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  • Writer's pictureAlexandros Vrailas

ORCA Tribute and Moments of Back-to-back Trips

Trip: 19 June 2018. From Mykonos to Delos and back, with the ORCA of Delos Tours.

Two days after arriving in Mykonos with the high speed ferry SUPERRUNNER of Golden Star Ferries, I was able to experience, with my university friends, one of the island's main touristic highlights. This consisted of doing a one-day trip to the Cyclades island's neighbour, the historic island of Delos.

For Greek history enthusiasts, this name undoubtedly sounds familiar. Indeed, Delos is one of the most important islands of Ancient Greece, having been a sacred mythological site (according to the legend, the Ancient Greek Gods Apollon and Artemis were born there, and Zeus is said to have his main sanctuary there) and the center of the well-known Delian League which was an association between Ancient Greek city-states that would cooperate economically and culturally under the command of Athens, which was at the peak of its Classical era Golden Age. By hosting several temples, former homes, Ancient Greek theatres, former sanctuaries and numerous sculptures still well-maintained to date, Delos is currently one of Greece's most famous, most visited and most important archaeological sites, as it welcomes 100000 visitors from all over the world on annual basis. Moreover, the island became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.

Despite its popularity, Delos has very few inhabitants, and its daily activities now solely rely on the visits from tourists, who have the chance to explore the entire island and its unique exhibits. As it is the case with its fellow small neighbour, the uninhabited island of Rineia, Delos is primarily accessed by boat from the larger island of Mykonos. Hence, several ships connect Delos with Mykonos, transporting all tourists in order to help them reach this historical island and bring them back to Mykonos before each evening.

Historically, the shipping company which has performed daily trips between Mykonos and Delos is Delos Tours, which has been operating these services for almost 90 years. It was founded in the 1930s by the Rouchos family, which was transporting locals and farm animals between the two islands and Rineia. Due to the rise of tourism in Greece, the family kept increasing the services in order to allow them to explore Delos, initially in the 1970s with the small motor ship NERAÏDA, which was replaced in 1986 by the larger NERAÏDA II, before the latter found herself replaced by the larger passenger ship HERA (ex-THIRA of Nomicos Lines, scrapped in 2008). The introduction of that ship proved key as it allowed larger passenger capacity and a faster and safer service. After the success of the HERA, the company brought in the Ukranian-built ALINA III, in 1994, which became the DELOS EXPRESS. Following a decade of continuous success, Delos Tours decided to replace the aging HERA with a younger and larger tour boat. And in 2003, this became a reality, when the company bought the Turkish-built ORCA, formerly a floating casino in the coastal town of Marmaris. This ship's introduction on the Mykonos-Delos line was a massive success, as she was even bigger and even faster than her predecessor. She quickly became her company's new flagship, and, alongside the DELOS EXPRESS, has constantly provided efficient and reliable service. A conversion she underwent in Perama in 2004 (a year after her introduction on the Mykonos-Delos line) helped her increase her passenger capacity and provide a longer sun deck, hence making the trip much more comfortable. She ended up being the ship on which I traveled during both trips to and from Delos, and she became the first tour boat on which I traveled since the Santorini Boatmen Union's wooden sailing ship, the AFRODITI, when I explored the Santorini Archipelago back in 2015.

Beyond the services provided by Delos Tours, the historic island has also been accessible from tour boats from other Cyclades islands, which perform daily trips there. For example, Naxos-based companies Cycladic Cruises and Panteleos Cruises or Tinos-based company Tinos Island Cruises bring their ships to Delos, and connect it with other islands such as Mykonos, Tinos, Paros, Santorini, Ios, Koufonisi, Amorgos and more. Delos Tours also makes occasional connections of Mykonos and Delos with other close islands such as Tinos and Syros. Furthermore, they also perform daily connections between the old port of Mykonos (located in the city's main village, the Chora) and the new port of Mykonos (located in Tourlos, which is ten minutes away from the Chora by high speed boat), where the conventional ferries and most cruise ships now dock. These connections are performed since 2013 by four smaller but faster boats, which you will get to see in this post.

