The rebirth of the “Sand liner” episode 1

Following the bankruptcy of the last of the casino operators, the “Sand Liner” is looking for a new future. “The ship that does not want to die”, was bought by the municipality of Barcarès in 2011.

A few years later major renovation work began. The liner will undergo several renovation campaigns from 2014.

First Year 2014/2015:

Lots of unsightly constructions around the liner
Aèrial view (copyright photo Google)

The Lydia is surrounded by buildings which make it ugly. The priority is the demolition of all these buildings to find the original design of the ship:

Seaside: port side
Demolition of starboard buildings (copyright X. Cuvelier-Roy)
copyright (Xavier Cuvelier-Roy)
The hull had been widely opened, the ironworkers are at work to fill these scars

We take the opportunity to fill in the large openings that had been made in the hull …. On the sea side, the demolition of the “Patio” has also begun….

There was a ship behind the concrete!

Admit that it’s better there too! On the foredeck there is also change: The restaurant “Isadora” built in the 70s, and very degraded, is demolished:

Copyright Hobbies Blog

The restaurant “Isadora” had been built during the Japanese era to house a restaurant in place of the old swimming pool from the 1960’s. Little by little the Lydia finds a silhouette conforming to the origin:

Une dalle de béton avait elle aussi été coulée sur le pont. Les employés municipaux font place nette.

The steeldeck is cleaned:

View from further :

The final result:

Under the forecastle the structure is renovated and repainted (copyright Marie-Hélène Cuvelier-Roy)

And this is only the beginning… The construction site continues today…

To be continued….

The second phase of work HERE

Olivier Alba

President of the AAML

CP casino

The japanese périod (1973-1980)

Part 2: The japanese casino.



The second era therefore began in 1973 with the takeover of Lydia by the Japanese group Seïbu, which transformed it, under the rule of its flamboyant director Kuniko Tsutsumi, into a luxury casino.







The case was made a few weeks earlier at a meeting organized by DATAR, chaired at the time by Jacques Monot. During this meeting, it is a question of relaunching the “Racine Mission” for the development of Languedoc-Roussillon by attracting private investors.

This is where the flamboyant director of SEMETA, Senator Gaston Pams will, so to speak, impose Barcarès on the no less flamboyant Kuniko Tsutsumi, director of Groupe Seïbu in France. He shows her the Lydia and declares  “The French are too respectful of traditions, here we play the audacity”.

The case is settled, the Lydia is sold to the Japanese group for a pittance in exchange for the promise made to build a hotel and a leisure residence on the spot. This will be the Lydia-Playa Hotel and the Rising Sun Residence.

In the left the master of Barcarès Got, in the middle K.Tsutsumi, on the right G.Pams.

The project of Kuniko, daughter of one of the largest fortunes in Japan, is ambitious: to make Lydia a luxury casino that will operate in parallel with the hotel for accommodation. The Lydia becomes his toy, his darling, his hobby. Especially since “The Princess” has its entries. The Yéyés give way to Parisian VIPs. The navigator Alain Colas is chosen to be the godfather of the ship.

                          K.Tsustumi et Alain Colas aboard. Copyright photo: L’Indépendant

Major transformation work will then be undertaken to adapt the liner to its new mission, without the slightest discernment and the slightest regard for its past. The decoration will be entrusted to Michel Ambrogi and Yves Betin.

We don’t skimp on the price either, nearly 20 million francs are invested to transform the interiors. The silhouette of the ship undergoes a slight change at the level of the foredeck where a winter garden is created instead of the swimming pool and the bar. Against the hull and to materialize the entrance, a light structure is built. The funnel now bears the colors of the Seïbu company.

Inside, on the other hand, everything changes, an entire deck is cleared to make way for the casino.




On the ground floor, the nightclub “Trunk” then becomes the “Lydia-club” and remains in the same place but with a brand new decoration.




Still on the ground floor but at the back this time take place a ball room as well as the “Zig-zag” bar:

Above, on the first level, an entire bridge of cabins as well as the old “Trunk store” are demolished to make way for the actual casino, cash desks, games room and at the front a bar named “Le Crésus” in reference to the new destination of the place but also a nod to the well-known King of Lydia.

                                on the left the casino , to the right the snack “Crésus”

Finally, above the casino, takes place a new restaurant “Isadora” which extends on the front beach, making disappear the open-air bar as well as the swimming pool.

