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FLASHBACK TO MY FIRST TRIP; CARIBBEAN FLY CRUISING ON THE SS NORWAY IN 1981

THE NORWAY
The Norway as she appeared in 1981. Credit for this photo goes to the excellent http://www.classicliners.net

The purpose of this blog is not to provide readers with some glassy eyed, nostalgic trip back in time to recount how marvellous this first ever fly/cruise was. Yes, it was a life changing event, and it set my feet firmly on a path that they have never wavered from since, though that was far from being my intention at the time.

But what I want to revisit here are the actual logistics of that trip, and what was included in the fare. The time was October/November 1981 and, for those of you who do not know me personally, I live in the North East of England, several hundred miles north of London. So, without any further adieu, here we go….

My flights were booked on British Airways, round trip from London Heathrow to Miami International. If an option existed for a regional connection flight from Newcastle back then, I was never offered it by my very good local travel agent, so I suspect it might not have been in with the price package. Mind you, back then the take up for people going on Caribbean fly cruises was just a sliver of the massive market we know today. Also, factor in that I was 22 years old, literally on my ‘maiden voyage’ and, in terms of travelling savvy, as green as grass. I had never even been on a plane before that day.

I remember travelling down to London overnight on a National Express coach. It was October 31st, the coach was a full hour late, and snow began to fall quite steadily. Ominous portents, all.

There was no sleep on the long haul down to London Victoria, nor on the 45 minute long underground journey to Heathrow Airport. But I quickly learned that lugging suitcases up and down train station steps and escalators, plus shoe horning myself in and out of crowded underground trains, was a form of urban guerilla warfare that I had no wish to repeat.

Even back in 1981, Heathrow was a train wreck; an airport with all the warmth and welcome of a Dalek’s convention. It was hate at first sight.

I was on a BA 747 to Miami and, viewed from the boarding gate windows, the plane seemed immense. Of that first flight, I recall the euphoria of take off, and the fact that drinks on board had to be paid for in cash. The rest of that just under ten hour transatlantic flight is long since forgotten, but I don’t think I slept. By this stage of the trip, I was running on a mixture of fumes and sheer adrenaline.

Once at Miami and through the even then tortuous immigration process, I was met on the land side by a private transfer to the Miami Marriott Airport hotel. This was smooth and easy and, within an hour or so, I was in my (seemingly) high rise hotel room. I recall showering, ordering some room service, and then watching Star Trek; The Motion Picture on the in room television. Then sleep stole up on me and slugged me like a burglar, and I slept like a log until early on the Sunday morning.

Sunday, November 1st, 1981; breakfast outside in the sunshine- and a huge American buffet spread at that- made me suddenly realise that I really was in a different universe. There was a shared limousine van at noon that picked the small UK contingent up from the hotel lobby, transferring us from the Marriott to Dodge island, where the Norway sat waiting; a proud, pristine colossus etched in blue and white, standing calm and poised against a duck egg blue sky.

We saw Royal Caribbean’s Sun Viking first, an exhilarating sight in the brilliant sunshine. But that proud ship literally disappeared in the shadow of the vast Norway.

I was aboard before I even knew it. In those days, the Norway was so huge that she occupied both Piers One and Two on Dodge Island. I have no recollection of lifeboat drill, but do remember the Sun Viking edging downstream past the Norway, her passengers waving and cheering at us- and vice versa. Then the ropes came off, and it was our turn…..

That week- wow. It simply changed everything. We visited only St. Thomas in the Caribbean, and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas- this was before Nassau was added to the itinerary the next year. My cabin- A080- was an inside, only slightly bigger than the average pygmy’s postage stamp. It mattered not a jot. This was the Norway, up close and for real. It was like being awake in a stunning, vivid dream for a week.

At the inevitable journey’s end the following Sunday, there was another limo pick up waiting to take me to a nearby airport hotel. In those days, Norwegian Caribbean Line (as was) included the cost of a hotel day room in the fare, just prior to the evening overnight flight home. This was hugely welcome as it gave you the chance to freshen up, grab some food, and enjoy your own private space before the flight home.

Cruise lines mostly no longer offer this, knowing full well that they can now sell you day tours to the Everglades and/or Ocean Drive before dropping you and your luggage at MIA. It’s a double win for them revenue wise, of course. Otherwise, it now means that you could end up deposited at the airport many, many hours before your flight home.

I think they put me up in the Howard Johnson Airport hotel. It wasn’t exactly the Ritz, but it was clean, comfortable, and had a bed soft enough to give me a few hours’ sleep, before the last shuttle transfer arrived to take me to the airport at about 1800.

