Queen of the Sea

The cruise season is underway again in the southern hemisphere. Just thinking about this annual invasion of floating palaces made me nostalgic for the time (not so long ago) when cruise ships were much smaller and looked like ships, not multi-storied apartment blocks on a barge.

A brief search through the files came up with one example that was based at Southampton, England, and very popular in the 1960s and ’70s.

Reina del Mar (1955) from a postcard.

The Reina del Mar wasn’t even built for cruising but evolved into the trade. Launched in 1955 as a passenger/cargo vessel, she spent her first eight years sailing between Liverpool and the west coast of South America for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, at a loss. The route, like many others at the time, lost business to airlines and jet travel. The company reluctantly decided to withdraw her from service in 1963 and she was chartered for cruising by the Travel Savings Association, a partnership headed by South African millionaire Max Wilson. This episode deserves a page of its own and is well explained here.

The Reina’s new role called for an extensive refit.

Reina del Mar in 1964 with TSA logo on funnel. Card by J. Arthur Dixon.

1964. The Reina del Mar in TSA livery after her refit. Postcard by J. Arthur Dixon.

The cargo holds were converted to cabin space and the superstructure extended forward above them to form the Coral Lounge, claimed to be the biggest public room on any ship then afloat. The box-like structure between the bridge and the funnel was a cinema, perhaps not the best place to put it. Every movement of the ship could be felt at that height, making it difficult to concentrate on a movie when the Reina was “on a roll” (and not in a good way). The postcard above was sent from Gibraltar in 1964. The cryptic message on the back says –
“11.45 p.m. Monday Oct. 26
….as you can see we are on a Med. cruise. 1st stop Gibraltar at 2 p.m. 2nd stop Naples Thurs., Palermo Sat., Lisbon Nov 4th. The passage Friday very rough, alright now.”
Seems like the Bay of Biscay lived up to its reputation on Friday (not a good movie night). It isn’t always like that.

Sadly, the TSA organisation collapsed a year later but not before Wilson had given the British cruise “industry” a much needed shake-up. One of his partners, the Union Castle Line, took over the Reina del Mar charter and she appeared in company colours soon afterwards.

The Union Castle cruise ship 'Reina del Mar' in Grand Harbour, Malta, c. 1971

Grand Harbour, Malta. 1971.

Union Castle eventually bought the Reina in 1973, just in time for an oil crises that saw fuel prices quadruple. This made the company’s only cruise ship uneconomic and she was scrapped in 1975 – at 20 years old. From that point on cruise ships would be built using the economy of scale to keep fares affordable. More passengers on more decks.

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