In April the behemoths of the cruise industry, the 100,000-ton plus cruise ships, will be leaving the Caribbean and other warmer climes, heading north and east for the European cruise season, with Round Britain cruises featuring high on the cruise companies’ agendas.

But when did Falmouth first witness these now popular cruises that see tens of thousands of passengers exploring the UK from the luxury cruise ships?

Falmouth’s association with cruising goes back many decades far longer than other UK ports. Cruise ships have been calling here regularly since the mid-1970s but the earliest information I researched on cruising dates back to the 1900s when, in May 1910, the Union Castle liner Dunnotar Castle arrived in the port on a four-day Whitsuntide excursion cruise.

She anchored on the Falmouth Bank. One hundred passengers were tendered to the shore to explore Falmouth whilst the remaining 150 were taken on a trip up the River Fal to Truro on the steamer Princess Victoria.

The British India Company cruise ships Devonia and Uganda called here to embark and disembark school children for educational cruises in 1965/67/69.

Strange as it may seem, passenger ships from Russia were first to use the port for cruises from Germany to the UK.

The Russian passenger ship Estonia made a total of 14 cruise calls here between 1973 and 1988.

Estonia was one of 19 Mikhail Kalinin type passenger ships built in the then East Germany for Russian companies.

I recall piloting the Estonia several times in the 1980s meeting the well-dressed captains Ponomarev and Shapovalev.

The dapper passenger ship, which did mainly Round Britain or Channel port cruises, called at Cobh, Falmouth and Guernsey amongst other places, carrying up to 300-plus fairly well heeled passengers.

On the bridge with the ship’s master in those days stood the much reviled Political Officer or commissar, as he was known on the fishing ships.

Soviet seamen lived in absolute fear of the Political Officers who were assigned to each vessel in the vast Russian merchant and fishing fleets. Their official title was pompolit. Many Russian seamen nicknamed them the

“pompa,” the Russian name for pump, as these much-despised individuals had the task of keeping everybody on the ship in line with Soviet doctrine whilst at the same time pumping communist propaganda into the sailors’ minds.

On the completion of each voyage the commissar would submit so-called “political reports” on each member of the crew to the Maritime Division of the KGB.

Soviet ships, and in particular the fishing fleet, were a massive intelligence gathering service used by the Russian military.

Pilots in Falmouth were briefed by the Royal Navy and asked to submit Hornbeam messages on all new Soviet arrivals and departures. In addition to this we were asked to observe types of communications aerials found on certain types of fishing vessels and report back.

In the days of the Cold War the Russian strategy was to build up the Soviet merchant fleet. Admiral Sergei Gorshkov who took command of the Russian Navy at the age of 45 in 1958 maintained “a strong merchant fleet is an important element in the build up of Soviet sea power.”