Home / CRUISING THE PAST / S.S. PRINCESS PATRICIA and the THE FIRST LOVE BOAT to sail from Los Angeles…

S.S. PRINCESS PATRICIA and the THE FIRST LOVE BOAT to sail from Los Angeles…

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S.S. Princess Patricia on her first Princess Cruise – docked in Vancouver – heading south to Los Angeles. 

Social History: Exploring the origin of Princess Cruises and their naming the “Princess” ships.  Where did the name of each of their “Love Boat” cruise ships originate?

A painting Cruising The Past commissioned of the first “Love Boat” and original cruise ship of Princess Cruises – the PRINCESS PATRICIA.  Sailing from Los Angeles, seen passing under the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro,  for media promotion of the first (Princess) cruise to Mexico in 1965. 

The Princess Patricia under steam.  How she would have appeared when making her first Princess Line Cruises.

History of the S.S. Princess Patricia and the legacy of naming the “Love Boat” ships of Princess Cruises.

The Canadian Princess Railway formed the British Columbia Coast Steamship Service (BCCSS), which would provide passenger service to various coastal communities for the next 80 years. Many of its special breeds of coastal ships bore the name “Princess”.

The CPR celebrated 100 years of service in 1981, the same year in which its last remaining cruise ship, the SS Princess Patricia (the original Princess Cruise Line’s Love Boat) was tied up, ending that phase of transportation service in the Pacific Northwest.

The early CPNC ship Islander set the precedent for the Princess ships that would become the backbone of the eventual CPR fleet servicing the BC coast and Alaska. When built, she was the most luxurious vessel on the west coast.

She began cruising to Alaska in 1889, when the arrival of a steamer as elegant as Islander was a big event. Her career ended suddenly when carrying gold and passengers south from Skagway on July 13, 1892. The ship sank after hitting a submerged rock or drifting iceberg; 42 perished.

The “Princess” title came to be used for CPR ships because of the aging CPNC vessel Princess Louise. The popular “Empress” ships were already established in the Pacific, so the decision was made to carry out a royal theme, with smaller coastal ships bearing the prefix “Princess”.

Princess Victoria was the first purpose-built ship for the BCCSS, and immediately set the standards for luxury liners on the coast. Both the appearance of her hull and superstructure as well as interior arrangement would be copied for many subsequent Princess ships.

The smaller Princess Beatrice was the first CPR Princess built in British Columbia. By 1907, Princess May and the new Princess Royal began regular 6-day sailings to Skagway.

A year later, the CPR inaugurated its famous Triangle Route, with service between Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria. Princess Charlotte joined the fleet, handling the Triangle Route as well as occasional excursions to Alaska.

From 1910-1911, four more Princesses (Princess Mary, Princess Adelaide, Princess Alice and Princess Sophia) were built and a newly purchased ship was renamed Princess Patricia. In 1913, Princess Maquinna joined the fleet.

World War I expropriated two new Princess ships for the war effort; neither ship ever joined the CPR fleet. After the war, shipyard space in Europe was fully booked so the CPR had Princess Louise built in British Columbia.

She was very well appointed, and could boast that all 133 first class staterooms had both hot and cold running water. In 1922, she began a 40-year career running to Alaska, earning her nickname “Queen of the Northern Seas”.

As the years passed, the CRP continued to add to its fleet and its routes, replacing old ships with new.

Princess Patricia (left) and Southern Cross (right) in Acapulco, Mexico on her first Princess Cruise. 1965. 

Princess Patricia docked in Ensenada, Mexico.  During the first year of Princess Cruises – the company  also operated short cruises to Ensenada from Los Angeles.

Ariel view of the Princess Patricia. On her way to Alaska.

During the 1920s, cruising to Alaska was very profitable, with three Princess ships making the voyage in the summer months.

Occupancy was regularly 97 percent and during one season the three ships handled 10,000 passengers on 22 voyages. Revenues dwindled during the Great Depression, and the BCCSS disposed of old or redundant vessels. World War II saw several Princess ships requisitioned for use as troop transports and supply ships.

After the war, Princess Kathleen was rebuilt for the Alaska Service.

Two new sister ships were built for the Triangle Run, Princess Marguerite and Princess Patricia, named for earlier CPR ships. In 1952, Princess Kathleen ran onto rocks in Lynn Canal.

Fortunately, there was no loss of life but the ship sank. For the next 10 years, Princess Louise handled CPR’s Alaska cruises alone. The arrival of car ferries spelled the end of coastal service and the CPR ended its regular Triangle Run.

Princess Marguerite stayed on a daily summer route to Seattle, while a refurbished Princess Patricia took over the Vancouver-Skagway-Juneau run in 1963.

For two seasons Princess Patricia was chartered to Stan McDonald, a Canadian-born businessman now in Seattle, for cruising between Los Angeles and Acapulco during the winter. McDonald became excited about cruising during the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. He eventually branched out to other vessels but chose to name his new company Princess Cruises after the venerable Princess Patricia.

1965 – Princess Patricia on her first Princess Cruise – docked in San Francisco – heading south to Los Angeles.  These were the original colors during the period Stanley McDonald charted the night boat from CPR.  The two stacks were later changed to the red colors seen in the photos above.