The ORCA seen in the old port of Mykonos, a day before my trips with her.

During midday of 19 June 2018, I reached the old port of Mykonos in oder to do my one-day visit to Delos. As I approached the port, I could see a high speed craft arriving there as well. This was the FLYINGCAT 4 of Hellenic Seaways, which was on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Naxos-Ios-Sikinos-Folegandros line that summer.

The FLYINGCAT 4 preparing to dock in the old port of Mykonos, with cruise ships in the background. Unlike larger ferries which are too big to dock in the old port, smaller passenger ships (notably high speed catamarans such as the FLYINGCAT 4 or Sea Jets' smaller ships) still dock in the old port.

As I was now on the dock of the old port of Mykonos, I could spot another small high speed boat: the OKEANOS of the Association of the Boatmen of Mykonos. She operates on the Mykonos-Agios Georgios line, the latter being a tiny island next to the former. She also helps transport cruise ship passengers to the old port in case the latter are unable to dock due to infrastructure constraints.

Behind the OKEANOS was one of the fleetmates of the ORCA: the small high speed boat MYKONOS STAR. Built in 2015, she operates on the Mykonos-Delos line as well as between the old port and the new port of Mykonos.

The ORCA seen just before embarkation.

Just like most bigger passenger tour boats, embarkation is performed through the stern. Right above the first deck, the ship's name could be seen hanging behind the sun deck, with large red letters using the letter font of Delos Tours.

The ORCA's lower deck, which is basically her only indoor passenger area. The walls, the tables and the chairs are all wooden, and have enough space to fit approximately 450 passengers.

In the front section of the interior area, the ship features a bar providing passengers with various snacks, soft drinks and coffee. On the bar's ceiling, one can notice a few orcas, which are the animal after whom the ship is named. She has kept her name ever since she was built in Turkey, with Delos Tours not changing it when she arrived in Greece in 2003.

The ship's deckplan.

The ship's side alley, leading to the engine room. It also features two pictures hanged on the walls, showing the landscapes of the two most popular Cyclades islands: Santorini and Mykonos.

The ORCA's lower deck starboard side outdoor alley, which features a few benches, including in the bow section. Next to her was another one of her fleetmates, the MYKONOS SPIRIT, which has been owned by Delos Tours since 2017.

I then headed to the upper deck in order to have a view of the ship's surroundings. The ORCA has a typical open deck, with several benches for passengers willing to spend their trips in the outdoor area.

The forward section of the open deck, featuring more benches, a small sun deck as well as the foremast and the ship's bridge.

The MYKONOS STAR heading towards the old port of Mykonos. Like all Delos Tours-owned ships connecting Mykonos' ports, she operates under the Mykonos Sea Bus brandname.

Behind her was a historic tour boat. Indeed, it was the sailing passenger ship SOPHIA STAR of Aegean Ventures, which is the oldest active ship in the Greek coastal service. Initially a fishing boat from 1955 to 1995, she was then converted to a passenger ship. She was initially on the Northeast Aegean Sea and on the Sporades, before arriving in 2014 to the Cyclades. She was owned by Mykonos Cruises from 2014 to 2016, when she was bought by her current owners. She operates on the Mykonos-Rineia-Paros-Naxos line. Finally, she has been designated as a Historic Preserved Monument by the Greek Ministry of Culture, being the only Greek passenger ship to have ever received such an honour.

Beyond the old port, one can view parts of the new port in Tourlos. There, I saw another veteran ship, the Ro-Ro carrier KAPETAN CHRISTOS of Sourmelis NE, which was spending her second season in the Greek coastal service. She supplies several goods mainly for the Greek Army, but also transports lorries across the Aegean Sea. Though she has served several islands, she tends to make very frequent appearances in Mykonos.

The MYKONOS STAR waiting to dock in the old port of Mykonos.

At the same time, the MYKONOS SPIRIT leaves the old port. Just like the MYKONOS STAR, she also operates under the Mykonos Sea Bus brandname.