The restaurant “Isadora”

The Lydia then swims in luxury: artists, jet-set and “beautiful people” mingle with rich South Catalan industrialists. The costumes are designed by the couturier Karl Lagarfeld, the key ring is signed by Hermès. The cinema will also be interested in the Lydia casino, which will serve as the setting for the film “l’Alpagueur” by Michel Labro, starring the very popular French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.

                                           To the left: K.Tsutsumi et le couturier Ted Lapidus

Golden era certainly, but above all a costly illusion that will last barely five years.

At the end of the 1970s, the reopening of casinos in Spain sounded the death knell for this costly illusion.

Worse still, the management of the casino is catastrophic and the casino is closed in 1978 following the forced and forced withdrawal of Kuniko to whom Tokyo has definitively cut off the financial taps.

The Lydia will be operated for another three years by the Seïbu group but as a simple annex to the hotel, a seminar and conference room. Only the very popular “Lydia-club”, holds the course for night cruising.

In 1980 the Seïbu group finally threw in the towel: The Lydia once again changed hands and the Lydia-playa hotel was sold, a new period began at the dawn of the 80’s…

…Nevertheless, the new layouts, however beautiful they may be at the time, are very 70s-style…

…Gone are the timelessness of a marine decor, the authenticity of a unique place…

In 1980, the only remaining elements are the almost intact bridge (only the compass is missing), the staircase, the social hall, the aft lounge (both at promenade deck level) as well as an entire deck of cabins which serve as offices.

This period is crucial for the future of Lydia, even if at the time nobody realizes it yet: by putting it in “fashion”, by yielding to “trends” in terms of decoration, we have doomed to grow old…

the Lydia has already lost part of its soul…

The rest of her story : HERE

                                          Olivier Alba


The “Sands Liner” (1967-1973)


The first period was the one just after the grounding, a period that saw the ship’s entrails adapted to its new toist mission. 

After initial work at the Terrin shipyards in Marseille (mainly boiler making), she was convoyed to Le Barcarès.

From 1967 to 1973, the ship was leased by SEMETA (a mixed development company in charge of creating the resort of Barcarès) to a company created for the occasion: SODELOR, which had the mission of operating it.

On the outside the ship is almost intact, which makes its success with the 300 000 tourists who rush on board in the space of August 1967. Some authentic spaces have been preserved like the bridge, the social-hall, the smoking-room (promenade deck), the dining room (second deck). The two cabin decks (first and second deck) are still intact. For a while, we thought of transforming them into a hotel but the project was abandoned for reasons that are still unknown.

For the interior fittings, Senator Gaston Pams, president of the SEMETA, had these flamboyant words: “Only beautiful and expensive!”

Specialized craftsmen and journeymen were therefore called in to carry out the luxurious fittings.

On the front deck, a swimming pool and a bar were installed and immediately became an incredible success:

The original first class dining room, entirely covered with Ceylon lemon veneer panels, welcomes guests in a dream setting

In front of the ship, the scew propeller shines brightly to welcome the curious:

In the forward hold, the first discotheque, named the “Trunk“, was set up under the direction of Roland Vonné

The night club nammed the "Trunk"

In the rear hold is installed a snack bar called very appropriately the “Cambuse”, entirely veneered in Oregon pine. The suspensions recall the Catalan lamparos. The inclined partitions respect the shapes of the hull: we are well in a boat!

The "Cambuse"

On the first deck at the front is a bar and stores: “The Trunk store”

Through portholes you can see the swimmers in the pool above. The walls are covered with varnished precious wood veneer, the brass shines softly in a luxurious and very marine atmosphere:

The "Trunk store"

On the boat deck you stroll between the life-boats and the highlight of the visit is the perfectly preserved bridge. This is the most popular place on the ship!

Even the state of the art kitchens are a postcard!

We can understand from these “witness photos” the enthusiasm that the liner brings. The fittings are impeccable, in good taste, timeless and above all in perfect adequacy with the “liner” spirit that the visitor is looking for.

People will be jostling each other on board during the five and a half years of operation by the SEMETA.

The only change during these five years was the color of the funnel (black with a red border at the top) which, at the beginning, displayed a patch of the SEMETA on a blue background, showing two mermaids:




Very quickly replaced by a more stylized and modern logo

At the end of six years of brilliant parties, the Lydia is sold to a Japanese investor who will transform her into a luxurious casino.

