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Grand Old Lady of the Seas Rescued

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SS United States (background) and SS America (foreground)

The SS United States Conservancy took formal possession of the SS United States yesterday.  You can read about the original announcement here.  After years of rusting away in Philadelphia, changing hands several times, and coming close to her end on more than one occasion, the ship is finally in the hands of an organization dedicated to her survival.

Perhaps the greatest passenger vessel ever built in the United States, the SS United States still holds the record set on her maiden voyage on July 4, 1952.  Faster than any passenger vessel before or since, she crossed the Atlantic in 3 days, 10 hours, and 40 minutes.  That record held until 1990, but only non-passenger ships have accomplished the feat of besting her time.  The SS United States still holds the Blue Riband.

Built with a considerable infusion of funds from the United States Government, about $50 million of the $78 million total construction cost, she was designed to allow a quick conversion to a troop carrier in times of need.  Never called upon to serve in that capacity, she played host to thousands of passengers, among them a young Rhodes Scholar named Bill Clinton, until 1969.

The Conservancy plans to establish a public/private partnership to restore and convert the ship into a floating attraction with museum, retail, and restaurant space.

Not too long ago, I heard a famed ship historian and lecturer suggest that the time had come to let the SS United States go.  He felt that her day was over.  I come down on the other side.  I wish the Conservancy well and hope they are successful in their mission.

Technorati Tags: Bill Clinton, Blue Riband, cruise ship, floating museum, SS United States, SS United States Conservancy, transatlantic speed record

The Future Looks Brighter

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There is news this week that makes the future of two grande dames of the sea more hopeful.

It is being reported that Queen Elizabeth 2, currently languishing in Dubai, a sad testimony to the over-spending there, may be going to the western Australian port of Fremantle.  The mayor of Fremantle has expressed the belief that he would have strong support from his constituency to bring QE2 there in time to be used as a floating hotel for the ISAF Sailing World Championships in December 2011.

On the other side of the globe, Philadelphia philanthropist, H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest, has stepped in and offered what amounts to a stay of execution for the SS United States.  Mr. Lenfest has pledged the funds necessary to pay the ship’s considerable expenses for the next 20 months.  This will give the SS United States Conservancy time to endeavor to raise the funds needed to purchase her from NCL and restore her to a useful life.

Each of these vessels rendered long and honorable service.  Watching them rust away, perhaps ultimately bound for the scrap heap, is quite sad.  I know, as with all things, an end must eventually come, but maybe – just maybe – for these two great ladies, not quite yet.

Technorati Tags: cruise ships, floating hotels, QE2, Queen Elizabeth 2, SS United States