YOUTUBE – View of Matson Line’s SS LURLINE – A home movie of the SS Lurline on Boat Day in Honolulu. Taken in the early 1960s, this scene was a regular occurrence in Honolulu during the golden era of steamship travel (1927-1978). Each week, Matson’s grand white passenger ships arrived from California or the South Seas, and later continued on their voyage across the Pacific. The complete history of Matson’s passenger ship era is now available in a coffee-table book called “The White Ships.” Published in 2008 by Pier 10 Media, available at whiteships.com.
SS LURLINE Arriving in Hawaii on 1940s Maiden Voyage after WW 2.
Cruising the Past – Matson Line’s SS LURLINE – History of a great ship:
Design and Construction (1931 – 1932):
The Lurline was built by the Bethlehem Steel shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was launched on the 18th July 1932.
Prewar Matson Line era (1932 – 1941):
On the 27th December 1932 the Lurline sailed on her maiden voyage from San Francisco to Australia via Los Angeles, Honolulu, Auckland, Pago Pago, Suva, Sydney and Melbourne.This was the heyday of the great Matson Liners, crack passenger trains were adopted as “Boat Trains”, carrying passengers from New York and Chicago to connect in San Francisco with the liner sailings.
Visit to Australia during the 1930s.
The Lurline and her sister ships were attracting the Hollywood stars sailing to Hawaii in ever increasing numbers. These stars including famous names such as William Powell, Carole Lombard, Jimmy Durante, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy, Joel McCrea, Frances Dee and Shirley Temple. Despite the difficulties of the Depression, the popularity of travel to Hawaii remained high.
During this period the Matson Liners became such a popular institution in San Francisco that during the Golden Gate Exposition celebrations on Treasure Island in 1939, the City named the 9th August 1939 as Matson Day!
After returning to San Francisco on the 24th April 1934 after her Pacific cruise, the Lurline joined the Malolo on the route from San Francisco to Hawaii. She continued on this service until 1941.
War Service (1941 – 1946):
On the 7th December 1941, while the Lurline was about half way from Honolulu to San Francisco, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. The Lurline immediately set sail at full speed for San Francisco. Then she and her sisters were requisitioned by the US Government as troopships and they returned to Hawaii with troops and supplies. The Lurline and her sisters had a proud wartime history as troopships in the Pacific including visits to Australia. She even carried the Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, to America in 1944 to meet with President Roosevelt.
Postwar Matson Line era (1946 – 1963):
In 1946 the Lurline was decommissioned from her war duties and returned to Matson Line. She immediately was sent for an extensive refit at Alameda during 1947/48. However the expense of her refit caused Matson to shelve the refits of the Mariposa and the Monterey and those two ships were laid up.
On the 15th April 1948 she returned to service on the San Francisco to Honolulu route. Just as before the war she soon regained her status as the top liner on the Pacific. She continued to sail on this service for the next 7 years. Since 1948 she handled this service single handedly after taking over from the Matsonia (former Malolo). In 1950 due to the huge success of the Lurline it was decided to return to service the laid up Monterey, which was renamed Matsonia.
In the early to mid 1960s increasing competition from air travel and union disputes and strikes caused passenger demand to fall. In 1962 the Matsonia (former Monterey) was laid up and again the Lurline continued the service single handed. However on the 3rd February 1963 while arriving at Los Angeles from Honolulu, the Lurline suffered an engine failure. Due to the expensive repair needed, Matson Line decided to lay up the Lurline and replace her with the Matsonia.
As a result the Matsonia was reprieved and returned to service. She was renamed with her sister’s name as Lurline. The original Lurline however was sold to Chandris Lines in 1963 and was renamed Ellinis.
Chandris Lines era (1963 – 1986):
After an engine failure in 1963 caused the Lurline to be retired from service by Matson Line, she was laid up and then sold to Chandris Lines on the 3rd September 1963. Chandris renamed her the Ellinis. Her engines immediately were repaired in the United States and then she was sent for a refit in North Shields, England. Her exterior was modernised and her Matson Line interiors were retained. She soon became renowned for her interior beauty. During the refit her capacity was increased to accommodate 1,668 passengers in one class. Looking smart in her new Chandris livery and with her modernised superstructure and funnels, she made a fine sight as she sailed on her maiden voyage from Piraeus to Sydney on the 30th December 1963. Her homeward voyages were alternately routed via the Panama Canal to Southampton from 1964.
For the next 10 years, the Ellinis made regular line voyages to Australia as well as occasional cruises. For several years she was employed on an eastward round-the-world service.
Sadly in April 1974 the Ellinis was on a cruise to Japan when once again major problems reoccured with her engines. The Ellinis immediately returned to Europe. At this time Home Lines had sold her former sister ship, the Mariposa (now named Homeric), to shipbreakers in Taiwan. Chandris Lines took the opportunity to purchase one of her engines which was transported to Rotterdam and fitted on board the Ellinis. As a result this fine ship was able to return to service in March 1975 and commenced Mediterranean cruises until early 1977. By 1981 she had been in service for over 50 years and was a venerable old lady. As a result Chandris Lines decided to retire her from service and in October 1981 she was laid up in Greece. She remained laid up for 5 years until she was sold for scrapping in Taiwan in 1986. However many of her fittings and parts were removed and kept as spare parts for the Britanis (former Monterey) which by this time was also in the Chandris fleet.
A sad end after a remarkable career for this fine example of American marine engineering showcasing the best of America.
Long may she be remembered.