FUNCHAL CRUISE –
WORLD SHIP SOCIETY, COBH BRANCH IRELAND
Ireland - World Ship Society
MV FUNCHAL of
Portuscale Cruises, Portugal, is one of the last classic ocean liners still
sailing today. To sail on FUNCHAL is a step back in time to the era of ocean
travel which can’t be replicated by modern cruise ships. Therefore, last
August’s cruise on FUNCHAL by the members of the Cobh Branch of the World Ship
Society was an experience that will long be remembered.
A visit to the
ship by the branch members when it berthed at Cobh in May 2014 planted the seed
for the cruise. The warm welcome aboard by Capt. Jose Valente and his Hotel
Manager, Jose Oliveira, a tour of the ship and a magnificent lunch, all helped
to root that seed.
MV FUNCHAL was
built at the Helsingor Shipyard (yard no.353) in Denmark in 1961. She was
totally refurbished at Lisbon in 2013.
She is 9,563
tons gross. Length 153m, beam 19m, draft 6m approx.
MV. FUNCHAL at anchor in St. Marys, Isles
MV FUNCHAL was
built for service to Madeira and Canary Islands from Lisbon. Her maiden voyage
was on 4th November 1961. She was also used as a Presidential Yacht on many
occasions. President of the Republic, Americo Tomas accompanied the body of
King Dom Pedro IV of Portugal & Emperor of Brazil when the FUNCHAL transported
his body to Rio de Janeiro in 1972. On this symbolic voyage to mark the 150th
anniversary of the independence of Brazil, there were no passengers onboard,
only the official party from both countries. She was escorted across the South
Atlantic by Portuguese and Brazilian warships.
In 1974, the
FUNCHAL became a cruise liner and visited many ports around the world until her
last owners, Classic International Cruises, went into liquidation in 2010. The
ship was subsequently laid up in Lisbon and nearly scrapped.
old ship was saved from the breakers yard by its new owner, Mr. Rui Alegre,
Chairman and CEO of Portuscale Cruises, in March 2013. The enormous job of
restoring FUNCHAL to her former glory began immediately. She was completely
gutted and refitted in less than a year by the Vianadecon Shipyard in Lisbon.
All of these
facts and figures combined with a visit to the bridge, whetted our appetite to
plan a cruise. The shipyard’s magnificent restoration work, in the public
spaces and staterooms delighted everybody. It turned out that our favourite was
Porto Bar. This elegant, intimate and comfortable bar amidships had the
atmosphere of a private yacht. It is a delightful bar in which to relax with
friends after dinner, while listening to the ship’s pianist and singers, and
because of its size we struck up many interesting conversations with other
passengers. We even witnessed a marriage proposal by one of the passengers
during a nightly concert – and fortunately, the answer was yes, or to be more
exact, in Portuguese, “Sim”! The Gama Lounge forward was a wonderful place to
enjoy the panoramic views of the ocean on sea days or to just read to the motion
of FUNCHAL as she steamed her way to the next port.
restaurant “Lisboa” was one deck below amidships on Azores Deck. This tastefully
decorated dining room has ocean-view picture windows on all sides. The food is
excellent and the menu has something to satisfy every taste. The wine list
includes top quality Portuguese wine from the owner’s vineyard at very
reasonable prices. One of the many dining experiences was the Buffet night
proudly prepared by the ship’s chefs and enjoyed by all onboard, once the
cameras were put away. We were even entertained by the ship’s company one
night! They were certainly a very contented crew and nothing was too much
trouble. We even though of making the hotel manager, Jose Oliveira, an
honorary Irish citizen!
restaurant overlooking the swimming pool on the after deck was the venue for
breakfast or lunch. This was another delightful area in which to dine and take
in the unfolding scenery of the ocean or river bank MV FUNCHAL’s outdoor and
promenade teak decks enhanced the yacht -like feel that was so evident
throughout this beautiful vessel.
Our 12day cruise
began at Falmouth and ended at Lisbon. Our first call after a day at sea was to
Bilbao in Spain.
Capt Jose Valente accepts a painting of
MV FUNCHAL from artist Brian Cleare on right of Capt Valente
during our day at sea was the morning spent on the bridge, with Captain Valente
and some of his officers where we discussed a wide range of shipping related
topics. One of our members on the cruise, a renowned Irish marine artist,
Brian Cleare, had specially painted a picture of FUNCHAL entering Cork Harbour,
with Roches Point in the background and the tug GERRY O’SULLIVAN in
attendance. This unique, signed painting was presented to Capt Jose Valente.
After Bilbao we
had an overnight sail to Bordeaux, probably France’s premier wine region. The
long passage, almost 100km up the Gironde Estuary was really spectacular. That
night we cruised the short hop to La Rochelle where we had a really enjoyable
day ashore. The next day was another one at sea, our destination Honfleur. Honfleur
is one of those quaint “must go back to” places. Beautiful architecture,
fantastic waterside cafes, it seemed that the only thing missing was the
swashbuckling pirates from another era … maybe next time! Our next port of
call was St.Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly, where we went ashore by tender, to
experience this Atlantic oasis. Our week ended with a return to Falmouth, and a
quick turnaround, just in time to join the Tall Ships parade of sail as they set
off on the next leg of their race. Our grandstand view of the Tall Ship fleet
from the decks of FUNCHAL was yet another highlight for many on this cruise; our
departure coincided with the parade of sail. Our next port of call was Lisbon,
our final destination. The cruise down the Bay of Biscay for the second time was
thrilling experience. The old lady gently rolled in a heavy swell as the sun
shone down on her teak afterdeck that was continuously washed by water spilling
from the swimming pool. Standing at her stern flagpole as she rolled in the
swell one would think that you were at the tiller of a classic yacht. Not
everyone could appreciate this feeling however, as they were too busy searching
for the seasick pills! Let’s just say that one or two still had not found
MV FUNCHAL departing Falmouth with the Tall
Ships RAce Parade of Sail
But the mood
soon lifted as we sailed down the Portuguese coast in glorious sunshine on the
way to Lisbon. As the FUNCHAL entered the port in the early evening sunlight,
the wonders of Lisbon from the river Tagus unfolded, revealing The Belem Tower
and the 25 de April Bridge (Golden Gate’s twin sister) and that splendid city
built on seven hills.
With a tinge of
sadness, we disembarked from this unique ocean liner and its happy crew.
However, everyone agreed that we will return again. FUNCHAL cruising is quite
different, because along with the classic experience the passenger is cosseted
and cared for to the highest standard. The facilities and service are
par-excellence. To our readers we say, do not let this wonderful ship pass you
We wish FUNCHAL,
her Captain, crew and all at Portuscale Cruises, “Fair Winds and Following Seas”