage between Ithaca and Lefakada, which also includes islands such as Madouri, Skorpios, Kastos, Kalamos, as well as Meganisi. We were in the Northern part of the Ionian Sea, which took us about two hours to reach from the port of Patras.

At around 17:30, I spotted the landing craft MEGANISI II of Coatal Lines Ionios Corporation having exited the port of Frykes in Ithaca, in order to head towards Meganisi, her namesake island.

The small MEGANISI II seen heading from Ithaca to Meganisi. She operates on the Lefkada-Meganisi-Ithaca line, which she has been serving since 2016. Before that, during her first years under her owners, she was on the Kefalonia-Ithaca-Meganisi-Lefkada line, serving the line from 2007 to 2015. She is a vital ship for the small island of Meganisi, as she is the only ferry serving it, and also helps it maintain a coastal service connection with Lefkada and Ithaca during both the summer and the winter.

Three minutes later, I spotted another landing craft that works on an inter-Ionian Sea service. It was the AGIOS GERASIMOS II of Lixouri NE, which operates on the Kefalonia-Ithaca-Lefkada line since 2017.

The little AGIOS GERASIMOS II was seen heading from Lefkada to Ithaca, as part of her seasonal service on the line she serves.

The MEGANISI II seen behind the stern of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION, heading towards her namesake island.

Passing by the AGIOS GERASIMOS II as she heads towards Ithaca. She was formerly known as the OLYMPIOS APOLLON of ANEM Ferries, operating under them from 1990 to 2012 on the Samos-Fournoi-Ikaria-Leipsoi-Kalymnos-Western Kos line. Afterwards, she was sold to the Lebanese Delegation to the United Nations, and operated as the CAROLYN on the Beirut-Naqoura line by transporting military supplies to the area. In 2016, she was bought by Lixouri NE, and became one of the few ferries to have made a comeback to Greece after having previously been sold to a foreign operator. After a lengthy conversion in Perama, she entered her current service on the Ionian Sea in 2017.

The AGIOS GERASIMOS II heading towards Ithaca, during her second season on the Kefalonia-Ithaca-Lefkada line under Lixouri NE.

About two and-a-half hours later, we began to make our way towards the port of Igoumenitsa, after having passed by some of the Northern Ionian Sea islands such as Lefkada, Antipaxoi and Paxoi. The Southern part of Corfu was also seen. We were now entering the Igoumenitsa Gulf, where both the city and the port are located. Here is a view of the funnel of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION as sunset was beginning on the beautiful Ionian Sea.

As we were approaching Igoumenitsa, I began to see a handful of ships. Indeed, Igoumenitsa is a major Greek coastal service port, serving as the main port of the iconic Epirus region. It is also the gateway to the Adriatic Sea, as it is the first port of mainland Greece that ferries reach after arriving from Italy. It is also connected with Thessaloniki via Northern Greece through the recently-built Egnatia Odos highway. It is therefore an important terminal for Northern Greek and Turkish lorry drivers arriving from Italy and for tourists who want to explore Northern Greece overall. Besides its important role on the Adriatic Sea service, the port is also the only way for passengers and drivers to reach Corfu and Paxoi, which are two of Greece's most visited islands on the Ionian Sea. Numerous ferries and landing craft can reach these islands from Igoumenitsa between one hour and two hours, depending on their speed. The first of these landing craft that I saw during this trip was the AGIOS SPIRIDON of S&L Ferries (trading as North West Ferries I), which operates on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Paxoi line.

Passing by the AGIOS SPIRIDON as she heads from Igoumenitsa to Corfu. She is the ex-THASSOS VI of ANETH Ferries, having operated for them from 2001 (the year during which she was built in Greece) to 2015 on the Kavala-Thassos line. In 2015, she was sold to her current owners, as part of an exchange deal which saw the AGIOS PANTELEIMON (which operated for S&L Ferries from 2013 to 2015) being acquired by ANETH Ferries.

The beautiful little ferry AGIOS SPIRIDON heading towards Corfu. This was her fourth summer operating for S&L Ferries.

