The Legendary Saga Rose

                When looking back on the many passenger vessels that have visited Pitcairn Island, few (if any) could equal or better the Sagafjord/Saga Rose in the memory of the Pitcairn people of the last several decades.  It was the intention last year to give her the first induction, but at the time her fate was not certain (hence, the Remuera became the first inductee vessel).  Now, with confirmation from a couple of contacts, the induction of Saga Rose into the “Dem Tull” Hall of Fame can proceed.


            The idea of the Sagafjord was conceived in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s by the Norwegian America Line.  The contract for building her was performed by the “Société Nouvelle des Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée” (La Seyne sur Mer) who would close down a year after building her.  The keel was laid on June 19th, 1963, and work commenced on hull number 1366.  She was launched less than a year later on June 13th, 1964.  On September 18th, 1965, she was christened the Sagafjord.

                She began her illustrious career by sailing from Oslo to New York, and soon proved to be a popular ship.  This popularity would never truly wane, and so many people all over the world would view the ship with a special fondness.

               The first time that the Sagafjord visited Pitcairn Island was on February 10th, 1967.  When she visited Pitcairn in 2004, during a presentation to the captain, the then-mayor of Pitcairn, Steve Christian, remarked that Saga Rose was a loyal friend to Pitcairn Island ever since she first appeared as Sagafjord, when he was “knee high to a grasshopper!”

                In 1980, following a refit, both the Sagafjord and her “little sister” Vistafjord were put under Norwegian American Cruises (owned by Norwegian America Line), although there was little change.  However, three years later in 1983 things changed when Norwegian America Line was taken over by Trafalgar House (basically, Cunard).  Sagafjord received a small overhaul by having her funnel change to the traditional Cunard colours of Cunard red and black topping, not to mention the Cunard sign on her forward superstructure.  However, she retained her name, which she would hold still hold for over another decade.

                Pitcairn Island honoured Sagafjord with a $1.80 stamp release on June 17th, 1991 (in a set which included Europa (now Bleu de France), Royal Viking Star (now Black Watch) and World Discoverer (now wrecked)).

                From 1996 until 1997 she was chartered to Transocean Tours for six months.  Her funnel was recoloured to fit the company’s symbol, and for the first time her name was changed.  For the short time she was with Transocean Tours she was called Gripsholm.  She did not last long under them, and was damaged by fire.  So six months after she began as Gripsholm, she was sold in 1997 to Saga Shipping.

                Once Saga Shipping took over she received her largest change in appearance.  She was refitted, and recoloured.  While previously she had always sported a light-coloured hull she was now given a deep blue colour, reminiscent of the traditional liner appearance, which flattered the venerable vessel.  Her funnel was coloured yellow with a dark topping.  Many have argued that this was perhaps her best appearance in her career.  But her greatest change was her name.  Discarding the Gripsholm name she partially reverted back to her original identity but with a new twist to it.  She was renamed Saga Rose.

                The Saga Rose held her own against newer ships, and became a favourite for many a passenger, and also carried several Pitcairners to and from the island.  She still visited Pitcairn often, and the bond between Pitcairn and the ship became stronger with each passing year.  For some it felt like the ship herself had become immortal and would always be around.  As the new SOLAS 2010 regulations began looming ahead, and many grand vessels were retired and mostly scrapped, there were hopes by many that the Saga Rose would at least become a floating hotel and be enjoyed for more years to come.  Sadly, fate had other ideas.

                The Saga Rose left on January 9th, 2009 in her 44th and final world cruise.  With the completion of this world cruise she would have undertaken more world cruises than any other liner (as of 2011), exceeding even that of the QE2.  As would be expected, she also paid her final visit to Pitcairn on the cruise.  She stopped there on February 7th of that year.  It was very calm and sunny weather and there were gifts and presentations to mark the occasion.  She sailed away, never to return.

                After the 44th world cruise she was retired from service, due to her not fulfilling the requirements of the SOLAS 2010 regulations, which ended the career of many other ships as well.  She sailed to China and in May, 2010 she sailed up the Yangtze River and docked at her final destination, the Changjiang Ship Recycling Yard.  There were speculations that she was to be upgraded to fit the new regulations, or that she would become a floating hotel, but despite these speculations, I received word from a couple of sources that by the middle of this year everything was gone.

               The Sagafjord/Saga Rose was a friend to Pitcairn Island for well over 40 years, surpassing that of the S.S. Remuera in the first half of the 20th century.  Her “little sister” Vistafjord/Saga Ruby still operates (as of 2011) and still visits Pitcairn, but as the late Terry Young stated, “she jes ain’t the same as when we orn Sagafjord!”

Below:  Sagafjord in her original livery going through the Kiel Canal (photo courtesy of www.simplonpc.co.uk).

Below:  Sagafjord in Cunard colours at Antigua (photo courtesy of www.simplonpc.co.uk).

Below:  The short-lived Gripsholm era at Guanabara Bay Rio de Janeiro on Jannuary 18th, 1997 (photo courtesy of www.simplonpc.co.uk).

Below:  One of the first visits of the ship as Saga Rose sometime after 1997 (photo from the Terry Young collection).

Below:  A beautiful picture of the two sisters, Saga Rose (background) and Saga Ruby (foreground) at the QEII terminal in Southampton on April 26th, 2007 (photo courtesy of www.simplonpc.co.uk).

Below:  On her final visit, trading was brisk as passengers and Pitcairn Islanders intermingled.

Below:  A last, sad farewell to the Sagafjord/Saga Rose, February 7th, 2009 as she sits just off Pitcairn Island (photo courtesy of Brian Young).

Special thanks go to Mr. Ian Boyle, and his website:  http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/Sagafjord.html for permission to use several pictures, and some of the information.

Also, Herb Fords book “Pitcairn:  Port of Call” was useful for information on some of the earlier Pitcairn visits by the ship.

Thanks also to Terry Young and Brian Young for some photographs and information.  The two of them and myself were constantly trying to keep up with news of her after she retired from service, and sadly Terry Young passed away a week before I got confirmation that she had finally gone.

            And the deepest, heartfelt thanks and bon voyage to the lovely and elegant Sagafjord/Rose.