The MYKONOS SPIRIT seen heading towards the new port of Mykonos. She was previously the MYTHOS of Kefalonia-based company Captain Vangelis Special Cruises (also known as Kefalonia Cruises), serving the Kyllini-Zakynthos-Kefalonia-Ithaca line on the Ionian Sea from 2009 until her sale to Delos Tours in 2017.

The MYKONOS STAR seen in Mykonos, with the SOPHIA STAR also slightly visible at the back.

A nice view of the Mykonos coastline, right next to the new port.

Behind the MYKONOS STAR, I spotted another ship owned by the Association of the Boatmen of Mykonos, the AIMILIA, which was heading towards the old port.

Just like the OKEANOS, the AIMILIA helps transport cruise ship passengers to the ports of Mykonos, while also connecting Mykonos with the small island of Agios Georgios.

The beautiful and classic KAPETAN CHRISTOS seen departing Mykonos.

Next to her, I could see another ship of Delos Tours approach the old port of Mykonos: the veteran passenger ship MARGARITA CH.

Built in 1981, the ship spent the first years of her career on the Northeast Aegean Sea serving the Mytilene-Ayvalık line (connecting Greece with Turkey), before being inserted on the Mykonos-Delos line under Delos Tours in 1998. She was initially named NIKI from 1998 to 2002, before switching to her current name during the latter year. She is named after Margarita Chatzigioannou, the wife of Georgios Chatzigioannou, who had become the main owner of Delos Tours in the 1970s while also serving as a captain on the company's ships at the time.

The MARGARITA CH entering the old port of Mykonos. She is the company's oldest ship, and also operates under the Mykonos Sea Bus brandname. Before arriving on the Cyclades, she operated as the ERESSOS of Baïraktaris Shipping, operating alongside her younger fleetmate at the time, the ERESSOS II, which also went on to operate on the Cyclades from 1998 onwards, becoming the legendary EXPRESS SKOPELITIS of Small Cyclades Lines.

The MARGARITA CH preparing to maneuver in the old port of Mykonos. Note the company's name being placed right above her bridge.

Further back, the KAPETAN CHRISTOS was leaving the island, while the high speed ferry CHAMPION JET 1 of Sea Jets was approaching the new port of Mykonos.

Two completely different ships, the KAPETAN CHRISTOS and the CHAMPION JET 1, seen together right outside the new port of Mykonos.

The ORCA left the old port of Mykonos at 10:00. The trip to Delos normally lasts 30 minutes, when the weather conditions allow it. Right outside the old port, I could see yet another ship owned by Delos Tours. This time, it was the larger DELOS EXPRESS, which, like the ORCA, operates exclusively on the Mykonos-Delos line, while also occasionally heading to Tinos and Syros.

The CHAMPION JET 1 approaching the new port of Mykonos. The summer of 2018 was her fourth consecutive in Greece under Sea Jets, and her second in a row on the Piraeus-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line.

The MYKONOS STAR having unloaded passengers in the old port of Mykonos. Just like the CHAMPION JET 1, 2018 marked her fourth consecutive summer operating in Greece, as she was built and delivered to Delos Tours in the summer of 2015.

Behind her was another ship approaching the old port: the ANEMOS of the Association of the Boatmen of Mykonos.

While the ANEMOS was approaching the port, her fleetmate, the AIMILIA, was leaving it.

Another ship was then entering the old port of Mykonos. It was yet again a ship owned by Delos Tours: this time it was their most recent acquisition, the MYKONOS JEWEL.

Built in 2015 in Greece, this ship was previously operating as the KATERINA of Venus Cruises on the Samos-Kuşadası line in 2015 and then on the Patmos-Samos-Kuşadası line. A brief charter to Kontogiorgis Cruises on the Kefalonia-Ithaca-Skorpios-Madouri-Meganisi-Lefkada line on the Ionian Sea followed in 2017. In 2018, after not being in the plans of Venus Cruises, she was sold to Delos Tours, becoming their third acquisition in as many years.

The CHAMPION JET 1 preparing to maneuver in the new port of Mykonos.

The MYKONOS STAR seen sailing near the old port of Mykonos.