Passing by the AGIOS SPIRIDON as she heads towards Corfu, while we are heading towards her departure port, Igoumenitsa.

One of the two funnels of the AGIOS SPIRIDON. it depicts the initial of her three co-owners. They are the shipowners Souliotis, Laïnas and Tourloumousis, all based in Corfu. The former two make the company's name, S&L Ferries. As Tourloumousis only has a share in this ferry (and not in the company's two other ferries), the AGIOS SPIRIDON operates under the trading name North West Ferries I, which is seen printed on both sides of her hull.

Passing by the AGIOS SPIRIDON as she heads towards Corfu. As a result of the increasing competition on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Paxoi line these recent years (with a total of twelve ships operating there as of 2018, as well as four others connecting Igoumenitsa with the Southern Corfu port of Lefkimmi), her company created a joint venture known as Corfu Ferries in late 2018, with fellow rivals Gerontakis Shipping. Their main competitor now is the other major joint venture of the line, known as Kerkyra Ferrie,s which is composed of Kerkyra Lines (the company which has the most ferries operating on the line) and of 2way Ferries.

The AGIOS SPIRIDION on her way towards Corfu, under a beautiful scenery marked by a wonderful sunset.

The magnificent Ionian Sea sunset seen from the stern of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION. It was spreading from Corfu to the Igoumenitsa Gulf. It marked the last sunset that I saw in Greece that summer, and thus marked the official end of my memorable stay there during the 2018 season.

We were now heading towards the Adriatic Sea terminal of the port of Igoumenitsa, which is further away from the Corfu-Paxoi terminal which is served by the local ferries and landing craft. The Eastern section of the large port is undergoing renovations, as you can see in this picture, which also features the ferry BARI of Ventouris Ferries.

The BARI seen resting in Igoumenitsa. She has been owned by Ventouris Ferries since 2010. Her acquisition by her current owners proved to be crucial, as they saved her due to her heading towards India for scrap, having been sold to a shipbreaking company by her previous owners, the Spanish company Baleària. While she was traveling from Spain to Turkey on what was supposed to be her last trip, Ventouris Ferrries bought her while she was approaching Greece. Thus, she was sparred from scrapping and has since been operating on the Adriatic Sea.

The BARI seen resting in Igoumenitsa. She spent her first five summers with Ventouris Ferries operating on the Bari-Durrës line, which connects Southern Italy with Albania. Beginning in 2015, the ship spends the summer connecting Bari with the Ionian Islands, being deployed on the Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line. I had seen her and photographed her in Zakynthos in 2015. Thus, I saw her for the first time in three years during my trip with the OLYMPIC CHAMPION.

I then had a look at the Corfu-Paxoi terminal of the port of Igoumenitsa. There, I saw the double-ended ferry IONAS of S&L Ferries, which had just arrived in the port and was unloading passengers and vehicles.

Further West was another landing craft, which turned out to be a familiar face. Indeed, it was the MENEKRATIS of Kerkyra Lines, which I had previously seen, two years earlier, operating on the Saronic Gulf. She used to be the OSIOS DAVID of Evoïkos Lines, which had spent the 2016 season on the Piraeus-Northern Aegina line, connecting Athens with the port of Souvala. After just one season there, she was sold in 2017 to Kerkyra Lines, which refurbished her and renamed her MENEKRATIS. She operated on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu line, serving the port of Lefkimmi on the latter island. It was quite nice to see her under her new owners, name, livery and service, at the other side of the country.

Another view of the IONAS, which had just arrived in Igoumenitsa. She was spending her second summer on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Paxoi line under S&L Ferries. She is therefore a fleetmate of the AGIOS SPIRIDON, and, together with the landing craft NIREAS, they make-up the fleet of the company. Just like her fleetmates, she became a ship operating for the Corfu Ferries joint venture in late 2018.

Another view of the MENEKRATIS, during her second season under Kerkyra Lines. Her third summer with them however, will be spent on a line she knows very well. Indeed, she has been chartered this year by Saronic Ferries (the joint venture which is composed of Nova Ferries and 2way Ferries) in order to return to the Piraeus-Northern Aegina line, thus serving Souvala once again. She will make her first appearance on the line in three years. I am therefore very excited that I will be seeing her once again on the Saronic Gulf. There will be many pictures of her there, without a doubt.

