La Tras is the colloquial name that Spanish people use for their much loved national ferry line. New Years Day of 2017 was the centenary anniversary of the first day that their Spanish national ferry line began to run services to its many destinations including the Balearics, Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa, the Canaries, and the Spanish colonies of Fernando Po and Spanish Guinea in West Africa. Nine small companies came together on that day one hundred years ago, namely Maritima Barcelona, Gijonesa, La Islena Maritima, Menorquina, Navegaceon y Industria, Tintore (founded by Pablo M. Tintore in Barcelona in 1852), Valenciana and Vinuesa fleets. The actual instrument and deed of the constitution of Compania Trasmediterranea was signed in Barcelona before the Public Notary Antonio Sasot Mejias on 25th November 1916 by Joaquin Maria Tintore of Linea de Vapores Tintore, Enrique Garcia Corrons of Navegaceon y Industria S.A., Jose Juan Domine of Compania Valenciana de Vapores Correos de Africa, and Vicente Ferrer Pesset on behalf of Ferrer Pesset Hermanos companies.
THE EARLY YEARS
The new company had a large fleet of 44 passenger and cargo ships to call on, mostly small steamers, but the first task was to analyse how these disparate fleets would fit into a national plan. A network of mail, passenger and cargo services was worked out that linked all of the coastal islands and the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Northern Africa, but also the long range services to the seven Canary Islands and the two possessions in the Gulf of Guinea at a long distance from Spain. A fine trio of twin screw Italian built sisters dating from 1896 as Cristoforo Colombo, Galileo Galilei and Marco Polo, were purchased in 1912 by La Roda Hermanos and transferred to Valenciana in 1914, and given the names A. Lazaro, J.J. Sister and V. Puchol after the founders of the Valenciana company. They had dimensions of length 281.7 feet, moulded beam of 36.7 feet and depth of 18.7 feet with fo’c’tle and poop, and were frequently used from Malaga to Ceuta and Melilla and had accommodation for sixty First Class passengers and many day deck passengers and just over one thousand tonnes of cargo, mostly potatoes.
The priority was to modernise this elderly fleet, and this was achieved initially by re-engining old ships with ten cylinder M.A.N. diesels from 1922 onwards, including the Valenciana trio dating from 1896. After the end of World War I, there was a big demand for passenger services between Spain and the U.S.A., and during 1920/21 the company made ten sailings between Barcelona and New York with calls at other Spanish ports. On special occasions, company ships have also sailed as far as the Caribbean and South America, the Phillipines and the Red Sea. The company operated to Fernando and Spanish Guinea for sixty years, and tourist cruises were also offered to many Mediterranean ports, the Holy Land, France and to England. In the summer of 1933, 188 students embarked on the passenger vessel Ciudad de Cadiz for a cruise lasting 45 days under the protection of La Institucion Libre de Ensenanza y Promovido (Free Institute for Teaching and Promotion) of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy of Madrid Central University. This university cruise called at ports in Tunisia, Malta, Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, Greece and Italy with the central objective of learning about European civilisations. A few more voyages to New York were made during 1940/41, and Ciudad de Sevilla made one round voyage to Philadelphia in 1944.
The white hulled, counter sterned, twin masted fleet of La Islena Maritima serving the Balearic islands from Valenciana and Barcelona were always smart and spotless in their appearance and much loved by Spanish people travelling to the islands. Streamers were not available or could not be afforded in the early days for passengers to wave to their loved ones as the ships left port, so toilet rolls were a good substitute. Mallorca of 2,223 grt built and completed in November 1914 at Sestri Ponente near Genoa was the flagship with a second deck in her holds and was powered by a triple expansion steam engine manufactured by her builders. The steamers Rey Jaime I from the same yard at Sestri Ponente in 1911 and Rey Jaime II from Swan, Hunter on the Tyne in 1906 also sailed from Valencia to Palma on Mallorca, Mahon on Menorca, or Ibiza Town.
Notable black hulled cargo ships in the early fleet included Escolano 3,058/19, the engines aft Atalante 1,446/94, Romeu 3,070/18, and the twin screw Legazpi 4,349/04. There were fifteen motor vessels in the fleet by 1930, namely A. Lazaro, Ciudad de Algeciras, Ciudad de Alicante, Ciudad de Barcelona, Ciudad de Cadiz, Ciudad de Ceuta, Ciudad de Mahon, Ciudad de Malaga, Ciudad de Palma, Ciudad de Sevilla, Ciudad de Valencia, J.J. Sister, Jativa, V. Puchol and Villa de Madrid. Jativa had been built back in 1880 at the John Readhead yard at South Shields and was the first steamer to be converted to a motorship in 1922 when she was re-engined with four cylinder diesels manufactured at Amsterdam, and she served for another eleven years until broken up. Most of the new ‘Ciudad’ motor vessels were used on the Balearics services including five smaller passenger and cargo ships completed around 1929/30 by Italian yards as Ciudad de Palma, Ciudad de Alicante, Ciudad de Ibiza, Ciudad de Tarragona and Ciudad de Valencia.
A change of policy to new and bigger motor passenger liners had occurred in 1928 with the first of four liners of around 6,900 grt. Infanta Beatriz was built by Krupp A.G. at Kiel, and her twin propellers were powered by two powerful six cylinder Krupp diesels to give a service speed of fourteen knots. This first liner of the quartet was given twin funnels, the others had only one motor ship funnel. They could carry around 135 passengers in First Class, 38 in Second Class and 60 in Third Class, with a crew of one hundred on their services to the Canaries and West Africa. Infanta Beatriz was renamed Ciudad de Sevilla in 1931, and her sisters were Villa De Madrid of 1931, Domine of 1935 and Fernano Po of 1935, the last pair built at Bilbao.
The seven vessel fleet of Compania de Vapores Correos Interinsulares Canarios of Las Palmas on Gran Canaria was transferred to the ownership of Compania Trasmediterranea during 1930/32. This was a subsidiary of Elder, Dempster of Liverpool and the fleet of Viera y Clavijo, Leon y Castillo, La Palma, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gomera and Hierro brought fruit and general cargo into Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for shipment on the big Elder, Dempster vessels to the U.K. La Palma was one of the last trio to be withdrawn from service in 1977, and was used from 1982 as a yacht club and restaurant in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and fortunately has been recently preserved and lies today at the side of the no longer used Stacion Maritima in that port.
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