SS UNITED STATES – Waiting for her future in Philadelphia.

A bit of history that deserves a better ending – from today’s MARITIME PROFESSIONAL.

Rumor has it that Norwegian Carribean Line  NCL is looking to scrap the SS United States. A more dignified end for her might be sinking her as a reef as she has been stripped of all asbestos. Doing this would make an interesting dive site and a great haven for all sorts of marine life. A shame to see such a technically advanced ship of her time scrapped. The original buyer (Hadley) would have been better off to crank her up and market her for what she was with some detuning of the plant. MarAd maintained her for years in a great state of readiness and the gov’t had many pipe dream projects for her, school ship, troop ship, hospital ship, etc. Let her go with dignity rather than send her up on the breakers beach. As for a restoration, money spent on the restoration could well fund a modern, no frills school ship for use by the state maritime academies. Better yet, how about a marine fuels and emmissions training and research center dedicated to the engineers who “kept the lights burning” on the Big U.

SS United States disembarking at Le Havre in 1964.

I had a few friends that sailed on her including one true seaman, Capt. Bill Kolbe who went on to be Marine Superintendent for US Lines. I looked after her for awhile during my days at MarAd including her pre-sale dry docking. When we docked her the steel work was in excellent condition, the boilers and machinery in great shape thanks to dehumidification. The buyer had grandiose ideas of redecorating but hadn’t a clue with regards to SOLAS and other criteria. At that time we could have flashed her up and got underway with few problems. During the dry docking one of the last Chiefs and US Line’s Commodore, Messrs. Dixon and Alexanderson were present.  At the last minute as we prepared to get underway and tugs were standing by, the salvage surveyor abruptly tried to stop the shift due to the absence of welded shaft locks on the shaft coupling flanges.  He was worried about the possibility of the shafts turning and damage to the gears. Not knowing the ship was fitted with  unique turning gears one could understand his concern however, the clock was ticking for the pilots and tugs and the dock was waiting. The Chief reassured him with a remarkable fact “I had one engine on the jack and we were doing 30 knots at the time, I don’t think they’ll roll under tow to the dock”.  With that said and a call to his office we were off. During the dry docking Nick Bachko was also present. He was one of the supervisors of the ships initial construction.  It was impressive to see him dart off to take yard personnel to the many tank top covers, etc just like it was yesterday. Was easy to get lost on her as I did one day while taking a couple of Navy Admirals  around the ship.

Had to laugh as we were heading down to NorShipCo as we all stood on the bridge when I remarked about the spartan interior of the wheelhouse which resembled a bridge on a Navy ship. Commodore Alexanderson remarked abruptly “I had all I need here to do my job”. One couldn’t have said it better. When I think back to those days It makes me realize how much I miss the company of true seamen. Brings to mind a saying of an old mentor who will remain unnamed. “Many go to sea however, few are true seamen”.

One last thought, have to credit the builders NNS&DD, the workmanship in her could not be duplicated today, especially the aluminum of the superstructure. Reminds me of the bridge wings falling of Navy ships in the 70’s and problems with transition bonding of the aluminum/steel structures.  Wonder how those old timers had it figued out in the 50’s.SSs


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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