Not far from the MENEKRATIS was another landing craft: the ELENI of Gerontakis Shipping. She has been owned by the latter since 2005, and has been on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu line since 2007. Before that, she had spent all the first years of her career (which began in 1993) on the Rion-Antirrion line. Her company also joined the Corfu Ferries joint venture in late 2018.

The IONAS seen in Igoumenitsa. Before beginning operations on a permanent basis on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Paxoi line in 2017, she previously had an adventurous career across all of Europe. Indeed, she had stints in Denmark, Spain (including service between the latter and Morocco), Italy, an initial stint in Greece, Russia and Ukraine, and Estonia. Her first stint in Greece was perhaps one of the shortest ones in recent Greek coastal service history. Indeed, she had been bought in 2012 by 2way Ferries alongside her sister ship, which was known as the DORIEUS from 2012 to 2014. Her conversion lasted two years, and she began service on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu line. But this service lasted just one month as she was then chartered to the Russian company Kerch Ferry State Shipping Company for service between Russian and Ukraine via the Kerch Strait, on the Kavkaz-Port Krym line. She was joined in that area by the DORIEUS, which had been sold to the Russian company JSC Proekt and was renamed OLYMPIADA. In 2015 she was chartered again, this time to the Estonian company Saaremaa Laevakompanii, and was deployed on the Virtsu-Kuivastu line. She stayed there until 2017, when she returned to Greece. Her ownership was transferred from 2way Ferries to S&L Ferries, and she returned to her service in Corfu.

Another view of the IONAS, now operating on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Paxoi line for the second season in a row.

The BARI seen about to depart, as the OLYMPIC CHAMPION is maneuvering in Igoumenitsa.

The BARI, seen in Igoumenitsa in her ninth season under Ventouris Ferries, and her fourth consecutive summer on the Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Igoumenitsa-Corfu-Bari line. Since 2017, she has been joined by her fleetmate, the veteran ferry RIGEL I, and both ships perform the itinerary during the summer.

The IONAS seen in Igoumenitsa.

The IONAS seen in Igoumenitsa alongside a former fleetmate: the double-ended ferry ANO CHORA II of 2way Ferries. In contrast to her fleetmates that operate on the Saronic Gulf, she operates on the Igoumenitsa-Corfu line, having been there since 2005. She is currently the only ferry of her company operating there, although the ACHAEOS (on which I had travelled on the same day as I took this picture) had previously served there as well between 2006 and 2013 (except during the 2011 summer season when she was on charter to the Italian company Blunavy) before returning to the Saronic Gulf in 2014.

The ANO CHORA II resting in Igoumenitsa. With this picture, I had now seen and photographed all four ships currently owned by 2way Ferries. She was built in 2004 and spent her first year on the Rion-Antirrion line before moving to the Igoumenitsa-Corfu line in 2005. She had replaced her older fleetmate, the double-ended ferry ANO CHORA EXPRESS (built in 2001) which had been sold in 2003 to the Croatian company Jadrolinija. The ANO CHORA II is part of the Kerkyra Ferries joint venture, which is composed of her owners and Kerkyra Lines. Thus, it is interesting to see that all ships owned by 2way Ferris operate under a joint venture. Indeed, the ANO CHORA II operates under Kerkyra Ferries, while the three ships operating on the Saronic Gulf operate under Saronic Ferries (which her Kerkyra Ferries partner, the MENEKRATIS, is set to join this upcoming summer).

The BARI about to depart Igoumenitsa. This turned out to be the last picture I took of a Greek ferry in a Greek port or in the Greek seas during the summer of 2018.

