Norway enters Oslofjord harbor in May 1980

Leon Tardy-Panit was a French pastry chef whom I had first met aboard France. When France was laid up, he was hired by Cunard to work aboard Queen Elizabeth 2. This he did and sailed with the Cunarder for several years in the mid-1970’s. A resident of Le Havre, he was so distressed at France’s enforced retirement that he made a point of never venturing out onto his balcony; in that way, he avoided the sight of his beloved ship laid up at the quai de l’oubli.

But when she was transformed into Norway, he wrote asking that when I boarded the vessel at Southampton for her maiden crossing to New York, would I please “touch the steel of her hull and tell her that he still loved her.” It was a sentimental commission I was delighted to undertake on behalf of one of France’s most devoted crew members.

When I became fascinated with ocean liners at the ripe age of 11, the grand ships were gone. The larger-than-life 1000-footers were no more. Queen Mary was retired, Queen Elizabeth had capsized in Hong Kong and United States and France were slowly rusting away. Then I read that France was to be reborn as cruise ship Norway. Fourteen years later, I sailed on her and knew then that I would be back on a regular basis. And over the years, it has been the enduring quality of Norway that made her almost God-like in my imagination. Here was a vessel that, after 36 years of service and 5 years of neglect, was every bit as strong and safe as the day she was launched. And while new cruise ships resemble mass-produced autos with their indistinguishable naval architecture, the poetic grace of Norway‘s profile resembles a work of art more than a functioning machine. Her hull sweeps and flows and she shames her contemporary peers. There has never been a finer ship.

I remember at one Captain’s Dinner that a young woman asked the Chief Engineer: “What would it take to sink this ship?” The proud officer replied: “Nothing. Nothing could ever sink this ship.”

In the summer of 1970, I took my two oldest children, Jamie and Chris, on a month-long vacation in Europe. Jamie was then 13 and Chris 11. We stayed at the Savoy in London, the Hassler in Rome, the Gritti Palace in Venice and the George V in Paris.

I mention this undeniably sybaritic roster of hotels for just one reason. All memories of their glamour and grande luxe were instantly eclipsed when we boarded France for our return to New York. Although I had made many crossings, this was the boys’ first time on board any ship and their excitement and enthusiasm were sky-high. It was better than Disneyland, MacDonald’s and Christmas all rolled into one, and 30 years later, they still talk about it.

One of the things that made the trip so enjoyable was that, unlike our travels ashore, I no longer felt I had to oversee their daily activities. We would simply set a time and place to meet before and after meals. Apart from that, we would all go our own ways.

Naturally, meals were highlights of the day. In the Chambord dining room, we had a table next to two couples. At our first dinner, one of the women, enchanted by Chris who was quite adorable in those days, couldn’t keep her eyes off him. When he looked up and saw her staring, Chris would give her an extravagant wink. This would delight her but when she told her companions about it and they turned to look, Chris would be staring at his plate. As soon as they turned away, Chris would give the woman another wink.

I was lucky enough to receive a Bastille Day invitation to the Captain’s dinner. I sat next to the ravishing young wife of our ambassador to Portugal, and as each succeeding dish was paraded around our table by toque-topped sous-chefs, I couldn’t help feeling like a bit player in a Hollywood extravaganza.

At breakfast the next morning, it was back to winking.

When Marianne and I were returning home from our first European trip together in September 1959, Liberte was laboring mightily through a typical North Atlantic gale. One evening, just before the film, they screened a “coming attraction” of their new giant being readied at St-Nazaire. Designed to whet our appetite, it was easy to see that France was going to be a stunning addition to the North Atlantic.

Seeing her maiden entry into the port from the Narrows, first sight was breath-taking, one of the most impressively elegant liners we had ever seen. She emanated both style and power or, perhaps better, elan, that elusive Gallic quality her designers had incorporated into that huge mass of steel. At the open house given by the French Line, one glimpse of the Chambord Restaurant and we were instant converts.

On our first November sailing to the Caribbean, everyone from purser to busboy took immense pride in being part of this special ship. Service was impeccable, especially at mealtimes. The chef seemed to say: “Challenge us,” as we were encouraged to order off the menu.

