On Friday 9 July 2004 we had the chance to make a sailing on Saos Ferries' Nisos Limnos (ex-Milos Express/Vortigern)  from Mykonos to Syros as she neared the end of one of her tortuous twice-weekly trips based in Lavrion.

This ship was the final British-built train ferry, coming out of Swan Hunter on the Tyne in June 1969. Which of course meant when we travelled on her she was now actually a few weeks older than the 35-year limit for Greek ferries and, unforseen legislative changes aside, would be forceably retired after the 2004 season.

Express Milos was always fairly well maintained under previous owners Hellas Ferries, but sadly this was not quite the case in her final days. In many ways the 35-year rule is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Decent operators with relatively high standards dispose of elderly ships as they reach the limit and they are snapped up by companies who perhaps want to squeeze out a few slivers of profit before they are banned. With no future employment possible, it makes little sense for the final owners to invest much in maintenance or upkeep other than the bare essentials.

And so it seemed to be with
Nisos Limnos. The decks were untidy and unpainted, the classic wooden deck rails unvarnished and cracking whilst below the car deck the old passenger cabins had seen bulkhead panels mysteriously ripped out (presumably not integral ones though).

As built the ship had three particularly inspired public areas in the forward, space-age oval cafeteria on the upper deck; the adjacent Britannia Bar (a dark, moody and discreet smoke room); and the aft Verandah Bar in purples and blacks and aimed at the teenage backpackers who would transit from Dover-Dunkerque on the Night Ferry. All three of these have long gone with the cafeteria now a rather bland First Class lounge (although as
Nisos Limnos she appears
to have been one-class), the Britannia Bar now an area of cabins whilst Sealink converted the Verandah Bar into a duty-free shop in the early '80s, it now also housing additional cabins.
matt@hhvferry.com 2004
The other areas of the ship though were much more unchanged from her final UK days. The lower deck's forward bar was now a self-service cafeteria (although it appeared permanently shut) and whilst the modern central seating installed by Hellas Ferries was in some places ripped and worn, around the outside of the lounge the original hard-wearing green leather sofa booths remained in excellent condition.

Aft on either beam she retained traditional Sealink side lounges, still giving the railway carriage impression of 'BR at sea'. Aft in the old upper vehicle garage, the saloon installed by Sealink in the late '70s remained.

A couple of interesting items of note: on the forecastle her bell read 'VORTIGERN 1969' and in the first class lounge she still retained the Vortigern mural which was originally located in the forward stairwell.
e-mail: matt@hhvferry.com
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Above: Vortigern's space-age forward cafeteria in its original state.
Below: The same space on
Nisos Limnos in 2004, with the oval shape still clearly visible.
Above: Comparative views of the forward section of booth seating in Vortigern's main deck forward lounge taken in (left) 1969 and (right) 2004. The original hard-wearing green leather seating has survived intact.
Above: Vortigern's original Britannia Bar, a classic and unique cross-channel space. This was latterly, sadly, converted to an additional area of cabins whilst in Greece.
Above: The purple and black Verandah Bar on Vortigern in 1969. Sealink converted this astonishing, contemporary space into a duty free shop in the 1980s. As Milos Express it became yet more cabins.
This report first appeared on the Ferries of Southern Europe Yahoo Group in July 2004
I left the Nisos Limnos with mixed feelings. I have to admit that this ship is a particular favourite of mine, but finally the end does seem near. She was tired and in some places dirty, and clearly Saos are well aware of the score. That said, mechanically she appeared to be fine (overlooking her 4-hour late arrival due to the previous night's high winds which had kept all ferries in port for lengthy periods of time) and her plumbing seemed in good order unlike some of her former Sealink fleetmates.

One final encore awaited: after pulling up her ramp in Syros, she gathered speed and headed out of the harbour. Just as she was about to disappear from sight, she abruptly stopped and retraced her steps astern straight back to the berth she had just left. Then, as the ramp was halfway through being re-lowered, she just as quickly started off again.
Nisos Limnos left the harbour, rounded the headland, and set off to meet her destiny.
Above: A side lounge on Vortigern in 1969 with a face-to-face seating arrangement.
Below: A similar space on
Nisos Limnos in 2004, albeit with different forward-facing only seating.
Above: Vortigern's original bell, seen in 2004.
Below: The Vortigern mural, latterly located in the upper forward Distinguished Class lounge, as it was in the Summer of 2004.
Above: Outside deck on Nisos Limnos in 2004 - in the foreground is a typical 1980s Sealink fibreglass bench whilst in the background the poorly maintained awnings give away the vessel's self-fulfilling prophecy. The 35-year rule ultimately, inevitably, lead to lower maintenance standards just prior to the ship's withdrawal. The Greek authorities genuinely believe they are enhancing safety. Yet to the informed outsider, it seems only a phyrric victory - surely they would be better served by focussing attention on standards, regardless of age, rather than by imposing arbitrary guidelines which are forceably retiring perfectly adequate and important members of the Greek ferry fleet. Pandering to the ill-informed Frewin Poffley (most recently and laughably critical of the first Alkmini A - formerly Fantasia and noted for being designed well in excess of north European safety standards) and his like, the Greek authorities have caused the premature retirement of several of the local ferry fleet and directly been the cause of lower maintenance and safety standards on board elderly ferries.
Above: Nisos Limnos arriving in Mykonos in her final season, July 2004.
In September 2004, Saos Ferries confirmed that the ship had been sold for scrap to Indian breakers.
A peculiarly popular ship, this was a noble and dignified end: not for the
Vortigern years of swinging at anchor awaiting her fate. She went out at the top, in use and of use to the very end, her career cut short by misguided legislation more than the effects of old age and years of hard work. Thus ended the career of Britain's final train ferry - a unique vessel in every way which, although in practice and by design was a workmanlike toiler, had a presence and an intangible charisma matched by few of her contemporaries.

Vortigern met and passed every challenge requested of her with dignity and determination; as her final master said, "You fought bravely against all the bad weathers and hardships that life threw at you. All of us who have been with you, took comfort and example from your bravery and pride. Goodbye our beloved friend."

We will not see her like again.
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