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Friday, 11 May 2012

The Wreck of the American Star


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http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cc/8_-_AmStar_7.JPG/1024px-8_-_AmStar_7.JPG

Wreck of the American Star (formerly SS America), seen from the land side, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands: photo by Wollex, 2 July 2004




In humiliation
at the hands of the Greek
investors, forced
like a broken horse
onto a storm wracked
course in red
weather. The second
attempt at
passage back
out into the Atlantic
interrupted -- propeller screw
shot, captain restive
the driven
hulk brought
near the parlous
shore. Abrupt uplift
coming aground
on the sandbar.
The pounding relentless
waves, the ship breaking
imminent, futility
of the enterprise apparent
now toward the end
of the one-hundred-day tow, crew
choppered
out, Ukraine
tug detached from the tow
line; nature
left to recover its own
rusting
rejectamenta, a gull
perched on a remnant
of funnel looking on
uninterestedly.





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Hull of the SS America under construction at Newport News, Virginia: photographer unknown, 1938 (US Maritime Commission / Library of Congress)



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Shipbuilding. Newport News, Virginia. A small section of the shipyard, showing an overhead travelling ("Gantry") crane in the foreground. There are two lanes on which ships are being built visible in the picture. The ship at far background is the S.S. America
: photo by Alfred T. Palmer, October 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8b09000/8b09300/8b09325v.jpg

Newport News, Virginia. General view of the fitting and repair slips at Newport News, Virginia. The S.S. America can be seen in the background. The ship in the adjacent slip is a tanker
: photo by Alfred T. Palmer, October 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/gsc/5a05000/5a05300/5a05332r.jpg


S.S. America, United States Lines, Ballroom I: Eggers & Higgins, architect, Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, decorator
(the New York modernist interior decorating firm of Miriam Smyth, Anne Urquhart and Dorothey Marckwald were the first female interior designers of an ocean liner): photo by Gottscho-Schleissner, Inc. (Samuel Gottscho/William Schleissner), 3 August 1940 (Gottscho-Schleissner Collection, Library of Congress)

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S.S. America, United States Lines, Barroom I: Eggers & Higgins, architect, Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, decorator
: photo by Gottscho-Schleissner, Inc., 3 August 1940 (Gottscho-Schleissner Collection, Library of Congress)

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S.S. America, United States Lines, Barroom II: Eggers & Higgins, architect, Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, decorator
: photo by Gottscho-Schleissner, Inc., 3 August 1940 (Gottscho-Schleissner Collection, Library of Congress)

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S.S. America, United States Lines, Smoking room, looking to bar: Eggers & Higgins, architect, Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, decorator
: photo by Gottscho-Schleissner, Inc., 3 August 1940 (Gottscho-Schleissner Collection, Library of Congress)

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/gsc/5a05000/5a05300/5a05349r.jpg

S.S. America, United States Lines, Smoking room, looking to mural: Eggers & Higgins, architect, Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, decorator
: photo by Gottscho-Schleissner, Inc., 3 August 1940 (Gottscho-Schleissner Collection, Library of Congress)

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S.S. America, United States Lines, Smoking room, end detail: Eggers & Higgins, architect, Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, decorator
: photo by Gottscho-Schleissner, Inc., 3 August 1940 (Gottscho-Schleissner Collection, Library of Congress)

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/gsc/5a05000/5a05300/5a05367r.jpg

S.S. America, United States Lines, Swimming pool: Eggers & Higgins, architect, Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, decorator
: photo by Gottscho-Schleissner, Inc., 3 August 1940 (Gottscho-Schleissner Collection, Library of Congress)

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S.S. America, United States Lines, Shopping centre I: Eggers & Higgins, architect, Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, decorator
: photo by Gottscho-Schleissner, Inc., 3 August 1940 (Gottscho-Schleissner Collection, Library of Congress)

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/gsc/5a05000/5a05700/5a05789r.jpg