The rest of her story : HERE

                               Olivier Alba

800px-Le_Lydia (2)

The end of the « casinos era » (2000-2011)

 As the 21st century dawns, the Lydia is a shadow of its former self. The casino is closed, the maintenance is limited to a quick bleaching every June, the sea spray and the humidity favor the proliferation of rust spots and the wood is eaten by mushrooms. It is in this atmosphere of end of reign that the « Sands Liner » will still make speak about hem.

Indeed, in 2000, the Partouche group, the first casino group in France, acquired the Lydia with a view to reopening yet another casino. It was done in March of the same year. The Lydia Invest company, of which the liner is one of the assets, was acquired for the symbolic euro, with the Partouche group responsible for paying off the debts, which amounted to 20 millions francs at the time (source: l’Indépendant newspaper). A director was quickly appointed and the founder of the group, Isidore Partouche, even paid a visit to his 50th future ex-casino. 

When she arrived, Mrs. Partouche could not hold back a cry of horror “Isidore, you didn’t buy this! This is the state in which the liner is, a ghostly silhouette standing on a deserted beach.  

Nevertheless, a file for the reopening of the casino was filed with the Ministry of the Interior.

The upper deck copyright : french ministère de la culture

Four years went by during which nothing or almost nothing was done on board. Worse still, the new person in charge cut up and ransacked entire sections of the ship: the aft mast was removed, as well as the arms of the cargo masts. On the boat deck, the davits and bows were discarded, giving a ghostly and empty look to the already battered silhouette of the Lydia.

In short, the liner is transformed into a bathtub toy. A decor. Beautiful from afar but far from being beautiful.

Copyright: ministère de la culture

After four years, in February 2004, and after three unsuccessful requests, the casino finally obtained its authorization to open.

l54 - Copie (3)

Unfortunately. It is necessary to open for the touristic season and on board everything remains to be done, one will confuse once again speed and precipitation. Of course, the hull was entirely sandblasted, allowing the metal to be found in good condition under 30 layers of paint, and the envelope of the funnel was changed, completely rotten.

The wood will be sanded, damaging it irreparably. 

Worse still, the decks will be covered with wooden terrace boards to “clean up” and whiten the

whole ship, giving her the sad look of a hospital ship. The windows and doors on the upper deck are closed and blocked.

White ansd only white: The gost ship

Inside, not much better: Nothing to do with a “roaring twenties” liner atmosphere and three quarters of the Lydia remain in a state of ruin.

 The original social-hall, the staircase and the smoke- room where the restaurant is located still remain.

The restaurant on the "promenade deck"
The social hall
the smoking-room
The staircase

The night-club receives a new decoration.

Tea parties are organised for senior citizeh.

In fact when one makes badly, one does not go very far. And it is what will occur. After a few years of operation the restaurant inexplicably closes while its success had not been denied.

In 2008, the opening of a casino in the neighboring city, as well as a bad management will make once again sink the liner. After only 4 years, the casino-discotheque will close, once again. It then sleeps for a period of three years during which no buyer presents himself to exploit an umpteenth casino…

After four successive failures, nobody wants to try the adventure anymore….but the “Sand liner” is really insinkable…

To be continued…

The rest of the story: HERE

                                                                                Olivier Alba

l49 - Copie

The “rust” years (1988-2000)

The Holding “Grand Sud” (1988/2000)


1988, Dirty time for the Lydia. The “Sands Liner” never really recovered from the 1983 bombing and Roland Vonné, the reference of the Barcarésian nights, left three years ago. Concerning the interiors, the luxurious decoration of the “Tsutsumi era” is completely out of fashion. Due to a lack of maintenance, the ship is deteriorating and the cost of refurbishment is becoming prohibitive. This state of affairs led to the Lydia being put up for sale by the Moliflor group. In the meantime, a certain number of elements of the ship disappeared, such as furniture and many other things. Let’s mention in bulk the instruments in the bridge, the chandelier in the staircase, the superb mahogany table with a diameter of three meters on which the name ΛΥΔΙΑ is affixed.

In short, it is an almost empty hull that is sold to the “Grand Sud” holding company.

Despite the fact that a facelift is negotiated at the sale, the liner is repainted succinctly, which will become a habit during the next 12 years.

Concerning the interior design, the discotheque is redecorated in an “industrial” style and takes a new name: « La Machinerie ». The gray dominates, the pipes are visible. You can touch the bare shell.

