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The White Ships, 1927-1978: A Tribute to Matson's Luxury Liners Hardcover – November, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
I would have ordered this book differently. SOLAS--safety legislation in response to the burning of the Morro Castle off Asbury Park, NJ, in the thirties--(which just sent the Delta Queen into retirement for no good reason) changed the look of the Matson ships, dramatically, yet we have to flip back to earlier chapters to observe how much. I would have had before and after pictures side by side, even if placed in different topics elsewhere.
I would have also done more research on the movie appearances of these ships as they appear long after they've gone Greek, in such movies as "Splash" (in the background of a NY harbor scene) and in "Never On Sunday" where one shows up in Greece as the shipyard workers jump into the water.
Overall, the book doesn't reveal much that is new, or cause its owner to take it off the shelf very often. I like having it, but as much as I love these ships--the image of the Lurline is the dominate repeating image in my tiki hut--this book just doesn't quite deliver. If you like these ships, you will need to buy this book, if not, i'm not sure what to say that will sell you on it.
Cargoes is another book I would recommend if you are interested in Matson and shipping.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
When it comes to ocean liners and San Francisco, the name Matson still evokes the romance and wonder from the golden age of pre-airline Pacific voyages. To experience Hawaii on a Matson cruise was the height of luxury travel - and in some cases the only travel - to the (then) truly exotic and foreign world of Waikiki.
In what obviously is a very personal labor of love, Duncan O'Brien has compiled a history of the "white ships" - the Malolo, Mariposa, Monterey, Lurline and Matsonia - from 1927 to 1978, told through timelines, text and, most importantly, hundreds of photographs. The book's real strength is as a scrapbook: The writing is pretty standard, but the research is solid and the images are compelling, especially for anyone who was a passenger - or who heard the stories.
Among the gems are a photo of Hilo Hattie performing a hula on the deck of the Matsonia in 1948; an advertisement for the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco offering rooms for $3.50 per night; and several pages of celebrity passengers, including Cary Grant, Eddie Cantor and Elvis Presley on his first visit to the islands.
Over the course of 248 pages, O'Brien describes the beginnings, revels in the glory years and mourns the eventual obsolescence and death of the Matson ships. The preface makes it clear that his family spent a good amount of time on these vessels. It shows in the book.
SS Monterey (renamed Lurline in 1963 and thus the ship that older Hawaii residents remember) entered service in 1931, was still in use in the late 1990s and finally sank on the way to the shipbreaker's in 2000. The later Monterey, built in 1952 and rebuilt as a liner in 1956, was scrapped only two years ago.
The white ships were not originally white, either. The first, SS Malolo in 1927, was painted in dark colors like a North Atlantic liner.
Only much smaller. Although Malolo (later Matsonia) was a leap forward among Pacific (and, for that matter, American-built) liners in size, speed and comfort, she was half the size and several knots slower than the Atlantic greyhounds.
The first Boat Day for Malolo in Honolulu still stands as one of the islands' biggest, most excited civic events.
O'Brien, who traveled via Matson as a child, emphasizes the grand manner of Matson and its high levels of service. But he never offers a very exact comparison with what went before. Malolo carried 389 passengers in first class, 163 in second. The ships that crossed the North Pacific in the emigrant trade were much smaller but carried a thousand or more travelers.
No wonder the well-off loved the white ships.
There were six in all. The Pacific is so big that although a Matson liner could race from San Francisco or Los Angeles to Honolulu in five days, it took three weeks to reach Sydney.
There is a little bit here about the ships that preceded the white ships, including pictures of the liners Harvard and Yale, looking very Edwardian and suitable for a lake excursion and not a trip across the ocean.
The advertising copy that O'Brien reproduces sounds quaint (or worse), and a few of the candid passenger shots he has collected at flea markets and estate sales are a hoot. It truly was a more sedate era. The (partial) diary of two L.A. girls looking for action, while suggestive, would be too tame for TV nowadays.
"The White Ships" is mostly a picture book, but there is a business story here. With the help of subsidies, Matson did well even during the Depression, but the finest period for the white ships lasted just 14 years.
Gutted for use as troopships, conditions had changed so much by 1946 that Matson could afford to refit only one ship, the first Lurline liner (but third of that name). It took more than 10 years to bring more ships into service.
The last of the original white ships, the Monterey-Matsonia-Lurline, was sold in 1970, but the newer, smaller Mariposa and Monterey kept sailing their accustomed routes, though no longer for Matson, until 1978.
Unlike the Atlantic companies (except Cunard), Matson had an excellent safety record, so "The White Ships" does not have exciting stories to tell. The story of the white ships is like a voyage on one of them -- long and languid.