S.S. America, United States Lines, Desk detail, Suite U49: Eggers & Higgins, architect, Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, decorator
: photo by Gottscho-Schleissner, Inc., 3 August 1940 (Gottscho-Schleissner Collection, Library of Congress)


SS America, designed by the naval architect William Francis Gibbs, built in 1938-1939 and christened by Eleanor Roosevelt on 31 August 1939 as flagship of the United States Lines, diverted from European ports due to the Neutrality Act following the German invasion of Poland on the day after her launching, here seen with insignia to identify her as "neutral" to German submarines as she transits the Panama Canal en route from New York to San Francisco: photographer unknown, 1939, from Harry Wildman Collection (via United States Lines)

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SS America, designed by the naval architect William Francis Gibbs, built in 1938-1939 and launched in 1940 as the flagship of the United States Lines, here seen recommissioned and in light North Atlantic pattern camouflage, as troop transport ship USS West Point (AP-23). Carrying a total of over 350,000 troops during her naval service, West Point had the largest capacity of any Navy troopship in service during World War II. Her many wartime missions included the perilous relief of Singapore under Japanese aerial bombardment. On one voyage in August 1944, she carried, including ship's company, a total of 9,305 people: photographer unknown, after June 1941 (US Navy)

File:USS West Point AP-23 1945.jpg

SS America, recommissioned and camouflaged for wartime service as USS West Point (AP-23), steams past the Statue of Liberty, bound for the New York City docks, while transporting U.S. Army troops of the 347th Infantry Regiment and 87th Infantry Division home from Europe:  photographer unknown, 11 July 1945 (US Navy / National Archives)


SS America, returned to civilian commercial service on 31 August 1946, here seen leaving New York: photographer unknown, n.d., from Collection of Steamship Historical Society, Langsdale Library University of Baltimore (via United States Lines)

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SS America (foreground) with her younger sibling and running mate SS United States, in New York harbor, 1950s: photographer unknown; image by Oknazevad, 20 May 2009 (US Navy)


OCEAN LINER TRAVEL
TIME
08/17/1953
p. 1

United States Lines advertisement: Time, 17 August 1953 (via Gallery of Graphic Design)

Returned to the United States Lines and converted back to civilian service on 31 August 1946, the America continued to carry passengers between New York and Europe into October 1964, when, with the advent of stiffer international competition in the transoceanic shipping business and the success of the larger, more luxurious United States, she was sold to the Chandris Line, a Greek firm, renamed Australis and operated as a passenger ship on cruises to the Far East and South Pacific into 1977. Between 1978 and 1994 the ship's condition deteriorated as she changed ownership several times. In 1993 she was renamed American Star and on New Years Eve left Greece for the last time, under tow by a Ukrainian tugboat and bound for Thailand where she was to be refitted as a five-star luxury hotel ship. Heavy North Atlantic thunderstorms broke the tow lines; the American Star was abandoned and left adrift, with the forward part of the ship aground on a sandbar; under the assault of heavy surf, within 48 hours she had broken in two just past the second funnel. Her fate entangled in negotiations between owners, towing firm and insurance companies, she was now in the hands of nature. On 6 July 1994 she was declared a total loss. In 1996 her stern section collapsed completely to port side and sank, with the bow continuing to remain intact. In November 2005 the port side of the bow section collapsed. With the remains of the ship now listing sharply, her remaining funnel detached and fell into the ocean. The hull now began to break up;  by October 2006 the wreck had collapsed almost completely onto its  port side. In April 2007 the starboard side collapsed, the wreck broke in half and fell into the sea, with the remains slowly disappearing beneath the waves. As of February 2012, only a few feet of the once proud liner remained above water line.


