Monday, August 29, 2016

A Broader Canvas

Since childhood, I’ve collected pictures of ships.  Mostly postcards, these portraits were easily affordable and portable during travels.  The collection started with the passenger liners on which my grandparents sailed, and then continued with whatever seemed relevant to the family or historically noteworthy.  The result is an eclectic assortment, a little of this and a little of that, with a little from here and a little from there.

Each image has its own story, and in several instances, its own connection to our family.  With no further ado, then, let me present a dozen or so of what I think are the best and most interesting photographs:

The place where it all started.  An aerial view of the passenger piers on the West Side of Manhattan.  Shown at left are three Cunard ships, including the Queen Elizabeth in the center.  At right are the America of United States Lines and one of the twins Constitution and Independence of American Export Lines.  Note the overhanging fantail tern on the American Export ship.  This is a long gone aspect of the shipbuilder's art, a lovely finishing touch on a very attractive vessel.
The Constitution and the Independence were my grandparents' favorite ships.  They made unhurried voyages between New York and several Mediterranean ports, and while certainly first class operations, they did not engage in the movie star sophistication of some of the more famous liners.  This is my favorite portrait of the Constitution, one of a half-dozen that my grandparents collected.  She appears to be at anchor, probably off a Mediterranean port, judging by the shadows cast by a high summer sun.  
Twice my grandparents sailed aboard the Cristoforo Colombo of the Italian Line in the late 1950s.  They mailed this portrait of the ship home from Italy following a voyage from New York to Napoli in October of 1959.
When the Cristoforo Colombo arrived in Napoli, she docked here at the Stazione Maritima.  Monte Vesuvio looms in the background across the bay.  The American Export ships also docked here.  Note the multi-colored twin stacks of either the Constitution or the Independence rising above the building.  Many years after my grandparents' travels, the Rigel docked here during my time aboard here in 1979.  More recently, the Nieuw Amsterdam, on which my oldest son got married, has docked here while on her summer cruises.
During my transatlantic travels of the 1970s, I happened across this souvenir log of the United States, which I gave to my grandfather.  He and my grandmother had made one voyage on this ship in 1955, and I thought he would find this item interesting.  He did.  He told me, however, that the United States went too fast--New York to England in three days--and he preferred a slower, longer, and more leisurely crossing.  The voyage data on the back of this card brag about speed, speed, and speed.  I've come to agree with my grandfather.  The ships I later sailed on typically took ten days to reach Europe.
The troop transport Upshur is about to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge, most likely after departing from the Military Ocean Terminal in Oakland, California.  For years this vessel carried American military personnel, their families, and their belongings between the West Coast and the Far East.  She also carried South Korean troops during the Korean War.  Long afterwards, as the school ship State of Maine, notices stenciled in Korean remained on the bulkheads in the troop compartments.  I made two summer voyages on this ship as a teenager in the mid 1970s.  I also sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge several times, not on the State of Maine, but while aboard the Mercury and the Comet in the 1980s.
The ferry R. S. Sterling of the Texas Highway Department.  I rode this ferry on Monday, May 30, 1977, during the time of my apprenticeship aboard the tanker New Jersey Sun.  While she was drydocked at the Todd Shipyard in Galveston, I wandered around town on Memorial Day and found entertainment in free ferry rides between Galveston and Port Bolivar, Texas.
The aircraft carrier Lexington moored in her home port of Pensacola, Florida.  On another side trip during my time aboard the New Jersey Sun, my brother and I took a tour of this ship on Saturday, May 21, 1977.  Years earlier, as a student pilot, he had landed on and taken off from the Lexington at sea in the Gulf of Mexico.  I remember him remarking that the flight deck seemed pretty small.
A winter view of the first Queen Elizabeth at the Ocean Terminal in Southampton, England.  While such snow is unusual in southern England, the Queen Elizabeth and her sister the Queen Mary called at this spot regularly for decades.  Years after they reached the end of their careers, the oceanographic survey ship Wilkes docked at this same berth several times with me on board in the winter of 1980 and 1981.
Cunard's new flagship Queen Elizabeth 2 leaves Southampton for the first time in 1967.  The QE2 and I have followed each other along the American East Coast.  I saw her a few times in Fort Lauderdale when I was posted on the Bartlett and the two ships tied up across the pier from each other.  Years later, I took the children to see the Queen several times in New York and once in Portland, Maine.
An aerial view of the passenger ship piers in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the 1970s.  I acquired this postcard in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, in early November of 1979 when I was sailing aboard the General Hoyt S. Vandenburg.  I wanted very much to visit San Juan and see the old colonial city, but that would have to wait a few years.
The nearly identical twin sisters Caribou and Joseph and Clara Smallwood of Marine Atlantic.  These were two of the four vessels that connected North Sydney, Nova Scotia, with Argentia and Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland.  We sailed aboard the Joseph and Clara Smallwood from North Sydney to Argentia on Monday, June 21, 2004.  At the time, it was the longest voyage the children had made--fourteen hours--and they loved every minute of it.  I did, too.  I remember that it felt absolutely wonderful to sail out of sight of land and onto the open Atlantic again!
The cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam of the Holland-America Line appears in a computer-generated image.  While the line of foam alongside the ship would lead us to believe she is underway and making way through the water, there is no bow wave, no side wave, no stern wave, and no wake.  There are also no passengers or crew out on deck.  My guess is that this is an artist's rendering made while the vessel was under construction in 2010.  Still it's a good likeness of a fine ship.  Our oldest son, James, was married aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday afternoon, February 5, 2012.  Three days later, with the whole family aboard, the Nieuw Amsterdam docked at the cruise ship piers in San Juan.  A dream come true, I happily spent the day exploring this beautiful city.  In one further family history connection, my grandparents' final voyage was a winter cruise to the Caribbean in January and February of 1968.  Sailing one last time aboard the Constitution, they visited San Juan and docked at the same piers as the Nieuw Amsterdam.

Since my childhood, then, ships have been important means of transportation as well as the centerpieces at family gatherings on many occasions.  From the bon voyage celebrations at the West Side piers to the wedding aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam and numerous voyages in between, these vessels have have served us very well.  Now, even though most of these ships are long gone, they live on in the photographic arts and in the family archives, and they bring back many happy memories.  The family and the ships thus form a dual blessing, and we are expected to “receive it from the hand of the Lord, with a thankful heart” (D&C 62:7).  In looking back on these happy times aboard these great ships, how could anyone not feel thankful?

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