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The return of Symi II and other shipping news

The return of Symi II and other shipping news

Yes, it’s true. Tomorrow, something like 8 years after I travelled on her last departure from Yialos to Rhodes, Symi II will return to Yialos, operating the daily day-tripper run from Rhodes on behalf of Sea Dreams.

But this is not currently a scheduled ferry service, you can only purchase day return tickets from Rhodes, and none at all from the Symi end, so the number of actual ferries to/from Symi is reduced. Apart from the barely started Sunday evening sailing, which now stops tonight, this does not matter much since the Panagia Skiadeni runs at much the same times but takes 30 minutes less on the way.

The ANES high-speed ferry, which does exist and has been photographed, has yet to complete sea trials, but is supposed to provide a replacement ferry service in due course. Unfortunately nobody knows when “in due course” will be, since the ferry needs to complete trials, receive safety certification, and receive official approval for route and timetable. Hopefully the end of the month, but wheels grind slowly.

On the same topic, the replacement of Blue Star Patmos on her runs through Symi is still scheduled for next weekend. So far Nissos Chios is only loaded into the reservation databases for the next 3 weeks, this is because government approval for the change is provisional and awaits confirmation for the rest of the season. Confirmation is required because this is a subsidised service and the name of the ship is part of the contract.

Nissos Chios. Photo from Hellenic Seaways

Finally for today, the Kos-based high speed craft Iris Jet popped in and out of Yialos at around 8am today, as part of a journey Kos-Bodrum-Symi-Antalya which must surely be a charter of some sort.

Ferry swap

Ferry swap

The latest rumour, which actually seems pretty firm, is that Symi II will resume service between Symi and Rhodes from 11 June in place of Sea Dreams vessel the Symi which will head off to the Sporades to do the work Symi II had been expected to do this summer. The logic seems to be that the vehicle-carrying capacity of Symi is not utilised to any great extent, particularly now that Blue Star 1 and 2 appear every Monday, Blue Star Patmos every Wednesday and Friday, and Panagia Skiadeni every day, and could actually be financially rewarding in the Sporades.

Two side effects of this is that the Sunday evening sailings have disappeared from the Sea Dreams timetable after this weekend, and that Sea Dreams will also stop selling one-way or period return tickets after Sunday. So far there’s no sign of ANES, who after all own Symi II, selling tickets at all, so we may have fewer boats for people wanting to overnight or longer on Symi than appeared even 5 days ago. Of course there’s the promised ANES high-speed craft which might fill the gap.

The idea that Nissos Chios “on hire to Blue Star” would do the Blue Star Patmos trips this high-season summer is no longer a rumour, it starts on 15 June. Of course Hellenic Seaways and Blue Star are now under common ownership so the cross-hiring is a paper transaction. In the same way, Blue Star’s Diagoras, having returned to Greece from Morocco, will operate some Hellenic Seaways sailings out of Thessaloniki. All part of matching ship capacity and speed to the route.

Now I’m waiting to see if the ship swaps result in any other changes to departure and arrival times.

Getting to Symi – from Rhodes Airport to the ferry

Getting to Symi – from Rhodes Airport to the ferry

This post is an updated version of one that appeared on my old blog.