The casino concentrates its activity on the first floor in the back room and in the concrete “Blockhaus” which serves as an entrance and which has disfigured the line of the “Sands liner” for five years. The B deck, on the other hand, is used as an auditorium, in what was the luxurious casino of the “Tsutsumi era”. Large asleep lounge where a white plaster has replaced the red lacquers…

The B deck


A restaurant takes place on the front beach: the “sea side”, with a low-cost decoration.

A touristic tour of the ship was opened and a seashell exhibition was set up on the B deck before, where the old piano-bar had been.

A few months later, the casino obtained authorization to install slot machines.

Unfortunately, nothing was going well for a long time. The economic crisis set in. Revenues did not cover expenses and maintenance was cut back.

Air conditioners and other warts were added to the hull, hiding even more the line of the liner. 

In 1992, the local newspaper « l’Indépendant » was even moved by the state of the rusty carcass of the liner which disfigured the city. The ” Sands liner” is now a wreck and the tourist visit is closed.

Copyright: The newspaper "l'Indépendant"

The decks are leaking, the railings are disintegrating, the rotten wood is eaten by mushrooms. The boats are removed from the deck and some are sold!

In some places, concrete is even poured on the decks, when they are not covered with tar…

On the sea side (port side) a large esplanade made of cobblestones surrounds the hull and some unsightly constructions are attached to the ship. From now on, on the land side or on the sea side, it is very difficult to find an acceptable point of view for souvenir pictures. So much so that the Lydia disappeared from the postcards and the autochtones were ashamed to indicate the direction of the liner to the rare tourists who still asked about its location…

The same year, and in the face of the outcry, some quick work was undertaken and a rumor even spoke of a sale to a group called “la générale immobilière.”

Alas, the deal was not done, and the Lydia continued to deteriorate. To finish off this poor ship, the Ministry of the Interior closed the casino in 1997. 

For the next three years, the ghost ship was a shadow of its former self: the illuminated sign collapsed, the funnel was pierced, and all the upper decks were closed and disintegrating in indifference. The operating deficit becomes abyssal.

Boat deck
The bridge
Boat deck

However, in 2000, the Partouche group, one of the two major French casino groups, acquired the “sands liner”…

To be continued…

The rest of her story : HERE

                                                                  Olivier Alba


The beginning of the difficult years (1981-1988)

In 1981, the Lydia had already been living for three years, its casino was closed and Kuniko had left in 1978 due to family pressure. The liner was only used as an annex to the nearby Lydia Playa hotel. 

The Japanese group Seibu finally threw in the towel that same year and put the hotel and the Lydia up for sale.

Another era began as the casinos in Roussillon were in the doldrums. The crisis is felt, only Roland Vonné and his wife Betty, still hold the course of the night thanks to the undeniable success of the night-club.

On February 25, 1981, after long negotiations that lasted a month and a half, the Moliflor group, a local company that already operated casinos, became the owner of Lydia SA.

The Lydia remains unchanged except that the casino, which is only seasonal, is concentrated on the ground floor with the ball games and the roulette. Roland Vonné is reappointed as manager of the discotheque, still named Lydia-club, but which receives a brand new decoration in antic Greek style.

The funnel becomes all white, just topped with a red border.

In 1983 the casino was expanded and roulette and baccarat were installed on the first deck. On the same level and on the front, in the place of the former snack-bar “Crésus“, a piano-bar was installed.

The visit of the upper decks is open, a museum of ship models is installed in the former restaurant “Isadora”. A store and a bar have been installed in the place of the former on-board infirmary in the rear superstructure.

                                        Copyright Xavier Cuvelier-Roy

May 1983, the Lydia will be used for the last time as a movie set before a long period. On board, some scenes of the movie “Poussière d’empire” will be shot. The shots barely managed to hide the already very degraded decks.

The image of the myth is already beginning to fade, but an unexpected event will shake the sky of the Barcarés.

On Tuesday, June 26, 1983, early in the morning just after the closing of the nightclub, a big “Bang” resounds. The Lydia has just been plasticized!

The firemen quickly on the spot control the fire. Mr. Florenza, the manager of the casino as well as Roland Vonné, can only notice the damage:

The discotheque is completely destroyed, as well as the room of the piano bar on the front. At first they think it’s an accident, but the investigation quickly turns to a criminal act.

