Snow, Rain, Cold and High Winds. That describes the month of February so far. It was therefore a delight to emerge from Canary Wharf underground station into the sunlight with a blue sky and temperatures that made you feel that spring was just around the corner. My first visit to the area was in 1962 when it was the West India Docks and I was to visit a ship named Rangitane. This and its sister ships belonged to the New Zealand Shipping Company which carried passengers and frozen produce from New Zealand to England. How times have changed. Gone are the wharfs and cranes with dockers unloading ships from all over the world. Now it is the home of sky scrapers housing the world’s major banks and financial institutions. Today I was visiting another ship, the Spirit of Chartwell. After walking among the sky scrapers, past the numerous restaurants and bars I espied the Spirit of Chartwell moored at Millwall Cutting looking resplendent in her colours of brown and cream.
Originally built in Holland in 2000 she was returned back to Holland in 2010 for an entire refit. At 64 metres (210 feet) in length, 7 metres (22 feet) in breadth, draught of a little less than 5 feet and weighing in with a Gross Tonnage of 486 Spirit of Chartwell rates as one of the larger ships plying the Thames. With twin propellers and rudders she has a service speed of 6.8 knots with a maximum of 10 knots and, with twin bow thrusters, she is very manoeuvrable. She carries a crew of 19 and the main area of the ship is designed in the style of a 1929 Cote d'Azur Pullman railway carriage.
On reaching the gangway I was welcomed on board by Alan, the Chief Engineer. From the moment you step onto this ship and see the glass panelled doors with the ships name and emblem beautifully etched into the glass you realise that this is going to be something different. However on stepping through these doors into the main passenger area you are met with a picture of beauty going back to a previous era. Nothing prepares you for the beauty of the wood panelling, marquetry, seating and ambiance of the area reminiscent of what is intended, a 1929 Cote d'Azur Pullman railway carriage. It was here that I met with Marko Milosevic the VP of Operations who explained to me the history of the ship. Marko has been with Spirit of Chartwell for 12 months and is naturally very proud of the ship of which he speaks with great passion and understandably so.
There are so many interesting facts about the interior that it is difficult to know where to begin. There are places for 70 diners with tables set beside large picture windows to give an uninterrupted view of the sites as you sail by. Clients will sit in beautiful large arm chairs, 33 of which are from the original world famous Orient Express train. The other chairs have been made and upholstered to match. For larger parties there are smaller carver chairs that have come from another great name of the past, RMS Windsor Castle which was the flag ship of the now defunct Union Castle Line and made her final journey from Cape Town, South Africa to Southampton on the 6th September 1977. Also from the RMS Windsor Castle are 2 of the portholes fitted in the main lounge of the ship. At one end is the Somerset Maugham Bar which is curved and looks resplendent with its veneered wood. In front of this is a black lacquered baby grand piano and in a glass case is a scaled model of the famous steam locomotive ‘The Hussar’.
The flooring of the main area is of light coloured wood which was imported from Spain along with special workers for the laying of it. The floor is inset with large symbols denoting the points of the compass done in marquetry. It is no wonder that high heeled shoes are not allowed. The tables with their inlays were also imported from Spain. The panelled walls are a delight with inlaid marquetry lines and designs. The walls are further adorned with original Lalique glass panels.
If after a day on board sampling the excellent food and wines, and you don’t wish to travel home there are 16 beautifully appointed cabins on board. 14 are twins and 2 are doubles. All are fitted out to a very high standard and all have on suite facilities which include a walk in shower and quality toilet accessories. Each cabin also boasts a writing desk and chair together with a wall mounted flat screen television. Again like the rest of the ship the cabins ooze quality and it is obvious the company pay attention to detail. It is also worth noting that most of the wall lights in the cabins have come from another legend, the SS France which in her time was the longest liner in the world at 1,035 feet. After servicing the North Atlantic route of Cherbourg to New York for many years she became the cruise ship ‘Norway’ before being scrapped in 2008. Like the rest of the ship all cabins are fully air conditioned to ensure that the temperature is just right.
The top deck is an area where you can relax in the sunshine whilst sipping a glass of chilled champagne and watch the world drift by. There are comfortable chairs and shades to sit under if the sun becomes too much for you. It is also the area where the captain hosts the welcome aboard Champagne parties prior to lunch.
The bridge, at the bow of the ship is really something unique. It is set high up so that the Captain and officers have the perfect view but it is too high to allow the ship to pass under certain bridges at high tide. This is what is unique; the bridge is hydraulic and can be lowered by just over a metre as can the mast to allow it under the bridges. This is something I have never seen before. The inside of the bridge is fitted with the latest equipment and bares no resemblance to the old wheel houses of yester year.
The ship normally sails from April to November. However due to popular demand, is from 2013, going to sail 3 times a week during the winter season. Details of the ships voyages can be found on their web site at www.spiritofchartwell.com
This is the crème de la crème of river cruisers. It is a ship fit for a Queen and in June this year that is exactly what it is going to be. Spirit of Chartwell has been chosen as the Royal Barge to be used by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in the river pageant to mark the Diamond Jubilee. At the end of April Spirit of Chartwell be ‘spirited’ away to a secret location for modifications ready for the great day on the 3rd June. Keep a lookout for her on the television and you will see what a fabulous ship this is.