When you arrive at Rhodes Airport you’ll notice that it has no airbridges, the links from plane to terminal. Instead you’ll get off using stairs (make a mental note of the name on the side of the stairs), and usually squeeze into a bus for the very short journey to the terminal, where you’ll be dropped at a ramp leading down into the building. The right hand set of doors at the end of the ramp are for passengers on flights from inside the Schengen Area (most of the EU and EEA countries except UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia), and the left hand set, which takes you through Immigration, for everyone else. Don’t use the wrong doors, at best you’ll get shouted at, at worst arrested.
Whichever set you use, you’ll eventually end up in Baggage Reclaim. There are four sets of conveyor belts, with screens to show you which belt your flight will use. Rhodes doesn’t have a good reputation for fast baggage return, due to package holiday airlines scheduling their arrivals too close together, though in practice domestic flights are speedy enough. While you’re waiting you can use the toilets but there’s not much else to do. Hopefully your bag won’t take too long and you’ll soon be on your way. If it doesn’t appear or is damaged you need to speak to the handling agent (could be Goldair, Skyserv or Swissport) who deals with your airline before you leave the airport. You can tell which by the name on the stairs you used to leave the plane. Their offices are in the baggage reclaim area or in the departures area (gates 1-14 zone). Leave the baggage reclaim area by the doors at the far end. Use the left hand doors if your flight came from outside the EU, otherwise the right hand ones. Once through you are into a zone full of tour operators reps and taxi drivers holding signs with peoples’ names on. Unless you arranged a taxi when you booked your accommodation on Symi, keep going through the next set of doors into the outside world.
Now you have a choice – straight ahead across the drop-off area you’ll find the taxi rank – be careful crossing, driving can be erratic and you may be tired. The fare to Rhodes Town, including the port, is fixed, not metered, and currently is €25.00 per trip – up to 4 people. There are usually plenty of taxis but at busy times solo travellers may be asked to share with others going in the same direction, if this happens the fare is €25 per person or group, this is quite legal and you aren’t being ripped off. If you are going straight to the port, tell the driver the name of the ship you want and he’ll get you to the right quayside as close to the ship as possible.
Alternatively there is a bus service, two or three buses an hour between 6am and midnight in summer. Turn left and walk along the side of the terminal past the first departures zone until you reach the bus shelter by a little seating area. Ideally you need to get tickets before the bus arrives as it is dearer if you pay on board, the cafe-bar in the departures area (desks 15-36 zone, door near the bus shelter) sells them for €2.50 per person. If you intend to come back on the bus as well you can stock up on tickets as each ticket works for one journey in either direction, the driver cancels the ticket you use as you get on. Luggage accommodation is limited, and the buses stop along the way, but the service is much faster than it used to be, about 40 minutes on average to the terminus in Averoff Street behind the Nea Agora building near Mandraki Harbour. You can also buy tickets from the driver at €2.60 per person (but you’ll probably need some Euro coins as change can be a problem).
Look for buses marked Rodos Center, some start at the airport and some start at points further west and call in on their way to Rhodes Town.The same bus stop is used for buses going to and from Rhodes Town so do make sure it is going in the right direction before you board. These are usually blue and white buses, but there are some in advertising liveries.
If you have decided to catch one of the high speed catamarans to Symi, these leave from Kolonna quay on the Rhodes waterfront. This is right by Rhodes Old Town walls (there’s a Kolonna Gate through the wall) and is an easy bag-trundle from the bus terminus at Averoff St (though avoid the rough cobblestones at the Old Town entrance over the bridge – they’re death to baggage wheels).

Some day my bag will come.

 

All other ferries to Symi leave from Akandia quay, which is a long way further on. I have walked it, but don’t intend to do it again on a hot day with baggage! If your ferry leaves from or arrives at Akandia, you are best advised to use a taxi. Akandia is served by Rhodes Town buses 6 and 12, but a peculiarity of the town service buses is that they have circular routes and only go one way round the circle. There is a flat fare regardless of distance, so going the long way round the circle isn’t any more expensive as long as you have 45 minutes to spare. If you still want to use these buses, the 12 runs hourly up to 3pm, and takes you to Akandia directly. The 6 runs hourly all day long and is a quick way from Akandia to the centre. These routes use a terminal on the seafront side of the road at Mandraki Harbour. Taxis can be picked up from the central taxi station at the Old Town end of the Nea Agora. A local journey to Akandia will be charged on the meter.
Advance booking is possible, and is a good idea for the catamarans, but totally unnecessary for the Rhodes to Symi journey on Blue Star’s vast 2000-person capacity ships. There are ticket offices (or in some cases huts) right next to the mooring point of each company, and you can collect prebooked tickets or buy them direct there. Despite appearances to the contrary, you don’t need to find the main port agency to do this.

If you have a wait at Akandia and your ferry hasn’t arrived yet (some come from Kastellorizo or Karpathos, others spend all day or all night in Akandia) there is a good taverna (Mouragio) just outside the quay entrance, and, new for 2018, a cafe within the port area.

Yet more ferry changes!

Yet more ferry changes!

It now appears possible that the Blue Star Patmos will be replaced by Hellenic Seaways ship Nissos Chios for high season operations through Symi. Hellenic Seaways has just been taken over by Blue Star’s parent Attica Enterprises and a major timetable recast is under way.

Then, Greek shipping enthusiasts report that old friend Symi II has left Piraeus after winter overhaul and has made her way to Rhodes via Panormitis, what she is to do there remains to be seen, she was originally going to operate in the Sporades again this summer.

