How the cruise ships began

Next week marks the beginning of the annual cruise ship season. This year, former guide JOHN WARD PHILLIPS will be keeping us up to date with the ships that are coming and going and sketching out the history of some of the vessels. Here, as the isles prepare for the influx of tourists, he looks at the history of cruising and offers some observations on what to expect this year.

In 1836, a curious advertisement appeared in the first issue of the Shetland Journal. It proposed an imaginary cruise from Stromness in Orkney round Iceland and the Faroe Islands and hinted at the pleasures of cruising under the Spanish sun in winter. Thus, it is said, the Journal’s founder Arthur Anderson invented the concept of cruising. Just two years later Anderson, along with his business partner Brodie Wilcox (1786-1862), founded the great Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company.

On 17th October 2006, the P&O Company disappeared into history as it merged with DP World, a subsidiary of Dubai World. However the house flag remains as an internationally recognised symbol of excellence.

Records at Lerwick port authority started in 1924; the first cruise ship to visit was recorded on 17th July 1928. The 998 ton Mira was built in 1891 by A & J Inglis, Glasgow, expressly for the tourist trade between Norway and England.

She operated many cruises for the Old Norse Society, which supported regional dialects of, and the Norwegian language in general. On arrival in Shetland she was boarded by Robert A Johnson, the Guiser Jarl using the name Ullr, with his squad as a welcoming gesture.

In 1907 Mira, meaning Goddess of Knowledge, was lengthened at Stavanger Støberi & Dok in 1907 giving her a new tonnage of 1,112 and between 1921 and 1927 the ship was used on the route to Hamburg. The ship was rebuilt in 1927 at Laksevåg for use on the Hurtigruten, new interior and bridge and refri­geration was installed in 1932.

When Germany invaded Norway in 1940 Mira was taken over by them and used on convoy work: she was sunk at 8.46am on the 4th March 1941.

It is known that ships converted for cruising, and some transatlantic liners were used for cruising, had visited Lerwick before these records began and my research has shown SS City Of Richmond visited in the 1890s, built at 4,607 tons in 1873 by Tod & McGregor Glasgow, scrapped in 1896.

The SS Hamburg (1) built in 1899 at 10,532 tons by AG Vulcan at Stettin Poland, for Hamburg America Line visited on the 17th July 1905, she was scraped in 1928 in the USA having been renamed President Fillmore. The Thalia, built in 1886 at 2,371 tons by W Denny & Bros, Dumbar­ton for Lloyd Austro-Ungarico, Trieste, visited in July 1908, she was scrapped in 1926.

More about these ships at end of the season.

Over the last 80 years many hundreds of cruise ships have visited Lerwick, and as of this week there were due to be 49 calls by 34 ships this season plus five further visits by the Norwegian sail training ship, the Statsraad Lehmkuhl.

Forty-nine calls are not a record, but equal to those which called in 2003. In 1989 just 15 called and 96 years earlier just two.

Shore excursions for these cruise ships are carried out by members of the Shetland Islands Tourist Guides Association, who are trained locally. The association was formed in 1994 to service the needs of visiting cruise ships; although it has to be said that there was guiding long before 1994 and it was these ladies and gentlemen who set the standard that is used to­day for guide training. In 1999 they became affiliated with the Scottish Tourist Guides Association.

Members work as step-on guides on coaches supplied by John Leask & Son who sometimes contract in coaches from other operators around the isles.

These excursions are to either Jarlshof or sometimes Sumburgh Head for the smaller expedition ships or Scalloway with Whiteness and Weisdale. Seldom do they go elsewhere due to the allocated time ashore – those who opt not to go on shore excursions will just saunter the Lerwick shops or stay on board. Others may decide to take taxis to other places.

Next week sees the start of this year’s season, and I will be reporting on the ships that will call each week.

We will have to see how the sea­son unfolds regarding the worldwide recession. Passenger numbers may not reflect the large number of ships calling, but we keep our fingers crossed. It just depends how many people come ashore and go on excursions. It is a rule of thumb that for every three that come ashore one will stay on board the ship.

Figures recently released show that the British cruise industry enjoyed a record year in 2008 with figures increasing by 11 per cent to almost 1.5 million passengers. In all 577,000 cruised from home ports with 900,000 taking fly-cruises. But the Passenger Shipping Association director William Gibbons does not expect growth in 2009.


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