Then again, in 1974, her days numbered, we made a round crossing just two weeks before her last journey as France. When she returned to service as Norway, we again sailed transatlantic in 1984. Her newly-designed interiors were gorgeous but the old mystique was gone. Thomas Wolfe was right—”You can’t go home again.” But that emotion aside, Norway was still in a class by herself. The only major liner named for two countries, her double life of crossing and cruising bestowed France/Norway with an enviable career spanning nearly four decades, carving a distinctive niche in ocean liner history. This may be her final year in the west but she will live forever in the hearts of those who sailed in her.

Our Miami design office had a call from Fred Cavaretta of NCL’s advertising agency just before Thanksgiving of 1979 to make a presentation about a signage project for the “largest cruise ship in the world.”

We made our pitch in NCL’s boardroom, a large room with a table 15 feet in diameter. Every seat was filled. We completed our presentation and they said thank you. No other words were spoken. We heard nothing for a month.

Then, on the day of Christmas eve, Rick Widmer, head of marketing for NCL, called and said we had the job and be ready to go to Bremerhaven on January 6th. We flew to Bremerhaven, met Tage Wandborg, the naval architect in charge of France’s conversion and began an inventory. Every sign on board had to be replaced. The inventory alone took two weeks. We left Germany on a Friday and the following Monday made a presentation to NCL of the signage program for Norway. It was approved.

This was mid-January and NCL planned to take Norway out on 29 April. Our office consisted of a signage designer, a store designer and our bookkeeper. We called all our friends and started to staff up for the project.

At the end of January, I had a panic call from Bjorn Hermanson, NCL’s CFO, saying that they had had a meeting yesterday and where were we? We had heard of no Bremerhaven meeting. They wanted a daily presence at the yard. “Take the Concorde if you have to but get here.” The Concorde option did not work out but I left for Germany on 2 February for what I thought would be a few weeks of work. As it was, I disembarked form Norway in New York on 16 May.

I set up an office in the Ile de France suite, a three-room configuration with desks and drawing tables made of plywood. Chairs were “found.” Average daily temperatures were 2-10 degrees Celsius. We plugged in a yard-supplied space heater to warm the office and unplugged it on 29 April to return it to the yard. It was never warm and we always wore sweaters and jackets in that office. Additional staff arrived from Miami and we began to design every sign on board.

Sign fabricators from Germany and Norway contributed to the majority of signs. We worked seven days a week , 8-10 hours a day. Our only days off were when Norway went out on sea trials.

For Easter, I hand-drew a Norway on a hard-boiled egg, colored it with magic markers and presented it to Tage Wandborg. It was dropped, so I made another.

In early April, the signs started to arrive. When we asked for the promised help of crew members, First Officer Lars Hagroup informed us that none were available and asked us to undertake the entire installation ourselves.

At that time, there were 8 people in the office with no tools or equipment for installation. We quickly called all our friends and colleagues in the US, offering tickets to Europe in exchange for a week or two of sign installation. My brother and his wife flew in from California, as did eight others from Miami.

When the ship sailed out of Bremerhaven, there were 16 of us installing signage on board.

Cabin space was problematical. People were housed in empty “found” cabins with bedding of “found” tablecloths. Many cabins were not ready and approximately 600 workers from the yard set sail for Oslo on 29 April. There, paying passengers boarded to find no cabins available and so slept in deck chairs en route to Southampton.

From there, eight of us remained on board for the crossing to New York, installing over 10,000 signs. From bottom to top: I installed a fire station sign at the aftermost end of the lowest deck, where the shaft penetrates the hull, and also up on the bridge.

At that time, Norway (our first vessel) was heralded at the largest ship in the world. Since then, Tom Graboski Associates, Inc, Design has gone on to design signage programs for over 50 cruise ships, including the latest world’s largest, Voyager and Explorer of the Seas.

As an adolescent I drooled over the brochures that depicted “Le plus grand paquebot du monde.” S.S. France was incomparable. That marvelous hull with upswept sheer, dubbed, like Bridget Bardot, not to have a straight line anywhere, was simply superlative. And those funnels, resplendent with their designer wings, epitomized the daring dash of great transatlantic liners . Having just learnt the art of letter-writing at school, I besieged the resident French Line director in London at 20 Cockspur Street (opposite the old White Star building) with letters asking for information and photographs of the leviathan.