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/af/American_star_vom_felsen.JPG/1024px-American_star_vom_felsen.JPG

Wreck of SS American Star (formerly SS America), grounded at Fuerteventura, Canary Islands: photo by Pindakas, December 2003

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/5_-_AmStar_4_userbox_crop.JPG

Wreck of the American Star (formerly SS America), front view (cropped): photo by Wollex, 2 July 2004

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/60/3_-_AmStar_2.JPG/1024px-3_-_AmStar_2.JPG

Wreck of the American Star (formerly SS America), seen from middle distance, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands: photo by Wollex, 2 July 2004

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e3/SSAMSTAR06.jpg/1024px-SSAMSTAR06.jpg

 The former SS America, now beached and disintegrating on the island of Fuerteventura: photo by Ian Pullen, September 2006

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/06/Fuerteventura_2007_029.jpg/1024px-Fuerteventura_2007_029.jpg

Shipbreaking in progress: wreck of the SS American Star: photo by Michael Wunsch, 9 August 2007

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Bugteil_im_September_2009.jpg

Front section of the wrecked and sunken American Star: the last visible part of a grand old lady of the world's oceans: photo by Thomas Fietzek, September 2009

26 comments:

ACravan said...

I love this, especially "red weather," and the magnificent photo history. Still, it makes me long to read an "alternate ending" version, possibly detailing how the noble ship's beautiful soul (she served superbly in peace, war and then peace again) died and went to heaven unaffected by the predations taking place below, which really didn't matter very much in the long run. Maybe that's already in there; perhaps that explains the seagull's indifference. Curtis

Nin Andrews said...

I esp. love the gull looking on uninterestedly. As a kid I always imagined the animals looking at us and all our massive messes with a vague understanding that we were total idiots.
These images reminds me of the hulking messes we leave behind, like brownfieds, like automobile scrap yards, like the huge shells of what we are . . . what we were . . .
Looking at them I feel that familiar sense of dark wonder . . .

Conrad DiDiodato said...

The wonderful self-destruction of fake dreams--a piece at a time.

tpw said...

Dear T: Amazing photos, as always. There's something starkly & paradoxically beautiful about ruins.

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

. . . a gull
perched on a remnant
of funnel looking on . . .

A sad end for such a proud sailing ship -- such photos of the wreck, which brings to mind Hopkins' The Wreck of the Deutschland. . .

5.11

first grey light in sky above blackness
of ridge, waning white moon in branches
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

facial features articulated
in graphite, position

word “picture,” relation to
that which is, in its

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
whiteness of moon in cloudless blue sky

Hazen said...

Shipwreck. A life. ‘The whole disaster,’ as another Greek (Zorba/Kazantzakis) described his, with a rueful laugh. ‘These are the only genuine ideas,” said Ortega y Gassett, “the ideas of the shipwrecked. He who does not really feel himself lost is lost without remission; this is to say, he never finds himself, never comes up against his own reality.’ (The Revolt of the Masses)

Astonishing photos.

Hazen said...

Doh! The brain's somewhat more engaged now. I see your sobering tale of the S.S. America as our collective fate too, amid 'the pounding relentless waves.' The indifferent sea gull's a wry touch.

departuredelayed said...

One of the best visualizations of millennial America as I've ever seen. Stunning images . . .

Chris said...

"Aye, tear the tattered ensign down."

Breathtaking pictures and words. In addition to beautifully evoking the Greeks from the last few days, today's poem put me in mind somehow of "Hurt Hawks". I shared some of Curtis's pity for the soul of the noble ship.

"The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him."

Leon Davis said...

Thanks for posting all these pictures of the ships

Jonathan Chant said...

Fabulous, fabulous poem.A breathtaking post... great imagery.

TC said...

Every one of these comments adds an element and an aspect to this post.

Sincere thanks.

Hazen, "collective fate" comes straight to the larger image of a sort of historical curve that hung over and incorporated these images, and really the challenge of doing the post was the struggle to keep from slamming down TOO hard on that collective fate pedal.

By the by, personal note, in the early 1960s I crossed the Atlantic in the SS United States, the "sister ship" of the vessel whose death rites we are seeing in this post.

The longtime US Lines crew people on the United States scoffed at suggestions she was a liner of grand style, when spoken of in comparison with the America. The earlier ship was famously larger, more elaborately appointed, yet therefore obviously (and fatally, as it would prove) just a day or so slower in making it across the big water...