One year later, the discotheque barely rebuilt, some bomber were arrested in the gardens of the Lydia by the SRPJ. They wanted to blow up the boat again! The operation had in fact been sponsored by the owner of a nightclub in Port-Leucate, “the Krypton”, which the Lydia was overshadowing.

After reconstruction, the “Lydia-club” now opens on two levels (ground floor and first deck). A large concrete cube now serves as an entrance and disfigures the line of the “sand liner”. This wart will remain twenty years!

Even if the party continues, the myth is no more. The casino accumulates deficits while slot machines are still prohibited in France.

Maintenance is now neglected and out of season the hull is covered with rust. The decks have long since spat out their oakum and all the topsides are taking on water. The lifeboats are deteriorating. The wood rots, the metal oxidizes.

Only its silhouette in the distance still impresses.

Bad time for the Lydia…

The rest of her story : HERE

                                                                                                                               Olivier Alba


The grounding of the Lydia, June 11, 1967

In the early morning of Sunday, June 11, 1967, the Lydia was in sight of her last port of call.

In the early morning, the cliffs of Leucate were visible to the north, while a low, deserted, wind-battered strip of sand appeared in front of her: her final home port.

Copyright A.Parés
Copyright: Semeta

In the weeks leading up to the ship’s landing, the ground had to be prepared, i.e. a 600 m long and 7 m deep channel had to be dug by a floating dredger. To bring this one from the pond of Salses to the sea, we made him go through 750 m on the sand, on socks inflated with air.


Leaving Marseille the day before and accompanied by two tugs (the Provençal 6 and the Phocéen), the Lydia arrived in sight of Le Barcarès in the early morning of Sunday, June 11, 1967. 

The first step of the grounding was to attach cables to the bow of the ship, then to attach them to powerful construction equipment on land, while the tugs were attached to the stern of the ship to maintain the axis of the channel. The Tramontane, which was a bit strong, did not facilitate the operations

Finally, the construction machines started to pull the ship. 

Le Lydia est maintenu dans son chenal par les remorqueurs et il est tracté par les engins de chantier

Well aligned in front of the channel by the tugs’ push, the Lydia advances slowly between the buoys that mark the limits of the access channel. A sling suddenly broke under the effect of the wind and the ship started to drift, risking running aground. On the beach, the tension was extreme while the two tugs intervened to put the vessel back on its axis. More fear than harm, but when the senator turned around, all the engineers around him were livid. False alarm!

l15 - Copie

Copyright – A.Parès

Nevertheless, the operations were not over. Meter after meter, the Lydia penetrated inland followed like its shadow by the Provençal 6. Despite a few scares due mainly to the Tramontane wind, which did not weaken, the Lydia stopped at the planned location, and the Provençal 6 was able to unhook its trailer and return to the open sea.

Copyright – A.Parès

The technicians in charge of the manoeuvre were not done yet. The Lydia floats a hundred meters inland, but several successive operations must still rotate it, then raise it to bring the waterline to the level of the beach, that is to say 3 meters above sea level. Finally, it is a question of immobilizing it definitively in its sand bed. The schedule calls for the beaching to be completed by June 30.

The bulldozers first began to fill in the channel and close the harbour to isolate the Lydia from the sea, which was completed two days later. The dredger, which acted as a giant pump, then intervened and filled in part of what was left of the small harbour, replacing the water by sand.

Copyright – SEMETA

Next phase: a sand dam, covered with plastic sheeting, is raised all around the Lydia.

Copyright – A.Parès

The dredge soon discharges hundreds of cubic meters of water and the Lydia gradually rises, as in a lock chamber. Its waterline is now above the level of the beach and it can be slowly brought by the bulldozers to the vertical of the cradle that has been made for it. All that is needed is to pump the water so that it can be gently placed on the cradle.

Copyright – SEMETA

In the end, the dredger and the bulldozers will finally make all traces of the port disappear.

Copyright – SEMETA

Copyrightvidéo: France 3 – Pays catalan

The “Sand Liner” was born!

Copyright – SEMETA

Soon an army of craftsmen will take the ship to the boarding to transform it into a palace of tourism but that’s another story ….


The rest of her story : HERE

                                   Olivier Alba


The Moonta becomes Lydia: The Greek period (1955-1966)

After 24 years of good and loyal services within the Adelaide Steamship Co Ltd, the Moonta was put up for sale by the Australian company.