All my many letters were cordially answered and then early in 1974 came a letter with a sense of urgency. “If you want to experience France before its too late, please do it this year”. Unable to coerce my father into a full transatlantic crossing (the family had never left UK shores before), we opted for a day-long Channel crossing from Le Havre to Southampton. It marked the beginning of France’s first westbound crossing of her last season. How wonderful that day was; the amazement of fellow passengers that we were to “get off in Southampton,” a marvelous lunch, sneaking into First class from our Tourist domain and being summoned to the Chief Purser for presentation of a model and a set of plans. Oh happy, happy days!

It was not until the summer of 1987 that I sailed on the ship again, although I had briefly visited her in Southampton when she was inaugurated as Norway in 1980. True, she had changed, but in that original Nordic configuration she was still sleek, if not so fast. She was now Caribbean cruise ship rather than transatlantic flier but she had pedigree. Those great winged funnels remained and the curvaceous hull set her apart from all the opposition. To be truthful, the revamped interiors were somewhat of an improvement over France and the week-long cruise was a memorable experience and an opportunity to lecture on the heritage of the ship.

It is poignant to reflect that Chantiers de l’Atlantique built that immortal vessel and that this concern is to shortly embark on building Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. It would be nice to think that the spirit of France will be instilled in Queen Mary 2. When France left French Line service they said, “It’s not goodbye but au revoir”. What do we say now for Norway? (Stephen Payne is the chief naval architect, design and project manager for Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 .)

It was the winter of 1973 and I was in bed with Asian flu. Our family was living in Vancouver and we had the good fortune to live in a waterfront house. From our bedroom, we could watch ships pass our garden, mostly freighters and container ships but occasionally a P&O liner en route to Australia.

As I started to feel human again, my wife Carolyn bought me a book she knew I would enjoy, The Only Way to Cross, written by a Scots/American who had lived in New York for many years. Walter Lord’s foreword had a headline that caught my eye: “...The Atlantic liner was taken from us like a good friend hit by a truck.”

I devoured the book and told my wife: “We must cross with our children across the Atlantic. They’ll never be able to do it again.” So we booked passage on the s.s. France from Southampton to New York in August 1974 and, later, from Los Angeles to New Zealand on board Canberra.

We stayed overnight in Southampton’s Dolphin Hotel, where many of Titanic’s passengers spent their last night on dry land in 1912.

I wanted to film France coming in so we were up before sunrise. At first, only the lights and the ship’s name between her funnels were visible. As she came nearer the Ocean Terminal, the smell of Gauloise cigarette smoke wafted across the water.

QE2 was astern as we sailed for New York. Our four children ran around the deck in great excitement before they ran out of steam. We had two adjoining cabins in Tourist Class and lost sight of our two sons, David and Richard, aged 10 and 7 respectively. They had found a good lookout on the shelf below their porthole and then drawn the curtains behind them. When we finally found them, they were watching us pass the Lizard on the England’s southernmost point to starboard. Ginny, aged 5, and Clare, 3 years old, were fast asleep in their bunks.

Tourist Class food aboard France was almost as good as first class in other ships but our children soon developed a taste for smoked salmon and had this at their own mealtimes in the children’s dining area. Not so successful was the children’s playroom situated well forward where one experienced the ship’s motion to the fullest. The first day at sea, Carolyn and I went to see how they were getting on. A fierce “Gauleiter” was seated guarding the doorway and our family quietly made their escape, vowing not to return.

We toured the engine room, as one could in those days. Another world of drumming machinery, boilers and vast rotating propeller shafts. Steel gangways and metal ladders allowed us to explore the further depths of the great cavern lit only by single bulbs at strategic points. Engineers in boilers suits, with light blue caps and grimy hands, guided us on our tour. What a contrast to the comforts of the passenger decks above!

With near cloudless skies and a smooth sea, the children enjoyed the open decks. The boys particularly ran about the sports deck between the two great red-and-black funnels with their distinctive wings.

As for ourselves, we were happy to sit out in deck chairs but with rugs to keep us warm from the chill breeze. We also enjoyed traditional bouillon served by stewards from old metal carts trundled along the enclosed promenade decks. (Had they been landed from Normandie before she was destroyed by fire?)