In other ANES line news, the new high speed craft has emerged from the shipyard that built her. Next will come sea trials, to see if the contracted performance can be achieved, safety inspections, and certification. Only then will she carry passengers. Rumours are that there will be a return to Rhodes-Symi, but they have yet to even apply for a route licence, let alone publish timetables.

On Friday Blue Star Patmos used the new quay at Petalo, beyond the petrol station, for the first time. Blue Star was already using the quay for its Monday sailings by Blue Star 1 and Blue Star 2, and it seems likely that all Blue Star (and potentially Hellenic Seaways) operations will now use the new quay.

At last the complete ferry story (until it changes again)

At last the complete ferry story (until it changes again)

So we’re nearly there. The new Monday Big Blue Star sailings will definitely continue through to late October, though the time of the morning sailing varies a little in high season. There’s still no certainty as to which ship will operate the Wednesday and Friday sailings – the Blue Star booking system says the Patmos, but then it has the Patmos as operating sailings in the Cyclades at the exact same times. At least we can be pretty sure there will be a ship of some sort! There’s a tweak to the Wednesday morning sailings in high season – they’re an hour later.

So here are the new/amended ferry schedules for summer 2018:

June to beginning September

September

October

and the updated “Same Day to Symi” table. This is now dramatically longer thanks to Sunday and Monday afternoon/evening sailings. Do note that not every flight on the list has a same day ferry connection on the way home again – but it definitely does on the way there!

Extra Sunday sailings

Extra Sunday sailings

Sea Dreams have announced Sunday evening sailings between Rhodes and Symi for the rest of the season. The “Symi” will do her normal daytime sailings and then leave Rhodes again at 19:30 for Symi, leaving Symi to go back to Rhodes at 22:15. Journey time is 2 hours in each direction.

Blue Star are still sorting themselves out and it isn’t at all clear what is happening in high season. They appear to be at least one ship short to operate the timetable, which keeps changing anyway. The Wednesday and Friday sailings appear to be set in stone, but may or may not be operated by the Blue Star Patmos. The new Monday sailings aren’t bookable past the end of June at the moment.
The combined ferry timetables and the “Same Day to Symi” guide will be reissued as soon as it is certain what is sailing where and when.

More Blue Stars, more same day journeys

More Blue Stars, more same day journeys

Symi Tours, the Blue Star Ferries main agent for Symi, has announced that from Monday 21 May onwards the giant ferry Blue Star 1 will call at Symi every Monday, using the new quay area. Well, she couldn’t use the old quays as she wouldn’t fit.
Blue Star 1 will leave Piraeus on Sunday evenings travelling overnight via Santorini and Kos, calling at Symi at 08:20 Monday on the way to Rhodes. She leaves Rhodes again at 16:00 Monday calling at Symi at around 17:15 before continuing to Kos, Santorini, and Piraeus.
At the time of writing these journeys have not yet appeared on Blue Star’s website or booking system, and the website also suggests that Piraeus-Santorini-Kos-Rhodes is operated by sister ship Blue Star 2. Hopefully this will be clarified during today.
Once bookings open, I’ll publish the updated combined ferry timetables, and also the updated Same Day to Symi table for those who really want to avoid spending the first night of their holiday in Rhodes.

The general rearrangement of ferries in Greece following the takeover of Hellenic Seaways by Attica Enterprises, the parent company of Blue Star Ferries, has started this weekend. The extra service to Symi on Mondays has been loaded into Blue Star’s on line booking system and will be operated by Blue Star 1 and Blue Star 2 on alternate weeks. Blue Stars 1 and 2 will together operate the fast overnight Piraeus-Rhodes services, and Superfast XII leaves the area this weekend.

Harbour extension officially opened

Harbour extension officially opened

Yesterday was a special day for Symi. Firstly, it was the 73rd anniversary of the surrender of German forces in the Dodecanese in 1945, signed on Symi, celebrated  by a parade of  local schoolchildren, organisations, and the local army garrison. Secondly, the extension of Yialos harbour into the district of Petalo beyond the petrol station was officially opened, after two years work.

This year the parade was graced by the presence of the President of Greece, resulting in a larger than usual turnout of senior military and police personnel, and he went on to perform the opening ceremony for the harbour works.