At first used as a ferry to replace the Taroona, she was bought by a Greek shipowner, Hellenic Mediterranean Lines (ELMES). ELMES took possession of the vessel in Melbourne on December 21, 1955 and the ship was renamed Lydia, after an ancient Greek province. This mythical province crossed by the Pactolus river and over which the famous Croesus reigned. A name predestined to ensure the good fortune of the newly acquired ship.

The ship then set sail for Piraeus, her new home port. In Adelaide, the Lydia took on board a Greek crew who had to familiarize themselves with the ship.

C'est déjà bien le Lydia et plus le Moonta- regardez bien les couleurs en haut du mât arrière !
Nikos Kavvadias (Νίκος Καββαδίας) à bord du Lydia

Among the men on board, the famous Greek marine writer Nikos Kavvadias (Νίκος Καββαδίας) known in particular for his very dark novel “Vardia” (The Quarter) published the year before.

The journey to Greece is made via the Coco Islands and the Suez Canal. On arrival, the ship leaves for a detailed inspection. The ship was in exceptional condition, at the level of Anglo-Saxon naval rigor!


According to a Greek newspaper of the time, the new owner was even delighted by the exceptional condition of the newly acquired ship, judging her to be “of a high level of cleanliness, almost exaggerated”.

The ship thus crossed half the globe again to reach the waters of the Mediterranean, which she had visited for the first time 24 years earlier.


Upon arrival in Greece, she passed through the Piraeus shipyards where she underwent some transformations to adapt it to her new destination: a navigation through the Mediterranean.


The capacity was doubled from 157 to 280 passengers, and four additional boats were installed, bringing the total number of lifeboats to eight.


Her aft deck was also modified to accommodate, instead of the former deck tennis area, a small dock with additional crew cabins and a sick bay.

The ship is divided into three classes: 51 passengers in first class, 106 for the “tourist” class and finally 123 in third class who are crammed into a large bunk bed dormitory located on the B deck above the forward holds.

It is also planned that the ship can carry 180 additional “embarkers” in “open air” on the front deck, and this only for short crossings. There is no indication that this possibility was never really used… It is hard to imagine the Lydia loaded to the brim with 460 passengers.

Publicity HML
Promenade deck

                                             Publicity of the Hellenic Mediterranean Line (ELMES)

In the spring of 1956, she finally returned to service on the Piraeus/Venice/Brindisi/Alexandria route, but very quickly she was assigned to another route linking Marseilles to Beirut, with stops in Genoa, Naples, Piraeus, Alexandria and Limassol (Cyprus).


On the return journey, she added a stopover in Port Said, at the mouth of the Suez Canal. 

As soon as she entered service, the Lydia was caught up in the turmoil of history because, in 1956, following the privatization of the Suez Canal, she would initially embark the families of Europeans who worked for the Canal Company.

The end of a golden age for these expatriates who found their way back to the metropolis.

Very soon after, it was the turn of the Egyptian Jews whom Nasser had designated as Personna non grata following the war against the state of Israel and the Franco-British operation in Suez. After these events, the Lydia returned to the tranquility of her journey around the Mare Nostrum without any notable incident.

In the early 1960′, the Lydia underwent a final refit. On this occasion, the ship received a new gray livery, a color more suited to the Mediterranean climate and commonly used in the Greek commercial navy. In addition, a windbreak was added to the front of the deck to make it more pleasant for the passagers.

At the beginning of the 1960s, the world was changing and the former first class and tourist class were merged into a single “uniclass”, more in line with the mentality of the time.

                                              Passager’s photos during the 1960′

This journey across the Mediterranean only lasted ten years and in December 1966, the Lydia returned to Piraeus after 35 years of service at sea, awaiting a buyer or more likely departure for the demolition yard…

…This is where the fabulous destiny of the ship that will become the “Paquebot des sables” (“Sand Liner”) will be played out…


The rest of her story : HERE

Olivier Alba

The first life of the M/V Moonta: the “Gulf Trip” (1931/1955)

On November 28 th, 1931, the MV Moonta made her first weekly rotation for the Adelaide Steamship Co LTD.  This route, the famous “Gulf Trip“, consisted of a circumnavigation around the Spencer Gulf in Australia, which she was to perform for 24 years without interruption.

