I think it is hard for anyone who appreciates ships not to have a soft spot for Norway and Rotterdam.

What makes Norway so special? That is a hard thing to pin down. I think the first thing you would have to do is consider her heritage. After all, she was/is France, the last of her type ever built. Which leads us to the next point, she was built for the North Atlantic and one must remember that shipbuilding back then was done basically without computer technology. There was no computerized answer for what elements lay out there on the Western Ocean. The result is that wonderfully strong, graceful hull that is Norway today! To look up at that hull with its rows of portholes interspersed with an occasional sideport, one can only marvel and rejoice. To be sure, several heavily riveted strakes of shell plating only enforce the sense of strength and security.

Once you step inside that wonderful thick shell plating, the sensation of a ship that is alive hits you; there is the low hum of machinery, the hiss of air conditioning exiting the ductwork and the general chaos that envelops any ship just before sailing, whether it is the likes of Norway or a containership. On board Norway, there is a feeling of being on board the real thing. Some of the sensations that I enjoyed the most were wandering through the ship in the wee hours of the morning. Standing at one end of Viking Deck and enjoying the magnificent sight of the passageway that runs a good portion of the ship’s length. Another pleasant memory is sitting in the Club Internationale, martini in hand, relishing the grandeur of the room as I watch the large mirror over the bar tremble pleasantly. Perhaps the most fond is one that I have of any ship I sail on, be it for work or pleasure, is that of crawling into bed, dead tired, and listening to the creaks and low rumble that are the trademarks of a great ship as she steams onward through the night.

That about sums it all up! It’s too bad you can’t make the last trip but it sure must be nice to have so many commitments that you must enjoy immensely. I hope you can use some of my ramblings. It is always a pleasure to hear from you. Hopefully, we shall meet one of these days. Sincerely,

Jim Sutton
(Sutton is an officer who serves on board a containership.)

I just read the special Norway issue of the Ocean Liner Gazette and enjoyed it very much. My wife and I sailed on the Norway in 1983 and 1988 and are sad that she will no longer sail in nearby waters.

We were also sad when NCL added the two upper decks and messed up the grand ship’s sleek profile; I swore that I would not sail on her again. However, that vow is soon to be broken. Since a scheduling conflict prevents us from participating with OLM in the transatlantic farewell crossing in September, we have joined up with a couple of friends and booked a western Caribbean cruise in May as our personal farewell outing on Norway. By the way, to illustrate what has happened to cruise fares over the years, I checked our records from the 1983 cruise, and it turns out that it will cost a bit less for our upcoming week aboard Norway than did our 1983 sailing—and for a cabin four grades higher!

But I’m getting off the track. Obviously, I am too late to have the following included in your special issue but I wanted to share it with you anyway.

Our 1983 Norway cruise found us anchored at St. Thomas on November 15th. Also at anchor was Queen Elizabeth 2. Our captain, Ragnar Nilsen, came on the public address to tell all of us passengers what an historic occasion this was: The first time that these two great liners were in port together. With great joy, Captain Nilsen proceeded to regale us, in his delightful Norwegian accent, with lots of statistics about the “grand” QE2, e.g. “The QE2 is quite long at 965 feet but of course our Norway is 1035 feet.” For every statistic quoted for the Cunarder, Norway was always just a little bit bigger and better! The captain’s remarks gave a new, more literal meaning to the phrase “oneupmanship.”

We were scheduled to depart St. Thomas at 4:30 p.m., the Queen at 5:00. As we got underway, we pulled fairly close across the still-anchored QE2’s bow, and nd the Queen responded in kind.This precipitated a rather prolonged honking contest between the two ships—I believe Norway had the “last word”—with such sonic reverberations that we thought there would surely not be a window pane left intact in all of Charlotte Amalie. A truly memorable experience on a great ship, one not likely to be duplicated on any of today’s comparatively soul-less megaships.

I am very grateful for receipt of your Gazette today. And that is not concerning my contribution but that your special issue commemorated an historic ocean liner and famous cruise ship, s/s Norway and also your prediction for a not-so-grandiose future for this beautiful lady. Among the testimonials in praise of France/Norway, the words of Captain Geir Lokoen and Bard Kolltveit were highly appreciated and I agree with Bard in that the appeal to the Norwegian public has been absolutely great, not least of which the Bergen calls. Solvar and I are very happy that we used the opportunity on that occasion and with Crossing & Cruising in hand, explored the ship during an unforgettable transatlantic crossing.

