I am delighted to bring you greetings this week from the Atlantic Ocean off the north west coast of Scotland – and I am seeking your help with a historical mystery.
I am the guest speaker on the MV Azores and we are doing a lovely tour fairly close to home.
Having seen a lot of the world over many years, it’s great to be seeing some parts of the British Isles which are new to me.
The ship started its cruise at Avonmouth near Bristol and headed up through the Irish Sea, passing the Isle of Man where I was speaking a few weeks ago, so I waved.
We have just enjoyed a lovely sunny day on Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, and admired the lovely row of multi-coloured houses which were the setting for the children’s TV series Balymory.
As you may know, it also looks amazingly like the town wall houses on the Headland in Hartlepool too!
We are heading into dramatic waters around the Hebrides and Orkneys next, in the news as there’s a large NATO naval exercise going on in those waters in response to the presence of Russian submarines in the area.
This vessel seems to attract the headlines and, as you may have seen, it was in the national news last week when it was impounded in Lisbon for a day as a result of a port debt incurred by the previous owners of the ship.
And now a request for your help on maritime history, especially if you ever worked in shipbuilding or ship maintenance in Hartlepool or on the Tees.
Talking to the ship’s officers and engineering staff on board, some of them had a hunch that the ship had been in north east waters during its long lifetime – possibly under a former name.
This splendid ship is of a similar vintage to me, having been built in 1948 in Gothenburg in Sweden and originally called the Stockholm.
In its 67 years of service, it has had ten different names – after MS Stockholm, it became the Volkerfreudschaft, Volker, Fridtjof, Nansen Italia, Italia Prima, Valtur Prima, Caribe, and the Athena – before settling under its present life as the Azores.
If you saw the vessel in our patch under any of those names, please let me know and the history of ship can be filled in that bit further.
After we leave the Orkneys, without contact from a Russian sub I trust, we are heading down the east coast, almost within sight of Hartlepool on a clear day, so I’ll keep an eye for St Hilda’s on the horizon – a landmark for sailors for centuries.
After that, our next stop is Honfleur in France before final calls at Guernsey and the Scilly Isles, then back to Avonmouth before a 270 mile drive back home.
The call at St Peter Port in Guernsey is particularly historic as the island is celebrating 70 years since the liberation from German forces at the end of the war.
We often forget that it was nearly a year after D Day before the Channel Islands regained their freedom.
I’ll tell you next week if I caught sight of Hartlepool and, in the meantime, I’m heading back on deck with a cuppa and beautiful scenery – I’m getting used to this!