The OLYMPIC CHAMPION docked in Igoumenitsa following a quick maneuvering procedure. There, I saw a tremendously large amount of passengers and vehicles boarding the ship. The number of people onboard more than quadrupled compared to when we were departing Patras. Most of them were Italian, and this explanation was justified by the fact that most tourists were now returning to their home country in late August after having spent the summer in Greece. The ship became completely crowded, to such an extent that we immediately went to the Dionysos self-service canteen as soon as we docked in Igoumenitsa in order to avoid a large queue. After eating an excellent dinner, we were beginning to depart the port at around 21:00, with the sun having ceded its place to the dark sky. This marked the official end of my stay in Greece for the summer of 2018, as we were now entering the Adriatic Sea, passing between Corfu and Albania in order to head towards the port of Ancona in Italy.

As there was nothing to see in the dark, I remained inside the lounge alley in Deck 9, where my family had reserved the spinning chairs for the night (due to not being able to book a cabin). I thus left Greece in the middle of the night, and spent the next thirteen hours sleeping on the comfortable chair. Despite the increasing noise from other passengers standing next to us, this did not affect me as I had been too tired due to being awake since 05:00 that day.

I woke up the following morning (on 26 August) at 10:00. We were in the middle of the Adriatic Sea at that time. Unfortunately, I could not go out once again due to poor weather, as it was still raining and there was quite an intense wind. I was thus unable to stay outdoors.

Once the weather improved (although this did not last very long), I took a picture of the funnel as seen from the middle section of Deck 11.

At around 14:00, we had finally arrived in Ancona. It was now the time to disembark. This is the staircase alley from which passengers held towards the ramps in order to leave the ship. Above it, you can see a picture of the ship's funnel as seen from Deck 11's middle section. Don't you think that it is quite similar to the picture I took of the ship (the one just above this one)? The picture (made-up of 16 different pieces all linked together like a puzzle) also says 'Have a nice journey!' both in Greek and in English.

The stern of the OLYMPIC CHAMPION (featuring two large garage entrances for vehicles as well as the passenger entrance on the starboard side) shortly after disembarking her in a rainy Ancona. After exactly 24 hours, the trip came to an end. I had arrived in Italy for the first time in exactly ten years, and thus my interaction with the Greek coastal service for the summer of 2018 was officially over. We then left Ancona in order to head towards Milan, where my sister was due to begin her studies.

Having spent an entire day (24 hours) onboard the OLYMPIC CHAMPION, I have to admit that it was a very nice experience. There were some issues that made this highly-anticipated trip not this perfect, notably the lack of other Adriatic Sea ships seen through the trip (except for the CRUISE EUROPA), the poor weather which forced me to spend a large portion of the trip indoors, and generally the overcrowded passengers which made too much noise. Moreover, the areas I once admired, such as the swimming pool section or the discothèque lounge, were no longer being used for leisure. Instead, they have been abandoned and passengers are now using them like bedrooms. This clearly shows the decline of the cruiseferrries on the Adriatic Sea, but the passengers are to blame. They do not care about a comfortable trip which would give the impression that they are traveling onboard a cruise ship (despite the modern and flawless amenities offered by the ship). They now simply want to go from Port A to Port B, regardless of the services offered onboard. Despite these issues, I was very happy to travel with the ship after exactly ten years since my last trip onboard her. Although she is no longer the newly-built jewel of ANEK Lines that everyone used to know during the 2000s, she still offers an efficient service, and her crew is extremely hardworking and does the best it can in order to maintain order onboard. Thus, I was satisfied to see that the financially-weakened ANEK Lines still have an excellent ship that helps them survive the arduous conditions that they have been experiencing since the start of the Greek financial crisis.

And so this marks the end of the 2018 Greek coastal service season. It was undoubtedly one which saw me traveling in many places and taking pictures of various ships. Overall, I took almost 2,500 pictures of 150 different Greek ships, wrote 16 blog posts regarding various topics and trips, and traveled a total of 26 times with 19 different ships (and traveling on 12 of them for the first time). That summer saw me first on the Cyclades (in Ios, Mykonos and Delos), then in Athens (during which I made a few trips to Aegina and one in Salamina), a brief stay in Evoia, followed by a return to the Cyclades (this time in Naxos, Paros and Antiparos), and then a classic family stay in Zakynthos and Aegina, concluding with a trip on the Adriatic Sea. I am looking forward to seeing many ships (including new introductions) in the next few weeks, when I am going to return to Greece from late June 2019 to late August 2019.

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