Another BA 747 flight- this time overnight- deposited me smartly into the warm, welcoming embrace of Deathrow- oops, I mean Heathrow- at some appallingly uncivilised hour of the day. Scratch that- it felt appallingly uncivilised. I had just come off the Norway after all. At Heathrow, my pretty balloon suddenly burst with one almighty bang.

There then followed more urban warfare, getting back across to King’s Cross to connect with a surprisingly pain free, cathartic journey on a British Rail 125 that whisked me back to Durham in around three hours. The first sight of that fabulous cathedral was more welcome than I can describe. It has dominated the city skyline since it’s completion in the late eleventh century. I felt that I had been away a lifetime, but those ancient stone ramparts just gave my naivety a kind of benign smile.

So- that’s how it was. Now things are different, less inclusive, and I’m older. Victor Meldrew syndrome has begun to kick in, I fear.

And, of course, we no longer have the Norway. She is long since gone though, of course, she will never be forgotten.

For those who sailed her, loved her and cherished her, the Norway remains a permanent, imperious vision. Lit up like a Christmas tree from stem to stern, those great, winged stacks standing like ramparts against the flaring purple Caribbean twilight, she stands out into a sea of memories that she will always dominate, come what may.

How young I was. How little I knew. How much I learned in a short space of time. And, of course, how far it all led me. This is the stuff of dreams, ones that came true, and do not disappoint. Rare magic, indeed.

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LEGACY; THE SS. NORWAY AND HER EFFECT ON THE CRUISE INDUSTRY

ss-norway-fjords
The SS. Norway in her adopted homeland during her 1984 summer season in Europe. Photo courtesy of Rob O’Brien at http://www.classicliners.net

When Knut Kloster first announced his intention of converting the laid up transatlantic liner SS.France into the world’s first mega cruise ship, the sound of jaws dropping worldwide was almost deafening, It was not long before the ‘experts’ started to offer a whole raft of dissenting opinions.

She was simply too big for profitable, week round cruising. She would consume too much fuel to be viable. She was too large to dock at any of the islands in the Caribbean. She was a twin class ship, a relic of the 1960’s. The list went on and on.

One by one, Kloster deftly demolished all of these splutterances. In April 1980, the reborn SS. Norway emerged from her six month long winter hibernation in Bremerhaven to gasps of awed amazement. Dazzling, shiny and resplendent, the ‘Playground of The Caribbean’ sent the opposition reeling in every direction.

From the start, the Norway was a stunning, triumphant splash; a ship without a peer on the ocean. So radical an update was she that the Norway completely shaped the entire modern cruise industry. Every mega ship in service today owes it’s very existence to Kloster’s bold, brave resurrection of an already legendary ship. Kloster’s $118,000,000 investment in his dream ship would make her a legend for the second time.

How so?

Firstly, the sheer size and scale of the ship allowed him to envisage, and then assemble, an entertainment roster unparalleled in size, quality and scale. It was the Norway that first staged near full scale Broadway musicals on board. She was the first ship to stage full, Vegas style fur and feather boa revues in a vast, two story, eight hundred seat theatre.

Platinum chip headliners featured on every sailing, too. Jack Jones, Phyllis Diller, Petula Clark and Sacha Distel were just a few of the big names to perform for the Norway passengers during her week long circuits of the Caribbean. There were mime artists, portrait painters, and even a resident fifteen piece big band.

That band played out on deck every sailing day, as the Norway sashayed downstream from Miami past the opposition, leaving them figuratively and literally in her wake. After the stunning smorgasbord of entertainment served up aboard the Norway, every company had to look to their laurels.

Secondly, by introducing economy of scale. As the France, the ship’s four propellers fed by two giant engines rooms, pushed her across the Atlantic at thirty knots. The fuel consumption was horrendous; the ship guzzled the stuff like so much cheap table wine.

All of that would change. Kloster shut down the forward engine room and removed two of the props. The remaining, aft engine room was modified to drive the two remaining ones. As a cruise ship, the reborn Norway would need to sail at around eighteen knots. In fact, she hit twenty five knots on trials that spring without even breaking sweat.

This drastic realignment had the immediate effect of cutting the fuel bill by a full two thirds. That torpedoed the economic argument completely, once and for all time.

And it was the little touches, too. The Norway boasted the first television station- WNCL- of any cruise ship afloat. And the Norway was also the first cruise ship to have colour television in every cabin on board.

