Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Doctor Who & the Titanic

Since 1963, Doctor Who has thrilled audiences all over the world. The show centers on a time traveller - an alien Time Lord - known only as the Doctor. He voyages throughout time in the TARDIS (perpetually in the form of a 1960s British police box due to a faulty circuit) and fights evil with little more than charm, wit and a sonic screwdriver. When mortally wounded, the Doctor can regenerate himself as a younger man - a Time Lord's little way of cheating death. This has happened eleven times since 1963.

Several stories have involved the RMS Titanic in one capacity or another.

The ship is first mentioned in the series in story number 97, The Invasion of Time. The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and a fellow Time Lord, Borusa, came across an article in the Daily Mirror which mentioned the liner's sinking. The Doctor immediately promises that he had nothing to do with Titanic's sinking.

The ship was not mentioned again until the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) encountered in the novel, The Left-Handed Hummingbird. He and his companions were aboard when Titanic struck the iceberg and - as mentioned in a subsequent comic strip - one of them actually caused the ship to go down.

The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) tried to dissuade people from boarding the liner in the episode Rose. He later commented in The End of the World that he had been aboard a ship "they said was unsinkable." The Doctor then notes how he "ended up clinging to an iceberg. It wasn't half cold."

The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) encountered a starship replica of the Titanic in Voyage of the Damned after it collided with the TARDIS. This incident was also seen in the mini-epsiode Time Crash, which unites the Tenth Doctor with the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and threatens to end the universe.

Will the Doctor meet up with the Titanic again?

Only time will tell.

Launch of the Titanic: 100 Years Ago

The ill-fated RMS Titanic was launched by Harland & Wolff on May 31, 1911. She was the new pride of the White Star Line and considered to be the safest, largest ship afloat. The Titanic would rival Cunard's Mauretania and Lusitania in both luxury and elegance. It was White Star's crowning achievement, along with her sisters Olympic and Gigantic (to be renamed Britannic later).

But no one knew what was to come. The RMS Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage and sink to the depths in pieces; a mere 11 months after her launch.

Happy Birthday Titanic, it's a shame that you never had a chance to live your life the way it was intended. But tragedy and disaster have given you immortality.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Newsreels on Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Mauretania and Aquitania in World War II

The Cunard Line has played a role in transporting soldiers across the sea since the Crimean War in 1853, and World War II was no exception. The once-glamorous passenger ships were quickly transformed - camouflaged and armed - for the new task of trooping.

This collection of newsreels will show how the most famous ships in the world were pressed into service and took part in the overall Allied war effort.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Honor of Memorial Day....

...and the many men and woman who have fallen in service to the United States and its people. Lest we forget their sacrifices.

Friday, May 27, 2011

RMS Queen Mary Races Across the Atlantic!

I thought that this was quite appropriate today...

The Queen Mary: 75 Years Later

May 27, 1936 was a grand day for the British Empire. Its newest super-liner, the long-awaited Queen Mary, set sail from Southampton on her maiden voyage and into the pages of history. She subsequently took the Blue Riband from France's Normandie and earned a reputation as "the stateliest ship...in being."

Now, 75 years after the start of her illustrious career, the Queen Mary enjoys retirement in her permanent berth in Long Beach, California. Visitors from all over the world come to stroll along her historic decks and re-live a bygone era: the Golden Age of Ocean Travel.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Commodore & the Banana Boat

The allure of the sea is too strong for some mariners, such as the late Commodore Geoffrey Marr. His association with the Cunard Line ended after a lifetime at sea and he settled into a well-deserved retirement at his home in England.

But it did not last long. Captain Bob Arnott (most famously of the QE2) describes what happened in his book, Captain of the Queen:

When he retired, Geoffrey quickly became bored and generally disenchanted with life ashore. And after a Cunard career culminating in command of the great Queens, he signed on as second mate of a banana boat. His fellow officers on the West India freighter knew all about their second mate's illustrious past, and used to call him "The Commodore."

There may have been a reason as to why Marr chose a banana boat.

After graduating from the training ship HMS Conway in 1924, his first job was with a company called Elders and Fyffes - "banana specialists," as the Commodore called them. It seems possible that perhaps his new, post-Cunard assignment reminded him of his earliest days at sea. But this is purely speculation on my part.

References: Captain Robert Harry Arnott, Captain of the Queen: The autobiography of the most famous sea captain of them all. (London: Quadrant Books, 1982), 126.

Commodore Geoffrey Marr, The Queens and I: The Autobiography of the Captain of the Queen Mary and the Last Captain of the Queen Elizabeth (London: Adlard Coles Limited, 1973), 13.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Disney's Ocean Liner

Exhibiting many signs of a classic ocean liner is the SS Columbia. She stands ready to transport passengers from one port to the next, filling their trip with good food, music and fun along the way. People travel from miles around to walk her decks and be completely transported back to another era of travel.

The only thing, however, is that SS Columbia isn't a real ocean liner.

It is instead the centerpiece of Disney TokyoSea in Japan, a park built mostly out of the abandoned Port Disney that would have been constructed around the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. The SS Columbia was built to represent the steam-powered liners of the early-20th century and carries several elements of famous ships (like Titanic and Queen Mary) as a result.