Your Gazette will be kept among my collection of your books. And many thanks for your kind recommendation for a return visit to New York, preferably some time before completion of the Guggenheim extension.

This is not the greatest piece. I am not one for looking back much, for better or for worse, and my memory seems to be slipping.

I remember Norway arriving on her maiden call in Oslo in May 1980. She was escorted by a flotilla of private sailing and motor craft, and she was met by thousands of people who were waiting in line to tour the ship. Not only were people ashore struck by the size and elegance of the liner, I remember the Caribbean crew on board being equally awestruck by their reception.

For hours, the citizens of Oslo marched through this magnificent ship. To my knowledge, no cruise line has ever opened up a ship in this manner before or since. But shipowner Knut Kloster wanted to share his dream with the Norwegian people.

Earlier that same morning, Norway had anchored in Son, a small village some 30 miles down the fjord from Oslo to pick up VIP guests and friends who would join for the remaining triumphant miles up to the capital. I spent summers in Son when I was growing up and I remember how the ship towered over everything I had previously thought of as large.

Later that same day, Norway’s sovereign, King Olav V, and the royal family, visited the ship. I still have a photograph of the owner’s wife, Trine Kloster, kneeling to greet the king.

That night, Norway was a big party. It was the place to be, bubbling with Norwegian celebrities from television, theatre and movies.

I also remember those incredibly cold days in Bremerhaven while France was being transformed into Norway. And I remember the enthusiasm of the executives, officers and crew. They were all tremendously proud of the ship. There were tears in everybody’s eyes as Norway finally maneuvered out the narrow channel from the yard to open sea.

My little task at the time was to take care of some 400 members of the press who were on board, from most European countries and the United States. Twenty-odd years later, Norway’s interiors look a little tired and she is top-heavy with all the suites that were added. But the lines of her body are as sleek and curvaceous as ever.

I owe this lady a lot. She opened up a whole new industry and subsequently a whole new career for me.

(Mr. Mathisen headed a public relations firm handling Norway’s debut and is now the publisher of Cruise Industry News.)

Mae and I took four memorable Caribbean cruises on the France from New York. Not only was this a more convenient departure point but in those days, we could invite friends to the ship for bon voyage parties.

Having read Craig Caliborne’s article in The New York Times labeling the ship “The Finest French Restaurant in the World,” we knew of the specialites de la maison and would order them on many evenings. Guests at adjacent tables would always inquire what we were eating and ask the waiters to bring “what they are having.” I don’t think we will ever eat like that again aboard ship.

On one trip, we had a guarantee and were assigned the last outside stateroom on A-deck. However, once the ship was under way through rough seas, our stateroom bounced up and down, so much so that we could not sleep that first night at sea. The second night, we slept the next morning until 11:00 a.m. when the stewardess woke us to find out if we were alive. I complained to the purser. But since the ship was full, he could not do anything until our first port when passengers would be leaving the ship. We were then moved to a Sun Deck stateroom which surrounded the Patio Provencale, sharing access to it with seven other cabins around it. A few days later, we had a party outdoors.

The ship and its passengers had class and knew how to dress, unlike the dress code on most ships these days. Because of its speed, on an 8-day run, we could be in three Caribbean ports on three different days.

We visited Norway on one of its New York stops and were disappointed with the changes that NCL had made, although fully understanding the need to maximize the passenger load.

We wish the ship many happy years in the Far East.

(Dana Smith and Lynn Marxsen were two American undergraduates who had just completed a junior year abroad at the university in Aix. They decided to sail home aboard France in the spring of 1974, the vessel’s final year of Transat service.)

We thought we could arrive in Le Havre and board the night before but if we couldn’t, we would be able to find a hotel or hostel or concierge some place. We did not realize that EVERYONE about to embark would be spending the night ashore and that every hotel etc. was full.

So we decided to stay in the train station until morning but they closed at 2 a.m. Then we kicked around town looking for an all-night bar to hang out in until morning but they were all closed as well.

The police stopped us and we explained our predicament. They called around and arranged for us to stay in the ving room of a hostel for sailors. There, we put two chairs together and made a bed and slept the rest of the night...(The two girls embarked the next day.)