Her two giant, twin tenders on the bow- Little Norway I and II- became almost as iconic as the great, winged smokestacks themselves over time. Capable of carrying a full four hundred passengers each, they waddled ashore from the ship each week at St. Thomas and Great Stirrup Cay, disgorging hordes of sunburnt dollar crusaders ashore with almost effortless ease. In one fell swoop, the need to dock alongside at every port was negated almost completely.

And there is no question that the ship felt incredibly lavish. Swathed from bow to stern in Art Deco, her vast interiors had a magical lustre all of their own; one that no other vessel on the ocean could truly match. The Norway looked and felt spectacular in every aspect of her public spaces. Looking along passenger corridors, the ship seemed endless at times.

In short, the Norway was innovative, inspired, almost impossibly dramatic and luxurious. Yet underneath all of that flourish and finery, she was a hard headed, well thought out, extremely workable cruise ship that predated the new generations that would follow her by a full decade.

The Norway quite simply set the gold standard. And even now, she remains an adored, enigmatic legend. Gone for a decade now, for many of her besotted fans she remains, quite simply, a ship apart.

Her immortal reputation deserves nothing less.

LUXURY LINER ROW- THE HEYDAY OF THE GREAT LINERS

LUXURY LINER ROW
‘Luxury Liner Row’ along the west side piers of Manhattan, with the Queen Mary (at top), Michelangelo, Raffaello, and the SS. France. The presence of the QM, plus the two Italian sisters, dates this photo as between July 1965 and September, 1967

Although the great transatlantic liners were almost always associated with the west side of Manhattan in New York, it was really in the 1930’s that what is now known as ‘Luxury Liner Row’ truly came into its own.

In the early 1930’s, as the size of the average ocean liner grew from around 50,000 tons to a new generation of 80,000 tonners, it became obvious that the old piers in Manhattan would no longer be long, wide or deep enough to accommodate this new generation of ocean monsters.

The harbour authority envisaged the creation of a trio of massive new, two story piers, along the west side of Manhattan, near 48th Street. These new complexes would allow passenger traffic access directly from the west side highway.

Known as ‘finger piers’, each of these enormous creations jutted out a full 1200 feet into the Hudson River. They were able to accommodate the largest ships of the day. And, inevitably, the biggest and most prestigious liners on the transatlantic run gravitated to them like moths to a flame.

lLLR2
Luxury Liner Row in the Sixties; L to R; the United States, SS France. Michelangelo and Raffaello (or vice versa) and the Queen Mary

Aptly, the first of these terminals to open-Pier 88- made it’s debut on June 3rd, 1935, just in time to accommodate the legendary Normandie at the end of her record breaking maiden voyage. It was her moment of greatest triumph, and in due course, the scene of her great tragedy. The burning and capsizing of the Normandie at this same spot in February, 1942 remains one of New York’s saddest spectacles to this day.

Across the slip, Pier 90 became synonymous with the rival Cunard Line. Until their last days in 1967 and 1968 respectively, both the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth used Pier 90 for each New York turnaround, a tradition carried on by the Queen Elizabeth 2 in her turn.

Even the German liners left their traditional berths at Hoboken, on the New Jersey side of the river, to gravitate to Manhattan. By the late thirties, it was nothing unusual for six or seven of the world’s largest liners to be seen sitting, side by side by side, along the waterfront. From a passing car, their looming prows seemed almost close enough to touch.

This was the era when those astonishing aerial photos of those epic convocations- the famous ‘stack ups’- began to hit the newspapers and newsreels around the world. On any given day, one might see the likes of the Rex, Europa, Normandie, Berengaria and Ile De France in brief repose. Some of those photographs have gone down as among the most celebrated in the entire history of travel.

Even in the sixties and seventies, when air travel had long since supplanted the ocean liner as the obvious main means of travel, the great ships would still converge at those same, west side piers, almost as if huddling together for mutual support from the chill winds of economic reality. At any given time- especially in the summer- you might see the France, the United States, the Queen Mary and one of the great Italian sister ships, Michelangelo and Raffaello. 

QE2 MANHATTAN
The QE2 docking in Manhattan

In due course, this doomed, gilded rump would be joined by the Queen Elizabeth 2. Eventually, that last great liner would have the piers to herself. She would often sit in solitary splendour at the foot of West 48th street, the waters all around her rippled by the memories of her long gone fleet mates. As she sailed, her siren would boom out across the concrete canyons of Manhattan. In her wake, an entire fleet of ghosts could almost be heard replying in kind.

