It’s hard to know where to even begin here. It’s an idea combined with a wistful sense of loss; a kind of deprivation. Ships that passed in the night, only to sail over the horizon forever. Out of sight, out of reach and, most often, plain just out of time. A kind of ‘if only’ gallery, if you will. Thoughts painted as words.
First off, and it has to be the Oceanic. What I would not have given to have sailed on that sleek, ground breaking sixties classic, with her gorgeous Italian styling. Especially in her Home Lines heyday, when she was a byword for ostentatious hospitality and sheer dolce vita.
The SS. United States is another one. I don’t think I would have been a huge fan of her fifties Americana, cookie cutter interiors, but boy, the sensation of boiling along through the Atlantic on the fastest ship in the world must have been something else. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to stand in the shadows of those two great, graceful stacks in mid ocean at sunset, with nothing but the breeze and my own thoughts for company. I guess I’ll have to keep wondering.
And of all the White Star liners wrought into being over the seventy-three year history of that company as an independent operation, I would have to go for the Olympic. She was such a huge leap in size and splendour at the time, very much the A380 of her day. But she was sleek, beautifully styled, and just sumptuous. Her maiden voyage was the stuff of legends, and her career afterwards was spectacular. She did everything ever asked of her, and then some. And she had panache; that intangible thing that you simply cannot build into a ship or buy. The Olympic had a heart and a soul; it would have been wonderful to have known both.
The Conte Di Savoia would be another choice; she never got quite the same kudos as her sister, the record breaking Rex. But she had the more beautiful interiors to my mind. And that Pompeian swimming pool out on deck, surrounded by real sand and umbrella shaded tables, was a sensation at the time. The idea of sailing from somewhere as picturesque as Genoa on a warm spring evening aboard the Conte, and swinging out west through the Straits of Gibraltar for New York… It remains the stuff of dreams. It always will be.
The Normandie is so simple and obvious a choice that few words are necessary. Why? Simply because she was the Normandie. Nothing finer, more beautiful, more exquisitely dramatic or effortlessly elegant ever cut salt water either before her, or since. End of.
So. There we are. And, to coin a truly unfortunate phrase, that is literally just the tip of the iceberg.
And yet… when I remember the ships that I did get to sail; Norway. QE2. Canberra. Island Breeze. Ausonia. There are scores more… I realise that these are all somebody else’s ships that passed in the night. The dreams that they never got the chance to live. And I did.
By all means, be wistful about the past. All those might have beens. It’s not a crime. But also be grateful for what you do get to do. It’s a lot more than most. And it goes a huge way towards defining exactly who you are. An endless voyage, sailed across an endless sea of dreams and memories.