Funchal. The depressing old age of a ghost ship

For me, Funchal was an old man worthy of respect and affection, like a grandfather: in 1968 I climbed him on the Cais da Rocha de Conde de Óbidos towards Madeira and the city that bears his name. My father was appointed a judge in Santa Cruz, which was little more than a village and, therefore, far from everything it is today. The whole island was a rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the narrowest of which took hours and hours to cross, bends and counter-bends in and out of coastal areas, trying mountains to climb, dangerous ravines to descend. This was probably one of the happiest periods of my unconscious childhood. I didn't miss the television or the telephones, the radios required a few minutes of careful attention, which was not always successful, and from my bedroom window I could see the Desertas Islands beyond a small point of the ocean, just in front of Ilu Chao. You have no idea how Ilhu Chao still holds a special place in my memory in the memories of this island at its highest point of tenderness.

The ride was rough, the wind was boisterous, and the nausea was constantly relieved by the wind that swept the deck. Now, as I pass the Santa Apolonia docks, it pains me to see that white wreck (in 1968, its hull jet black, rising proudly above the turbulent waves, the white Santa Maria, another winner that competed in other seas. It ), half Dozens of years ago, it was already hurting when it was abandoned in the Guis da Madinha area. Many, many promises to be fulfilled. It was bought by a Greek company that wanted to restore it for a voyage in the Mediterranean. The British were keen to renew it for voyages between Madeira, the Canaries and Gibraltar. Apparently nothing was done. Rust is still visible in areas that have apparently not had recent paint. Now I see him almost every day and I don't know whether to miss him or feel sad.

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Born in February 1961

When I boarded the liner, in 1968, it smelled almost new. She was built by Helsinger Skipswarft A/S shipyard in Denmark, commissioned by Empresa Insulana de Navegaso, with designs by Rogerio de Oliveira. Launched on 10 February 1961 and delivered in October 1961, she was the largest passenger ship built in Denmark.

Funchal is not as grand as its counterparts Infante Dom Henrique and Príncipe Perfeito. Initially, it did not exceed 400 passengers – 80 in 1st class, 156 in tour A and 164 in tour B, plus 170 crew – although this capacity was later expanded, it was a ship of great beauty. Later, the liner underwent extensive renovations to convert it into a cruise ship, with its beautiful and inviting promenade deck. She thus abandoned her partnership with the company's other carrier Angra do Heroismo, frequenting her visits to Funchal and Ponta Delgada, a few excursions to the Canaries, and other ports in northern Europe such as Dover or Zeebrugge. From North Africa like Ceuta or Casablanca.

Let's go back in time like capital letters. In 1945, the famous 'Despacho 100' led the Portuguese Merchant Navy into an era of renewal and modernization unparalleled in the country's history. The old Portuguese maritime tradition has now seen the floating birth of Imperio, Niasa, Angola, Uij, Angra do Heroismo, Amelia de Mello, Funzal, Vera Cruz, Santa Maria, Principe Perfito… The palaces that don't ring bells in the memories of my generation. Now we have taken a step back almost twenty years: in 1973, Angra do Heroismo was sold and Insulana tried to dispose of Funchal, opposed by the Ministry of the Navy and Admiral Americo Tomás, who considered the financial conditions to maintain the ship. . Next year, it will replace the franchise bought by Companhia Portuguesa de Transportes Maritimos. Perhaps the President is as touched by nostalgia as I am: a year ago, it was on board the Funchal that he carried the remains of Pedro IV from Portugal to Brazil, accompanied by a military escort.

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Funchal traveled a lot. On such occasions, it receives hundreds of travelers who have a different New Year celebration. It then leaves Lisbon, stopping at Funchal, before crossing the Atlantic to the Brazilian border and the mouth of the Río de la Plata before returning to Europe, usually via the Canaries. However, its primary activity is a regular sea connection between Lisbon and the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands, with two consecutive sailings per month with the itinerary Lisbon – Funchal – Tenerife – Funchal – Lisbon. In the 1960s, it was part of the important fleet of Portuguese ships and passengers, consisting of more than twenty units, with an emphasis on the four major Portuguese liners Infante Dom Henrique, Santa Maria, Vera Cruz and Principe Perfeto. , destroyed in 1977 (sold for permanent service at Sines), 1973 and 1976, respectively.

Aircraft killed large packet boats. Don't laugh yet, but don't throw in my face the ten- and twelve-story buildings that block the Santa Apolónia ship every day in a very beneficial deal for the port of Lisbon, the owner of the capital's port spaces. It gives only half a dozen cents to the Indian shops in Alfama and pollutes more than the second circular during rush hour. We are talking about the 70s, the end of the colonial war (large ships were used to move troops abroad), and for a reasonable price, you can reach Funchal or Ponta Delgada in less than an hour. Both and not in 40 or 48 hours by sea. Cruise ships lost their magic and utility – tourist cruise lines remained, but meanwhile, more modern and comfortable others were owned by large financial institutions – and were handed over for slaughter. Their maintenance is very expensive. Imperial, Funchal survived. And he is still alive despite his dead appearance. As I pass by, I see people working on it, reinforcing beams, painting rust spots. Maybe it still has a future. People who have had such a beautiful past deserve a future…

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