Of course, the arrival of the large, purpose built cruise ship proved to be the salvation of the piers. It was no accident that the Norway, the reborn SS. France, tied up at her old French Line Pier 88 at the conclusion of her ‘second’ maiden voyage. Her arrival was epic enough in itself, but few savvy souls missed the exquisite symmetry of her Manhattan homecoming.

Now branded as the Manhattan Passenger Terminal, the trio of great, historic piers have been sympathetically upgraded and updated to accommodate a new generation of cruise ship, many of them far bigger than their old Atlantic forebears.

Of course, new, purpose built cruise terminals have sprung up, too. Cape Liberty in New Jersey; Red Hook in Brooklyn. Slick, spick and span and state of the art, they make the whole embarkation process a breeze.

But they are not the real deal….

NORWEGIAN GEM AT PIER 88
The Norwegian Gem at Pier 88, Manhattan

Even now, nothing beats the thrill of departure from those great old Manhattan piers of yore, where the benign shades of the Liberte, the Conte Di Savoia and the Ile De France still bask in the summer sunshine, just across the slip from where thousands of excited passengers embark on the ships of Norwegian Cruise Line to Bermuda and the Caribbean. The piers still have what they always had; location, location, location….

Here, the great monolithic bulks of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building are almost close enough to touch; and the pace and buzz of the Manhattan traffic is an exhilarating, endlessly addictive thrill. And the sudden sight of the giant bows of a cruise ship, gradually rising above you, quite literally, at the bottom of the street- is as much of an adrenaline surge now as ever it was.

Boarding the QE2 at Pier 90 verged almost on a religious experience for true travel lovers. And the procession down the west side of Manhattan, even to this day, is so magnificent and compelling that it draws almost every passenger out on deck. Try a glass of champagne on deck, as the siren booms out and you glide past that vast forest of glass, steel and concrete called Manhattan, and you’ll feel the same, age old magic as those voyagers from the past, setting out on business, or on their summer vacations to Europe.

While everything seems to move forward, some things in travel remain as subtle and understated as ever. Boarding the Norwegian Breakaway for Bermuda at Pier 88 feels every bit as epic and monumental as embarking on the Normandie for Europe did from the same pier, a full eighty years ago.

Those celebrated mass gatherings of the great liners remain like so many touchstones, emotional lightning rods if you will, that connect us to what seems to be a more evocative past. But the good news is; sailing from those same piers now will still thrill and inspire generations of ocean voyagers for decades to come.

 

 

MICHELANGELO AND RAFFAELLO; THE LAST ITALIAN LINERS

MICHELANGELO MAIDEN ARRIVAL
The Michelangelo arrives in New York on her maiden voyage, May 1965

By the turn of the 1960’s, it was abundantly clear that commercial jets had decisively defeated the transatlantic liner as the most popular way to cross between Europe and America. In just four short years from 1958 onward, the big jets had seized more than seventy per cent of the travelling trade.

For the great ocean liners, the writing was not so much on the wall as in the sky, carried in the vapour trails of the Boeing 707’s and DC-8’s that could cross the Atlantic in mere hours, as opposed to days. The Atlantic liner seemed as outmoded as the dinosaur, and every bit as doomed to extinction.

All of which made the decision in 1958 of the Italian Line to build not one, but two huge new ocean liners for the trade between Italy and New York seem nothing short of incredible. Not only that, but the two vessels would be siblings, and the largest liners built in Italy since before the war.

At 45,000 and 46,000 tons respectively, the Michelangelo and the Raffaello would be floating showcases for Italian art, style and culture; ships of state in every sense of the word. In their design, they would embody a mixture of the strikingly modern and the truly backward.

For a start, they would remain strictly three class ships, an anachronism in an age where civil rights was steamrollering all in its path. And, amazingly, none of the cabins in third class had portholes of any kind.

Technically, each ship was crowned by a brace of stout funnels, wrapped in a kind of birdcage, and topped by a racy, aft facing wind deflector that resembled a widow’s peak. The purpose of this was to deflect funnel smoke away from the ship, through the sides of the caging. It is a design adapted often on modern ships these days, but it featured first on those two Italian show ponies from 1965.

Sailing against the odds from Day One, the Michelangelo and Raffaello were built primarily to give work to the Italian shipyards, as well as harbour workers and the crews that would sail them. And the Italians also managed to convince themselves that, for them at least, there was a chance that these twin superstars could defy the airborne threat completely. Why?