A special visit had been arranged of the Superfast XII, the largest ferry operating in the Dodecanese area, to demonstrate how the extension can cope with far larger vessels than the traditional “big ferry” berth at the Clock Tower. As a guide, Superfast XII is 200 metres long. The Blue Star Patmos, the regular twice weekly visitor to the clock tower berth, is 146 metres long and almost blocks the mouth of the traditional harbour.

I’ve  been asked whether all ferries will relocate to the new extension, and I think the answer is no. The main purposes of the work are: to attract more long-distance ferry calls by making Symi accessible to every size of ferry in Greece; to remove the traffic chaos from the narrow roads surrounding the existing harbour; and to attract calls from more cruise ships. The extension has plenty of room for side-loading cruise ships to moor, but only one ramped area that vehicle-carrying ferries could use.

At the moment, the north (Mavrovouni) side of the harbour becomes one way every Wednesday and Friday morning and evening, because the volume of traffic loading and unloading from the Blue Star Patmos makes two way traffic impossible. There isn’t enough roadway to properly marshal vehicles waiting to board. But this isn’t a problem with the Dodekanisos Express and Pride, which carry mainly people and a very few cars and bikes. The Symi and the Panagia Skiadeni again carry lots of people but also cars and trucks and remain in port for several hours so there is no conflict between vehicles disembarking and boarding.

So I’d expect the Blue Star Patmos to move to Petalo, plus a third Blue Star a week (either the Blue Star 2 or the Superfast XII which belongs to the same group), and everything else to stay put.

Another question is “how will articulated lorries turn left out of the port extension to go up the hill”? Here I think the answer is that they won’t. At the moment the Patmos carries several artic trailers to and from Symi on each trip. These are dragged on and off by a Symi-based tractor unit, parked on the quayside, and taken one by one round the harbour to the big bend  above the new extension. Here they are parked on the roadside and unloaded before being returned on the next ferry. The idea now is that trailers will be parked and unloaded by forklift in the extension area with the goods being distributed on smaller trucks as today. Artics rarely venture beyond the big bend anyway because some of the corners, and the junction with the Pedi road, are too tight for longer trailers.

The final question is “when does it really open”? Here I just don’t know. Really a ticket hut, basic shelter  for foot passengers, and a means of getting foot passengers to the main part  of Yialos are  still missing. Watch this space!

Superfast XII makes a special visit to Symi – 8 May 2018
Iris Jet

Iris Jet

Iris Jet at Kos. Photos by KosVoice

This high speed catamaran was built in France in 2000 (so claims that it is brand new are somewhat exaggerated).

Most unusually it is made from glass fibre reinforced plastic, and as a result has suffered longer periods out of service due to the usual bumps and scrapes than a metal shell would have done.

The Kos-based high speed craft is intended to do same-day excursions to islands that are otherwise just too far away from Kos to get worthwhile time there using conventional day excursion boats, and where the ferry timetables don’t work for day trips. In this, she’s replacing the hydrofoil that the Laumzis travel company used to operate. Among the possible destinations from Kos is Symi, probably combined with Rhodes, along with Leros, Lipsi, and Patmos on different days of the week. Actual excursions are expected to start from 1 June.

Now in days gone by, you could travel on the Laumzis hydrofoil as a one way passenger to or from Symi, if they had room, if there were enough passengers to justify running it, and if you knew which days it operated. I actually caught it once from Symi to Rhodes when I had missed the Symi I. But in those days the companies holding actual ferry licences weren’t especially combative, indeed they’ve all disappeared or relocated (Dodecanese Hydrofoils, DANE, GA Ferries, ANES). I suspect Dodekanisos Seaways and Blue Star will object strongly to anyone extra selling ferry-type tickets. They can’t object to day excursions. So far nobody has  applied for ferry route licences for Iris Jet, and given the time it takes to issue them, they are unlikely to get them for 1 June if they applied now.

My Laumzis journey was also before the great crack-down on ferries that brought about the national computerised booking system. You may ask what prevents someone buying a day excursion ticket and simply not showing up for the return journey. The answer of course is that there’s nothing to stop you doing this. However, the Coastguard/Port Police aren’t stupid. They supervise departures, and watch for people with baggage. Nobody takes a wheeled suitcase on a day trip, after all. Smallish backpacks on the other hand might pass un-noticed

There’s meant to be a trial trip to Symi in mid-May. Hopefully the additional day visitors she brings to Symi over the summer will help the island’s prosperity, but if you are looking for a ferry to/from Kos or Rhodes, well, we’ll see.