The Spencer's gulf and the "Gulf trip"




The “Gulf Trip” was very successful, and its extremely attractive price (only 6 pounds) was a major factor.  For this sum, one spent six full days (departure on Saturday afternoon and return on Friday morning), one covered 720 nautical miles and one stopped in 6 ports: Port-Adelaide, Port-Lincoln, Port-Pirie, Port-Augusta, Port-Hughes, then again Port-Lincoln and return to Adelaide.

Passengers had cabins with one, two or four berths. The comfort of the Moonta was another of its assets, in particular her air ventilation system present in all cabins.

The common areas (dining room, social hall, smoking room) were quite luxuriously treated with wood panelled walls.

The dining-room
The social-hall

 The Gulf Trip formula was halfway between a cruise and a regular line. Passengers embarked more often for the pleasure of the trip than for the necessity to go to a precise destination.

Parents and children enjoyed it just as much, and it was also a very classic honeymoon.

The first stop, after leaving Port-Adelaide, was Port-Lincoln. The next stop was at the bottom of the Spencer Gulf where the Moonta served Port Pirie and Port Augusta. 




On the way back, Port-Hugues, then Port-Lincoln again received the ship. Depending on the voyage, a few other stops could be made at Whyalla and Port-Germein, before the return to Adelaide.


At each of these stops, shore excursions (optional and at extra cost) were offered to the passengers. According to most of them, the only drawback of the Gulf Trip was the navigation outside the very calm waters of the Spencer Gulf, especially around the Althorpe Islands, where the Moonta‘s roll was causing an epidemic of sea sickness.

Port Lincoln is the main port on the west coast of the Gulf of Spencer, which explains the double call of the Moonta. This port was also served by the Minnipa and passengers could arrive with one ship and leave with the other. 




One of the classic excursions offered there took passengers to Coffin Bay, a very pretty stretch of coastline west of the city. When she arrived at the ports of call, the Moonta did not have empty holds and disembarked with a cargo of mainly food products.

On the way back, she loaded lead lingots at Port Pirie, cast iron sows at Whyalla and bales of wool all over the place.


Most of these ports on the Spencer Gulf were not deep enough, so the Moonta was accessed by long wooden booms that still exist.

Port Pirie

The Moonta was like clockwork and made her usual 51-week run each year. 



The 52nd week, the same one every year, on the first Tuesday of November, saw her set sail for Melbourne. It was in this port that she did her annual refit because it was on this date that the biggest horse race in Australia, the Melbourne Cup, was held. The company made the trip profitable with round trip tickets for the week. The passengers stayed at the hotel in town and returned to the plane for the return trip to Adelaide. In the following video, we will observe some shots where the Moonta appears at the dock in this same port:


Buvard publicitaire

The Moonta was very popular with its passengers and they usually bought a souvenir of their crossing on board. The choice was quite large, with napkin rings, various dishes, ashtrays, cutlery, postcards, writing paper, etc… 







The menus themselves, which were not sold, had a special place for autographs of the crew members. Everything was of course marked with the effigy of the ship. These objects are the pride of some current Australian collectors because the memory of this ship is still vivid in the popular memory. During the second world war, the menu became a little less attractive, but the Moonta remained at all times a famous and appreciated table.


The stay on board the Moonta was organized like that of a real cruise ship. Distracting passengers was a constant concern of the crew. The restoration was of high quality, an essential rule known to all shipowners. The bar was well stocked and the piano in the social hall in great demand. Differents sports activities were offered during the day: deck tennis, shuffleboard, little-horse racing, in particular.

The evenings were filled with a variety of activities: costume balls, musical hooks (the “Amateur Hours”) and endless games of “housie housie”, the equivalent of our lotto. Excursions on land were a perfect part of this program. One could discover the blast furnaces of Whyalla or the mountains of the Flinders Ranges in the hinterland. A ritual event was very popular: the big ball offered to the “gulf trippers” on Tuesdays, at the Port-Augusta stopover, which took place in the town’s village hall.

Today, the only ships carrying passengers, with the exception of ferries, are cruise ships. In the 1930’s, on the contrary, only liners were built and operated on regular crossings. The Moonta and her Gulf Trip, disregarding her function of transporting goods, already prefigured this specialization in cruising. The two following videos give an overview:

That’s where she was most appreciated, that’s where she had most of her clientele. And that was something very unusual for the time. She was a real trailblazer.





