THE “ALL THE SHIPS (NOT) AT SEA” BIT

Ah, the ocean!

The ocean has always held a special allure for me!  Despite a tendency to get seasick, I’ve truly relished opportunities to get out on the waves in ships of various sizes and types.  But I’ve also discovered that ships can transport a person to other places and times without even leaving the shore!  Here are a few of those expeditions:

As an LA resident, I’ve “booked passage” many a time on the grand old Queen Mary down in Long Beach where she enjoys a full retirement:

The Queen Mary!

Onboard, I’ve viewed temporary exhibits ranging from the glitzy treasures of Russian tsars to the poignantly ordinary belongings of passengers on the doomed Titanic.  I’ve shared Thanksgiving dinner with family in a Queen Mary restaurant, celebrated the New Year in one of her stately salons, and even spent a couple nights as a hotel guest.

And the best part is I didn’t get seasick once!

It was a delight to imagine myself a real (and really upscale!) passenger promenading round the Queen Mary’s decks as she cut a majestic path through Atlantic waters back in her Art Deco day.  And it was a thrill of a different kind to keep a weather eye out for the ghosts that are said to haunt those decks at night…

A little bit spooky…

Her nickname, in fact, is the “Grey Ghost” – but not because of her phantom patrons.  During World War II, the Queen Mary picked up the moniker when she was converted from luxury liner to troop ship and transported Allied soldiers into the fray.

As a teenager, I toured another ship that saw military service – one which was also easy on my delicate constitution.  It was – well – the USS Constitution.  Once a famously sturdy ship that saw action during the War of 1812, “Old Ironsides” is now moored at one end of Boston’s history-filled Freedom Trail (which I wrote about in The Red Line Through Time Bit):

The Constitution!

I understand she’s undergoing repairs (although the USS Constitution Museum is open) and still takes a turn in Boston Harbor on special occasions – but the Constitution stayed thankfully put the day I went aboard.  I remember having to crouch as I wandered below decks, conjuring the chaotic and claustrophobic heat of 19th century battle!

Years later, I got to wander around this ship which also has quite a place in military history:

Mighty Mo!

She’s the USS Missouri – the “Mighty Moe”!  After service in several wars, she currently rests in Hawaii in Oahu’s Pearl Harbor across from the remains of the USS Arizona – the two ships serve as moving bookends to US involvement in World War II.  Beneath her memorial, the Arizona still lies with some of her entombed crew where she was sunk during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941.  And it was in a ceremony on the Missouri on September 2, 1945 that documents were signed affirming Japan’s surrender from the war.

Historic spot on the Missouri.

Seeing in one morning both the tears of oil that still leaked from the Arizona as well as the very place on the Missouri’s deck where a tragic chapter in history closed was quite a powerful journey.

View of the Arizona Memorial from the Missouri.

I’ve also had the pleasure of “journeying” on stationary ships that gained fame for reasons other than warfare!

Like at the Vancouver Maritime Museum which looks out over English Bay and houses inside – yes, inside – the schooner St. Roch:

Vancouver Maritime Museum!

St. Roch!

This 20th century Royal Canadian Mounted Police ship has the distinction (among other nautical records) of being first to circumnavigate North America.  As I stood on the deck all warm and un-queasy, it did give me a shiver to picture this (to me) not very large ship and its intrepid crew as it gamely faced down all weathers to push at the boundaries of the possible – what adventures those must have been!

Before the St. Roch began making her rounds, other adventurous hearts were arriving on what were to become Canadian shores in ships like the  Hector:

Replica of the Hector.

The Hector was part of the first wave of Scottish immigrants who left home in 1773 to build on foreign soil a new Scotland – Nova Scotia!  This replica sits in the quay in the town of Pictou beside a museum – and both provide vivid looks at the passengers’ arduous 11 week voyage during which there were days lost to storms and lives lost to illness.

Although my own Scottish ancestors (the Gunns) didn’t arrive on the Hector, I have to think their voyage was probably similar – and I sure admire their courage in undertaking such an odyssey!

Dad inspects the Hector’s rigging!

Mum reports for duty!

I also have Irish ancestors who ventured over Atlantic seas to the US – some, maybe even before the US had come to be!  While visiting Ireland (just an overnight flight away now), the folks and I came across another replica ship, the Dunbrody, in the town of New Ross in County Wexford.  Originally a cargo ship, the real Dunbrody was used in the mid-1800’s to carry famine-starved immigrants to America and hopefully to a new and bright beginning.  Roaming the cramped ship and talking to costumed actors playing passengers pointed up how difficult and dangerous a choice this was – and how desperate and brave those who attempted it surely were.

