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Fidel Castro and the Titanic of Balaton

Sights & Culture - Articles

Friday, May 2, 2014 — We Love Balaton

On which boat did Fidel smoke his cigars, where did the Titanic of Balaton tip over, which boat is the largest, eldest and most comely? All you need to know about the boats of the Balaton.

1. Tihany-Szántód ferry– the benchmark

Photo: Blanka Sebestyén - We Love Balaton

Szántódrév Dock

8622 Szántód, Tihany utca 6.
Szántódrév Dock on facebook
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Many have travelled the shores of Lake Balaton throughout the ages, and all crossed the Lake by the ferry. It was used by Romand tradesmen, medieval knights (one of them dropped his sword into the Lake, which is now exhibited in the museum of the Tihany Abbey), and the first holidayers of Füred took the train to Szántód then crossed to Füred by the ferry, before the construction of the north shore's railway line. The current buildings and boats of the ferry have been serving passengers since the 1960ies. The ferry boats were named after great Hungarians, Gábor Baross, Sándor Kisfaludy, István Széchenyi and Lajos Kossuth; fun fact: the Kossuth could even transport tanks.

2. The Festetics arzenál Shipyard

Photo: Blanka Sebestyén - We Love Balaton

Festetics Palace

8360 Keszthely, Kastély utca 1.
Festetics Palace on facebook
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A 30-metre-long, three-mast boat would look fine on the sea, and it is all the more impressive on Lake Balaton. The Phoenix galley, the largest sailboat of Lake Balaton belonged to the fleet of the noble Festetics family. The Festetics family did not only build a noted palace in Keszthely, but they also founded Europe's first agricultural college, the Georgikon there; the Arzenál shipyard in Fenékpuszta (where the Phoenix was also built) was also their property. The galley was used for transporting salt between keszthely and Kenese or 30 years. The Phoenix was the largest wood-structure vehicle in the history of Balaton shipping. Unfortunately, neither the factory, nor the boat (cast off on 16 July 1797) survived up to today, but you can see a scale-model in the Balaton Museum and the Helikon Palace Museum.

3. Kisfaludy: The first steamboat is puffing again

Photo: Blanka Sebestyén - We Love Balaton

Although the first sailboat is gone, the first steamboat of Lake Balaton will soon be puffing again. The Kisfaludy steamboat was originally cast off on 21 September 1846, with the task of transporting people to the most popular holiday resort of the era, Balatonfüredre. The steamboat was used to transport war prisoners during the 1848/49 Revolution. Meanwhile, its body was reconstructed from iron, and it operated until 1887. They started its freshest renovation in 2013 and it will step into service agian in Balatonfüred from summer 2014. There is another steamboat mooring in the port of Keszthely. It is the copy of another legend, the Hableány, by which the son of statesman István Széchenyi, Ödön travelled from Pest to Paris in 43 days in 1867.

4. The blue ribbon: Europe's eldest sailing competition

Photo: Krisztina Bordács - We Love Balaton

The Hungária Yacht Club organized its first Blue Ribbon sailing competition around the Lake in 1934, following the lead of sea races. Back then, they were probably unaware that this race would grow in the matter of a few decades to become the longest-standing sailing competition of Europe that can also boast of the largest number of participants. The competition has traditionally followed the Balatonfüred-Balatonkenese-Siófok-Keszthely-Balatonfüred route, and the fastest time to complete is was 10 hrs 43 mins by the catamaran Fifty-Fifty. The most succesful boat in the history of the competition was the Tramontana, which took the gold seven times between 1940 and 1989. The record-holding helmsman is Farkas Litkey -the closest anyone came to his 11 victories was Zsolt Király with 9 second places.

5. The elders: Helka and Kelén

Photo: Blanka Sebestyén - We Love Balaton

The eldest boats on Lake Balaton are silblings: Helka and Kelén. they had an adventurous birth: their first trip was made on land, as their parts were prepared in Újpest (1891), but they were assembled at the Balaton. Both ships were sunk during World War II and retreived after the fights. The reconstructions and the years did not fail to leave a mark on the ships, so Helka was discraded in the 1970ies, and Kelén followed soon after. Helka was transformed into a discotheque on the side of Main Road 71. The popular nighlife spot appeared in several Hungarian movies and was slowly surrounded by the local bazaar. This story, typical of the Kádár Era, took a lucky turn by the beginning of the 1990ies: Kelén was reconstructed in 1991 for its 100th birthday, while Helka was reconstructed in 1996 for the 150th anniversary of Balaton shipping. Since, they have been proud members of the Balaton fleet.

