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

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…