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March 5, 2010 9:46 AM   Subscribe

"Now his dream ship is languishing, forgotten by the nation she so proudly served. There must be a reason why this ship is still with us, after so much neglect and after so many years. It must be because we still have a chance to save her." Norweigan Cruise Lines, owners of the S.S. United States, have recently opened up bidding on the ship to scrappers.
posted by cashman (53 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
change the name and scrap it.
posted by HuronBob at 10:06 AM on March 5, 2010


.
posted by brundlefly at 10:07 AM on March 5, 2010


It's a damned shame, but it was pretty much inevitable, really.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:10 AM on March 5, 2010


That is one jaw-droppingly steampunk watercraft.
posted by swift at 10:11 AM on March 5, 2010


Seems like a stimulus-plan project that you could actually get the Republicans behind. Saving a priceless national artifact from Chinese scrap merchants? I don't even think they could stand in front of that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:15 AM on March 5, 2010


Why are we wanting to do this?
posted by electroboy at 10:16 AM on March 5, 2010


Previously on MetaFilter. I'm not so sure it was ineveitable. It's been here since '96. A lot has happened in the world and the US since then. It might have made a nice casino, at lower cost than making her seaworthy again. A very sad end, as it heads to Bangladesh to be dismantled by bafefoot children wielding torches.
posted by fixedgear at 10:17 AM on March 5, 2010


Who has two thumbs and wants a kickass steampunk houseboat?
posted by craven_morhead at 10:21 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Back when they bought it, NCL had some big plans to modernize it and add it to its fleet. My guess is as they checked it out, it may have cost more to retrofit and bring it up to today's standards as a cruise ship (rock climbing walls, giant swimming pools and other goofy shit) that it would cost to build a new one from the ground up. Through a few of the non-busted links from that 2005 mefi post, I read that NCL was also looking into an East Coast to West Coast via the Panama Canal route. Even if they restored the ship to its original condition w/o the frills of the modern cruise ship, someone must have run the numbers to show there isn't an large enough interest in people willing to take that trip. I might have, but long after I crossed about 1,000 vacations off my list first.
posted by birdherder at 10:22 AM on March 5, 2010


You'd hardly recognize it as a cruise ship nowadays; the correct term is probably "ocean liner", in that it hearkens back to a time when ships were used for transportation, as often as not taken one-way. Nowadays a cruise ship is a towering, inward-looking hotel-slash-mall in which it is perfectly possible to remain ignorant of the fact that you're moving on the ocean, if that's what, er, floats your boat.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:25 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I say we all chip in, buy it, refit and restore it, and take Metafilter into international waters!

This is a plan that cannot possibly go wrong!
posted by quin at 10:38 AM on March 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Much of the grandeur was stripped from the old girl long ago. Decades back, the owner of a restaurant in Nags Head, North Carolina, bought much of the interior at auction. For a while, it was possible to go to the Windmill Point Restaurant and sit at the kidney-shaped bar on stools marked with the names of famous people who'd used them. Lights, railings, decorations and other fittings were incorporated throughout. I understand that when the restaurant closed, these artifacts found their way to the Mariners' Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, although in what form they are displayed I do not know as I haven't been there lately.

But the ship... the actual ship was probably the most sleek and gorgeous thing to ply the seas during the age of classic cruise ships. One of my current co-workers actually came to the U.S. from Germany as a child on board the United States and can attest to its opulence, grace and style.

As a collector of marine antiques and admirer of vintage nautical things, I feared that ultimately she'd be scrapped. Sadly, she's just too big an antique.

I sailed on the lovely old S.S. Rotterdam back in the 70s; it's a shame that the United States could not have been given a similar second chance.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:40 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really, really wanted this ship to be utilized here in Philly; I love seeing it docked here.

I despise the proposed Philly casinos, but I would even support the United States being turned into one.
posted by desuetude at 10:41 AM on March 5, 2010


Here's a good video about the fate of the interior.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:45 AM on March 5, 2010


I get home to Philly about once a year, usually at Christmas, and just when I've gotten more or less used to the weirdness of being back in the US, I'll take a trip to the Best Buy down on Delaware Avenue to get computer stuff, step outside, and be reminded that goddamn there is a massive, gently rusting ship right in front of me. I hope they don't scrap her -- I'd miss that feeling.
posted by bokane at 10:46 AM on March 5, 2010


Youtube video: A Cruise Aboard the SS United States
posted by acro at 10:49 AM on March 5, 2010