See the period magazine ad (Time magazine, 1953), in which snob value (luxury) and business value (speed) are juxtaposed. And in unstated tension, as the ad agency value-producers have laid things out.

Up against the competition from the air, speed meant everything, of course. Then as now.

Lucy in the Sky said...

A vessel that will sail no more, aching and longing for its glorious past. Weary and old, it watches all its yesterdays go away with the waves...

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Devastating post--sent me sailing back to July 25th, 1959 when my family and I (sans older brother) boarded the SS Queen Frederica for the return trip back to the motherland, arriving on August 6th. A year later I made the trip back to the US by myself. Thanks for the memories, Tom.

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Great to be able to show these pictures to Johnny, who wonders which part of the ship is still above the water.

TC said...

Johnny, that beach takes a terrific pounding from winter storms every year, and every year there's been less of the wreck left above the water line. The latest photo here is the one at the bottom, taken three years ago. The last news I've been able to get about the state of the wreck came a few months ago, when it was reported only a few feet of rusty metal remained visible.

But even as we speak, the ship may be gone from view forever.

TC said...

Vassilis, those long sea voyages were a privilege... though the North Atlantic in February, on one trip, was a challenge. High seas, rocked back & forth for a week in a tiny cabin deep in the great ship, with nothing for diversion but the complete works of Arthur Cravan.


Lucy,

You know we are both still locos por naufragar.

Here for you is a timeless bit of crazy shipwrecked love:

Lost/Love at Sea: Guided by Hidden Stars

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Thanks TOM, that's a great last picture. When the ship cashed were there any people on board? if there were, how many people survived?
Johnny

TC said...

Johnny, the last Spanish captain had long since abandoned ship, the last Ukrainian tugboat crew had bailed and booked with the situation looking desperate, and, in short, no humans had set foot aboard the stranded wreck of the vessel for many years before that intense final shot.

Unknown said...

Great post. We were on Fuerteventura a couple of years ago but since the wreck is in an isolated part of the island and was mostly underwater at that point anyway, we didn't bother checking it out. I did, however, hear that a few swimmers had lost their lives trying to swim out to it because it was deceptively far from the shore. Have you heard anything about this?

TC said...

No, I haven't. But that spot has long been infamous among mariners. Those swimmers perhaps ought to have been protecting themselves. With a bit of common sense.

TC said...

Perhaps it was this couple.

They now sleep with the rust and the fishes.

Andrew Walker said...

I made the journey to Gracey today. It's a spectacular final resting place for this ship. All you can see now is a tiny part of the ship above the water ( I don't know which part but it resembles a black swan from where I was standing on the headland immediately above. You can clearly see the dark shape of the ship just beneath the water which is in itself very eerie. Especially looking back at these old photos. I am on holiday here and was prompted to visit the site by a postcard I saw in town which showed the American Star after it had grounded.

TC said...

Andrew, your memory of that black swan emerging from the eerie sunken mass will remain a part of the dwindling human history of this most compelling of wrecks -- a long slow ending that almost seems to contain in its mysterious depths the elements of some kind of parable.

Catherine Johnson Flores said...

Thank you for this outstanding blog regarding the SS America. We moved to England in the 50s and traveled to England via SS America. My parents died very young and as a result, I didn't know as much as I would have liked about the move, until researching genealogy. I found our names on SS America's manifest while researching on Ancestry.com. Seeing photos after discovering I traveled on the SS America, brought some memories back to me. It was such a beautiful ship and the people appeared to be full of joy. I have a clip of film from our departure. My parents are deceased, as I stated, life has completely changed. SS America seems to be an analogy for my parent's lives. They lived all over the world, loved to have fun and are gone, many years now. SS America has been disintegrating and no longer has the life as it once did. It pains me to see the SS America slowly dying, bit by bit.

TC said...

Thank you, Catherine.

Lovely memories of a gone world...