A Man and His Ship|
America's Greatest Naval Architect and His Quest to Build the S.S. United States
Simon & Schuster, pb, 448 pp, $17.00
The dramatic cover art of this nostalgic book tells you all but her name. The enormous prow of a great ocean liner dwarfs the human figure leaning nonchalantly on a dock piling. The incoming vessel is the USS United States, the luxury trans-Atlantic liner which serviced the New York to London North-Atlantic route. In her heyday (she was retired in the 1950s) she carried queens and presidents and long lists of millionaires in exorbitant luxury. (She had two lower decks for normal people but they are barely mentioned in this book). And no wonder! The lengths to which royalty (and the upper-upper crust of countries which lack such an officially named station) were indulged were extraordinary. The walls of the public rooms were covered with murals by contemporary artists of the highest order. The furnishings, the linens, and the menu challenged the grandest shoreside hotels. I can't comment on the propulsion system...I haven't a clue what the author is talking about. Suffice to say that she held the speed record for North Atlantic crossings between New York and Europe.
She is 999ft in length with a beam of 101.5ft. Her draft is 37.5ft, gross tons--53,500. She was powered by a steam turbine with a quadruple screw. Her estimated speed 35 knots. Her passenger capacity was 2000 passengers and 1000 crew. Now that's a lot of boat! Her owner, the Cunard Line's publicity line, "Getting there is half the fun" was inspired by the S.S. United States.
Her designer, William Francis Gibbs, was a Harvard drop out (wouldn't you know, though finances were part of the problem). He was painfully shy and had no formal training but he produced some of finest ships in the U.S. He spent forty years dreaming of the S.S. United States.
Although the technical specifics do not dominate the text, there is sufficient information to satisfy the amateur naval architect. Gibbs gives a lot more space to the celebrity passengers of the day...which is fun for an old so and so like me because I went to all of Cary Grant's movies. (Among the photographs included in the book is Kim Novak giving us all a great view of her long and shapely legs.)
Ujifusa focuses more heavily on the personal life of Gibbs than on the specifics of the building of the boat, and more on the extravagant luxury in the first class than on her performance. Nevertheless, the book offers a fascinating window of how the wealthy were indulged in the 1950s.
Sixteen pages of black and white photos offer the reader an idea of the ship's opulence, although some, like the "gutted ballroom" are pretty bleak. The endpapers of the book provide both a schematic drawing of the great liner (in front) and a full length color photo of the enormous, yet gracious liner, steaming along.
So what was her fate when ocean liners were shown their place (dry dock) by trans-Atlantic airplanes? She lies in dry dock in Philadelphia...owned by the Norwegian Cruise Line with plans to restore her as a stationary hotel and convention center. Some spaces such as the first-class ballroom will be restored to their original condition..."giving people a taste of what it was like to travel on the fastest ship in the world".