RMS Transvaal Castle

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SS Festivale in Barbados - 1987-02-26.jpg
SS Festivale docked in Barbados on 26 February 1987.
  • 1961—1966: RMS Transvaal Castle
  • 1966—1969: RMS S.A. Vaal
  • 1969—1977: TSS S.A. Vaal
  • 1977—1996: TSS Festivale
  • 1996—1998: TSS IslandBreeze
  • 1998—2003: SS Big Red Boat III
  • 2003: SS The Big Red Boat
  • 1961—1966: Union-Castle Line
  • 1966—1977: Safmarine
  • 1978—1996: Carnival Cruise Line
  • 1996—1997: Dolphin Cruise Line
  • 1997—1998 Thomson Cruises
  • 1998—2000: Premier Cruise Line[1][2]
Port of registry:
Route: Southampton, Las Palmas, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban
Builder: John Brown & Co., Clydebank, Scotland, United Kingdom[1]
Yard number: 720[1]
Launched: 17 January 1961[1]
Completed: December 1961
Maiden voyage: 18 January 1962[1]
Out of service: September 2000[1]
Identification:IMO number5367623
Fate: Broken up at Alang, India, 2003.[1]
General characteristics as built, 1961[1]
Type: ocean liner
Tonnage: 32,697 GRT
Displacement: 16,604 t DWT
Length: 760ft 2in (231.7m)
Beam: 90ft 2in (27.5m)
Draught: 32 ft (9.8 m)
Decks: 8
Installed power: 44,000shp (32,800kW)
Propulsion: Geared turbines, twin screw
Speed: 22.5 knots (41.67 km/h; 25.89 mph)
Capacity: 728 passengers one class
Crew: 426
General characteristics as rebuilt, 1978
Type: cruise ship
Tonnage: 26,632 GRT (Panamanian rules, c.38,000 by UK rules)
Capacity: 1,432 passengers[1]
Crew: 579
Notes: Otherwise the same as built

RMS Transvaal Castle was a British ocean liner built by John Brown & Company at Clydebank for the Union-Castle Line for their mail service between Southampton and Durban. In 1966 she was sold to the South Africa-based Safmarine and renamed S.A. Vaal for further service on the same route. Following cessation of the service between the UK and South Africa in 1977 the ship was sold to Carnival Cruise Line and rebuilt in Japan as the cruise ship SS Festivale, re-entering service in 1978.[3] In 1996 she was sold to Dolphin Cruise Line and renamed IslandBreeze. The vessel spent some of her time under Dolphin Cruise Line ownership on charter to Thomson Cruises. In 1998 the ship was sold to Premier Cruise Line and renamed SS Big Red Boat III. Following the bankruptcy of Premier Cruise Line 2000, Big Red Boat III was laid up until 2003 when she was sold to the scrappers in Alang, India.[1][2] The ship became The Big Red Boat for her final voyage to the scrapyard.[1]

Concept and construction[edit]

The Big Red Boat III and Rembrandt laid up in Freeport's harbor on August 25, 2001.

RMS Transvaal Castle was the last in a series of three ships planned by the Union-Castle Line in the 1950s as replacements for the company's oldest ships RMS Arundel Castle, RMS Carnarvon Castle and RMS Winchester Castle. The Transvaal Castle was preceded by the RMS Pendennis Castle (delivered in 1958) and RMS Windsor Castle (delivered in 1960). Pendennis Castle was an enlarged Pretoria Castle from the same builder, Harland & Wolff, but after the Union-Castle/Clan Line merger of 1956, Clan Line management predominated and no further Union-Castle ships were ordered from the Belfast yard. Transvaal Castle was similar to but smaller than Windsor Castle, built by Cammell, Laird & Co. the previous year. At 32,697 GRT, she was the company's second-largest ship.

Transvaal Castle was launched at Clydebank on 17 January 1961 by Lady Cayzer, wife of the chairman of British & Commonwealth Shipping, and delivered to Union-Castle on 16 December 1961.[1] Like Windsor Castle, she was fully air conditioned and was one of the first British built passenger ships to have a bulbous bow. However, the major difference between the new ship and her fleetmates was that she was conceived as an experimental "hotel" ship, with all passenger accommodation in one class rather than the first and tourist split of the other mail ships. This concept had been used in the three round Africa service ships of the Rhodesia Castle class built in 1951/2, but this was its first (and only) application to the mail fleet. A further innovation was the use of female waiting staff, known as "stewardettes". These were later to be a feature of the other ships in the mail fleet, but the one class concept was restricted to this one ship, the others remaining two class to the end of their service.

