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Alang Again, Naturally (2010): Part One — Updated

Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 by

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After receiving the sad but not unexpected news that Louis Cruises had sold their cruise ship IVORY, the former 1957-built AUSONIA, for scrap, I knew another trip to Alang was in my future. As the one-time pride of Adriatica Lines Venice to Alexandria service was being reactivated for her final voyage to India where she would be demolished and recycled, I began the now familiar process of obtaining a visa and malaria meds as well as making airline reservations.

The one silver lining was that the ship would be arriving at Alang in the spring, versus the monsoon-drenched, scorching height of summer I experienced on five prior visits.

March 24, 2010

Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2010.

Nearly 40 hours had passed since I left my home in Moorpark, California and arrived at Bombay’s International Airport in the early morning hours of March 24. After retrieving my luggage, going through customs and exchanging dollars for rupees, I was on a shuttle to the domestic airport to catch the flight to Bhavnagar. A steaming hot cup of chai tea kept me somewhat alert in the newly-refurbished, polished granite waiting area. A “no spitting” sign loomed behind me as I wearily swatted at the occasional mosquito, waiting for my flight to be announced.

Bhavnagar Ahead! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2010.

Finally, the Bhavnagar sign was slipped into its slot at the gate. I hopped into the melee that rushed over to a shuttle that would take us to a little prop plane out on the tarmac.

All photos by and copyright Peter Knego/MidShipCentury 2010 unless otherwise noted.

Please click on image to view larger version.

Until this year, flying with Indian carrier Jet Airways was a treat, highlighted with a delicious vegetarian Indian breakfast and a refreshing bottle of salted lime juice to distract from the bumps and grinds as the diminutive fuselage careened through air pockets on its daily run to Bhavnagar. Alas, no more food service — not even those delicious candy coated anise seeds that were literally synonymous with Jet Airways travel.

The engines roared and off we sped, across the runway bordered by the sprawl of Bombay’s tin and brick slums into the sky for a northward loop between the Indian coast and the Arabian Sea. When the plane finally began its descent over the murky waters of the Gulf Of Cambay, I could see a handful of doomed ships circling, awaiting their beaching orders from nearby Alang.

Alang appeared right at the moment all electronic devices were ordered shut off. Fortunately, I was out of view of the flight attendants and the man next to me was asleep, allowing a few discreet photos and some video of the metallic carnage that unfolded a mile or so beneath the wing. In the midst of a ten mile long stretch of beached ships was the oversized hulk of the supertanker MONT, Alang’s largest ever arrival. Once I spotted her, I could make out the relatively tiny ex AUSONIA, just off the monster tanker’s port stern, stranded a half mile or so out from the shore.

Twenty minutes later, my banged up suitcase rounded the bend of the creaky luggage carousel. It was balmy and almost comfortable — a meteorlogic rarity in that part of the world. The air was filled with the familiar reek of burning manure, pungent blossoms and dust as I wheeled my luggage to the exit where my friend Kaushal awaited. I sighed, knowing that my visits are always a mixed blessing for him. Westerners, especially ones with cameras, are highly suspect and even though my mission is merely to save a bit of history and document the end days of some of the world’s most beautiful and historic liners, I am viewed by many as a threat to the region’s livelihood.

Our working relationship has had as many bumps as the potholed roads of Bhavnagar but I love and respect Kaushal. He is a good-natured, kind-hearted man with a wonderful mother and father and a beautiful, savvy wife named Malvika. They have treated me like family, which has made my trips to this most un-welcoming place tolerable and at times, even enjoyable.

By now, I was almost immune to the driving in Gujarat. Cows, wild boar, children, limping dogs, bicycles, rickshaws, buses teeming with humanity and belching lorries criss cross the roads at all times and in every possible direction. The town itself is a labyrinth of tangled streets and crumbling urban calamity that even after six prior visits, I cannot fathom.

But in the midst of it all is a sanctuary of sorts called the Nilambaugh Palace Hotel. The former raj’s palace has a huge garden full of exotic flowers, neem trees and peacocks. As I checked in, I recognized several members of the staff, who responded with a sideways crook of the neck and a demure smile. During the course of the next two weeks, they would be delivering bottles of water, the occasional meal, laundry and lime soda to my room.

We remained at the hotel long enough to drop off my luggage and then it was off to Kaushal’s office where he would make some phone calls.

A garland of dried leaves was strung over the entrance, where Kaushal ritually stops and taps the threshold in a Hindi ritual. Inside, his assistant, Bhagwan, whom we call “Bogala”, beamed a bright smile and jumped up to greet me. I have watched him evolve from tattered, shy, village boy to a hard working, determined young man. He is as fascinated with my reactions to everyday life in India as I am fascinated with, well, everyday life in India. On cue, a trio of cows daintily plodded down the driveway outside the window, and Bogala began to laugh as I raced for my cameras.

