S.S. America 1939 – 1994
The S.S. America has a great story to tell and the following pages will be enjoyed by those who sailed on her – and those who wish they had.
FIRST LADY ELEANOR ROOSEVELT CHRISTENS THE AMERICA
THE S S AMERICA THE MANY LIVES OF A GREAT SHIP.
AMERICA GOES TO SEA 1940 – 1941
August 31, 1939, Newport News Va… Over 30,000 spectators showed up at the Newport News shipyard for the launch of the S.S. America. Americans were proud of their new ocean liner. A sailing ambassador the new ship represented the best of the nation’s technology, art, style, and way of life at a time when ocean liners were objects of national pride.
Above the crowd newsreel cameras jostled for position and, across the country, radio listeners tuned in the live broadcast offered by three national radio networks. At 11:50 AM the tide crested in the James River and with the words ‘ I Christen Thee America”, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt smashed a bottle of Ohio Champagne against the bow and sent the new ocean liner sliding down the way.
This auspicious beginning was immediately overshadowed by world events. The day after the America was launched; Nazi Germany invaded Poland and engulfed the world in war. After a brief cruising career, the new ship was converted to the troopship USS West Point. Her speed was her most valuable asset and she spent the war years delivering thousands of troops around the globe.
FROM AMERICA TO WEST POINT 1941 – 1946
The stated mission of the USS WEST POINT was simple and to the point, “The safe transportation of troops and equipment to their destination”. In its 53-month life as a naval transport (designated AP-23) she and her dedicated crew, carried more than half a million military and civilian passengers, all the while maintaining a perfect record of never losing a passenger. By practicing and living the mission, the members of the crew provided reassurance to many a GI who had never been to sea. As one GI put it “from the moment you stepped on board… you had an overwhelming sense of security. You felt certain that this ship would take you to your destination, come hell or high water”. Passengers and crew together ran into their share of hell and high water, including close calls with U-boat torpedoes, Japanese bombers, and North Atlantic storms. Her outstanding record, in the face of man-made and natural adversity was a combination of the dedication of the crew, sailing on one of the safest ships ever designed, and – perhaps – a little Old-fashioned American luck.
THE QUEEN OF THE MERCHANT MARINE 1946 – 1964
A meticulous, multi-million dollar restoration commenced immediately after the war, one benefiting her peacetime role as “Queen of the American Merchant Marine.” After sailing proudly and majestically into New York harbor on November 10, 1946, SS America finally began her long-delayed transatlantic career.
For the first time, her true personality emerged. Her clean uncluttered superstructure topped off by those big wing-tipped teardrop-shaped smoke stacks gave her a modern contemporary appearance. She was well proportioned (except for a short bow which gave her a sturdy powerful look that projected confidence without pretension. Her interior combined warmth and sophistication without being stuffy. The ship possessed beauty and grace without the glitz and glitter found on European liners. It was a winning combination of good looks and comfort that would bring back loyal customers year after year. They enjoyed the warm friendly ship, pleasant atmosphere, good food, good service, and comfortable accommodations.
Ship Historian Peter Kholer captured the spirit of the ship in the summer 1990 issue of Steamboat Bill. The America seemed always to be a happy ship without faults or annoying quirks. the sort of unpretentious vessel that the glitter people may not have patronized, but regular travelers were devoted to.
Her 18 of peacetime service with United States Lines ended in November 1964. In peacetime, she transported over 500,000 passengers safely, and elegantly while steaming over 2.8 million nautical miles in the process.
PICTURES AND PASSENGER MEMORIES OF THE AMERICA
The AUSTRALIAN MAIDEN – SS AUSTRALIS 1964 -1978.
In 1964 the ship’s future as a transatlantic liner looked dismal due to her high operating cost, a loss of passengers to the airlines, and recurring labor disputes. John Franklin the president of United States Lines made the painful decision to sell the America.
Sold to the Greek Chandris Lines for use in emigrant service from England to Australia and New Zealand. Renamed Australis, her superstructure was extended and passenger capacity doubled. For comfort sailing through the tropics, a large outdoor swimming pool and air-conditioning were added. The “Australian Maiden” completed 62 global voyages (1965-1977) transporting over 300,000 hopeful passengers to a new life in Australia and New Zealand.
1978 Venture Cruises and the cruise from hell.
In 1978. Chandris sold the Australis to a group of travel agents. Renamed America, she sailed on cruises to ‘nowhere’ out of New York. Nowhere is where the business venture went. After two disastrous sailings, the inexperienced owners abandoned the ship. Chandris Lines bought the ship back at a bankruptcy auction. Renamed Italis she sailed with her badly corroded forward funnel removed, giving the ship a stunted look.
THE CRUISE FROM HELL
There was no hot water, no cold water, or no water at all. The ship’s outdoor pool was empty. Rats were sighted. The ship headed back to port to advert a near mutiny.
