My Passion For Ships

A LIFE WELL LIVED

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Photo courtesy of Ken Brooks

During his childhood, day trips aboard the S.S. Catalina to the island of Santa Catalina, located 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, began Ken Brooks’ love of ships.

Beginning when I was probably 5 years old, my parents would take me to the Los Angeles Harbor to board the S.S. Catalina for a two-and-a-half hour sail to the island of Santa Catalina located 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. The ship was small compared to the giants of today, but to a kid it seemed gigantic. It was a day liner that held some 2,000 passengers who sat in seats all around the vessel to enjoy the blue waters during the passage. Often, we could stand at the rail and see flying fish bolt from the water as they attempted to fly away from the ship as it passed by. At certain times of the year we could view giant whales as they found their way from the north to the southern seas to breed and have their calves.

There was a cruise director who gave announcements during the voyage pointing out various points of interest as well as the activities onboard ship. At about noon we docked at the town of Avalon where we debarked and walked the beachfront filled with shops and restaurants of varying types. We usually selected a seafood eatery so as to enjoy the tasty offerings of the sea around the island. After lunch we found a patch of sand at the beautiful beach and spent much of the afternoon going swimming and getting sunburned.

At about 4 p.m. the ship whistle blew two blasts and we gathered our belongings, put on our clothes over the bathing suits and headed to the pier to board the ship for the return sailing to Los Angeles Harbor. We got into port before dark, found the car and drove home. What a great day. Well, this began my love of ships.

During my childhood years we cruised to Catalina Island several times each year. The big white ship, the sea and the sounds continued to retain my interest in passenger shipping.

Few large passenger ships called on Los Angeles after World War II and before cruising picked up in the later 1960s and 1970s. My father and I would watch the local Los Angeles newspaper listings of ship arrivals and departures and he would take me to the harbor piers to watch the large and famous passenger ships arrive, unload and load passengers and depart. Dad must have enjoyed it also or he would never have been my “taxi.”

I remember Holland America Line would come in several times a year and every two weeks Matson Line’s luxury Lurline and Matsonia, which sailed to Hawaii, would be in port and often so would their Mariposa and Monterrey, sailing every six weeks to the South Pacific. Once in awhile a P&O ship from England and the South Pacific would be in Los Angeles and they were always interesting.

When I was 16, my father took me to Alaska for a couple weeks. We drove from Los Angeles to Vancouver and boarded Canadian Pacific’s steamship Princess Patricia for the Inside Passage trip to the southern Alaska ports. We left the ship in Skagway and boarded the narrow gauge train to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory of Canada. There, we took a paddle wheel boat up the river to a small town, which had been a mining site in the 1890s called Dawson. I believe we boarded the boat down river on its return to Whitehorse the next day. I remember our stay in Whitehorse since the hotels were fully booked and the only place we could overnight was in a small trailer, which was sitting on top of a garage. There was a tired stairway from the ground to the trailer. Not exactly the Hilton.

After our return to Skagway we took another Canadian Pacific steamer to more Alaskan panhandle towns before returning to Vancouver. This was my first trip out of the U.S.

In the later 1960s and 1970s, cruise lines began doing business. Princess, Sitmar and even Costa came to the West Coast along with Royal Viking Lines luxury vessels on occasion. During this time I took TV directing jobs in the West, Midwest and East. I always took vacations on cruise ships. I remember the Home Lines out of New York with their elegant Oceanic and comfortable Doric sailing to the Caribbean and Bermuda.

By this time Princess and Sitmar were cruising from Los Angeles to the so-called Mexican Riviera. Sitmar had their Fairsea and Fairwind and Princess prided themselves with their modern Pacific Princess and Island Princess. Princess not only took passengers to Mexico, the Panama Canal and East Coast, but on occasions so did Sitmar.

More and more ships came on line on both the West and East Coasts as cruising really began to catch on. Passengers realized what a fine, trouble-free, vacation could be had on a ship. I enjoyed vacations on many ships sailing from both coasts during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s as more and more cruise companies were established with a their wonderful ships.

Popular were Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and the new baby in the 1970s was Carnival Cruise Lines.

Here is an interesting success story — a family of ship lovers begot Carnival Cruise Lines with a rather sad ship that had belonged to Canadian Pacific. They purchased it for a good price and spent little to convert it to cruising. It had been a transatlantic vessel. So, they went for a crowd that wanted to cruise at a lesser fare. Since the ship was not up to the general standards of the other cruise ships of the time, they decided they would advertise their ship as the “Fun Ship” and provided plenty of onboard activities, lots of drinking possibilities, much dancing, conga lines in the hallways, etc. Well, you probably know the success of Carnival. It really caught on with a new market of passengers, those that didn’t want to dress up, those who didn’t need gourmet food and who wanted plenty of booze and a few ports of call in the islands. The company continues to grow today and now controls 80 percent of the cruise beds out of the United States. Some of the companies they own are: Holland America Line, Costa, Cunard and Princess to name of few.

After I left the television directing and producing business I continued to take many cruises to various destinations in the world.

In 1988/89 I became an onboard port lecturer for Holland America Line living on their Noordam. For the most part, we home ported in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and did seven-day Caribbean cruises calling on San Juan, Puerto Rico, St.Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and two other ports before returning to Florida on Saturdays. Besides giving port lectures to the passengers I also worked two days each cruise in the shore excursion department selling tour tickets to the passengers. The Noordam carried 1,200 passengers and I can remember only good things about the experience. I also hosted a table in the dining room twice each week clothed in a tuxedo. Except for the Caribbean sailings we cruised to South America during the Christmas and New Year’s period. I particularly enjoyed these longer cruises. The passengers are more laid back and it was not so hectic with more time at sea.

I continue now to try and take at least three or four cruises each year. Some to new ports of call, many to the tried and true destinations cruisers know so well.

The Caribbean never disappoints if you are on the right ship, and Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and Alaska in the summer are also great places to visit via a cruise.

I find longer cruises most enjoyable because of the slower pacing, more days at sea and more time to relax and enjoy sea life.

Around South America is nice, a South Pacific journey is fascinating visiting perhaps Hawaii, Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand with some other small islands thrown in for good measure. These usually last five weeks and more.

The ships get larger and larger and as they do, I look for the smaller vessels to enjoy a more intimate experience, which I prefer. These smaller craft allow you to get to know the passengers and are really like a private club going to sea.

The very large ships can be compared to a very nice resort. It depends on what you think you might prefer.

Today, most ships offer private balconies. These are wonderful because you have private space to enjoy the outdoors using chairs and chase lounges to relax and read away from the other guests on the ship.

If you have never cruised before, try it. I know you will like it. I have personally taken at least 100 cruises in my lifetime and look forward to the next. The passion continues!

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