Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Finding an Old Friend in Philly

I'm just back from a two-day 800 mile road trip to Philadelphia with pastor and friend Kevin Snyder. We were visiting his home church, First Baptist of Collingswood NJ to see if we could help them with some planning and organizing. On the morning of the second day, Kevin and his brother Jeff got up very early to get in a round of golf, and I decided to run back over into Philly. As we had crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge the evening before, I saw what looked to be a current vintage US Navy destroyer tied up to a pier, and hoped they were giving tours.

It turns out that the ship was the USS Winston Churchill (DDG-81). It had been in Philly for Navy Week, but sadly when I got there Tuesday morning, she had cast off and the pier was empty. So I thought I would just drive on down the waterfront and see what I could see at the Phildelphia Naval Yard, where there is a decent sized mothball fleet. Suddenly I saw the funnels (smokestacks for you landlubbers) of a large passenger ship. It was the SS United States!

I hadn't thought about this ship in years, but there was a time when I thought of it every day. When I was a kid, we had a model of the United States that was about three feet long, mounted on a stand. It was lit from the inside by a single white Christmas tree bulb. It sat on the chest of drawers, just a couple of feet from the foot of my bed and constantly visible from my upper bunk. The light was usually left on as a night light. Over the several years we lived in that place, I'm sure I looked over every feature of that ship a hundred times.

At some point, we moved and the ship didn't make the transition. I wonder what happened to it...

Anyway, it was a thrill to see the grand old ship again, even as a rusting hulk. The website says that it is now owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines, and they have plans to restore it to service. NCL did this once before, bringing a contemporary of the United States, the Isle de France, back to life as the SS Norway. The Norway sailed for many years. My mom sailed on her once, when cousin Cindy Swisher was the cruise director, and we saw the Norway once in Miami when we were sailing on another cruise ship. Today's mega cruise ships dwarfed what was once one of the largest ships in the world.

Unfortunately, the Norway suffered a boiler explosion a few years back. Few if any modern passenger ships are powered by high pressure steam turbines, and it sounds like a boiler room crew just made a mistake, which unfortunately cost them their lives. NCL has decided it wasn't worth repairing the ship. The rumor is that it sits off the coast of India waiting to be scrapped.

So I hope NCL does decide the bring the United States back in to service. I think I might make an effort to sail on her if she puts to sea again.

Good seeing you old girl.

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