HAMBOURG I tapestry by Rene Marie Jullien (Aubusson) from SS HAMBURG. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2010.

On the shelf behind Bogala, a number of my acquisitions have accumulated. He begins to unfold a tapestry while we wait for Kaushal to complete his phone calls. The abstract Aubusson tapestry, called “Hambourg I”, was in the entrance lobby of the 1969 German-built liner HAMBURG, which spent the past 35 years sailing as the MAXIM GORKIY. I last saw it on the still sparkling vessel in Bremerhaven eighteen months prior, during the ship’s final cruise to Norway. At the time, the MAXIM GORKIY was to be renovated and renamed MARCO POLO II for the newly reformed Orient Lines but the relaunch of the venture was stillborn and the ship’s owners found the scrapper’s offer too good to refuse.

Builder's plate for MV EROS (later JASON, OCEAN ODYSSEY). Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2010.

A shield-shaped brass builder’s plate from Cantieri Riuniti Dell’Adriatico lay between “Hambourg I” and the still tidily bundled “Hambourg II”. With the hull number 1882 embossed on its face, it was from the OCEAN ODYSSEY, built in 1965 as the EROS but best known for decades of cruise service as Epirotiki Lines’ JASON.

Sconces from SS OLYMPIA (later MV REGAL EMPRESS). Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2010.

Lined up on a pair of handsome, wood-framed chairs from Holland America Line’s STATENDAM of 1957, were three double conical Art Deco nickel sconces from one of my all-time favorite ships, the REGAL EMPRESS, which began her career in 1953 as Greek Lines’ OLYMPIA. These were all Kaushal was able to rescue from some 25 fixtures that were mounted in the glowing maple woodwork of the ship’s Olympian Hall dining room.

“OK, Mr. Raj is now waiting for us.” Kaushal motioned. Mr. Raj was the shipbreaker who owned WINNER 5, the delivery name given to the once exquisite ex AUSONIA/IVORY. He is one of the few honorable breakers I have dealt with in my trips to Alang. I purchased nearly two containers’ worth of furniture from the SALONA, the former Cunard liner IVERNIA/FRANCONIA (later the Ukrainian-owned FEDOR SHALYAPIN), which he scrapped in 2004.

Shoes off, we waited in the lower level of Mr. Raj’s modern office building in Bhavnagar’s “high rent” district until his assistant led us up to a frigidly cold suite of rooms. Puffing on a cigarette and waving us in, Mr. Raj was as happy to see me as I was him. I would pay more than the locals would for the things I wanted from the ship and he would honor our agreement and make sure his workers took great care in removing them as safely as possible.

“You like tea?” he asked. “Yes, no sugar please.” He shrugged and repeated my request to his assistant in Hindi.

“You are here for WINNER 5?” “Yes, there are many things I would like to purchase from the ship.

“OK, you go on board tomorrow at high tide. I will call and tell you what time. Take photos of what you want and show me.” He and Kaushal continued the conversation in Hindi as I sipped the pungent tea.

Later, back in his car, Kaushal shook his head at me. “Mr. Raj says the currents are very strong these days and we may not be able to get to the ship. But we won’t know until we try.”

March 25, 2010

Although it was tempting to not take the Malarone with my salt lassi (a curdy yogurt drink) and omelet masala (with delicious, finely chopped, browned onions and chili peppers), being a little less dizzy and irritable was not worth the consequences of being bitten by the wrong mosquito. I packed several large bottles of water, a half dozen protein bars, Purelle, citronella, gloves, respirators, blue tape, a tape measure, sun block, trail mix and corn nuts into my EURODAM tote bag.

I felt ridiculous waiting for Kaushal at the entrance to the hotel in my Alang get-up, which includes a large safari hat, a long sleeved plaid shirt, baggy pants and heavy boots. At 8:45 AM, the white Tata rolled up and whisked me away from the curious children who had gathered around, wanting to know who I was and why I was there.

At the outskirts of Bhavnagar, Kaushal ritually pulls over and directs a prayer to a temple over his right shoulder to thank the gods for protecting us on the road to Alang. This is also where we pick up Bogala. On this particular morning, two angry bulls begin to spar at each other, causing a ripple in the crowds across the street.

