Dusty on Caronia 1958_CROP

Dusty Bahlman, 5, aboard the Cunard vessel “Caronia” in 1958.

WILLIAMSTOWN — A German shipping trade magazine reported last week that a “half-finished cruise vessel” that would have shattered the world’s record for passenger capacity will be scrapped because a buyer could not be found.

Construction of the Global Dream 2 and a sister vessel, Global Dream, was commissioned by Dream Cruises, which is based in Asia. The business collapsed earlier this year after sustaining enormous COVID-related losses of revenue. The sinking company took the German shipyard, MV Werften, with it. Both are in the hands of liquidators, who plan to “sell most of the half-finished ship for scrap and attempt to resell some of its systems and engines,” reports anBord, a German trade journal.

Global Dream, which was farther along in the construction process than its sister ship, will not be scrapped. For now.

The magazine article contains few numbers, but it nonetheless illustrates the enormity of the pandemic’s effects on the world’s economies and businesses of all sizes. The shipyard had a tall order: Each of the cruisers was designed to hold more than 9,000 passengers and 2,500 crew. At 208,000 tons each, they would have been tied for the world’s sixth-largest cruise ships by size. That’s a lot of money and a lot of jobs, although the shipyard has been commissioned to build military vessels beginning in 2023.

A half-dozen or so cruises to various places (Caribbean islands and Mexico) and four trans-Atlantic crossings on ocean liners with my family in the 1950s and 1960s nurtured my interest in large passenger ships, but you don’t have to be an experienced ocean traveler to see how and why the cruise industry has taken it on the chin in the pandemic.

It occurs to me that the business pays the price of bad timing every 50 years or so. In the 1960s, the French Line and Cunard, two of the fiercest competitors in the trans-Atlantic tourist trade, invested heavily in new and much larger ships: the SS France and the Queen Elizabeth II.

They were popular choices for a few years, but airlines proved to be strong competitors, and it wasn’t long before all the big players in trans-Atlantic passenger shipping began to feel the pinch.

Launched in 1960, the SS France, which embarked on its first trans-Atlantic crossing (from Le Havre, France, to New York) on Feb. 13, 1962, was already being heavily subsidized by the French government. With a capacity of 2,044 passengers, it was nowhere near full when my family and I boarded in New York for Southampton, England, on Aug. 18, 1965. The ship had only slightly less space available when it departed on our return trip in September 1966.

Soon after we boarded for the eastbound crossing, my parents learned that dinner was served at two “sittings,” at 5:30 and 8 p.m. We had been assigned to the 5:30 sitting, and my father immediately set about filing a formal appeal with the maitre d’. This official was persuaded to allow a performance trial at the later sitting for me and my (younger) sister. We passed muster, but were occasionally gently reminded to watch our Ps and Qs.

By October 1974, the 66,348-ton ship had been withdrawn from service. For the next five years, it was mothballed at Le Havre. In 1979, it was sold to the Norwegian Cruise Line, re-christened SS Norway, and outfitted as a cruise ship, then the largest of her day, plying the Caribbean.

In 2003, by then named Blue Lady, the ship was badly damaged by an explosion in the boiler room. Two years later, it was sold for scrap. Despite efforts to preserve it, the vessel was dismantled and scrapped in Alang, India, in 2008.

Some years ago, having booked space on a Queen Mary 2 repositioning cruise, my partner and I marveled at and reveled in the splendor of that 148,528-ton wonder, which sailed its maiden voyage in 2007 and is the world’s largest ocean liner. (It’s the largest floating object I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.) A highlight of the voyage was the rapid spread of a frightening — and wholly inaccurate — rumor that the ship was headed into a hurricane.

The following day, the public address system sounded an alert for a message from the bridge. In rich, plummy British tones, the ship’s commodore debunked the rumor, stating that the “hurrican” was some 600 miles from the ship and ne’er the twain would meet.

“I assure you I have no intention of sailing Queen Mary 2 into a hurrican,” he concluded.

In 2022 America, as the Big Lie continues to poison freedom’s atmosphere, all a weary traveler can do is wish that all baseless rumors could be put to rest as easily.

D. R. (Dusty) Bahlman may be reached at notesandfootnotes39@gmail.com or 413-441-4278.