The Greek-flag Chandris Lines, which became Celebrity Cruises by 1990, was busily buying secondhand passenger ships back in the 1960s. Building a rather mighty fleet, they preferred both American and British tonnage, so it seems, for conversion and enlargement. This included the famed Matson liner Lurline, built in 1931 and very popular from her days on the San Francisco-Los Angeles-Honolulu run. While carrying up to 760 all-first class passengers in her Matson days, Chandris engineers had her refitted in 1963 for as many as 1,700 travelers, all in tourist class. As the renamed Ellinis, she sailed mostly on the Europe-Australia & around the world routes, but also did cruising from Southampton, England as well as Sydney, Australia.
(Photos below: The classic Lurline arriving off Honolulu; The same ship being made over as the enlarged Ellinis in a British shipyard. Mick Lindsay Collection)

For a stint on the London stage in My Fair Lady, Leonard Weir sailed from New Zealand all the way to London onboard the 631-ft long Ellinis in 1964. We met several years ago, but aboard a new generation of Chandris-related ships, the Celebrity Reflection. He remembered that all-white Ellinis (translating to “Greek Lady”).

“I was returning to England for summer stock and then returned for Australia for the Southern summer. I was quickly made Entertainment Officer on the Ellinis. On the trips to England, we had lots of young Australians going to the UK and to Europe, and then returned from Southampton with full loads of British migrants. The Australian Government wanted more people and offered fares at 10-pounds per person (or $40) for the five-week voyage out to Fremantle, Melbourne & Sydney. We also collected migrants at Bremerhaven, Rotterdam and at Piraeus (for Athens) and even stopped at Dubrovnik to collect Yuogslavians. It was a multi-national passenger list,” he remembered. “We were always choker-block. The Suez Canal was closed and so we sailed via South Africa, calling at Capetown. From there, it was 10 days to Fremantle and then onward to Melbourne & Sydney.”

Leonard Weir added, “We once hit a fierce storm, a Force 12. Waves towered above the ship for ten whole days. All the kids were very sick and many adults too. We used to have three sittings for meals – one for children and then first & second for adults. There was very little entertainment, but we always offered Greek dance lessons. On the first night, we’d have a Greek cultural show, which was wonderful. We’d use lots of passengers as dancers and they even threw plates & broke them. Even the captain joined in and threw plates. The ship was very friendly and, after their voyages, lots of Australian ladies married Greek officers & crew.”
For myself, it was a very warm Saturday afternoon in August 1969. But altogether an exciting day: We were sailing on the Ellinis on a 6-day cruise from New York to Nassau and back. Then rather unknown, Chandris was experimenting with strengthening their position in the American cruise market. But the Ellinis was quite full and off we sailed. Very young at the time, we were also very fortunate. A friend in the Chandris office, then in Lower Manhattan at 17 Battery Place, looked after us. We were assigned to one of the suites – a roomy bedroom with sitting area and double bathrooms. There were also three floor-toceiling windows, which brightened the room by day and altogether made the space look even bigger. The ship was wellkept, served and fed, as I recall, and Chandris then especially liked big, after-dinner production shows that included a half-dozen or so heavily feathered dancing girls. The daily program also included the likes of bullion at 11 in the morning and midnight buffets of what seemed to be endless foods.
While Leonard Weir went on to serve aboard the legendary Queen Mary and later with Costa Cruises, the Ellinis sailed on until 1980, then was laid-up and finally broken-up in 1987.
(Photo below: At Melbourne)