Service history[edit]

1961—1977: United Kingdom—South Africa liner service[edit]

Transvaal Castle set out on her maiden voyage from Southampton to Durban on 18 January 1962. In July 1965, the mail service was accelerated with the Southampton-Cape Town voyage cut from 13½ days to 11½ days. The previous departure from Southampton at 4 PM on Thursday, every week was altered to 1 PM every Friday.[3]

In order to meet South African demands for a greater share in the running of the mail service, the Transvaal Castle and her fleetmate RMS Pretoria Castle (respectively the youngest and oldest units of the fleet) were transferred to the South African Marine Corporation (Safmarine) in 1966.[3] The Transvaal Castle was taken over by Safmarine on 12 January 1966 and renamed S.A. Vaal. The ship's hull was repainted white and her funnel changed to Safmarine's mid-grey, with three thin lines of the then South African national colours: orange white and blue. Although now under Safmarine ownership, both ships were bareboat chartered back to Union-Castle and continued to be manned by the same crews as the other mail ships. RMS S.A. Vaal remained registered in London[1] and continued to operate on the same service as before. Thus the UK—South Africa service became a joint operation between Union-Castle and Safmarine.[3] In February 1969 the S.A. Vaal and S.A. Oranje were re-registered in Cape Town.[1] but continued to be managed and crewed by Union-Castle, with a few Safmarine officers in later years. The mail ship operation was always managed from London.

The Union-Castle/Safmarine joint mailship service declined heavily during the 1970s. This was due to a combination of adverse economic factors including the loss of earnings from high value cargoes, which were increasingly being carried in the more efficient, revolutionary new container ships. With the large increase in oil prices in 1973, the mail ship schedule was extended by one day to allow more economical steaming. After Pendennis Castle was withdrawn in June 1976 just two mailships remained on the route - Union-Castle's Windsor Castle and Safmarine's S.A. Vaal - in addition to Union-Castle's last cargo/passenger vessels RMMV Good Hope Castle and RMMV Southampton Castle (carrying just 12 passengers each) and other chartered cargo-only tonnage. The jointly owned passenger liner service ceased completely in October 1977, with the S.A. Vaal being the last to arrive in Southampton on 10 October 1977.[3]

1978—2003: Cruise ship service[edit]

Following the withdrawal from service the S.A. Vaal was sold to Carnival Cruise Line and renamed SS Festivale. Carnival converted her into a cruise ship in Japan at the cost of $30 million, removing former cargo holds and doubling the vessel's passenger capacity, installing further lounges also dedicated discothèques and casinos. The vessel became one of Carnival's "First Generation" fun ships. Although the former mail ship's superstructure was greatly enlarged, registration in Panama resulted in her tonnage dropping to 26,632 (by UK rules it would have been around 38,000).

With Carnival later creating substantially larger cruise liners, the Festivale eventually became redundant. There was still a market for passengers who preferred "traditional" looking ships, and after a brief charter with Thomson Cruises, Premier Cruise Line purchased the vessel in 1998. They named her Big Red Boat III, as she was their third liner, and like all of their ships, had her hull painted a bright red.

Premier Cruises went bankrupt in 2000, and their ships were seized in various ports in the Caribbean, North America, and Europe. By now ageing, outmoded and in need of repairs, the Big Red Boat III could find no work and was sold to the shipbreakers in Alang, India in the summer of 2003. She was scrapped in 2003-2004.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Asklander, Micke. "T/S Transvaal Castle (1961)". Fakta om Fartyg (in Swedish). Retrieved 21 December 2008.
  2. ^ a b Boyle, Ian. "Transvaal Castle". Simplon Postcards. Retrieved 21 December 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e Miller, William H (1986). The Last Blue Water Liners. London: Conway. pp. 55–58. ISBN 0-85177-400-8.