An update from Kos for travellers to/from Symi

An update from Kos for travellers to/from Symi

 

Kos Airport is due for complete reconstruction. How far this process has got I’m unsure as I’ve not been there this year. So this posting is based on 2017 airport information.
The airport is small, much too small for the volume of traffic that uses it. As a survival technique, the staff have developed a very slick baggage return system and travellers get their bags back surprisingly quickly. There’s no room in baggage reclaim for anything but the conveyor belts and a tiny customs area for non-EU flights, and as soon as you go through the exit door, you are standing outside the terminal.

From there, taxis are straight ahead, across the dropoff zone, and buses are to the left, using a very small bright orange bus shelter.
Taxis are reasonably plentiful, and in season there is a taxi controller on site, who can radio call for extra cars as needed. There are often more taxis parked round a corner out of sight, which move forward as necessary. Fare to Kos Town was €35-38 in 2017, depending on where you want to be dropped off. These taxis take up to 4 passengers.

Buses are not frequent, at least officially, the timetable shows up to 9 a day in absolute peak season. You’ll always see the current timetable at www.ktel-kos.gr and the single fare is €3. But there are two quirks of the Kos bus system that you need to be aware of. One is that the bus stop at the airport doesn’t just serve buses to Kos Town, but also those to Kardamena and Kefalos – so ask the driver! The other is that at busy periods, instead of increasing the frequency of the buses, several buses depart Kos Town on the same advertised departure time. At least one bus will follow the official route which is via Mastichari, others may go direct to the airport and points beyond via the main road to save time. These extra buses then need to return to Kos Town, and quite often they simply depart when ready, without waiting for one of the advertised times. So you’ll find not just the timetabled departures to Kos Town, but unscheduled extras as well. The buses take you to the Bus Station in Kleopatras Street, a few hundred metres inland from the harbour, far enough to be irritating if you have bags to carry.

Assuming your flight time gets you to Kos in time to catch one of the afternoon Dodekanisos Seaways sailings to Symi (check your date – these don’t go every day) or arrive very late on a Tuesday or Thursday so you can use the overnight Blue Star sailings which leave Kos in the early hours of Wednesdays and Fridays, you can go direct to the port. The ferries you want leave from a point alongside the castle. A taxi will take you directly there, if you are walking, simply walk up the left hand side of the castle, next to the harbour. Watch out for the uneven and cracked ground surfaces, caused by last year’s earthquake. You will pass the earthquake-damaged port terminal building, fenced off due to structural damage, then a set of temporary toilets, before coming to the replacement ticket hut. This is operated by Exas Travel, who are port agents for both Blue Star and Dodekanisos Seaways. You can purchase tickets for immediate travel, or collect tickets booked on line (bring your booking confirmation). Right next to the ticket hut is a cafe with a shaded outdoor seating area, and a large temporary building used as a waitig shelter for passengers. This has seating,and is airconditioned.
In fact these temporary facilities are rather better than the permanent ones they replace. The port terminal building had a cafe and toilets, there were ticket huts, but the waiting shelter was airconditioned only by having no sides…

For those who are island hopping or even countryhopping, ferries to and from Turkey now use facilities on the opposite (north) side of the harbour, by the Costa Palace Hotel. Walk along the harbour side keeping the Costa Palace hotel on your left, until you see a street on the left, the hotel frontage continues along this street. Follow it, and immediately before you arrive at the Achilleas Hotel on the right, also on the right is a car park entrance. Walk through it to reach the ticket booths for boats to Turkey, and Passport Control.

The Panagia Spiliani, which shuttles between Kos Town and Nissyros, and Kardamena and Nissyros, uses a mooring point directly outside the Costa Palace Hotel.

Kos’s fleet of day trip boats moor along the town side of the inner harbour. You’ll probably find that one of these will take you to Nissyros as well, but they only go if there are sufficient passengers, so can’t be relied on. Finally, there’s the new boy in town, the Iris Jet. On my visit to Kos yesterday, she was moored at the old hydrofoil pier, about 300 metres south of the castle, off the shore road.

Derelict Kos Sea Terminal building
Ticket office and cafe – Kos Port
Earthquake damage to Kos quayside