The covered Tourist swimming pool—the largest afloat with its glass-paned roof— allowed us to swim although it remained curiously uncrowded. Meanwhile, the children ate their way steadily through the ship’s supply of smoked salmon.

Carolyn and I were seated at a table for two in the Versailles Restaurant on its upper level, enjoying menus not out of place in First Class. But only David gained access to that more privileged part of the ship. He had noticed stewards kicking at the bottom of the companionway door to get through and followed their example into first class.

A lecture about liners was announced in mid-voyage. John Maxtone-Graham, the author of the book that had sparked our transatlantic crossing, would show slides and describe “the only way to cross.” I still have the program for 2 September, 1974, including the lecture announcement in the Events of the Day at 10:30 a.m. in the theatre, with a book signing at 6 p.m. in the library to follow.

The tall urbane man with the mid-Atlantic accent spoke without notes for almost an hour, his large audience engrossed. Afterwards, I went up to query a slide. He wrote in my copy of his book: “For William Jory and his family who have helped ferret out a flaw in my slides.”

The days went by lazily and all too quickly. The children never went near the playroom again and stuck to their self-imposed smoked salmon diets. We sat out in the sunshine and enjoyed “mid-ocean, where there is a delightful insouciance, for both Europe and America are still happily two days away.” ( From The Only Way to Cross.)

We got the children up early to see the spectacular entrance into New York. It was a cold bright early morning in the fall. Overnight thunderstorms had cleared the air, flags were flying, Moran tugs were fussing and we could see the Chrysler Building in mid-Manhattan.

We stood, cold and huddled together, in front of the forward mast. As we nosed into Pier 88, I took a photograph of the starboard bridge wing. The master, Christian Pettre, stood at the far end with one other officer and next to him, the New York pilot with his trademark trilby. Next to them and near us was the ship’s lecturer, John Maxtone-Graham.

Luggage preceded us ashore and we posed for a happy family photograph right at the stern. David had remembered that Maxtone-Graham had suggested to see off the rest of the family and be in no hurry to disembark. Thus it was that David was the last passenger to step ashore on that last westbound crossing.

France was the last pure transatlantic liner, QE2 and the future QM2 being dual-function ships. And so David William Jory, aged 10, remains the final passenger of millions to step shore in New York from a pure transatlantic liner. Fame comes in many forms!

We flew home to Vancouver and I put my photographs of the voyage in my album. It crossed my mind that Maxtone-Graham might like a copy of my photograph taken on the occasion of that early New York arrival. I sent him an enlargement care of his publisher. He wrote back: “Dear Dr. Jory: You have no idea how much that photograph means to me. My wife Mary and I are arriving in Southampton on QE2 next month. Let us take you out to dinner.”

I wrote back: “Better than that, I can collect you off the ship. We live just 15 miles due north in the Test Valley. Come and spend Easter with us.”

So began a long friendship, initiated on board France. In every lecture he gives, my photograph, made into a slide, is included.

About the middle of 1979, there was much discussion at the Miami pilot station concerning the possibility of the S/S Norway being based at Miami for cruises to the Caribbean. Several of the pilots felt that Norway was too big for the Miami ship channel. Norwegian Caribbean Line went to great expense setting up a simulator that would show that the vessel could get into Miami. Finally, the Miami pilots agreed to give it a try but were still worried.

In an attempt to see how the ship really handles, one of the pilots was sent to Oslo in order to travel back to New York and observe the characteristics of S/S Norway. I was that pilot.

After sailing from Oslo, Norway passed safely through the narrows of the fjord, paused off Christiansand and then made her way to Southampton. The channel passing Cowes on the Isle of Wight, makes a tight “S”-shaped turn which Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth could barely negotiate and which Normandie never attempted. Due to the poor steering of Normandie, France was built with a rudder twice as large as her predecessor.

As Norway approached the turn at a speed of 14 knots, the wheel was put hard starboard. After a 15-second delay, the vessel responded and slowly began her turn. Once she started to swing, the began to rapidly increase the rate until, with rudder amidships, she came into the proper heading. In about five minutes, it was time to make the sharp turn to port, which was done without further concern. The Southampton pilot, Captain Driver, then laughed and said: “Don’t worry, she is a fine handling ship. She won’t give you any trouble.” I was greatly relieved and so were the Miami pilots.

