Saturday, January 28, 2012

Too slow

On her maiden voyage in 1952, the S.S. United States won the Blue Riband prize for fastest Atlantic crossing by a passenger ship, crushing the previous record set by the S.S. Queen Mary.  To this day she still holds this record: no other passenger liner was ever able to wrest it from her.  She averaged over 35 knots speed, crossing an entire ocean.

She was essentially constructed around her massive engines.  Designed for speed, her all-aluminum superstructure was at the time of her construction the largest aluminum fabrication effort ever under taken.

She's been mothballed in Philadelphia since 1996, nearly three decades since she was retired. 


You see, she was too slow.  The 1960s saw an explosion of air travel, all at the expense of the liners.

The S.S. United States' speed came at a fearsome cost in fuel.  The fares were expensive, and passengers found that they could spend less and arrive three days earlier.  And so in the space of a decade all the grand old liners were mothballed, or found themselves (like the S.S. France) renamed, re-engined (with a third the horse power) and doing permanent duty as Caribbean Cruse Ships.

Many people have tried to breathe new life into the old ships, but alas, their glory was in the trans-Atlantic crossing.  They're too big (at nearly a thousand feet long), too fast, and too expensive for the only use that people will pay cash money for today: vacation cruising.  Racing through the cold, grey North Atlantic has little attraction for most, especially when compared with sun and palm trees.


Old NFO said...

I great ship with an ignominious end... tied up at a pier rotting... just like the REST of the country is doing... sigh

At least old Navy ships get recycled as razor blades!

Paul, Dammit! said...

I miss working in Philly only for the scenery, if that makes any sense. This is a subject after my own heart. Today's cruise ships are cattle cars in comparison with the old liners- horribly unseaworthy in comparision with ships we built 50 years ago. With room for 2 decks under the waterline and 14 decks above, modern cruisers are top heavy and slow, unstable and, as we've seen, not so easy to safely exit in haste. For geeks like me, modern cruise ships have insanely marginal metacentric heights, (the distance between the center of buoyancy and the center of gravity- a measure of the ships' desire to not do a barrel roll) and righting moments that favor being knocked down in the seas that the old liners could transit with ease and comfort- look:

bluesun said...

BP, just so you know, with this post you sent me off on a two hour long wikiwander looking up old cruise ships...

Anonymous said...

Seeing this ship from dockside — with a list to boot— is very sad. I also saw it from the air the last time I flew through Philly, as we came down the river on final approach.

It's a magnificent creation. But unfortunately also a dinosaur. To my mind, it's very reminiscent of the Concorde, another techno-wonder that outlived its era.