Bhavnagar is soon behind us as the road traverses vast stretches of farmland that for some reason remind me of California. A remote gas station we pass has a lineup of Kay Korbing fiberglass chairs from one of several Danish ferries that met their end at Alang. We play the usual game of chicken on the two lane road, crossing into oncoming traffic to pass slower vehicles as others pass us in a soundtrack of beeping horns. It’s the villages where children and dogs play in the street that make me the most uncomfortable but life is on the edge in India and no one really seems to mind. Best to leave the methods and logic of the West behind as Eastern chaos usually works just fine until it is tampered with.

I cannot reveal how we get into the restricted area of Alang but until we are inside the specific yard we have gone to visit, the tension is very high. When the car is parked, I am ordered to run inside the gate and keep my head down.

Morning MONT. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2010.

As far as the eye could see in either direction along the beach were towering, rusty hulls and torn superstructures. There was non-stop hammering, cutting and the groaning of winches that strain to pull the broken ships ever closer. The huge red hull of the partially broken tanker MONT, the former VIKING JAHRE/KNOCK NEVIS, dwarfed everything around us. It would take the greater part of a year for what was left of her 1,600 foot hulk to succumb. The keel of a container ship was on the beach in front of us as workers wrenched tangled equipment from the upper level of its engine compartment.

VIKING QUEEN and line up at Alang. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2010.

On the next plot was the recently beached, still intact blue ro/ro ferry VIKING QUEEN, awaiting her first cut.

WINNER 5 awaits. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2010.

Backlit in the morning sun and visible between the aforementioned hulks, the WINNER 5 beckoned. The graceful profile I had seen in such beautiful backdrops as Genoa, Santorini, Rhodes and Patmos sat serenely silent, like a ghost.

WINNER 5 (ex AUSONIA, IVORY). Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2010.

Brother Bogala.

Bogala stayed with me on the beach, awaiting the tender that would pick us up and deliver us to the WINNER. Sea conditions were choppy but not unmanageable, although the tender was running a bit late. For me, the more time on the forbidden beach, the better. I savored the opportunity to prop my cameras on a solid surface (usually a broken piece of ship or an exposed rock) and shoot away. Hunched over in my plaid shirt, I tried to blend into the scenery, or at least convince myself that I did.

On the tender to WINNER 5.

Kaushal and the breaker’s foreman eventually joined us. When the tender finally drew near, it was off with the shoes to hop into the sea and then clamber onto the boat. Although wading barefoot through Alang’s flotsam is not necessarily ideal, it is better than having to spend the afternoon clogging through a ship in soggy boots.

Capturing WINNER 5. Photo by Kaushal Trivedi.

Once seated, I asked if we could circle the former AUSONIA before boarding her. This was apparently not a popular request as it elicited a round of agitated dialog between Kaushal, the foreman and the boatsmen. I offered to pay more, which quelled their exasperation a bit, but I was still the recipient of darting, uneasy looks as I aimed my cameras at the graceful maritime form that would soon be destroyed.

WINNER 5 at Alang.

In the 1980s AUSONIA was fitted with a bulbous bow and slight sponsons to compensate for the extended fore and aft superstructure. Even though her perfect lines were spoiled, she remained one of the most beautiful ships afloat.

WINNER 5 portside.

Almost as soon as we rounded the port side, we turned back and aborted the passage around the ship. The boatsmen were concerned about the currents, being spotted by the authorities and getting their craft safely back before tide receded.

Approaching the WINNER 5...

Back along the starboard side, sandwiched in the murky seas between WINNER 5 and the monumental mass of the MONT, we made our final approach.

Alangway.

Getting aboard a ship at Alang usually entails scaling a dingy, vertiginous pilot’s ladder but the former AUSONIA arrived with her starboard gangway attached, providing a safe, easy ascent to Delphi Deck.

Luzzati lobby.

Once inside her aft entry lobby, I led our “convoy” to the forward stairtower to see if one of the two most important works of art were still on board. There was palpable relief upon finding the three deck tall painted melamine panels of Italian monuments and cathedrals undisturbed.

Luzzati details.

The breathtaking series of melamine panels was painted by none other than the late Emanuele Luzzati and left intact for 54 years. The melamine strips were mounted on a jigsaw puzzle of plywood paneling that was screwed into the metal framework of the stairtower structure. Emanuele Luzzati was a master of nearly all formats: sculpture, painting, ceramics, animation, costume design and scenic design. A museum is dedicated to him in the Porto Antico section of Genoa, although it sadly lacks any of his large shipboard artworks.

Luzzati detail, ctd.

I would worry about how the panel would be safely removed later, although I did feel a pang in my gut when Kaushal shook his head and began discussing it with the breaker’s foreman. “You will get it all but it will be damaged.” he said to me as we began to climb the stairs to Corfu Deck, where the other important art panels hopefully awaited.