My fear has long been that she would come to such an end. I have ridden by her so many times; she's a part of the waterfront now and I'll miss her. Plus I'll never get to shoot my zombie movie on board.
posted by Mister_A at 10:56 AM on March 5, 2010


I say we tow her out into the Bay of Political Quagmire, fill her with american dollars and the unemployed, then scuttle her.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:58 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Next up: China buys the actual United States and sells it to scrappers.
posted by GuyZero at 10:59 AM on March 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


My grandfather served for years aboard her up until his death (he was an actual one-legged hard drinking sailor of legend), so I grew up hearing stories of this great ship. I would give anything to be able to cross the Atlantic in such style today. It really is a shame that we can keep the USS Constitution and the Brits can keep the Victory, but we can't find the money to keep the S.S. United States for future generations. I guess its impossible to save these things if they weren't involved in some sort of guns-a-blazing fleet action.
posted by boubelium at 11:05 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


My mother and father sailed on the United States from Le Havre to New York in the early 1960's. Dad was bringing his new bride-to-be (a/k/a "mom") from Germany to the U.S. for the first time. Separate cabins, of course. Dad's family drove out from the farm country of northern Illinois to pick them up in NYC. Mom didn't speak very much english at that point; fortunately, dad was by then fluent in german. Because of that family connection, we've got a big color aerial photo of the ship hanging in the house out here on the Midwest prairie. It shows the United States steaming out of NYC on some sunny day many years ago.

Many years after that trip by mom and dad, I was in the import/export business and was touring the Hampton Roads, Virginia, harbors by boat. The locals I was with pointed out the big ol' United States sitting there. I hadn't known it was there or really ever thought much about it, but suddenly there is was big as life in front of me - the ship that my mother and father had traveled on across the Atlantic.

It's pretty amazing that more than 50 years later, she still holds the record for the fastest trans-Atlantic nautical crossing. From one of the links above:

"Completed in 1952, the SS United States still holds the Blue Riband of the Atlantic for making the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean: 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes at an average speed of 35.59 knots, or about 40 land miles per hour. From 1952 to 1969, the “Big U” was the most famous ocean liner in the world, a favorite of the rich and famous as well as ordinary tourists and immigrants."

My chance encounter with her was in the late 1980's and, if I recall correctly, they mentioned efforts back then to preserve the ship and perhaps bring her back into service somehow. Obviously that didn't succeed. Too bad they've not been able to re-purpose this fine old ship.

.
posted by webhund at 11:13 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seems like a stimulus-plan project that you could actually get the Republicans behind. Saving a priceless national artifact from Chinese scrap merchants? I don't even think they could stand in front of that.

Actually, they don't even pretend to care about patriotism anymore, except when it's convenient. The ship kind of sailed on that (ha! pun!) when they wanted to let the big American automakers go belly-up without lifting a finger.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:14 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


They could probably keep it moored and use it for tours and parties and events, like they do with the Queen Mary in Long Beach.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:17 AM on March 5, 2010


I say we all chip in, buy it, refit and restore it, and take Metafilter into international waters!
Only if mathowie captains it while dressed like Dennis Hopper in Waterworld.

This is a plan that cannot possibly go wrong!
See above.
posted by jamaro at 11:20 AM on March 5, 2010


Dennis Hopper was in Waterworld?

Corollary: You've seen Waterworld?
posted by Mister_A at 11:24 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know who else was in Waterworld? (no no, not Hitler). Tina Majorino! I cracked up when I saw her in Napoleon Dynamite because she looks just the same as she did as a tot.

I love cruise liners of that vintage but the USS US is just begging to be bought by Discovery Channel to recreate the sinking of the Titanic.
posted by jamaro at 11:31 AM on March 5, 2010


The furnishings were scrapped a long time ago, the ship doesn't meet SOLAS standards, and the Queen Mary has long struggled to turn a profit. It was inevitable. (Also, I'm going to risk drawing the ire of some people by saying she was pretty ugly inside. Nice lines, though.)

Don't get me wrong, I pine for the days ocean liners and railroads, but the S.S. United States has been headed this direction for a long time.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:37 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Who has two thumbs and wants a kickass steampunk houseboat?
> posted by craven_morhead at 1:21 PM on March 5 [1 favorite +] [!]