In the peak summer months of 1964, even older liners like the Queen Elizabeth were still sailing full between Europe and New York. Never mind that the numbers for the off season were disastrous. The Italians also noted that the 1962 built SS France- the longest liner ever built- was still sailing at an average occupancy rate of something like eighty per cent, year round. To these crumbs of comfort, Italian Line directors in Genoa added a few of their own.

Like the Greeks, the Italian people have always been particularly sea minded as a race. The jets took much, much longer to gain a foothold on the routes from Italy to America than they did in the northern hemisphere. Throughout the early sixties, their people continued to patronise liners sailing from Italy and Greece in large numbers.

RAFFAELLO LIDO
First Class lido on the Raffaello

And those voyages from Italy to America and back had a far more languid, indolent quality than did those crossing on the often stormy run between England, France and America. The Italian liners started from sunny Genoa, calling at Naples, Cannes and sometimes Barcelona, before passing through the Straits of Gibraltar and heading north west for New York. Basking for much of the way in sunny climes, these voyages had more of an outdoor, Riviera style emphasis and vibe.

Each class had it’s own, open lido deck with a pool, surrounded by sun loungers and umbrella shaded tables and chairs. Smartly turned out Italian waiters delivered drinks and snacks, creating a dolce vita lifestyle out on the ocean. It was all very appealing and, with the Michelangelo and Raffaello, this Fellini-esque sense of style and indulgence would be taken to new heights.

Both of these graceful giants were built in Italy; the Michelangelo at the Ansaldo shipyard in Genoa, and the Raffaello just across the country, in Trieste. Like all their forebears, the two sisters were strikingly beautiful creations; bold and yet, at the same time, instantly familiar to generations of seafaring men.

Each ship had the gorgeous, raked clipper bow and elegant counter stern that was virtually an Italian line trademark. Crowned by those graceful lattice funnels and painted in bridal white from stem to stern, Michelangelo and Raffaello were suave, striking ripostes to the all conquering airborne armada. Follies they may have been, but that did not detract one bit from the sheer dazzle, finery and sense of panache that both ships exuded. By any standards, they were a quite extraordinary pair.

Of the two, it was the Michelangelo that got away first. She left on her maiden voyage to New York that May of 1965, and arrived in Manhattan to a gala welcome of buzzing helicopters, spraying fire boats, and an escort of tugs that conveyed her all the way to her Manhattan pier. The new Italian flagship seemed to have made an auspicious debut.

But the Michelangelo encountered serious vibration issues at full speed, a problem that would initially also dog the Raffaello. It was cured that same December, by a dry docking that  replaced the propellers. Following this, the ship re-entered commercial service.

LUXURY LINER ROW
‘Luxury Liner Row’ along the west side piers of Manhattan, with the Queen Mary (at top), Michelangelo, Raffaello, and the SS. France. The presence of the QM, plus the two Italian sisters, dates this photo as between July 1965 and September, 1967

Meanwhile, the Raffaello had by now joined her sister ship in service, crossing to New York on her maiden voyage in July of 1965. Her Art Deco interiors received a lot more critical acclaim than the more  modern, sixties interior styling of the Michelangelo. At 46,000 tons, Raffaello was a full thousand tons larger than her sister. Each of these twin liners cost some $45 million to build.

Yet it was always the Michelangelo that seemed to command the bulk of the media attention. And not always for the right reasons.

MICHELANGELO DAMAGED BRIDGE
The wrecked forward superstructure of the Michelangelo after she encountered a freak Atlantic tidal wave

In April of 1966, the Michelangelo was bound from Genoa for New York, when a huge freak wave crashed over her bow in mid ocean. The force of impact caused the forward superstructure just below the bridge to crumple like so much wet cardboard. A large part of the aluminium bulkhead was simply slammed backwards. Two passengers were swept out to sea, and another crewman died later. More than fifty passengers were injured to varying degrees during the accident.

The Michelangelo eventually limped into New York two days later. Once home, urgent repairs were carried out. All the aluminium in the forward bulkhead was replaced by steel;  the same precaution was subsequently carried out not only on the Raffaello, but also on the France and the SS United States. Following repairs, the ship resumed service on the Genoa to New York run.

For a while, the two Italian liners did, indeed, hold their own against the jets. Passenger numbers were encouraging right through 1968. Both ships became a byword for style and flair. In summer, they were often completely sold out.

