Posted on Monday, March 10, 2008 by Peter Knego
by Peter Knego
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On a cold, sleepless night this past December, winds howling outside my bedroom window, I hitched an imaginary ride with Theodore W. Scull as he stepped aboard P&O; Line’s 1954-built ORSOVA on a fine San Francisco day in 1972. Across the slip from the streamer-dripped liner lay her near sister, the 1951-built ORONSAY, both fading remnants of a shipping empire that tenuously linked the world.
I read the restrained prose of Ted’s latest book, OCEAN LINER TWILIGHT 1968 — 1979, slowly, hoping the adventure would never come to an end. To have been on board that particular liner on one of her final transpacific crossings, encountering other soon-to-disappear vessels such as PRESIDENT CLEVELAND in Honolulu, the ENNA G in Nauru and ARCADIA in Sydney, was just one of many firsthand glimpses of the fascinating, final days of the ocean liner, long before the cruising boom that we enjoy today.
Other amazing chapters include passages through the Indian Ocean on a variety of delightfully obscure vessels, ranging from British India’s DWARKA, KARANJA and KAMPALA to Shipping Corporation of India’s harrowingly-portrayed STATE OF MADRAS.
A voyage in ORIANA, halted as she caught fire upon departure from Southampton; a line voyage on the RMS WINDSOR CASTLE; crossings in the FRANCE and QE2; and surreal romps around the Western Pacific in LAOS and RAJAH BROOKE help round out Ted’s excellent TWILIGHT adventures.
Although a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker today, Ted Scull’s ancestral roots are steeped in early Pennsylvanian culture. Driven from Britain in 1682 by the Quaker persecution, the Sculls settled in Philadelphia. According to Ted, “Several generations became Commonwealth surveyors, including two Nicholas Sculls as Surveyors General. They spoke some of the Native American languages which helped negotiations, sadly not always in the latters’ favor. In 1825, William S. Scull started a coffee business across the Delaware in Camden, NJ next to Campbell Soup, and it burgeoned into a successful firm with three locations (Camden, NJ, Rochester, NY and Dayton, OH) producing coffee, tea and peanut products under the Boscul brand and later Bosco, the chocolate sauce. The firm was sold in the 1960s to Coca Cola, so my generation was the first not to have this employment option — thank goodness.”
I asked Ted to recap his impressive schooling credits. “I first went to Haverford Friends, a Quaker School, then Haverford School (across Railroad Avenue) both on Philadelphia’s Main Line, and for high school, away to St. George’s, a boarding school overlooking the sea in Newport, RI where my father and brother went. My undergraduate work landed a history degree (BA) at Trinity College, Hartford, CT, then abroad to the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, for a Masters in History (MA Area Studies), and a Masters in Education (MS), specializing in guidance and counseling, at Bank Street College in New York.”
Ted utilized his degrees by first joining the faculty at two NYC independent schools, teaching grades 5-9 at St. Bernard’s School on the East Side, then grades 6,7,8,11 &12 at Trinity School on the West Side. He became Middle School principal at Trinity, where his Australian-born wife, Suellyn, is currently Acting Head (with plans for retirement following the school’s 300th anniversary).
Ted’s initial exposure to ocean liners was on his family’s annual summer pilgrimages (beginning in 1947) from Philadelphia to Nantucket, which included a drive along the Westside Highway past the prows of the great Europe-bound transatlantic icons. Although he did enjoy short crossings from New Bedford to Nantucket on the ships of the The Steamship Authority, his first tangible “big ship” encounter was a visit to American Export Line’s SS INDEPENDENCE in 1957 to see his grandmother off on a Springtime cruise. That December, his mother having already sprung for a first class crossing on French Line’s LIBERTE, took Ted and his brother to the Continent for the first time. We owe a great debt to Mrs. Scull for leading her young son into a life of crossings, voyages and far-flung adventures aboard a wide range of celebrated and obscure liners and cruise ships.
As much as he would have loved to have crossed in ILE DE FRANCE, Ted counts
himself as lucky for having sailed in five French Line vessels. He officially donned the hats of maritime lecturer and travel writer in the late 1970s when he left teaching behind but his encyclopedic knowledge goes beyond the realm of ships, encompassing New York City as well as all things railroad.