In the early 1950s, competition from land transportation, with the development of cars, began to compete severely with the Adelaide Steamship Company’s freight and passenger business in the Gulf of Spencer. The Gulf Trip fare had been gradually increased after the war (it was 15 Australian pounds in 1955) but this was not enough to make the operation profitable



It was decided to reduce the fleet and it was the Moonta that first paid the price.

Her last Gulf Trip ended on Febuary 4 th, 1955.

A few months later, another career began under the Greek flag of the Hellenic Mediterranean Line, but that is another story…


The rest of her story:  Here


                    Jacques Hiron                            

AdelaideSteamshipCompany (2)

The Adelaide Steamship Company Ltd, first owner of the M/V Moonta

The Adelaide Steamship Company, the first owner of the Moonta, was one of Australia’s largest shipping companies and one of South Australia’s most successful commercial ventures.

The wool, wheat and mineral trade made South Australia a rich part of the British colonial empire in the 19th century. Commodity exports were booming, but their shipment from South Australia was long hampered by the small size of the shipping companies and inter-colonial rivalries.

The flag of the company

In 1875, a group of pastoralists and businessmen took it upon themselves to tackle the problem head on and created the Adelaide Steamship Company. Its creation was aimed at ensuring the transportation of their products as well as to make a profit from the freight.


A passenger transport service was also created (often by mixed liner) to facilitate the movement of people on this immense continent almost devoid of efficient land communication routes.

A publicity in an Adélaïde newspaper in 1882

For more than 100 years, the Adelaide Steamship Company’s fleet would dominate the transportation of passengers and goods over a wide area of Australia stretching from the city of Darwin to Townsville. The Company employed nearly 800 seamen at its peak.

During wartime the company’s ships were requisitioned for world campaigns (troop transport, armaments, hospital ships) and in peacetime they offered many Australians the trip of a lifetime.

The Wandilla - Hospital-ship

For more than 50 years, from 1910 to 1960, the “Gulf trip” on the ships of the Adelaide Steamship Company was a unique way to discover the south of Australia. This trip became mythical because it inaugurated the concept of cruising where liners were still considered as simple means of transportation. Very early on, the company based its advertising on the pleasure of the trip rather than on its simple utilitarian aspect. The circular route of the “Gulf Trip”, allowed to come back to its starting point after a 6 days cruise for a very advantageous rate.

M/V Minnipa
The Morialta
Le Moonta

The company’s ships, including the MOONTA, were extremely popular with newlyweds, for whom the Gulf Trip ships offered the opportunity for a cheap honeymoon. The seven-day trip cost £6 in 1939. The motto of the Adelaide Steamship was a program in itself: “Festina lente” (hasten slowly)

Ships like the Minnipa, Moonta and Morialta provided many Australians with the romantic and unforgettable setting for this moment in their lives. Today in Australia, one does not count any more the number of children who were conceived during this voyage and on board one of the small liners of the company.

The memory of the Moonta is still very vivid today, as shown by the attachment of many Australians to this ship. 

The building of the company in Adélaïde


During the interwar period, the company was at its peak. In addition to the renewal of its Gulf Trip ships, it ordered two larger liners which undoubtedly became the flagships of the fleet: the Manunda and the Manoora.

Its fleet was also composed of a myriad of cargo ships of varying sizes.

The Manoora
The Manunda



At the beginning of the 1950s, the development of land transport was going to compete with the passenger ships of the company which reduced this branch of its activity by disarming and selling the Moonta in 1955.

On January 1, 1964, its fleet was merged with that of McIlwraith McEacharn Ltd. in a new company named Associated Steamships Ltd. The Adelaide Steamship Company held 40% of the shares of the new company.

This new company innovated again by developing and fitting out in 1964 the first container ship built in the world: the MV Kooringa.

The MV Kooringa

In 1977, following financial setbacks and risky investments, the Adelaide Steamship Company decided to withdraw its interests from the conglomerate, retaining only the tug and tow operations.

The Adelaide Steamship Company was at that time one of the oldest industrial companies in Australia. It changed its name in 1997 to Adsteam Marine Ltd, keeping in its new logo the red eight-pointed star of the former name.

In 2006, the company was acquired by the largest shipping company in the world: AP Moeller Maersk. Today, all that remains of the Adelaide Steamship Co Ltd are yellowed photos, souvenirs… and a liner that has been stranded for more than 50 years on a beach in the south of France…

                        Alba Olivier