The MYKONOS JEWEL, in her first season under her new owners.

The MYKONOS JEWEL seen maneuvering in the old port of Mykonos.

The MYKONOS JEWEL maneuvering in the old port of Mykonos.

After seeing the MYKONOS JEWEL, I also got to see the last fleetmate of the ORCA, the small high speed boat MYKONOS EXPRESS.

Further back, while looking at the new port of Mykonos, I spotted the SUPERRUNNER of Golden Star Ferries, which was preparing to maneuver after having arrived from Tinos.

The ANEMOS seen leaving the old port of Mykonos.

The OKEANOS seen arriving in the old port of Mykonos once again, after having previously returned to Agios Georgios.

The MYKONOS EXPRESS approaching the old port of Mykonos. She was built in 2013 for Delos Tours, and was the company's first newly-built ship since the NERAÏDA II in 1986. She was also the first ship to serve both the Mykonos-Delos line and the connection of the two Mykonos ports. The latter became a huge success, and it led to her company deploying three new ships under the brandname Mykonos Sea Bus: the MYKONOS STAR, in 2015, the MARGARITA CH (already owned by the company since 1998) in 2016, and the newly-acquired MYKONOS SPIRIT in 2017.

The DELOS EXPRESS waiting outside of the old port of Mykonos.

The MYKONOS JEWEL having just docked in the old port of Mykonos, while the ORCA has departed.

Another view of the ORCA's fleetmate, the DELOS EXPRESS.

The MYKONOS JEWEL seen leaving the old port of Mykonos shortly afterwards.

After only a few minutes spent at the port, the CHAMPION JET 1 departed Mykonos in order to head towards her next destination, which was Naxos.

The CHAMPION JET 1 seen leaving Mykonos.

The CHAMPION JET 1 beginning to travel at full-speed right outside of Mykonos.

The CHAMPION JET 1 heading towards Naxos. She was the first high speed ferry on which I had traveled in my life, having been onboard her on 12 July 2015 (almost three years before my trip with the ORCA) during a trip from Santorini to Piraeus.

The CHAMPION JET 1 seen heading towards Naxos.

Two cruise ships seen moored next to the new port of Mykonos: the CELESTYAL CRYSTAL of Celestyal Cruises and the COSTA NEORIVIERA of Italian company Costa Crociere (Costa Cruises).

The CHAMPION JET 1 seen again, heading towards Naxos.

Another view of the CHAMPION JET 1.

Right behind the CHAMPION JET 1, the SUPERRUNNER was also already leaving Mykonos, in order to head towards Paros.

The SUPERRUNNER, in what was her second consecutive summer under her current owners, the Andros-based Golden Star Ferries, It was also her second straight summer on the line her company inaugurated for her: the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line.

The impressive SUPERRUNNER, on which I had traveled two days earlier, seen heading towards Paros.

Another view of the SUPERRUNNER, which was previously known as the SPEEDRUNNER IV of Aegean Speed Lines from 2009 to 2016, as she leaves Mykonos.

One final view of the SUPERRUNNER as she heads from Mykonos to Paros.

After 30 minutes, we began to approach the small port of the historic island of Delos.

The ORCA seen in Delos, shortly after our arrival, at around 10:30.

The ORCA seen in Delos. She is the only ship of the company not to have her hull painted in dark blue, which is Delos Tours' main colour. Instead, she has kept her white-painted hull which she had during her spell in Turkey.

The ORCA seen in Delos, an island she has been serving for the past 15 years.

The ORCA seen in Delos, as we begin to visit the island.

The ORCA seen from the archaeological site of Delos.

Alongside the resting ORCA, I could also spot another small passenger ship: the NAXOS STAR of Panteleos Cruises, which is a sister ship of the DELOS EXPRESS.

The NAXOS STAR and the ORCA seen together in Delos. The former is, as I mentioned previously, one of the ships that connect Delos with the rest of the Cyclades and not just Mykonos.

Another view of the NAXOS STAR and the ORCA, in the port of Delos, surrounded by precious ruins depicting Ancient Greece.