Tudor Vladimirescu

by Hans | July 15th, 2009

From early 2000 to early 2002, Tudor Vladimirescu was in the Galati Damen Shipyard, where she was gutted in preparation for a refit. However, funds dried up and the vessel was laid-up at Chiciu once more. Between September 2002 and August 2003, the vessel was rebuilt both in Galati and at the Aker Shipyard in Braila. The vessel is now primarily used as a protocol ship for local and national government meetings. Nowadays she makes day trips between Galati and Braila also as seen on the photo.

The oldest Paddle Steamer of the world: Tudor Vladimirescu -1854 – 1995

Tudor Vladimirescu (TV) is today the admiral ship of the Romanian Danube trade fleet. The ship that had the chance to survive more than one and half century, several wars, had andlet’s hope will have a good future. There were several crisis times, when sending here to ship-breakers was just a matter of days, but until now, it never happened. One of these moments happened in 1974 when it was considered a great fuel spender. For better use of the fleet, all old ships considered unprofitable from the economic point of view were sold or scrapped.

The owner, NAVROM Galati manages one way or another to keep her in service using her machines as a vibration laboratory for the students of the Naval Institute of Galati, every winter. In summer, she had Danube Delta tours with wealthy German, British, or American tourists. More than that, some enthusiasts and ship lovers from company organized an official festivity giving her the medal ‘100 Years of Navigation’ 1874-1974. Becoming famous all over the country, sending her to scrappers was out of question.

In that summer, we went to Tulcea and had some 250 detailed pictures of the ship. Having the change to find the original drawings, we discovered that the drawings of Griogore Manu contain another date of birth: 1854 in the same shipyard: Budapest. Only after 20 years with the help of Mr. Herbert Winkler, we came in the possession of an original list of ex. DDSG ships, including the old steam paddle steamer ‘Croatia’. This was the original ship. Year of build: 1854. The Danube yearbook of 1936, published in ‘Cartea Romaneasca – Bucuresti’. Gives at page 202 the year of build: 1854 – she had then the name ‘Grigore Manu’.

So, Tudor Vladimirescu, ex. Grigore Manu, ex. Sarmisegetuza, ex. Croatia becomes the oldest passenger paddle steamer of the world. Moreover, she is still working as can be seen on the photo above, spotted on the Danube in 2009.

PHOTO: Hans van der Ster

History of the Tudor Vladimirescu

PS Tudor Vladimirescu built in Budapest in 1854 as the tug Croatia for the DDSG, the vessel passed into the hands of Romanian Fluvial Navigation (NFR) in 1919. She was rebuilt as a passenger vessel at Turnu Severin Shipyard (now Severnav), receiving the name Sarmisegetusa – the ancient capital of Dacia.

Let us follow some date of her history

  • 1854 – The paddle steamer tug ‘Croatia’ enters service for the DDSG Company.
  • 1919 – Romanian Navigatia Fluviala Romana (NFR) company bought the tug, being affected by a lot a war losses. Turnu Severin Shipyard got a contract for the conversion of four tugs to passenger ships for internal lines. The first of them be ready was Sarmisegetuza (this is the name of the capital of Dacia – the ancient name of the Romanian territory). Once christened, she worked for the Braila-Galatzi-Tulcea-Sulina line and for Turnu Severin-Calafat-Giurgiu-Oltenitza-Turtucaia. In 1923, the name was changed to Grigore Manu, as homage to the man who dedicated his life for the development of the Romanian navigation services.
  • The Second World War passed with no major incident for the ship. She spent most of the time in Turnu Severin and Calafat. As the power was taken by the communists, almost all names connected one way or another to the past were changed to symbols of the new order and celebrations. By pure change, her new name became Tudor Vladimirescu, hero of the nation, leader of the revolution against the Ottomans and for the independence of Romanian back in of 1821.
  • In 1954, the ship entered the Shipyard Orsova for complete refitting. Only the engines, paddles and the hull were kept. All superstructure and interiors were modernized.
  • As the original drawings show us (Journal 1446/ V 12-1,2,3,4,5-SRT Orsova Shipyard), the author of the project was engineer S. Geafer, assisted by C. Lita, I. Galla and E. Boschitz.
  • In 1990, in a perfect state she served as a floating luxury restaurant on the Danube shore at Tulcea. In 1993, the bottom was under refit at Turnu Severin Shipyard and the owner, NAVROM Galați is now refitting her for the last 3 years.

Steam Engine

The paddle tug’s propulsion consists of two boilers which supplies the steam via a piping system to the in the center situated distribution cylinder. This cylinder connected on the main paddle wheel shaft supplies the steam to the oscillating two cylinders. The piston rods connected to the crankshaft which drives the paddle wheels.

Schematic system of the oscillating steam engine Tudor Vladiminescu Two boilers, two cylinders and two paddle wheels, with in the centre the steam distribution cylinder
Top view of one of the oscillated cylinders
Side view of one of the oscillated cylinder with in front the rotation mechanic system
Top picture Steam supply valve to control the speed and above the Lubricating system

Both oscillated cylinders in different positions
Paddle wheel housing with the paddle blades eccentric
One of the two big  funnels

Thanks to my friend Nickel Nijman who has taken the interior of the engineroom photo’s and contributed them for this article


Some people have criticized the new design of this historic vessel for being more ‘modernization’ than restoration. To counter this, others comment that her post-1959 appearance was more like a bus than a paddle steamer, with her new look something of an improvement on the previous one. Indeed the new design is not as extreme as the proposed ‘Crystal Palace’ design, although it would have been preferred to see her in her pre-war appearance.

Of course, legends are now still in circulation and sailers are retelling the popular story of the ‘wealthy American’ bribing some managers to buy the ship and take her away. However, this is a too common story to be considered and TV will stay home for future generations. Danube Research is delighted that the world’s oldest operating steamship is back where she belongs, sailing on the Lower Danube.

The basis of this story lies in the book ‘Low Danube Paddle Steamers’ by Cristian Cräciunoiu, a book I received as a gift from my dear friend Roman Pirvulescu.

Hans van der Ster

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