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Saturday, July 13, 2024 at 4:29 AM

Remembering good times we shared



“Only memories remain, For a time, there by the sea.

There was only you and me.”

— Song lyrics by ‘My Morning Jacket’

Stumbling onto tidbits of history about an old friend last week was heartwarming.

Though she’s been gone for several years, learning things about her I never knew made me smile. Remembering the many good times we shared.

We first met sailing out of Miami. Late one October afternoon.

About 1986. Or was it 1987? As we set a course for the Caribbean, the setting sun was disappearing into the ocean.

I had no clue of her storied history. And she likely had no premonition of what the future held for her in the years after we parted.

She was elegant and hospitable, something for which she is still remembered by those who knew her and have written about her.

And I was savoring the moment, intoxicated by her luxurious charm.

Attracted to her elegance and formality. Both attributes of society already fading faster than the setting sun.

I quickly fell in love.

We would sail together more than once in the years that followed.

She was born in 1960, commissioned SS France at Saint-Nazaire, France.

She sailed into service in early 1962 as the longest passenger ship ever built at 1,037 feet. A record she held until 2004 when RMS Queen Mary 2 set sail at 1,132 feet.

At about the same time, air travel entered the jet age, eclipsing times for Atlantic crossings from New York to London. All while Atlantic cruising was losing favor to increasingly popular Caribbean party excursions.

She was sold to Norwegian Cruise Lines in 1979 having logged 377 crossings, 93 cruises, and two aroundthe- world trips. She had carried 588,024 passengers on trans-Atlantic crossings, 113,862 passengers on cruises, and sailed 1,860,000 nautical miles.

NCL spent $18 million reconfiguring her for island cruising, changed her name to SS Norway, and made her the world’s largest and most luxurious cruise ship. The only Caribbean passage offering sophistication.

And that’s where our affair flourished.

Holdovers from her luxury liner days, lacking on other island cruises, included amenities like spacious rooms, a large library, artwork in public areas, a grand piano in the lounge, and reserved seating for dinner. Proper attire required, of course.

I still have my tux.

Miraculously, it still fits.

In time, casual culture took over. Mundane mega ships dominated more stylish formal island cruising. The “Grande Dame” of the Caribbean was renamed SS Blue Lady and demoted to join run-of-the-mill bargain cruises.

When time began to catch up to her G mechanically, she was slated for retirement.

Norway sailed out of Manhattan for the last time in September 2001 on a transatlantic crossing to Scotland before going to her home port of Le Havre, France.

Passengers heard about the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington while still at sea.

She was sold for scrap in 2005. By the end of 2008, only memories remained.

Her bow was cut and preserved; a ceremonial move done to most ships that end up in the Alang, India ship breaking yard. The same bow where I stood many nights at sea. Feeling the breeze.

Listening to the churning water below. Where one night, I leaned over the railing, and my glasses slipped from my pocket, disappearing into the ocean depths below.

Her bow was exhibited in Paris but returned to her home port, part of an auction deal made before scrapping.

So many things I never knew about her when we had our flings.

Nights spent in spacious upper deck rooms, unaware I was occupying quarters celebrities, film stars and aristocratic cruisers enjoyed on her maiden voyage.

Preparing for snorkeling adventures in her lower deck swimming pool.

Oblivious that it was the first-class pool during her Trans-Atlantic days when tourist class cruisers gathered at the upper-level deck pool.

Visiting with the ship’s entertainers in the firstclass library, untouched from her early days.

Listening to lounge music played on a piano Elton John used while crossing the Atlantic aboard the France in 1974. When he wrote the music for the Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy album.

And never knowing she once carried the Mona Lisa from Le Havre to New York for an American tour.

She even amassed film credits in her day. The conclusion of 1973’s Serpico when the main character is sitting on the dock with the France behind him.

Opening shots of Dog Day Afternoon while docked in New York.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode “The Werewolf” as the cruise ship on which the story takes place. When Anne Murray, Richard Simmons, Eddie Rabbitt, and Luis Rodriguez performed while aboard the Norway In 1983 for a TV show called Caribbean Cruise. And in 1986 when the morning show ‘Today’ spent a weeklong cruise on her.

Oh, a 2014 episode of The Simpsons with the Couch Gag featuring an animation with a picture of her plus the 2015 animated feature Minions as they left New York City.

True, there were other times I spent cruising after we drifted apart.

But they pale in comparison to my first love.

And to memories of her, “… for a time, there by the sea.”


Taylor Press