Chartres was the third and final ship of the late 1960s/1970s trio of Sealink multi-purpose train/ro-ro vehicle ferries, the lead of which was British Rail's Vortigern, followed by the Saint Eloi of ALA. The Chartres was built in Nantes for SNCF (French Railways) for Dover-Dunkerque train ferry operations and Dover-Calais passenger service.
All three of the ships are rather different in appearance, the
Chartres especially so compared to the other two with fewer, but much larger windows in the superstructure and a very different funnel design. In terms of basic dimensions and operating purpose however the three ships were basically identical. The Chartres (and the Vortigern for that matter) spent relatively little time on train ferry duties, and she was transferred to Dieppe for the Newhaven route between 1983 and 1990. Chartres ended her English channel career with a final spell operating Summer train connected crossings on the prime Dover-Calais link from Dover Western Docks, on charter to Sealink UK's French subsidiary ALA. She actually replaced her half sister Channel Entente (ex-Saint Eloi) which had been sold to the Isle of Man Steam Packet. In this role, the Chartres had the dubious honour of effectively closing the historic Dover Western Docks to its traditional cross-channel passengers at the end of the 1993 season - thereafter, apart from a few more months of freight-only train ferry work by the Nord pas-de-Calais, the Admiralty Pier part of the harbour was to be the domain of the cruise ships only.
Very soon after this, the vessel was acquired by the fast-expanding Agapitos Express Ferries, becoming the
Express Santorini. Agapitos Express were the principle foundation upon which the Hellas Ferries empire was built when it appeared almost overnight in late 1999, and the Santorini saw only a minor livery change when the takeover came. For 2005, Hellas Ferries became Hellenic Seaways, and the ship re-appeared in the new HSW blue hull colours, continuing to operate on the Piraeus-Paros-Santorini chain. July 2006 saw the ship laid up with machinery troubles and for the Summers of 2007, 2008 and 2009 she was chartered to Atlanticoline in the Azores to operate between Faial, Pico and Sao Jorge, returning each Winter to Piraeus for overhaul and some local service for her owners.
ABOVE: Express Santorini at Piraeus in March 2001. In the background can be seen ANEK's spectacularly hideous Lissos, a typical ANEK conversion of a Japanese ferry. In reference to the latter it is observed in the book Greek Sea Bridges, "the curious shape of the funnels make it difficult to know in which direction she is heading", although they rather pull their punches in describing her as merely "striking" looking!
ABOVE: At Piraeus the Express Santorini is still unmistakably the Chartres, with the funnel being an obvious reference point. Still looking good despite 27 years of service, the Greek tendency to stack the stern of newly-acquired ships with extra deck space seems to have largely passed this ship by, although the triangular shaped steelwork is a new addition. An early casualty of her conversion for Greek service however was the large opening on the main passenger deck which originally allowed side-loading access for cars to her upper garage. This would have been just aft of the area beneath the second lifeboat. The garage was used only when operating as a train ferry, and was converted into a passenger lounge when still in Sealink service. It could be accessed from the aforementioned side 'gap' to the ramps at the Dover and Dunkirk train ferry berths, over the stern to the double deck loading ramps at Dover Eastern Docks and from the main car deck via 'piggy-back' ramps especially designed for the Vortigern series - evidence suggests that the latter two means were rarely if ever used in practice.
BELOW: Express Santorini - still looking good despite approaching 30 years of service.
BELOW: Chartres in her original livery. In later years, she would received 'SNCF' markings on the red funnel, and ultimately, in the late 1980s, a white hull with 'Sealink Dieppe Ferries' and latterly simply 'Sealink' (under ALA).
BELOW: Express Santorini seen at Piraeus in July 2003 demonstrating the very slightly modified livery with dolphin logo on the funnel and on the hull.
BELOW: An interesting view of Chartres entering Calais harbour in the late 1970s, by this stage having received the 'SNCF' markings on her funnel.
BELOW: After 1983, the ship was transferred to the Dieppe-Newhaven route, and is seen here during that period berthed in the compact harbour at Dieppe.
BELOW: Chartres' final scheduled operations in the English Channel were four seasons operating for Sealink UK's subsidiary ALA on train-connected Calais-Dover Western Docks services. For this she received what was essentially the new livery for SNCF's Sealink ships (now managed by SNAT) but with ALA funnel markings.
ABOVE & BELOW: TheExpress Santorini at Piraeus (above) and Paros (below) in July 2005 looking resplendant in the new HSW livery.
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ABOVE: The completed but still unpainted Chartres prior to being finally handed over to SNCF in 1974.
BELOW: The brand-new Chartres being manouevered into the docks at the old port in Dunkerque in 1974.
BELOW: A contemporary postcard shows the Chartres arriving at Calais early in her career.
BELOW: Express Santorini alongside fleetmate Express Aphrodite in Piraeus.
BELOW: Leaving Piraeus.
BELOW: The Chartres mid-Channel.