Our cabin was below the waterline near the propellers but we didn’t care. Because of the OPEC petroleum crisis at the time, the ship traveled slower to conserve fuel; I think the crossing took seven instead of five days. The owners were trying to fill beds, so offered outrageously inexpensive fares. I don’t think it was much more than the cost of a plane ticket.

The food was scrumptious and plentiful. We ate family style in a big dining room with enormous crystal chandeliers (sic). I still have the menus they provided at each meal with French folk songs on the back. I used them with my elementary French students. A few years ago I pulled them out to help Leslie with a French food project.

I think there was someone else from Aix on board with us. I can’t remember her name. But I do remember that she demonstrated an ear-piercing whistle that her father had taught her for self-defense. We were in an elevator at the time she showed us and when the elevator doors opened, there was a group of concerned staff who had heard the whistle and come to help. The elevator doors and surrounding walls were a shiny, coppery color and the staff was reflected on the shiny surfaces, so it seemed like a lot more people. How embarrassing.

During the crossing, there was a terrific storm. A choir from some religious school would sit in the lounge and sing songs about hope and fortitude while some of the passengers turned pea green. I found this very annoying because I thought the storm exhilarating and the waves incredibly beautiful. (When did I start this seasickness stuff that I have now?) I particularly remember that the waves looked like the waves in Japanese block prints.

(Although Mrs. Smith surely must have been dreaming of another ship with “enormous crystal chandeliers,” her memoir brings to life a wonderful student crossing on a fondly remembered ocean liner near the end of her Transat life.)

I am sitting here in the Club nernationale, (the old 1st Class Fumoir) sending my regards. Sheree and I are enjoying this sybaritic voyage to the sun. This evening, we shall be joining Captain Sverre Svodnes in his quarters for cocktails. It is an extraordinary pleasure to re-board this vessel for the first time in 36 years; my former memories of France date from when I was 9 years old.

Upon my return to Manhasset, I will commence construction of a 6-foot model of France. This 1962 model was found in Brittany near St.-Nazaire several years ago. The kit contains about 2,000 pieces of balsa, plastic parts and a set of CGT blueprints of s/s France. Perhaps as imprimatur, you will accept my interest in rejoining the esprit-de-corps O.L.M. Let me know if there will be a tribute to le paquebot France and if I can participate.

The recent Gazette tribute to France carried us back to July 1968, when we embarked in tourist class with our sons, aged 7 and 4, and my mother-in-law, our volunteer-occasional-baby-sitter.

Needless to say, it was a glorious crossing, prelude to a 6-week tour of Europe and Israel. However, the salient, never-to-be-forgotten experience occurred on the second day out; the children were happily ensconced in the ship’s Salle des Jeunes while the three of us were nestled into those wonderful wooden deck chairs, awaiting our morning bouillon. As if in slow motion, a middle-aged female passenger, not unkempt, arose from her deck chair and, with a determined gait, made for the ship’s railing. Without hesitation, she started to hoist herself up by holding a slim vertical bar with one hand and putting the other hand onto the top horizontal railing while raising her legs preparatory to jumping.

Here, the seeming slow motion disappeared and, with amazing quickness, a deck steward and two seamen sprang from somewhere and grabbed her firmly but without any noise or undue excitement. When last seen, they were holding her by the elbows and escorting her inside. The three of us looked around at our fellow deck chair habitues but very few seemed to have seen the incident. We, on the other hand, will always remember it. The postscript, of course, is that this crossing evolved into many years of family sailings. If that woman had been successful, who knows what our reaction would have been and how would we have felt about making additional crossings?

Word has reached your editor that the final cruise schedule has been amended. Not surprisingly, the French have gotten into the act and decided that Norway-ex-France cannot vanish to the Far East without some final cruises for French passengers. All cruises after 18 September will be French charters asfollows:
19 September : Le Havre to Le Havre
21 September : Le Havre to Marseilles
30 September: Marseilles to Marseilles
Additionally, not finalized for the moment, there may be another French charter sailing from Marseilles on 7 October before the vessel’s final delivery to Bremerhaven.

We wish them all bon voyage!

This final illustration comes to the Ocean Liner Gazette courtesy of French maritime artist Jean-Claude Rainaud.
France was tied up at the quai de l'oubli ('pier of the forgotten') in Le Havre from 1974 until 1979.


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