The Spero had what would appear to have been a rather quite life, certainly in comparison to the world tours that some of her ex-UK or Greek rivals and fleetmates have endured. Built in the UK in 1966 for the new England Sweden Line consortium's link between Hull and Gothenburg (actually being owned by Ellerman Wilson Line). The Spero's half-sisters, the beautiful Saga and Svea, owned by Swedish Lloyd (later well-known as Minoan Lines' Festos and Knossos) ran on ESL's route to Tilbury. Sadly the basic concept for these services and the ships was somewhat dated, their design substantially failing to anticipate the ro-ro revolution and the need for plenty of capacity for lorries. The fatal blow however was the unexpected emergence of Tor Line with their modern ro-ro ferries Tor Anglia and Tor Hollandia operating between Immingham, Amsterdam and Gothenburg. Eventually Ellerman gave up on Gothenburg and instead ran the Spero to Zeebrugge. This was another failure and the company finally left Hull to the more forward-thinking North Sea Ferries from 1973. The Spero was sold to NEL (the Maritime Company of Lesbos) in Greece where, as the Sappho,  she stayed for nearly three decades, operating between Pireaus and Lesbos. Bernard Dobbs reports that charts of the North Sea remained on board well into the 1980s - Greek ferry companies seemingly not being too worried about confusing their passengers!
After 29 seasons with NEL,
Sappho was finally disposed of in 2002, for operations between Kenya and Tanzania under the name Santorini 3. After a couple of years in this trade, the ship went for scrapping in India in early 2004.
SPERO
BELOW: This is a picture of the Sappho by Bernard Dobbs taken in 1980 as she entered Chios harbour on the way to Pireaus on an overnight service. Bernard says, "I didn't normally take photos of ferries in those days but I remember being so staggered when such a huge ferry arrived in the harbour that I immediately reached for my camera. In those days Greek ferries were generally small and scruffy - I thought this was the height of luxury" - a comment that perhaps reflects why she failed on the North Sea. ESL reputedly refused to call their trio of vessels "ferries", emphasising their position as real ships in sharp contrast to Tor Line's modern ro-ro twins. This may have been a neat bit of what today would have be called 'spinning', but it also showed a fundamental problem for ESL - they had introduced three high quality passenger ships into a market where the real money was now to be made in transporting year-round freight.
ABOVE: Sappho seen at Piraeus in April 2001, awaiting another departure for the islands of Chios and Lesbos.
e-mail: matt@hhvferry.com
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ABOVE: The launch of the Spero at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead.
ABOVE: The Spero at speed during her trials.
ABOVE: A classic scene at the King George Dock in Hull in the late 1960s with the Spero (left) and the Norwave of North Sea Ferries on the ferry berths. The tug is the Workman.
CLICK HERE FOR INTERNAL PICTURES OF SPERO
ABOVE: The giant stern door of the Spero which opened through 180 degrees. The ship was unusual in as much as passenger's cars were loaded over side ramps at what would have been mezzanine deck level on other ferries (on the Spero this was simply the upper of effectively two limited-height car decks. This stern opening was for the access of containers (stored on the lower of the two decks and expected to be a very significant part of the traffic) and lorries, which could be taken in a full-height area right aft. No bow loading facilities were fitted. In Greek service, a rather more conventional (stern-only) basis was used for vehicle loading and the decks modified as appropriate.
ABOVE & BELOW: Two fine views of the Spero in the later grey hull colours which replaced the original dark green.