Clive Harvey
Passenger in the Post-SAL Era

The Sea Princess, ex Kungsholm, in 1983, at St Kitts in the Caribbean.
Photo by Clive Harvey.

The Swedish American Line site is an absolute delight. For me to say that the ships of Swedish American were perfection is pointless, we know that already! I regret that I never sailed with SAL. However, I do have experiences of the ships in what might be called a second-hand manner. 

It begins on 25th June 1975, I went down to Tilbury to see Gripsholm, she was on one of her long Northern European cruises from New York. Back in those days before there were security guards at every turn it used to be easy to just walk aboard any visiting cruise ship but not Gripsholm. My way was barred! Oh, how frustrated I felt. The ship looked utterly beautiful as she sailed away in the afternoon sunshine. It was to be the very last time that she called at Tilbury/London.

Moving on to the following year, 1976, I had boarded the Polish liner Stefan Batory in Southampton on 24th July for a voyage to Poland, after a few days there we'd be back on the ship for the voyage home. On the outward voyage our first port was Hamburg, on 26th July, and there as we moved towards our berth up ahead of us was Kungsholm. I had no idea that she was going to be there and we passed so closely that I felt that I could reach out and touch her. She was the very epitome of elegance. Of course by this time she was she was wearing the colours of Flagship Cruises. I wish now that I had taken more photographs of her on that day. However, just 11 months later I was again in Tilbury, and Kungsholm was there. Although it was mid-summer it was an utterly miserable day and, initially it seemed as though to totally frustrate my photographic attempts Kungsholm was at anchor in the middle of the river as the Soviet liner Mikhail Lermontov was at the Tilbury Landing Stage dock (she was on one of her trans-Atlantic voyages so her call there was quite short). It was one of those occasions when you grasp the moment and 'to hell with the consequences.' 

A bus load of Kungsholm's passengers had obviously just arrived and the people were walking along the dockside to the waiting tender that was tied up in the shadow of Mikhail Lermontov. I joined them (of course, this was in the days before swipe cards etc). I did always dress up a little when I went ship-watching so that if one were able to get on board one did not stand out as being a stranger. This was an instance where this really worked. I was there on the launch and within moments the hull of Kungsholm was towering above us and before you knew it there I was - on board!

Well, she was of course perfectly wonderful but I was of course then stuck there on board. Now I was pretty sure that she was not due to sail for several hours but nevertheless there were more than just a few moments of anxiety. Mikhail Lermontov let go her ropes and headed off down river, I cannot recall now whether she was heading to Canada or home to Leningrad. However, a short while later there was a rumbling of Kungsholm's engines, the anchor having been raised. We were moving......................well, all that we did was manoeuvre into the vacated berth alongside the Landing Stage. So I guess that was the shortest cruise that anyone ever took aboard Kungsholm!

The following August, again at Tilbury, I was able to go aboard the Hapag cruise ship Europa, the former Kungshom. I absolutely loved her! The dark panelling, the crystal lights really gave her a very special glamour. I was captivated by her. I saw her again just a few weeks later, only on that occasion I was on board Vistafjord in Southampton and we were preparing to sail for the Mediterranean, Europa sailed just before we did - two beautiful liners together.

In January 1980 I at last managed to get aboard Gripsholm, only by then she was named Navarino. I was in Southampton to see friends off on a voyage. The ship of course lived up to all my expectations and I always regret that I never got myself organised to sail on one of her cruises. Sadly, I never saw the ship ever again. I did, however, return again to the former Kungsholm only by this time (17 June 1982) she was named Columbus C. Once again I was in Tilbury and I was able to get aboard the ship, nothing was changed except that Costa Line house keeping was not as good as that of Hapag for I noted dust on the polished table tops!!

On the 3rd September of that year I at last boarded the last Kungsholm legitimately! Of course by this time she was known as Sea Princess. I can't say that I was thrilled by what P&O had done to her profile, one just has to ask 'Why?' Especially when it would have been so much easier to make changes to her without making a total mess of her exterior. I mourned the loss of that beautiful aft-facing smoking room. Still, at least those public rooms that remained were untouched. It had apparently been their initial plan to sweep away the entire forward-facing lounge and the side lounges and turn them into one big space. A senior cruise director with the company urged them not to. Fortunately, they listened to his advice. I sailed again on the ship in 1985, this time a fly-cruise from Athens to Eastern Mediterranean ports.

In April 1983 I at last managed to see Volkerfreundschaft ex Stockholm and this was on yet another of my trips down to Tilbury and I believe that this also turned out to be her final call at that port. I was however able to see her again but this time it was during her time laid up in Southampton. She looked very sad indeed and it seemed as though she was very certainly at the end of her life. I never imagined that I'd see her again but before that occasion I once again had the opportunity for another cruise aboard Sea Princess. Whereas the previous cruises had both been of just 7 days this was to be a three-weeks cruise across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and back during the Christmas and New Year holidays. The longer kind of cruise that she was built for. Sadly, since our previous cruise she'd spent time under the Princess Cruises banner and her public rooms had been spoiled, the beautiful ballroom turned into a boring and unattractive show lounge. Nevertheless it was still good to be aboard this lovely ship. In the first couple of days her ocean liner design was really needed as we spent almost all of that time in a Force 11. She handled it well and my partner and I were some of the few on board who were not sea sick but after 2 days of those sea conditions I was rather pleased once we got some calmer seas.

That was my final time aboard the last of the White Vikings and I don't even recall ever having seen her as Victoria or in any of her other names since. However, it was not my last connection with the ships of the Swedish American Line: I followed with utter amazement the rebuilding and total transformation of the former Stockholm into the Italia Prima and yet once more I was there in Tilbury to see her make her first call there, on 31st July 1996. It was ten years later that my partner (who has little knowledge of ships) asked if I knew anything of a ship named Athena and whether I fancied the idea of a cruise aboard her, a five weeks cruise, down to Brazil and back - we'd be there for carnaval! Imagine my excitement.

Many months later we had to take a long bus journey through the night down to Falmouth and there we boarded the former Stockholm for our long cruise. If you know where to look you can still see remnants of the Stockolm profile. It was a fantastic cruise in every respect and remarkable that this ship of all the post-war SAL liners should seem to be the one to survive the longest even if all but unrecognisable.

So, those are my memories (or some of them at least) of the ships of Swedish American Line. SAL after life memories I suppose. Thanks again for a wonderful site of wonderful ships.

Clive Harvey

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