Replica of the Dunbrody.

I’ve only ever been a fleeting tourist on ships like these – except for one particular day.  I volunteered once at the Festival of Sail which was in San Pedro at the time, and was assigned for the day to the Eagle.  Although this tall ship was plenty seaworthy, I was relieved (for reasons noted above…) that she would not be taking part in the mock sea battle later on. (And no pictures of her, I’m afraid – I was “on duty” after all!)

The beautiful USCGC Eagle is a US Coast Guard barque, although earlier in life, she was a German ship before being claimed for war reparations after World War II.  My responsibilities aboard her were light, consisting only of standing at the top of the gangway to welcome visitors, dispense festival info, and point out a step they needed to mind.  I didn’t bother to give my spiel to ship cadets who were returning from leave throughout the day.  I just observed as each would salute the officer of the deck and then turn toward the bow to salute the ship itself.

By the afternoon, I felt quite the expert at my job!  That’s when I noticed a stooped old man in a thick, military looking coat laboring slowly even with help up the gangway.  Since he seemed a bit long in the tooth for a cadet, I launched into my practiced maneuvers, cheerily chirping:

“Welcome aboard! Please watch your step there!”

But the old man just stood looking the ship up and down. Finally, he carefully removed withered papers from his coat pocket and showed them to me – they were a faded set of typed orders.  Turns out that as a young serviceman, it had been this gentleman’s assignment after WWII to join the Eagle’s crew and sail the prize from Germany to her new home.  When the man heard she was nearby, he couldn’t resist coming down to give her one more salute – and one as well to the officer of the deck of course!

Ships are sometimes referred to as “vessels”.  And the ships on which I’ve had the privilege to play and imagine have been vessels for cargo and passengers in their time – but still today, they carry much, much more.  Even from a stationary post, each leaves in its wake a uniquely important legacy of intentions and accomplishments – and stories.

Whether in dry dock for a time, or tethered to a pier, or even “all at sea”, it’s special to make a connection with such ships, and with the souls who’d once been onboard and been buffeted and becalmed before me.

There’s always something from them I can learn.

P.S.  Couldn’t officially include the boat below since it was moving when I rode it down the Thames (a trip I wrote about in The Greenwich “Me” Time Bit) but, after having been riveted by the film Dunkirk, I’m adding here a pic of my tour boat that bears a plaque (above the middle window) showing it was among those used to answer the call to save troops trapped at Dunkirk in 1940.  It was an honor to be aboard her!

Dunkirk rescue boat.

34 comments

  1. Interesting! You really get around!

    1. Yes, I’ve been very lucky to get around – even when I don’t! 😉. Thanks for reading!

  2. Loved your Queen Mary sharing! My mother and my two older sisters came to Canada on the Queen Mary in July 1956. The ship was bringing British war brides to their new Canadian home. They landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia where I’ve seen the landing documents at Pier 21. https://www.pier21.ca/blog/steve-schwinghamer/the-pier-goes-to-war-halifax-s-pier-21-and-the-second-world-war Of course, our family stories of the Queen Mary weren’t full of glitz and glamour – they were of young mother’s with their babies and young children being violently ill for days on end with seasickness 🙂 The Queen Mary has many tales 🙂

    1. Thank you very much – and what an amazing story! I didn’t know that was one of the Queen Mary’s tasks – makes me like the great lady even more (and bet I’d have been seasick too…)! Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. My pleasure…my husband has visited her in L.A., but I have never been the L.A. – one of these days! My one trip to your CA was to SF…loved it!

  4. Jack Niemi · · Reply

    I don’t know what I enjoy more, your photography or your words. Both are gifts from God!

    1. Oh my goodness, thank you, Pastor Jack! You’re too kind! And in working on this, I sure thought of that incredible story about your relative who had been booked on the Titanic and changed. Quite a story… Thanks again for the kind words!

