Bye bye, Independence: A nostalgic post

Today’s paper has a story about the Independence–”the last [ocean] liner built in the United States to sail under the American flag”–being towed out of its San Francisco berth to an unknown future, most likely as scrap.

The Independence–now it’s called the Oceanic, since they seem to rename ships bound for scrapyards–was 57 years old. It spent its final two decades doing one-week Hawaii cruises for American Hawaii, until late 2001 when, partly because of 9/11, the parent company went bankrupt. NCL purchased the ship (probably as part of the strange deal that allowed NCL to reflag some foreign-built ships as American-built so they could do Hawaii cruises without going to foreign ports), but didn’t find it worthwhile to refit it and bring it up to contemporary cruise standards.

We were never on the Independence–but our very first cruise, a long time ago, was on her sister ship, the Constitution. They both did seven-day Hawaii cruises, visiting five ports on four islands and spending half a day cruising slowly past the magnificent cliffs and waterfalls of Molokai.

The ship was old even then. We couldn’t really afford a cruise, but we saved up and found a bargain price. Our cabin was directly below the bridge, which meant our portholes were covered at night with big wooden shutters (so light from our cabin wouldn’t mess up people on the bridge). That also meant that, when there was a good-sized tropical storm, we caught the brunt of it and found that, at least back then, neither of us seemed to suffer from seasickness at sea. (Half the crew got sick that night; it was a real storm, and these ships didn’t have modern stabilizers.)

The cruise was a magnificent way to see Hawaii in its varied splendors. When we went back for a land vacation, we stayed on Molokai–hardly the usual tourist spot. A few years later, we managed to pay for an Alaska cruise–and we’ve been seeing the world by cruise ship ever since (with a two-year interruption that will end late this spring). The Constitution wasn’t the worst ship we’ve been on, and certainly not the best; I’m not sure it was even the oldest.

But it was nearly unique: A relic of a time when American shipyards actually built liner-size ships and American crews ran them. You still get that on a number of riverboats and very small ships, but American Hawaii’s attempt to build two new, larger ships in American shipyards foundered.

The Constitution? It was deemed to expensive to bring it up to Safety of Life at Sea standards when that was done for the Independence. It was sold for scrap and sank somewhere at sea on its way to the scrapyards.

And now the Independence has left America, probably for the last time. Things change.

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