Travel agents don’t make good ship operators and fines and lawsuits piling up the owners walked away from the mess and the ship was ordered sold at a bankruptcy auction
The SS Italis. an uptown girl down on her luck 1978-1980
Chandris certainly knew how to squeeze last Drachma out of a ship, After the Venture cruise fiasco, the company took out the rusting forward stack and renamed the ship Italis and sent out on Mediterranean cruises. At 40 years of age, the old girl had a hard time keeping up with the newer ships. Although the public rooms were still grand, other areas were not at all up to current cruise ship standards. Many of the cabins were in a deteriorated state, and a bent propeller sent pulsating vibration through the lower decks. It was a short gig. In 1979, after 40 years of carrying passengers, the ex America, ex West Point, ex Australis sailed into retirement.
In between cruises, Chandris rented the Italis out. One of the last Americans to board the ship under interesting circumstances was a former passenger Frank Day.
Hello! I sailed on the America four times while she was still in
service with USL, but went aboard yet again under very surprising
circumstances. In July of 1979, I was in Monrovia, Liberia to cover a
summit of the Organization of African Unity for the U.S. State
Department. One afternoon shortly before the OAU event began I was
standing on the terrace of the Intercontinental Hotel high on a hill
overlooking Monrovia harbor. Just before sunset, a beautiful liner
from a bygone era sailed into the harbor. It took me all of two
seconds to recognize her, though she was missing a funnel and had
been renamed the Italis.
the month-long OAU (Organisation of African Unity)summit, as there wasn’t enough hotel space in the
capital. The ship became an instant hit with the Monrovians, and
hordes of people went on board to drink and gamble. On the third
night or so her captain noted with alarm how low she was sitting in
the water and ordered everybody off who didn’t have business aboard.
For the next month I was aboard almost daily, although I was staying
elsewhere. Many of my journalist friends, possibly all of them, were
staying on board, and we shared many meals in the First Class dining
room which was instantly recognizable. Some of the ship’s most
beautiful art deco decorations were a bit chopped up by later
additions such as slot machines, but by and large everything I
remembered was still there. On my first trip on the SS America I was
so little that I spent much of the crossing in the nursery aft on the
uppermost deck; it was still there but had been converted to other
uses. At one point I was able to stick my head into one of the first
class staterooms; it was completely unchanged. Seeing those pale
blond 1930’s furnishings gave me an unbelievable wave of nostalgia; I
had forgotten what they looked like.
One of my journalist friends on board was so taken with the human
interest story of an American diplomat (me) being reunited with this
much loved ship from his youth that he wrote a short piece for his
wire service. Overall, though, it was a little unsettling seeing
this lovely, elegant queen of the North Atlantic in such reduced
circumstances in a squalid West African port. I and a few of my
colleagues stayed on in Monrovia for a few days after the summit was
over, and stood on the terrace of the Intercontinental to watch her
departure. We knew from the crew, an interesting assortment of
people I must say, that as far as they knew the ship had no onward
plans; it was sad to see her sail out into nowhere.
Frank Day 5/26/2006
The retirement years, 1980 – 1994
In the fall of 1979 Chandris put the Italis up for sale. For the next fourteen years the Ex America, West Point, Australis, America 2, and Italis languished with the other rusting hulks in the “Graveyard of Abandonment” at Elefsina Greece. Twice she was purchased by entrepreneurs with plans to convert it into a floating hotel. The plans never materialized.
Hope arrived on August 31, 1992, in the form of two Thai businessmen, who held hotel interests in the Far East. They purchased the ship for $2 million with plans to tow her to the growing seaside resort of Phuket, Thailand for conversion to a luxury hotel. A Ukrainian flag tug, the Neftegaz 67, was hired for $ 920,000. Renamed the American Star the ship left Pireas Roads Greece on December 25 1993 for her new home.
THE FINAL VOYAGE 1994
Rather than using the quicker Suez Canal route, the buyers chose The slow more arduous route out of the Mediterranean, down the West coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope then 5,225 miles across the Indian Ocean to Phuket; an arduous 100-day journey in good weather a perilous one in the stormy winter months. Stamous Ioannou who prepped the ship for the voyage watched the American Star pull out of Pireous Roads Greece on December 25, 1993. “The day was very nice and the weather good. The only one who had bad feelings was me. I was very much afraid of the area and the seas around the Cape of Good Hope.”
He had good reason to be apprehensive. As soon as the ship left the straits of Gibraltar and headed down the coast of Meroco heavy wearher hit.
A SHIP ASHORE THE FINAL VOYAGE OF THE S.S. AMERICA
|SS America||1939-1941||United States Lines|
|USS West Point||1941||Naval Transport Service|
|USS West Point||1942-1946||United States Navy|
|SS America||1946-1964||United States Lines|
|SS Australis||1964-1978||Okeania, S.A. a subsidiary of Chandris Lines|
|SS America||1978||America Cruise Lines, later Venture Cruise|
|SS Italis||1978-1980||Chandris Lines|
|SS Noga||1980-1984||Inter Commerce Corporation|
|SS Alferdoss||1984-1993||Silver Moon Ferries|
|SS American Star||1993-1994||Chaophraya Development and Transportation LTD.|
The Many lives of a great ship.