I'm just dreaming out loud now, but I say set her adrift in the Bermuda Triangle as a site for some of those urban-decay explorers to photograph. Or for Outward Bound ghost ship horror adventures, if you prefer a more structured experience.
posted by jfuller at 11:41 AM on March 5, 2010




It saddening that we can't look forward anymore. When the QE2 was designed in the'60s it was a triumph of engineering and style, and over the years, with subsequent refits it became embarrassing and menopausal- winding up looking like a Ramada Inn. 40 years on we have the QM2 to enjoy.

Ghastly cruise ships are the legacy of those liners. Lets move on and let those kids at it with the blow torches.
posted by marvin at 11:42 AM on March 5, 2010


Oh, and. The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up
posted by jfuller at 11:44 AM on March 5, 2010


I'm just dreaming out loud now, but I say set her adrift in the Bermuda Triangle as a site for some of those urban-decay explorers to photograph. Or for Outward Bound ghost ship horror adventures, if you prefer a more structured experience.

Hey, buddy, this is real life, not a Cory Doctorow novel.
posted by pts at 11:47 AM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here's some S.S. U.S. stuff in the Mariner's Museum collections (search): a dining room panel, sculpture, a life preserver. They have a bunch of great sketches, too.
posted by steef at 11:48 AM on March 5, 2010


change the name and scrap it

It's "service" to the US was that is held its name as a marketing gimmick and it was fast for a civillian ship. Scrap the rust bucket already before it pollutes the Delaware any more than it already has.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:48 AM on March 5, 2010


... I read that NCL was also looking into an East Coast to West Coast via the Panama Canal route. [snip] someone must have run the numbers to show there isn't an large enough interest in people willing to take that trip.
posted by birdherder at 1:22 PM


Whatever role the United States played in Norwegian's strategy, I don't think lack of interest in a Panama route was the problem. NCL does regular cruises through the Panama Canal.
posted by workerant at 11:54 AM on March 5, 2010


I really hate that tradition of calling boats "she".
posted by Hildegarde at 12:22 PM on March 5, 2010


I'm putting it awkwardly, but when I read this, I thought there is some tragically poetic Shakespearean dystopia imagery link with seeing "United States sold for scrap to the Chinese" and seeing Christopher Reeve, our own Superman, paralyzed in a wheelchair, talking to congress about research to get his spinal cord fixed.

That moments like that actually happen in real life is quite fascinating.
posted by chambers at 12:50 PM on March 5, 2010


Well, fuck :( I've spent more time on the waterfront than any human being should, and she was just always...there. Bigger than God his own self, gently rusting away, but with so much story behind her. Any sailor from Philly would talk to you about her for days. I'm going to miss her.

I really hate that tradition of calling boats "she".

Can I ask why? I'm not being cheeky, I really am curious :)
posted by kalimac at 12:53 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Me too. It seems to me opposite of objectfying a female. I've never come across a person who sails a craft use that term in a negative manner, it's always been a reference of respect.

Only when they reference the sea as female does the negative angle come out sometimes. Maybe they go together in a ying/yang sort if way.
posted by chambers at 1:33 PM on March 5, 2010


I'm putting it awkwardly, but when I read this, I thought there is some tragically poetic Shakespearean dystopia imagery link with seeing "United States sold for scrap to the Chinese"

Even worse, it's being sold by the Chinese. Probably go to Bangladesh to be torn down.
posted by delmoi at 1:36 PM on March 5, 2010


WORLD'S LARGEST METAPHOR HITS ICE BERG GETS SOLD FOR SCRAP.
posted by The Whelk at 1:41 PM on March 5, 2010


Hopefully, someone will buy it, and sink it somewhere where it can become a reef, like what these guys do.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 2:30 PM on March 5, 2010


Hopefully, someone will buy it, and sink it somewhere where it can become a reef, like what these guys do.

That would be a better end, but the steel is worth much money.
posted by fixedgear at 2:36 PM on March 5, 2010


I really hate that tradition of calling boats "she".

I've always been fond of it, personally. My father is an inland mariner and he uses it. Same thing with his computers. :)
posted by brundlefly at 3:04 PM on March 5, 2010


That would be a better end, but the steel is worth much money.

Not to mention that the entire superstructure is made of aluminum.
posted by pjern at 3:10 PM on March 5, 2010


The shame is that crossing the Atlantic in a ship like the United States produces about .05% of the carbon that making the same crossing in an airplane produces. But no one today has the time to make a 7-day round trip by ocean when the same trip by air takes 14 hours.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:25 PM on March 5, 2010


The shame is that crossing the Atlantic in a ship like the United States produces about .05% of the carbon that making the same crossing in an airplane produces.