The Princess Patricia became the last remaining passenger ship in the CPR fleet, continuing to sail to Alaska each summer until that era ended on October 12, 1981.  Her legacy lived on with the many ships of Princess Cruise Lines.

HISTORY OF THE S.S. PRINCESS PATRICIA

The new Princess Patricia was built in by Fairfield in Scotland  in 1948 and was a  5,911 ton ship carrying 90 passengers in 49 cabins and 2,000 day passengers along with 50-60 automobiles. Speed was 23.5 knots by turbo-electric propulsion. The Princess Patricia was christened by Lady Patricia “Patsy” Ramsay, the former Princess Patricia of Connaught, granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

Initially, the Princess Patricia was assigned to what was commonly called the “Triangle Route” between Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver. It stayed on that route for more than decade, while older CPR ships continued to service the northern British Columbia and the Southeast Alaska route.

But then in May, 1958, the Canadian Pacific Railway was struck by the Seaman’s International Union. As the strike dragged on into the summer, the tourism industry on Vancouver Island collapsed. Then another union struck the ferry line between Washington State and Vancouver Island, effectively cutting the island off.

Although the Canadian government stepped in to end the strike, it became clear that it was time for another option and the provincial government announced that it would begin to develop a provincial ferry system.

It would be several years before the system would fully operational and CPR and CN continued to operate steamships on the Triangle Route and elsewhere, but the end of the line for most CPR steamer operations in British Columbia was in sight.

What did continue was the excursion summer runs north to Alaska and in the early 1960s, CPR took the Princess Patricia out of service and converted her from essentially a day boat into an excursion steamer where it replaced the nearly 40 year old Princess Louise. And in that form, it continued to ply the Inside Passage for nearly 20 more years on its $500, eight day excursions.

In 1977, the Princess Pat became embroiled in what was called the “Ambush at Douglas Channel.”

In those years, there was a serious proposal that Prudhoe Bay oil should be transported by tanker from Valdez to the British Columbia coast and then shipped via pipeline to the rest of North America.

One of the likely locations for the BC port was Kitimat, just south of Prince Rupert.

BC environmentalists – with the help of Greenpeace – opposed the plan and that led to the “Ambush” which took place in May of 1977.

Rod Marining organized the blockade at the mouth of Douglas Channel near the Hartley Bay First Nations reservation. More than forty boats took part, representing the Fishermen’s Union, Native groups, the United Church and others.

Their job was to block the Princess Patricia which had been chartered by the Kitimat Pipeline Company. On board the Pat were 250 mayors, councilors, aides, oil executives and media members. The ship was hosting the North Central Municipal Mayors Conference.

A maritime melee then occurred as dozens of boats, skiffs and other crafts swirled around the cruise ship in an attempt to prevent it from reaching Kitimat.

Marining later claimed that the zodiac he was riding in was sucked under by the Princess Pat’s propellers and the resulting media attention – including live Canadian Broadcasting Corporation coverage – prevented the cruise ship from reaching Kitimat and eventually doomed the plan to bring supertankers into Kitimat.

In May 1978, a reporter for the Ketchikan based Southeastern Log took one of the last rides on the Princess Patricia.

“The thirty-year-old Princess Pat is smaller than the others which cruise Southeast’s waters,” Yvette Wixon wrote. “Hardwood walls and decks are a reminder of the ship’s age. There is a reminiscing among passengers who wonder what it was like traveling the Pat when she was a young ship.”

Wixon interviewed crew members, some of whom had been with the Princess Pat for more than two decades. For example, boat store keeper Kathy O’Sullivan had been on the ship for more than 22 years.

“I never get tired of my work,” she told Wixon, noting she meets 300 new people each week.

Princess Pat Captain J. Raymond Hudson told Wixon that the primary reason the ship was coming out of service was environmental pollution act regulations for waste water tanks that would cost more than a $1 million for the ship.

At the time, local tourism developer Len Laurance told Wixon that Canadian Pacific was hoping to purchase a newer ship to continue the service. But that didn’t come about.

The Princess Pat would continue its Alaskan run until October, 1978, when in the face of competition from larger newer ships, she was “retired.” Like the Prince George, she served as a hotel ship for the 1986 Vancouver Expo and several proposals were announced to turn her into a “restaurant” ship, but none came to fruition. Eventually she was sold to a Taiwan company to become a ferry in Macao, but once again her age and the fact she was expensive to operate compared to newer ships worked against her. In 1995, she was scrapped.

But a piece of the Princess Patricia still lingers along the Inside Passage. In the early 1960s, an entrepreneur named Stanley McDonald leased the Princess Patricia to provide cruises between Los Angeles and Acapulco, Mexico. The cruises were a success and McDonald eventually purchased his own ships. Because of the Princess Patricia charter, he named his cruise line Princess Cruises.

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 Key words: history princess cruises, history Cunard line, history holland-america line, matson lines, apl, ss princess patricia, los angeles, cruises from los angeles, cruise history, social history. 

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About Michael L. Grace