The Ultimate Renovation Project

I’ve written before about the classic ocean liner SS United States, which has been in danger of being sold for scrap.  Now, it appears that not only may the ship be saved, but she may actually be returned to commercial service.  Crystal Cruises has taken out a purchase option on the vessel, and during 2016 will carry out a project to scope out the conversion of the vessel to an operating cruise ship, which will sail on transatlantic as well as other itineraries.  A retired US Coast Guard admiral, Tim Sullivan, will be in charge of this very complex project.

It is probably inevitable that the ship’s steam turbines and boilers will be replaced with a more efficient propulsion plant, probably diesel.  Some major changes to the superstructure are also planned, driven in part by the desire to offer passenger suites with balconies.  The artist’s  concept of the modified ship which is shown in the press release loses something compared to the aesthetics of the original vessel,  at least to my eye; hopefully it will be improved during the study effort.  In any case,  saving the ship and restoring it to service would be a wonderful outcome.

32 thoughts on “The Ultimate Renovation Project”

  1. Read A Man and his Ship and saw the decrepit hulk across from IKEA in Philly.
    It seems representative of America. Will we be restored or will this be corporate ripoff helping the wealthy, killing the host?
    I will stay tuned

  2. Interesting marketing angle that seems to be 180 degrees from the current cruise line business. Current ships are big and slow, making mostly overnight hops between ports of call. They also devote a lot of volume to amusement rides, extra cocktail lounges, water slides and such.

    Were does a sleek, fast, but stark, ship fit here? To my understanding, the USS United States is almost a heavy cruiser war ship of WWII. At the time, the market supported fast transatlantic crossings and the US government supported liners that could useful as troop ships.

    Replacing the steam boilers and turbines with diesels would almost surely reduce the speed, the main claim to fame of the USS US. Besides, you’d have to rename it the MV United States if there was no steam.

    Maybe marine gas turbines would work but I’m no marine engineer.

  3. Were it mine, I might go for the old time elegant style on that ship because I doubt anyone else is that niche. Maybe even offer things like a smoking and cocktails lounge, a coffee and pastry breakfast shop, maybe make it adults only. Offer things no one else is offering and people would be willing to pay for.

  4. Whitehall Says: February 4th, 2016 at 7:26 pm:

    To my understanding, the USS United States is almost a heavy cruiser war ship of WWII.

    SS United States is 45,400 tons, about the same size as an Iowa-class battleship – about four times the size of a heavy cruiser.

  5. There may be a market for round-the-world cruising in luxury. I’ve done a couple of cruises, one oriented to medical history that used an old Russian ship, the other a National Review cruise that featured a couple of stops and lectures during the day in the ship’s theater. Both were very enjoyable.

    It’s probably a little like people who want to travel on trains.

  6. Rich,

    You’re right in the displacement comparison but I was thinking about function and character. A heavy cruiser of WWII was fast and had a long range.

    And I wasn’t claiming that there would be no market for booking the ship; only that most new passenger ships are huge floating hotels (or casinos) which is what I think about when I see the USS United States. There is certainly room for other customer desires in water-born transportation – see the QEII.

    And I’m a guy who loves the long distance Western routes on Amtrak.

  7. When I was in The Navy I remember seeing the SS United States moored at Norfolk and Newport News back in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. She always impressed me a handsome ship. The owners had an auction of the furniture and fittings back then. I wish I could have bid on a few items, but that was a hobby that was out of reach of my junior petty officer salary at the time.

    That said, I wish Crystal Cruises the best of luck in their endeavors. However they may find their plans for the ship dashed like many other reuse schemes by the cost of removing the asbestos.

  8. A wonderful project if it could be done, but it would seem the costs would be staggering to get it up to modern standards. The plan ruins the original, classic lines also. Why not take the original plan and have a new one built?