6. The beauties: Nemere II and Sirocco

Photo: Krisztina Bordács - We Love Balaton

People consider these two, attractive wooden cruisers to be the most beautiful ones on the Balaton. Sirocco is also noteworthy for its adventurous story. The cruiser originally named Big Boy was built in 1947. The following year, the Eyptian ruler Farouk made an attempt to buy it, but the Hungarian state acted faster: they confiscated the boat and imprisoned the owners under the suspicion of gold smuggling - although there was no gold found in the keel afterwards. Sirocco was renamed Győzelem (Victory) and served the pleasure of the members of the ruling Party. Maintenance was, however, dissatisfactory, and in the end, the boat only nearly escaped being turned into climbing frames for the Zánka pioneer camp. Luckily, it was placed under protection just in time, so today it sails the Lake again, renovated to its last nail.

7. The Titanic of Lake Balaton: the Pajtás steamboat

Photo: Blanka Sebestyén - We Love Budapest

Boats usually do not sink on Lake Balaton, and sinking twice is considered an extraordinary achievement. Pajtás was one of the special ones. The boat served on the Danube first, and it was sunk during the World War. After its recovery, it was transferred to Lake Balaton, despite the warnings by the staff that the river boat was unsuitable to run on a lake. Tragedy followed On 30 May1954, after Pajtás left Balatonfüred, its passengers all run to one side off the boat because of a sailing race. pajtás tipped over and sunk in a matter of a few minutes. Despite the help from the land, the sailboats and the self-sacrifice of the stoker (who saved the boat from explosion) 23 people died. A statue (a bronze figure of a hand reaching towards the sky from a porthole) was erected in memory of Pajtás and the only boat tragedy of Lake Balaton on the Tagore Promenade in 1999.

8. Fidel Castro's Pleasure boat: Szabadság

Photo: hajocsavar.hu

Balaton, 1972, Fidel Castro and János Kádár are sitting aboard the cruiser Szabadság. The previous is dressed in the usual dictator outfit, the latter wear a suit and a hat. The picture also shows a bodyguard and another boat filled - probably - with further guards, waiting - probably - for the enemy scuba divers. Fidel Castro once enjoyed the hospitality of the Party holiday resort in Balatonaliga, a world surrounded by armed guards with dogs. He even had time for a cruise. Kádár is now gone, Fidel is near the end. The former Party resort will give place to one of the best music festivals in Europe, B. my. Lake, Szabadság was renamed to Zánka, and you can also sit aboard like the two carefree dictators.

9. The greatest: Beloiannisz and Szent Miklós

Photo: Blanka Sebestyén - We Love Balaton

Beloiannisz held the 'largest boat of the Balaton' title until 2003. It was a real flagship, an iconic item of the Golden Age of Lake Balaton, looking back at you from postcards and travel leaflets. The legendary boat was built in Balatonfüred in 1952, and named after a Greek partizan. A Turkish-import ship built in 2001 took his title in 2006. Szent Miklós is still cruising the waters of Lake Balaton, while the rust-eaten Beloiannisz has recently left for good.

10. From shipyard into shipmuseum

Photo: Blanka Sebestyén - We Love Balaton

Vitorlás Restaurant and "Vitorlázeum" Sailing Museum

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A noted British shipbuilder, Richard Young laid  down the foundtations of the Balatonfüred shipyard at the beginning of the1880ies. The work was later taken over by the Stefánia Yacht Association. This excellent facility was busy with continuous orders and grew to be the largest factory in Balatonfüred. Young's workshop in Balatonfüred used to stand where the Vitorlás Restaurant stands today. The building that survived was orginially built as a club house in 1887. An exhibition of the history of sailing on Lake Balaton (including a sialing simulator) will soon open on its upper storey.

Walk Helka's deck virtually!

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