I'm pretty sure that's not correct. Got a cite for that?
posted by electroboy at 3:34 PM on March 5, 2010


July 1996 the SS United States returned to her homeland, but this time to Philadelphia, where the dormant Navy yard would reopen with the task of restoring the superliner to it's long lost former glory. As before, financing for the enormous project failed to materialize. The ship remains idle, awaiting the final chapter of her story.

The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard was dis-established - Gov speak for closed - in 1995. Although the Pentagon - i.e. you and me, U.S. taxpayers - largely financed the construction of this troop ship I never heard any talk of rehabbing it at PSNY until I read that article. That's crazy talk. You can tell by that misplaced apostrophe in "it's long lost former glory."
posted by fixedgear at 4:01 PM on March 5, 2010


The shame is that crossing the Atlantic in a ship like the United States produces about .05% of the carbon that making the same crossing in an airplane produces.

Hmm. Rough calculation says otherwise. The ship consumes over 859 tons of fuel oil per day. Passenger capacity: 1972. 4 days to cross the Atlantic.

Assuming those are US short tons, that's (859 tons/day * 4 days) / 1972 passengers = 1.742 tons, or 1580kg of fuel oil/passenger.

According to Choose Climate's flying calculator, a 100% full one-way economy NYC->London flight burns 170kg/passenger.

Granted, I'm ignoring jet fuel vs fuel oil, and looking at consumption rather than CO2 production, as well as assuming both are vehicles are 100% full with passengers, but given the almost 10 to 1 difference in favor of the jet, I think a claim of 20 to 1 in favor of the ship (.05% of the carbon) can safely be assumed to be false.
posted by fings at 8:44 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's actually two orders of magnitude wronger than that. ".05%" is a ratio of 2000:1, not 20:1. You seem to be reading it as 5% or 0.05, but ".05%" == 0.0005, which is 1/100 of either of those. So yeah, false would be a pretty safe bet.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:22 AM on March 6, 2010


D'oh, thanks George I did misread that -- I'll put the blame for missing that on my 11m.o., who has let me have 2 hours of sleep tonight.
posted by fings at 12:39 AM on March 6, 2010


Yeah, that's false. I am out by an order of magnitude and a little.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:20 AM on March 6, 2010


Our family of 5 sailed from NYC to Southhampton on the SS US in 1956 when I was 8 (the oldest) and I remember lots of it vividly. It was a total thrill. Dad was on a 2-year UK assignment from the US government and we went First Class, with our entire household furnishings and our car (a dark green 1950 Desoto station wagon) in the hold. We've got a neat photo of that car being lowered by crane onto English soil.

We'd pored over the brochure for weeks beforehand, and I was mightily disappointed by how bad (tame action-free adult dramas) the daily new movies we could watch in the huge theater were, by how the swimming pool was filled with salt water, and by how we were the only kids I can recall who were traveling First Class; there were no specifically kids' activities or spaces. Shuffleboard was a complete dud. We were terrified by tales of how loud the steam horn was going to be, and it WAS awesome. But just wandering around on all the various decks, indoor and out, was like a dream, a 5-day stay in a gargantuan floating castle, even if it was much more hotel/gift-shop than castle, essentially monotonous and everybody was always dressed up and sort of stuffy. The speed of the crossing was a major bummer, as far as I was concerned; we came home in '58 on the SS America and that took a day longer.

By far the best thing was the meals: 3 sittings a day in a 5-star restaurant (or so it seemed to me), with the same table and the same waiter every day. We normally never ate out, so just having a menu (huge, with gleaming cardboard-thick paper) to select from was a major trip. They hung framed in our kitchen for years afterwards.

Besides the surreal glamor of all the furnishings and decor, wrapped in the magnificent superstructure of that vast vessel, mostly I remember the never-failing, constant spookiness of being afloat, with the endless sea and sky all around, the humming engines, the powerful headwinds when we went outside, especially up front (you could lean deeply into it), the huge mesmerizing wake, and the awfulness of the one stormy night we had each way; I had to miss dinner, being seasick, rolling relentlessly and miserably alone in a dark berth while the rest went off to eat. Coming to the end of each trip was definitely bittersweet; the excitements of the new land or coming home overshadowed by the end of the fantasy voyage.
posted by dpcoffin at 12:22 PM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, yeah: I remember my mom complaining that all the men in First Class looked like they wore black silk underwear. I'm still puzzling over that…
posted by dpcoffin at 12:32 PM on March 6, 2010


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