But it also has its purpose. Visitors are allowed to explore the decks of the ship at their leisure and enjoy a meal in the Main Dining Room on B Deck afterwards if they'd like. The Columbia also offers superb views of the TokyoSea park and Mt. Fuji on clear days.

Although it may not be a real ship like the Queen Mary, the SS Columbia is nonetheless symbolic of a bygone age. With so few classic liners left afloat, even a synthetic one is welcomed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"It was bizarre...on the way to a war."

Armies all throughout history have had a rigid class system that divides officers from the enlisted personnel. World War II was certainly no exception as Lt. Howard Zinn - later to be the famous historian and activist - experienced aboard the Queen Mary. He noted:

On that ocean crossing, the class system of the military was especially evident. Our nine-man crew, who had become good friends - no saluting, no "yessir and nosir" - were separated on board ship. The five enlisted men in the crew ate in the huge mess room, the usual grubby army food. We, the officers, ate in what must have been the first-class dining room of the Queen Mary - linen tablecloths, white-jacketed waiters, magnificent chandeliers, steaks and roasts. It was bizarre, with us sailing through submarine-infested waters on the way to a war.

I imagine that Zinn would have been surprised to learn that he and his fellow officers actually dined in the pre-war Tourist (Second) Class restaurant. The "huge mess room" that he wrote of (which would also be the setting for a defining moment in his life) was originally meant for the Cabin (First) Class passengers.

Regardless, however, this passage gives an idea of the way that soldiers were divided up on a wartime crossing aboard the "Grey Ghost."

References: Howard Zinn, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), 92.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Olympic "Mutiny"

The RMS Olympic was ordered to be outfitted with additional lifeboats after her sister Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. The White Star Line's chairman, J. Bruce Ismay, gave specific instructions that the ship was not to sail again until accommodations were made for all persons aboard.

The Olympic first received 16 lifeboats...then 40. Ten of them came from the HMS Soudan and looked to be in rather poor shape and downright unseaworthy - especially the 10 taken off the warship. The appearance of these lifeboats (which were scruffy to say the best) alarmed several members of the Olympic's crew. A total of 276 firemen, trimmers and greasers subsequently refused to sail aboard the ship and were arrested for mutiny.

The Olypmic "mutineers" stood trial at Portsmouth Magistrates' Court. All were found guilty after a three day hearing but were not punished for their actions. The court found found that the men did have a justifiable cause for refusing to sail aboard the ship: they simply did not feel safe. So they were set free afterwards. They rejoined the ship's company after several of the lifeboats had successfully been tested.

The Olympic was ready to resume her sailings, and arrived in New York on May 22, 1912.

References: Robin Gardiner, The History of the White Star Line (Surrey: Ian Allan Publishing, 2001), 152.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Launch of the France

The French Line (CGT) launched its new flagship - the France - on May 11, 1960. Built by Chantiers de l'Atlantique and weighing just over 66,000 GRT, she was smaller than her rivals Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. But that did not concern the new ship's owners; they wanted the longest ship in the world instead. The France came in at 1,035 feet and maintained that record for the next three decades.

Launched by Yvonne de Gaulle, she was to be a new and modern Normandie that would instill a great sense of pride to the French people. Her designers accomplished this task, and the France (later renamed the Norway) ended her sailing days as perhaps the last of the Golden Age liners.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Lusitania: 96 Years Later

It was 96 years ago today that the Cunarder Lusitania was torpedoed by Imperial Germany's U-20. World War I raged in Europe, but America remained blissfully neutral. The grand ship set sail from New York for the last time on May 1, 1915. Travelers were warned by the Imperial German Embassy, who reminded them that a state of war existed between Germany and Britain. Many passengers paid this no mind.

One torpedo was fired as the ship made her way along the Irish coast, which struck just behind the wheelhouse on the starboard side. A second explosion rocked the Lusitania just seconds later, which many experts now believe was triggered by the ignition of coal dust in the near-empty bunkers.

The Lusitania - one of the Cunard's proudest and safest ships - went down in just 18 minutes. Her passengers and crew struggled for survival in that short period, but only 761 of the nearly 2,000 people aboard lived.

The reason for the attack has always been an issue. Germany maintained that the Lusitania was carrying arms and munitions (which indeed she was) and was therefore a legitimate target of war.

Just 305 feet below the waves rests the wreck of a once-noble liner. The sea has terribly ravaged her remains, yet it is unmistakably the Lusitania. Her bow looks as it did when she sailed from New York for the last time, and her name is still visible.

But may she act as a reminder for the cruel indifference that war brings. Many of those lost on May 7, 1915 were innocent and had little - if anything - to do with the Allied war effort. So may they and this grand ship rest forever in peace.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Poseidon Revisited

A few months ago I posted an entry called "Poseidon Lives!", which has proven to be very popular among readers. It focused on a visit to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum and to the model ship used in 1972's "Poseidon Adventure." I've decided to post a few more photos from my visit since I'm only allowed to upload a few at a time.

A view of the aft docking gear that no longer exists on the Queen Mary. All of it was removed during an unsympathetic renovation in the 1980s.

A view of the Poseidon's stern, rudder and port propellers.

Yours truly standing beside the model. This should give you an idea as to how massive it is!