  9. It may not be as costly as you think. If the internal mothballing was adequate the existing powerplant could be refurbished. Upgrade the controls and safety systems (fire protection etc.) and you would have a sailable ship. Today’s mega cruise ships are designed to put a huge number of staterooms ontop of a combination of casino and amusement park. If you did the NY to Southamption route again it would be a pretty reliable 4 day crossing. Not terrible compared to one day of subsonic jet + 1 day recovery from jet lag. You could even sell economy package service at 4 days vs 2 day FedEx air. There is currently a market for one-way transatlantic crossings in ships not designed for that service when they reposition.

  10. I do think there’s probably a market for transatlantic travel by sea: there are a lot of affluent retired people, and there are also an increasing number of working-age people whose work would allow them to spend 4 days or so on a crossing while legitimately still being working, as long as decent Internet access was provided on the ship. The United States will probably be too pricey for most of this market, but hopefully there will be a niche that can support it.

  11. The only cruise I’ve ever taken was on the Star Clipper, from Turkey to the Greek Islands and mainland Greece. Highly recommended.

    Almost an acre of sails; square rigged on the foremast with fore-and-aft sails on the other 2 masts…I believe this is properly called a barquentine. The crew does not normally have to go aloft to furl the square sales; there is a window-shade-like device that is operable by remote control from the deck.

  12. I am hopeful for this project and its commercial viability

    Years ago I was responsible for Cunard Line IT and QE II was the gold standard for around-the-world cruising. Some people did the 90+-day cruise every year!

    Nostalgia with class will sell!

  13. It was reported in Wikipedia that in 1994 the ship was towed to Turkey and then Ukraine where the asbestos was removed and interior stripped.

  14. the ss united states doing voyages between boston ma and juneau ak(via panama canal)would be fun for the usa centric crowd

  15. >> What drives the Gerald Ford? Oh, nukes. Well that lets that out.

    I wish it didn’t. Powering big ships with nuclear reactors should have been standard practice by now.

  16. It is a beautiful ship – I have seen interior videos and it is eerie. But I wonder what it would cost to build a ship like this from the keel vs refurbishing it.

    That is a lot of rust to scrape off.

    In Sacramento today there is a riverboat that is used as a hotel – the Delta King. For years she and her sister ship the Delta Queen plied the Sacramento River to San Francisco.

    The Delta Queen was sold and for years – until recently I think – traveled the Mississippi.

    The Delta King sat for decades half submerged down at Rio Vista, about 40 miles down the river.

    It was towed up, and I can remember when my uncle was alive talking with this couple who it seemed single handedly started refurbishing this proud old boat. I can remember 2-4 people just scraping the old wood.

    I am sure they had some help but here it is today:

    So maybe there is hope for the United States.

  17. A small personal connection.

    I have a vague recollection from 1955 or thereabouts when I was a young boy of 4. My parents, three siblings and I traveled from San Jose to the Port of San Francisco to see my paternal grandparents off on a Round the World cruise on the USS United States. I don’t recall much of the event, other
    than watching vast amounts of confetti fill the air.

    Many years later, mid 90s I think, I recall my father discussing his parents over a holiday meal. He brought up in his comments the fact that for the duration of the 3 month cruise, his mother occupied the small stateroom at night, while his father was compelled to sleep in a very small
    attached closet or cupboard. Perhaps this explains why I have never had the slightest interest in taking a holiday cruise. It must be genetic.

    I was living in Philadelphia at the time the USS United States was berthed on the Delaware in South Philly. I drove past many times just to look at it. It definitely needs a fresh coat of paint.

  18. Available for sale in the Netherlands: this 248-foot paddlesteamer, Majesteit. Currently configured for 600 passengers for daytime excursion use, but could probably be reconfigured for extended cruising on Europe’s rivers.

  19. One issue for Rhine river steamers is the current, which can be six knots in places.

    At one time, my yacht club booked cruises on canal boats on the the Canal du Midi, a masterwork built in the 17th century. The club booked one entire line for a two week period. The canal boats go up to the end of the canal and then back to the Med. They had it set up so one group or family (some boats are multiple family size) took the boat from start to the end, then another group took it back so you did not have to retrace your steps unless you wanted to do so. Twice I tried to sign up but the trips were booked in a day or two.