Norway has operated safely in and out of Miami for 20 years in all kind of wind and weather. She is a great and kindly ship. We will miss her when she departs for a new life in the Far East. (The reassurance of Captain Peter Driver, the famous Southampton pilot, was only to be expected. He knew the vessel wel,l having served as the French Line’s pilote de choix when Norway was France.)

I guess that Norwegians have always felt a certain pull towards the sea and its ships. At least since the Vikings started to sail across the open waters of the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. I can’t remember exactly when I had my first ship, a little toy ship that is, but I know for sure that I started early and that I had many over the years. They were all kinds of different ships but I remember very clearly when I started to focus mainly on passenger vessels.

I was 12 years old and I had borrowed a Reader’s Digest from a friend. This was in 1959 and the magazine had a story about the passenger liner s/s France under construction in St-Nazaire. I fell in love with that ship instantly and for some time I tried to read everything written up about her. I believe that I made a promise to myself that one day I should be on board that ship.

To my mother’s disappointment, I went to sea when I was 15 years old. That was in 1962, the very same year that France entered service on the North Atlantic. Many years would pass by before I saw her “live” for the first time but I had read everything about her and she had remained firmly in my mind all along.

Then it was 1977. I was a chief officer aboard a bulk carrier that was going to Rouen up the Seine. As we passed Le Havre, I saw France for the first time. I believe I was standing on the bridge wing and looked at her for hours—at least that was how it felt— and I don’t think I uttered a word. Everything about France was beautiful but most eye-catching of all were her two funnels. They were so large and tall, and stand for me like something solid that holds the ship up and carries her through all dangers, like two guardian angels. They even have wings.

But no matter how much I wanted to work on board her, I could never do so as a Norwegian citizen. But my chance came in 1979 when Kloster Cruises bought her and converted her as a cruise liner. At that time, I was working shore side in Norway but that very suddenly came to an end. I confronted my wife with the fact that my new goal was to become a captain of my dream ship. I have a very understanding wife and back to sea I went.

I got a First Officer’s job with Kloster Cruises and after six months on board M/S Skyward, I joined France in March of 1980. She had been renamed Norway shortly before that and her new flag was the Norwegian flag.

It is very difficult to describe how I felt the first time I stepped on board. I believe only those people who have been on board a passenger ship during a major conversion at a shipyard can understand this feeling. However, the very first thing I did after coming on board was to go to the Sun Deck and look up at the funnels. I was not disappointed. They were really large and tall and I felt very safe.

To make a long story short, I had my dream fulfilled and feel very lucky and privileged to have been able to spend more than 15 years aboard that fantastic ship. I am one of the very few navigators who has held all ranks on board her and I am also the captain who has spent the longest time as Norway’s master, namely 9 years in that capacity.

I have met a lot of people on board that incredible ship and many of them have become close friends, both passengers and crew. Norway has given me a lot and I sincerely hope that I have also managed to give her a little bit back. She deserves it and I wish her, her crew and passengers “Fair Winds and Following Sea” in the future.


Director, Oslo Ship Museum
One moment stands out in the midst of the vessel’s Norwegian festivities: As the lights dimmed and the curtain rose in the Saga Theatre for Sea Legs, I pinched my arm. “this is a moment to remember, something you could not have imagined in your wildest dreams when France entered service. Here you are, in the world’s largest theatre afloat, on the world’s largest passenger ship, flying the Norwegian flag and carrying the name Norway!”

An episode during the press conference at the Museum. I gave an overview of the history of Norwegian Cruises but most questions naturally focussed on the new ship. A French journalist asked: “Why did you have to name the France into the Norway?”

Although unprepared, I think I came up with the right answer.

“First, it was a French sine qua non. Second, how could we Norwegians honor the French better than by renaming France into Norway?” Silence, then applause from the audience.

French sentiment surfaced again when the Museum held an exhibition on Norwegain shipping with a large model of Norway as showpiece. Francois Mitterand came to Norway and the Norwegian/French Chamber of Commerce held a reception at the museum. People from the Surete searched everywhere and found nothing but did suggest that we move the model to a less prominent location during the reception. “It may not mean anything to the President but just in case...” We moved the model.