Even with the imminent retirement of QE2, you may still find Ted at the podium on one of her Cunard descendants, ships of other lines or even on solid ground (the latter category can range from a casual ship enthusiasts’ gathering to a gig at the Smithsonian). He particularly enjoys lecturing about New York on westbound transatlantic crossings, noting that audiences on these voyages are “really interested in coming, and I get to Britain and Europe before hand.” His favorite liner topics are those where he can share personal experiences “to bring them alive, whether it be transatlantic, around Africa, across the Indian Ocean or in Southeast Asia; ship poster, post card and brochure art; Cunard history and especially the QUEENs as I lecture mainly on Cunard ships.”
In 1998, Anthony Cooke’s Carmania Press published the first volume of Ted’s modern day Homeric quests, appropriately titled, OCEAN LINER ODYSSEY 1958 — 1969. In its ten chapters, we are treated to transatlantic escapades aboard LIBERTE, BREMEN, KUNGSHOLM, HANSEATIC, SYLVANIA, QUEEN ELIZABETH, FRANCE, QE2, CRISTOFORO COLOMBO and ROTTERDAM and Mediterranean musings on PRESIDENT DE CALAZET, VILLE DE MARSEILLE, SAN MARCO, and others as well as a Canadian coastal cruise in the obscure NORTHLAND PRINCE. This must-read gave us a firsthand account of shipboard life from the eye and mind of someone steeped in it and not just along for the ride. Ted not only observed his fellow voyagers but took diligent notes about the ships, the seas they plied and the ports they visited. He began these journeys knowing that the era of travel by ship was coming to an end, which makes his observations all the more poignant.
In 2007, OCEAN LINER ODYSSEY’s much-anticipated follow up, OCEAN LINER TWILIGHT 1968 — 1979, was published by Overview Press of the U.K. For those of us who pored over the back pages of National Geographic for its colorful P&O;/Orient Line ads and expired ABC Shipping Guides procured from local travel agents, this book is equally delectable. Ships until now only privy only to the pages of Laurence Dunn’s books are brought to life through the treks of the young Theodore, beginning in 1968 with a Yokohama to Hong Kong via Taiwan sailing of the ORIENTAL PEARL and ending in 1979 with a crossing from Southampton to New York on CANBERRA. While OCEAN LINER ODYSSEY is largely transatlantic with a smattering of Mediterranean and Blue Water, OCEAN LINER TWILIGHT focuses on a netherworld of Blue Water ships rarely experienced or documented by the American ship historian.
On board MV HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS, August 1989. Photo by Suellyn P. Scull.
Although he’s seen the world many times over, with six years spent between his favorite hubs, London and Paris, and five years’ worth of sea time, Ted refreshingly maintains his enthusiasm for travel and transport. For him, it’s not just about dining in the Queens Grill of a glamorous Cunarder or donning a tuxedo at exclusive captain’s parties (not that he’d find those options objectionable). Bets are on, however, that you would sooner find him clinging to the rails of the QE2′s observation deck as she plunges through a stormy crossing or grinning from the front seat of a JFK Airtrain as it rattles along the VanWyck Expressway.
Fortunately, Ted can also handle a camera, which lends an added cachet to the content of his OCEAN LINER ODYSSEY and OCEAN LINER TWILIGHT. Some of the ships he covered have rarely been photographed. “I have no idea (how many photos I’ve taken) but (it would be) in the thousands, since snapping some three-funneled Canadian Pacific coastal ships in 1959 after driving down from Alaska. They are organized according to trips, with New York photos arranged chronologically.”
The author is currently working on several book projects, including the fifth edition of 100 Best Cruise Vacations, The Top Cruises Throughout the World for All Interests and Budgets, and an updated makeover of Hoboken’s Lackawanna Terminal. On the latter, the avowed train enthusiast notes, “It is under major restoration and this wonderful place is one of my favorite transportation structures.”
Just as he was inspired by the brilliant, prolific Laurence Dunn, Ted Scull has been a great inspiration to those of us who were unable to join in on his early quests. Now with OCEAN LINER TWILIGHT and OCEAN LINER ODYSSEY, his journeys will be enjoyed by future generations.
Like most writers, Ted goes through a creative process. “I need to get active in the morning, then I write best from midday on. We do not have dinner until 8pm, so I stop at 7 o’clock when I am the cook, something we both like to do as it is a complete change of pace. I can really only write in my home office but I get lots of ideas walking the streets of New York, and of course when traveling.”
In 2008, Ted Scull will be lecturing on three Cunard crossings (including Q
E2’s final westbound in October), taking an expedition cruise along Australia’s Kimberley Coast, spending ten days in Belgium, and a week in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. “There are likely to be other assignments but I hope not too many as I am happiest right here in NYC.”