    I would still like to do one. You can take bicycles for short side trips to villages and the lock keepers sell fresh vegetables.

    Rhine cruises are much bigger projects and require a big boat.

  20. That cruise line is all crewed barges. The club was chartering bare boat barges that you operated yourself. It was much cheaper I would imagine and handling is pretty simple if you are used to boats.

  21. I’d like to do a bareboat charter on European rivers, say, Rhine and Danube via the relatively new Rhine-Danube canal. I have a fair amount of experience with sailboats up to 41′ and a little bit with a powerboat up to that size range. There is a lot of commercial traffic on these river, though, and the regulatory issues (permits from various governments) look daunting, based on the small amount of research I’ve done.

  22. “There is a lot of commercial traffic on these river,”

    The Canal du Midi has almost no commercial traffic. There may be a little as there was 20 years ago when we were interested.

    These are the multi-family size and would be good to do with a partner family to share work and expense.

    I don’t know the cost anymore but it was similar to a hotel in the country, not Paris which is second only to London in expense. Even Venice, the last time I was there, was cheaper than Paris.

  23. SS United States is mostly aluminum in areas outside of the hull. This was both to reduce weight for top speed and to reduce fire hazards from wood etc. It should have held up well

  24. Bill Brandt:”The Delta King sat for decades half submerged down at Rio Vista, about 40 miles down the river. ”

    I went ‘junk yarding’ with two of my brothers back a ways when I was a CA resident. After wandering for several hours, we went to a park that was on the Sacramento River likely near Carquinez Strait to have a picnic.
    Any way, I remember seeing a half-sunken ferry boat that was what I call an ‘attractive nuisance”. I wanted to go exploring but did not. Instead we watched a young man who had a large fish on his line. Google tells me it was a sturgeon. He had hooked it while on a pier overlooking the strait, and did not know what to do. A passing boat was hailed, and allowed him to climb down (~20-30 feet above waterline) and board so he was finally able to land the fish. When it was hauled out and hanging to be weighed, we wandered over to see it, and it was over 5 feet in length. From what I understand, it was likely near 100 years of age. Ugly, too.
    That was a good memory to dredge up. While we were wandering in the yard, I noticed a 1966-67 Rambler Ambassador convertible. Body in perfect condition, and remarked this would be the same as finding hens teeth for someone looking for a Rambler. Given their market, I doubt 100 were made.
    I would assume that what we saw was the Delta King prior to its re-floating and re-rehabilitation. The location was a bit further downstream from Rio Vista, which is a one-stoplight town that does have a camp ground that we stayed at pretty close.
    The Delta King website ‘about’ has this to say, which conflicts with being submerged for years:

    “In 1984, after being partially submerged for 15 months in San Francisco Bay, the Delta King was acquired by my family and towed to Old Sacramento, where it underwent a complete historical renovation.”
    What we saw appeared to have been there for more than 15 months, but it has been close to 35 years ago so my memory is likely as good as anyones….

  25. Tomw- Wow. I don’t know what happened but my last post didn’t get sent to Chicago.

    Anyway the shorter version: The site of the Delta King while it was languishing in the river seemed to be about 300 yards north of the Rio Vista Bridge. The river is very wide at Rio Vista and it is where the Sacramento deep water channel goes 40 miles or so north to Sacramento.

    It’s also where a whale made Rio Vista famous in the 80s – Humphrey the Humpback apparently got his navigational bearings screwed up and swam though the bay up the river.

    For those who know about the Bonneville Speed Week, it is where Craig Breedlove lived while he was building his jet powered car Spirit of America. He had intended to break the sound barrier but the Brits beat him to it.

    He sold the car to Steve Fawcette and IIRC it was on a flight of Fawcetts tryinkg to scop out a place to run it that he crashed and was killed in the Sierras.

    Lots of things to see in Rio Vista – including Foster’s Big Horn – food is so so but the animal collection….

Comments are closed.