17 October 2016

Black Watch in Helsinki 15 September 2016

As most of you might have noticed, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines changed their livery for this year, with a new grey-hulled colour scheme, recalling the livery of their passenger liners of old (alas, with a darker shade of grey than the old one). This, of course, was a perfect excuse to photograph their ships again. Except, when the Black Watch's visit to Helsinki loomed, I realised I had never photographed the ship before (I have, on the other hand, photographed both sisters, the Boudicca and Albatros before). So, this is also an excuse to do another one of the terribly long history entries.

Black Watch

IMO 7108930
Former names: Royal Viking Star, Westward, Star Odyssey, Black Watch
Built 1972, Wärtsilä Helsinki, Finland
Tonnage 28 221 GT
Length 205,47 m
Width 25,19 m
Draugth 7,30 m
820 passengers
4 MAN/B&W diesels, combined 14 000 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
Speed 22 knots

The Black Watch was built for Det Bergenske Dampskibsselskab (BDS), the Norwegian shipowner that were a partner in Hurtigruten, operated a ferry service from Bergen to Newcastle, and ran the cruise ship Meteor. The latter, however, was becoming outdated in the late 1960s, and in 1969 the company ordered a replacement from Wärtsilä in Helsinki, who at the time were building the first trio of ships for Royal Caribbean, but had never actually completed a cruise ship yet. However, after BDS had ordered their ship (originally planned to be named Stella Polaris, after what was probably BDS' most famous cruise ship), they were approached by two other Norwegian shipowners, Det Nordenfjeldske Dampskipsselskap (who were BDS' partners in Hurtigruten) and A.F. Klaveness & Co., who wished to establish a joint subsidiary with BDS for worldwide cruising. This was agreed on, and Royal Viking Line was formed, with the BDS ship renamed Royal Viking Star. Originally, the plan was for each of the three ships to carry the funnel colours of their respective owners as was done with Hurtigruten – in BDS' case, three white stripes on a black background – but in the end all three ships were painted with Royal Viking Line's funnel colours.

The Royal Viking Star entered service in June 1972, as the first ship of Royal Viking Line. The line, with their world-wide itineraries, quickly proved a success, and in 1981 the Royal Viking Star was sent for lengthening at the Seebeckwerft shipyard in West Germany. However, financially the result was less satisfactory. A.F. Klaveness had withdrawn from the consortium already in 1977, and in 1984 Royal Viking Line became a part of the burgeoning Kloster Cruise empire. With the arrival of new tonnage in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kloster decided that the original Royal Viking trio was ill-suited for needs of modern luxury cruising, and in 1991 the Royal Viking Star was transferred to the fleet of the sister company Norwegian Cruise Line as the Westward. In the NCL fleet the ship was used for week-long party cruises for the US market, a use it was singularly unsuited for.

In 1994 the ship was again transferred within the Kloster group, now to Royal Cruise Line, a more upmarket subsidy, becoming the Star Odyssey. Royal Cruise Line already operated the Star Odyssey's sister Royal Odyssey, originally the Royal Viking Sea. However, our ship's stint as the Star Odyssey was to prove short, as Kloster were facing acute financial difficulties, as a result of which the Star Odyssey was sold to Fred. Olsen in late 1996.

Fred. Olsen were, at the time, running a single-ship cruise operation aimed at the UK market using the 1966-vintage Black Prince. The company, however, felt there was much growth potential and were eager to secure a second ship to run alongside the Black Prince. The Star Odyssey fit their needs perfectly, and upon learning she was for sale the Olsens quickly secured her, renaming the ship Black Watch, after the Black Prince's original sister ship and running mate. The Black Watch was given a refit to bring its interiors up to the style of its new owners, and following teething problems the ship set into service comfortably. Indeed, such was the success of the Black Prince and Black Watch that in 2001 a third ship, the Braemar, was added.

Between April and June 2005, the Black Watch was re-engined at Blohm & Voss in Germany, adding to the ship's lifespan. Already before the refit, it had been made public that Fred. Olsen had purchased the Black Watch's sister Grand Latino (originally the Royal Viking Sky), which eventually joined the fleet as the Boudicca in February 2006.

The Black Watch remains in the Fred. Olsen fleet to date. There have been numerous rumours that the Olsens are looking to acquire newer ships to their fleet, and as the Black Watch is their oldest vessel, turning 45 next year; even with the new engines, the Black Watch is the likeliest candidates to leave the fleet to make way for new tonnage (alongside the slightly younger Boudicca).

The photos below show the Black Watch at the cruise quay at Helsinki Eteläsatama, and afterwards passing through the Kustaanmiekka strait after departure, on 15 September 2016. First photo taken from onboard the Tor (one of the ferries to Suomenlinna) and the rest from the ramparts of Kustaanmiekka. Click on the images to see them in larger size.

The Black Watch back at home, with the city's two most famous landmarks in the background.
The roman berries nicely match the ship's funnel colours.
An exceedingly fine-looking design that. And the grey hull is starting to grow on me, though I still think they should have picked a slightly lighter shade.
Thought the narrow bit...
...and onwards to the open sea!
Kships will return.

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