The beatiful CORSAIR… One of the first cruise ships to sail after World War 2…

J. Pierpont Morgan Jr. could never have imagined his yacht Corsair IV being converted into a deluxe cruise ship whose short career would end in tragedy but it happened on a sailing from California to Acapulco in 1949.

J.P. Morgan Jr. and his legendary business tycoon father, J. Pierpont Morgan, made cruise history, owning four magnificent yachts christened Corsair, and built three of them.

Each yacht was bigger, faster, and more comfortable than the preceding one.

The Morgan Corsair created major media attention for the times resulting in a legendary quote by the senior Morgan when he was asked how much it cost to operate a boat that size. His quick response: “Sir, if you have to ask that question, you can’t afford it.”

Corsair IV was constructed in Maine at the beginning of the Great Depression for $2.5 million (or about $60 million in today’s currency). Measuring 2,142 gross tons, with a registered length of 300 feet and overall length of 343 feet, the Corsair IV was the largest yacht ever built in the U.S. Designed in the traditional piratical look of Morgan yachts, Corsair IV was long, dark, heavy underneath – paler and suaver in the superstructure.

The Corsair launching in 1930.

When it was ready for launching in 1930, Morgan brought three private railway cars of family and friends up to the Maine shipyards for the occasion.

Morgan used her for ten years, mostly on the East Coast, in the West Indies and for trans-Atlantic record-breaking crossings. After an eventful career with Morgan, the Corsair IV was turned over to British Admiralty in 1940.

Following World War II, rich Americans had money to spend on cruises but choices were limited. Half the commercial passenger vessels had been sunk and the surviving liners demanded extensive refurbishing. It would be several years before many refurbished ships would be back in service or any new ships built.

This was especially true in California and on the West Coast. American Presidents Lines took three years to re-establish liner service to the Orient and it wasn’t until 1948 when Matson Line’s famous Lurline sailed again to Hawaii.

The magnificent pre-war Canadian Pacific and Japanese liners that once plied the Pacific had been brutally sunk in seagoing battles.

Life Magazine featured the new Corsair. It was probably the most deluxe cruise ship operating after World War II.

Realizing there was an untapped post-War luxury cruise market, the Skinner and Eddy Corporation, owners of the Alaska Steamship Company, created Pacific Cruise Lines in 1946.

The newly formed subsidiary immediately went looking for a ship and was lucky enough to quickly spot its prize, Corsair IV.

The former Morgan yacht was bought from undisclosed buyers and placed under Panamanian registry.

The Corsair (the IV was dropped) was taken to Todd Shipyards in New York for repair and overhaul, and then sailed to the Victoria Machinery Depot in Victoria, Canada, for conversion to a luxury cruise vessel.

The ultra-deluxe public rooms and staterooms aboard the Corsair.

In charge of her interior was the firm of William F. Schorn Associates of New York. Schorn was also responsible for giving the pre-war Moore-McCormick Liners cruising to South America from New York – Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay –a much more contemporary look. He provided the same meticulous detail to designing the modern accommodations for the new elegant Corsair. This was not just a paint job but also a total conversion for the former Morgan yacht to create elegant surroundings for the line’s future passengers.

The goal of Pacific Cruise Lines was to offer to the traveling public the world’s most luxurious cruise ship. The many letters received from the cruise passengers during the first year of service attested to that accomplishment.

The Pacific Cruise Line’s S.S. Corsair, ready to sail from Long Beach, California in 1948.

Accommodating only 82 passengers, all rooms were much larger and more commodious than as expected on shipboard at that time. No expense was spared in furnishing decorating each room with the very finest of materials and workmanship available. There were no berths on the Corsair and all staterooms featured beds. Each room had its own private bath.

There were a total of 42 rooms on the ship and the steward’s department personnel alone numbered more than forty. Each was responsible for the sole purpose of catering to the slightest desire of the carriage trade passengers. All public rooms, including the main lounge, forward observation lounge, cocktail lounge, etc., were completely carpeted and air-conditioned. This was also true of all bedrooms, sitting rooms and suites. Top European chiefs were hired to create haute cuisine. A total of 76 crewmembers and officers were aboard the new cruise ship, making the passenger to crew ratio almost one to one, equaling or surpassing the most high end cruise ships operating today.

The new Corsair made her debut on September 29, 1947 offering two-week cruises from Long Beach, California, to Acapulco, Mexico. The standard price per person rate averaged $600. Hardly a bargain since the ship’s cruise fare equaled more than a quarter of the 1947 typical U.S. family income.

The new cruise line placed attractive full-page ads for cruising on the new stylish first class Corsair in Holiday magazine. Demand for passage was heavy and the wait lists lengthy. During the summers of 1948, the Corsair was switched to Alaska. Sailing out of Vancouver, British Columbia, she provided the first deluxe two-week cruises ever offered to the Inside Passage. Another first for the Corsair Alaska cruises was a special chartered train transporting passengers from Whittier to famed McKinley National Park.

A series of cruises to Mexico, Havana via the Panama Canal and the Gulf of California were scheduled and completed in the spring of 1949. The cruise ship returned to Alaska for summer sailings and was to be followed by a season of cruises to Mexico from Long Beach beginning in October. Then tragedy struck on November 12, 1949.

The Corsair, during one of her autumn Mexican Riviera cruises, struck a rock and beached at Acapulco. Her crew and 55 passengers were put ashore in lifeboats.

There was no loss of life. Examined by her owners, the former Morgan yacht was determined to be a total constructive loss, and abandoned to Davy Jones’ locker.

Even during this age of mega-liners, no other ships will ever equal the elegance, exclusivity and style of the former Morgan yacht.

The Corsair’s legacy lives on only for divers willing to explore the remains of the vessel deep in the warm seas off Acapulco.

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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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