  5. Great post. Ships in all shapes and forms fascinate me too. The smell of paint and oil is one of my strongest first memeroies as I was taken as a baby to meet my grandfather coming home to Liverpool from working the transatlantic liner route in the glory days of luxury travel.🛳

    1. Thank you! Great that you have that kind of connection with those luxury liner days!

  6. I will add the Queen Mary to my To See List–right up there with the Statue of Liberty.

    1. Great! And the Statue of Liberty is on my list! Have been lucky to travel to quite a few places but still never seen NYC…

      1. I’m figuring out how to get there myself.

  7. A lovely collection of ships! We visited Nova Scotia a few years ago but I don’t think we stopped in Pictou so missed out on Hector.

    1. Thanks – I feel lucky to have gotten around to see them! I only spent an afternoon in Pictou but the town really seems to revel in its Scottish roots! There were banners along the quay with clan names and crests. It was charming!

  8. I’m interested in ships too, and I really enjoyed this tour of some of your favourites! I’d love to visit the Queen Mary someday, particularly on account of the alleged hauntings! I don’t really believe in ghosts, but I do love a good ghost story.

    1. Thank you! Hope you do check out the Queen Mary! And if you ghost hunt, it’s probably better if you’re with someone and not just about the only guest on your hotel floor – trust me… 😉

  9. Very cool photos and stories! Should you ever find yourself in Maryland, there are a few ships docked in Baltimore harbor that you can tour. I recommend the *USS Torsk*, a World War II – era submarine and the *USS Constellation*, a corvette and the last sail-only ship the U.S. ever built. Sometimes they even fire a cannon on the deck of the Constellation, and in the clustered downtown of the inner harbor, it is LOUD and awesome.

    1. Thank you! Appreciate the kind words – and the advice! Would love to get back east and see those some day!

  10. https://museumvictoria.com.au/discoverycentre/infosheets/johan-van-oldenbarnevelt/
    In 1956 we sailed to Australia on this ship from Holland.
    A great post, Amy, and lovely memories.

    1. Thank you! Looks like you must have had quite an adventure going to Australia! I’m not a good judge but a ship for 770 passengers must be pretty good size. In 1968, our family went back and forth to Australia on the Canberra and Oriana – one of the nice perks of my dad’s hating to fly. Thanks for sharing an important ship in your life!

  11. The St Roch exhibit is indeed excellent. At one time, for professional reasons, I was in the Maritime Museum frequently.

    1. Agreed! I like the museum’s spot there along the bay too.

  12. I would seriously consider a trans Atlantic crossing to Southampton rather then endure a economy class set on a jet. Just saying…

    1. Completely agree – I’m sure it’s the only civilized way to go!

  13. Another great post, Amy! The stories behind these ships are all so fascinating!

    1. Thank you, thank you!

  14. Hi Amy – Thank you for the “like’ – We share an interest in old ships. My “bag” includes HMS Victory and Warrior (worked in Portsmouth for a while)..I have practically a life-long interest in the Queen Mary but never got on board her. I first saw the Mary on a visit to Scotland in 1935 when I was seven. She looked enormous – she had just recently been launched and work on her had stopped because of The Depression. In ’37 or ’38 I saw her doing speed trials off Belfast Lough -looked really fast. In ’59 I saw her docked in Southampton, and in ’87 saw her from the air when coming in to land at LA. Lucky you – I live in hope! Des.

    1. A pleasure, Des! And marvelous that you saw the Queen Mary when she was still seaworthy! Am familiar with Nelson’s Victory but not the Warrior – would love to see them sometime! My folks happened to be in Portsmouth for the 50th anniversary of D-Day and saw (from quite a distance) all the ships there to mark the occasion – including the Canberra that carried our family over for a year’s stay in Australia. Thanks for reading and sure hope you come out for a visit to the Queen Mary!

  15. I get sea sick also. But I love tall ships and ocean voyages. Great post!

    1. Thanks very much! And sorry you share getting sea sick…but some things are worth the risk!

      1. There are do many enthusiasts, younger and older. I met a young woman who went missing as a teen. She had take the family yacht snd cruised alk the way to Hawaii, alone… for several days and nights. I also like night diving… A big lobster find!!

      2. Correct Oops? There are too many enthusiasts, younger and older. I met young woman who went missing as a teen. She had taken the family’s yacht and cruised all the way to Hawaii.. alone. This was over a period of days and nights. As for myself, night diving is. a big lobster find!! 2 luv the ships is 2 luv the ocean!!

  16. Great pictures. I actually immigrated to the US in 1963 on the Queen Elizabeth the 1st. I am a maritime junky.

    1. Thank you! And how exciting to travel for real on such a majestic ship!

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