Those were the days

By Philip Shart
This item appears on page 21 of the February 2022 issue.

The piers are long gone, and so are the ships that offered romance and adventure. All that is left are the memories of sailing days….

An oppressive heat is in the air. Cars and honking taxis in a serpentine line snake their way under New York City’s West Side Elevated Highway as they inch toward the pier.

The massive black hull and white superstructure tower over the pier. A wisp of smoke curls from the funnel. The liner is decked out with colored flags that flutter in the breeze. From the top mast, there’s the Blue Peter, which means the harbor pilot is on board and the ship will sail soon.

At the pier, people leave the vehicles and are met by porters. These men collect the suitcases, which have labels showing each passenger’s name, cabin number and class and are marked “Wanted On Voyage.” Large pieces of luggage not wanted as hand luggage had to arrive 24 hours before sailing and were placed in a luggage room.

The passengers follow the porters into the dock. Once inside, they take elevators or escalators to the next level, where there are stands selling floral arrangements and a chance to send a “Bon voyage” telegram to be delivered to the ship before sailing.

From the ceiling, large flags hang down. There is a cacophony of sounds of human voices and the clang of conveyor belts carrying luggage from the pier into the black hull that is pockmarked with portholes. Through open spaces, you can see through windows of Promenade Deck.

There are booths marked “First Class,” “Cabin Class” and “Tourist Class.” Here, passengers check in and show their passports and ship tickets. There are desks for visitors. The visitors pay 50 cents, the money going to the seamen’s fund. Visitors have a separate gangplank.

Passengers and visitors use different gangplanks to carry them from the shore to the ship, or from reality to fantasy.

As you enter the ship, you find stewards lined up to direct you to your cabin or help you with hand baggage. As you move through the reception area, you can hear the sounds of the ship’s band playing in a lounge.

The corridors are jammed with passengers, visitors and stewards carrying luggage, fruit baskets and floral arrangements. Several of the cabin doors are open to reveal bon voyage parties. There’s the aroma of Chanel N°5. People are sitting in chairs and on beds. There are animated conversations and laughter as they nibble hors d’oeuvres and sip champagne.

The people who are on line at the Purser’s counter either hope to have a cabin change or want to put something of value in the safe.

While in port, the three classes of passengers are not separated. Once the ship is at sea, barriers will go up, and the classes will have to remain in their respective sections.

A maître d’ sits in front of each of the three restaurants. People request either first or second sitting, small or large table. They will have this for the entire voyage.

On the open Promenade Deck, there are head deck stewards. Passengers each pick the location they want. They pay a fee and have that chair for the rest of the voyage.

It is now about an hour before sailing. Last-minute passengers dash up the gangplank. Throughout the ship, there is the clashing of gongs, and stewards call out, “All visitors ashore. All ashore who’s going ashore.”

Not all visitors leave. There is a final announcement over the loudspeakers: “The ship is under sailing orders. This is the final call for all visitors to leave. The gangplank located on Promenade Deck midships will be lowered shortly.”

Now the remaining visitors drain their champagne glasses and gather their things, some taking an ashtray as a souvenir. They hug, kiss, bid a last-minute “Bon voyage” and head to the gangplank.

Once ashore, visitors go home or else head to one of the open spaces or to the railing at the end of the pier to watch the ship sail.

On the ship, stewards are busy cleaning up the remains of bon voyage parties. The passengers move to stand in front of the large windows on Promenade Deck or to open deck spaces. Stewards are handing out streamers.

Moran tugs are near the ship.

At the end of the pier is a traffic light. The light is controlled by a representative of the ship’s company. His job is to make sure the channel is clear of all ships. The light is red.

The light turns yellow. There is a loud roar from the passengers as the last gangplank is lowered. Longshoremen begin to untie the moorings. The Moran tugs move in close to the ship.

The light turns green. There is a loud, long, deep-sounding blast from the ship’s horn. The deck band starts to play “Anchors Aweigh.” Passengers feel a slight vibration. People on the pier notice the water around the areas of the ship’s propeller starting to churn.

At first, the ship appears to hardly move. Slowly, she starts to pick up speed.

The ship’s loud horn continues to sound off. From the deck, a cascade of multicolored streamers tumbles down. Passengers wave and shout to the visitors on the pier, who respond in turn.

The ship turns, the bow pointing down the North River channel. For a second she doesn’t move. There’s one long loud blast from the ship’s horn. The Moran tugs pull away. The ship starts to move, and she’s under way.

Tamarac, FL