With all due respect to NCL, no Norwegian passenger ship has enjoyed a similar universal appeal to the Norwegian public in general since the heyday of the NAL’s Stavangerfjord, Oslofjord and Bergensfjord back in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. A Norwegian tour operator and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation made a joint stroke of genius when Scandinavians filled Norway on annual swing music theme cruises 4 or five years ago. I cannot imagine anything more square-headed than flying from Norway to Miami for Scandinavian dance band music in Caribbean waters but chacun a son gout. From what I have heard, nobody was happier than Captain Haakon Gangdal, who obviously enjoyed a national breakaway from steel bands and American country and western.

It was September 5th, 1983, and I was joining the Norway in mid-cruise as the Hostess. From the plane, I gazed out the window and caught my first glimpse of this majestic lady anchored serenely just off St Thomas. She was a beautiful sight to behold. But I didn’t really appreciate her until my tender ride out to the ship aboard Little Norway I. I studied her sleek, elegant lines and elongated bow, such a commanding presence against a cloudless sky. She was breath-taking, awesome and massive, like no other ship I had ever seen before.

The adventures, excitement, challenges and friendships that resulted from the years that I served as Hostess, Shore Excursion Manager and Assistant Cruise Director could fill pages. But one experience stands out above all others for it changed my life forever.

Just 48 hours after stepping on board, I was watching the cruise staff show. I was so focussed (I would have to participate the following week) that I never noticed someone approach and stand directly on my right. A deep voice interrupted my concentration.

“Hi, you must be the new cruise staff member on board.” I turned to see a tall, handsome figure dressed in white looking down at me.

“Yes, I’m Janet Townsend.” “Well, welcome on board,” he replied. “ My name is Tor Dyrdal.”

Our relationship blossomed, through the typical ups-and-downs to the serious stage. Two and half years later, Tor presented me with an engagement ring. Now, only one special occasion remained to be choreographed. Where would it take place? On board Norway, of course!

On November 1st, 1986, while the ship was tied up in Miami, the Club Internationale was transformed into a wedding chapel. Two hundred family, friends and fellow NCL personnel gathered for our wedding. A reception followed in Checkers Cabaret and at 4:30, we set sail along with 57 of our wedding guests who had decided to join us on our “honeymoon cruise.” That evening, the bride and groom hosted a lavish wedding dinner in the Oslo Conference Room.

What a magical day! From that chance meeting three years earlier in the North Cape Lounge, I was now Janet Townsend Dyrdal.

To all who have walked Norway’s decks or been privileged to serve on board, she is a legend, an elegant lady, sleek and graceful. But for me, her significance goes much further. She touched the very depths of my soul in that she played a pivotal role in my life, charting my entire future. For that reason, she will always hold a very special place in my heart. I will forever be “in love’ with the legendary S/S Norway!

In 1964, my wife Valerie and I crossed eastbound on board France to take up a year’s residency at Oxford University. In the ship’s hold were all our household possessions and we treated ourselves to a passage in first class.

On the first night, we entered the dining room and were seated at our assigned table. The captain presented us with a daunting menu, so elaborate that we were momentarily at a loss as what or even how to order.

Then I noticed a passenger at an adjoining table who, when asked to order, waved aside the menu and produced from his pocket a sheaf of scrupulously printed 5 x 7 cards.

“This,” he said, handing the captain the top one, “is what we would like for dinner tonight. And here” —the second card was proffered—“ is what we would like for lunch and dinner tomorrow. And the rest are all in order, if you would be so kind.”

My dilemma was instantly resolved. Summoning the captain, I suggested: “We’ll have what they’re having, please.” The captain nodded. There followed throughout that memorable crossing a succession of Lucullan dishes, each one more lavish and richer than the last. By the last night, my wife confessed that she was feeling a little queasy and would just like a poached egg for dinner. Needless to say, it arrived at the table under a great domed silver dish, several exquisitely poached eggs blanketed with sauce hollandaise, a dish as impeccably prepared and presented as every other course we had enjoyed in that glorious dining room.

After taking one look at her “poached egg,” poor Valerie was hastily obliged to abandon the table for her cabin.


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