When either ship arrived in or departed from New York, tug boat captains had to drape white canvas sheets over their bows, so that the grimy tugs’ pushing and shoving would affect their brilliant white paintwork as little as possible. On board, all was Italian flair and finesse.Between them, the two sisters represented the only truly stylish way to sail from Bella Italia to America.

RAFFA
The Michelangelo alongside her Manhattan pier, apparently just about to set sail

But reality was ready to intervene, stage left. As the sixties ended, more and more passengers began taking to the faster, more economical jets. Both sisters were sent on cruises, mainly down to the Caribbean in winter, with increasing frequency. Here, their true major weakness became fatally apparent.

Simply put, Michelangelo and Raffaello had far too many small, inside cabins to work as successful cruise ships. And it was a shortcoming that could only be put right at astronomical expense. A cost that, as things turned out, the Italian Line had neither time nor means to carry through.

As things got worse, strikes among both the on board crews and the Italian dockers broke out like a series of random forest fires. It became nothing unusual for the two ships to sail in and out of New York days off their advertised schedule. With that, they lost their two most vital playing cards- punctuality and reliability.

The final nail in the coffin was the massive increase in oil prices that resulted from the machinations of the OPEC oil cartel in the early seventies. Both the Michelangelo and the Raffaello had a massive operating subsidy from the Italian government. It was the only thing that kept them afloat, both financially and actually.

By 1975, this figure had ballooned to around a hundred million lire-around $150,000 a day- for each ship. The fast, powerful sister ships guzzled crude oil as if it were so much cheap table wine. The Italian government folded, and threw in its hand.

The proud Raffaello sailed from New York for the last time in April, 1975. Among the passengers on that final crossing was the ailing Duchess of Windsor, the wife of Edward VIII. That same July, the Michelangelo sailed eastbound for the last time, too.

FIRST CLASS MICHELANGELO
The first class lounge board the Michelangelo

Following their withdrawal, both ships were laid up together at the naval base of La Spezia, and put up for sale. Their future did not look good; they were far too expensive to convert into cruise ships and, by the standards of the mid seventies, both ships were far too big for such a role anyway.

Even so, the Italian Line turned down a genuine bid from the rival Home Lines, who were seriously intent both on buying both sisters, and investing the sums required to make them into modern, contemporary cruise ships.They would have been based primarily in the Caribbean. For reasons that have never been adequately clarified, the Italian Line threw this lifeline to the winds with a dismissive shrug.

Knut Kloster, the CEO of then Norwegian Caribbean Lines, also looked at the two ships. He intended to convert at least one of the four massive, laid up transatlantic liners into an all singing, razzle dazzle cruise ship for the new generation of nascent cruisers then emerging. Though impressed by both Italian ships, Kloster ultimately plumped for the larger SS France, reincarnating her as the Norway, and thus making her a legend for the second time in her career.

Eventually, both ships were bought by the Shah of Iran, to use as accommodation barracks for his armed forces. In 1976, the two sisters sailed round to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Having cost something like $90 million to build between them, the Michelangelo and the Raffaello were offloaded for a total cost of $4 million.

Soon, plans began in Iran itself to reactivate the two vessels as full time cruise ships. But the Shah’s three decade old, repressive regime was itself on borrowed time. With the accession to power in Iran of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, any realistic attempt at revival sank on the spot.

The Iranians made a bad job of maintaining the ships to any level of decency.They simply did not have the necessary experience.  Both began going downhill quite quickly. And Iran’s pariah status post 1979 made the possibility of foreign experts being brought in a complete non starter.

The end was long, and drawn out, with both sister ships slowly degrading at their Bandar Abbas anchorage. In 1983, the Raffaello was hit by a torpedo during the Iran-Iraq war. She sank in shallow water and, over the next few years, divers and looters scavenged the ship. Parts of her hull still exist, just under water, to this day.

Another abortive attempt to resurrect the surviving Michelangelo as a cruise ship was made that same year of 1983. But a specially assembled Italian survey team concluded that the ship had already endured such overall neglect that reviving her was simply not feasible.

She lingered there at Bandar Abbas, gathering rust and rotting, until 1991, when her once graceful hulk was quietly towed around to Pakistan. Here, at Gadani Beach, the ship that had once carried the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Wallis Simpson was hauled ashore and butchered. It took months to dismantle her carcass.

Michelangelo and Raffaello were bold, beautiful, and totally unrealistic. Many of their features were space age, but the thinking that charted their construction and subsequent operation was often backward and stubborn to the point of madness. Caught between the rock of the OPEC oil crisis and the hard place of the Iran-Iraq conflict, they never really had a chance.