Pharoah panel by Majoli on the forward bulkhead of the former AUSONIA's dining room.

AUSONIA’s first class dining room was absolutely splendid as originally designed by Nino Zoncada, a contemporary and collaborator of the more celebrated Gio Ponti. The venue was expanded and renamed Pharoah’s Dining Room when the ship was converted for one class cruising in the 1980s, clearly in tribute to the panels depicting ancient Egyptian life. Thankfully, they were kept by Studio de Jorio, the designers who executed the renovation.

Majoli detail.

Giovanni Majoli’s art graced a number of important ships of the post war era, from CONTE GRANDE, MESSAPIA, ENOTRIA, ESPERIA and AUSONIA to FEDERICO C. The former AUSONIA was the last vessel afloat with any of his works. I was so relieved to find that his five panel painting of a pharaoh receiving gifts from his subjects was still on the room’s forward bulkhead and still in good condition. The colors, composition and figures were especially beautiful.

Majoli's "Hunters" (left) and "Cleopatra and the Asps" (right)

The aft bulkhead had two other works that were merged into one larger display. On the left was a four panel painting depicting Egyptian hunters and on the right, a two panel work portraying a suicidal Cleopatra with her wrist extended to an urn of asps offered by one of her servants. It should have elicited some fairly interesting dinner conversation during the ship’s long career.

WINNER 5 Wheelhouse, facing port.

AUSONIA’s wheelhouse was largely updated in the 1980s with a console in lieu of traditional telegraphs. Only small bits and pieces of the original equipment and panels remained.

Broken wing.

Out on the wings, a number of electronics from the wheelhouse and chartroom lay scattered and broken, having been picked through for their recyclable components.

Life vest stowage.

I took note of the beautiful teak lifebelt storage boxes. During my first cruise in AUSONIA, I remember sitting on a similar one on the boat deck as the ship approached Corfu and during subsequent cruises as she plied the deep blue Aegean.

AUSONIA bridgewing thermometer.

Ah, yes, that handsome little wooden thermometer box on the starboard wing — it was so beautifully preserved and would have to be saved. There was some paperwork of interest, but I would have to come back for it as the foreman began to lead us down to the engineering spaces, where I hoped to find the Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico builder’s plate. En route, I asked if we could visit the crew areas, just in case any original furniture remained.

Zoncada era Thonet chair.

Interestingly, although Zoncada did the AUSONIA in 1958, his rival Pulitzer did the VICTORIA for Incres Lines in 1959 and both used the same chairs by Thonet in the cabins. Ironically, both ships ended up with Louis Cruise Lines at the end of their lives and many of these spindle legged beauties were moved from VICTORIA when she went for scrap to AUSONIA. Their legs are the inspiration for the “base” portion of the MidShipCentury logo.

MERMOZ Saarinens in AUSONIA'd Crew's Mess.

It really surprised me to find a batch of Eero Saarinen tulip chairs by Knoll that were created for former Louis fleetmate SERENADE’s (ex MERMOZ) dining room. The best ones were removed from the ship when she was sold for scrap in 2008 and placed in the crew’s mess of AUSONIA (by then renamed IVORY). I tried to obtain some of these when I visited SERENADE at Alang but was outbid by a cabal of French buyers who auctioned them for a nice profit in France.

Select Saarinen's.

I made a note to try and get some of these for MidShipCentury, irresistible for their classic appeal and special provenance.

LURLINE ottoman.

I discovered an ottoman from the LURLINE of 1932 laying on a bunk in one of the crew cabins. These were made for the ship in 1948 when she was rebuilt and stayed on board until 1984 when she was sold for scrap as Chandris Lines ELLINIS. Chandris moved them to their THE VICTORIA and these were part of the stores moved to AUSONIA when that ship went for scrap in 2004.

LURLINE table.

Ah yes, more LURLINE tables! I purchased twenty or so from VICTORIA several years prior.

Aft Stairwell with Venetian art motif.

At the base of the aft stairtower were two panels with Venetian motifs. I was never able to find references to them in AUSONIA literature and none of my Italian historian friends seemed to know who made them. I put them on my list to save, anyway

Zoncada stairs.

Zoncada designed the sleekest, most modern stairs with distinctively angled steps. He fronted the inclines with anodized aluminum panels, which I thought would make a lovely template for something. I added them to the list, much to Kaushal’s amazement.

Madonna of the machinery.

Aside from our flashlights, and a faint glow from the skylights many decks above, the engine room was pitch black. As we descended, we found a bit of Catholic iconography, which must have been a curiosity to the Hindi and Muslim workers that would dismantle the ship.

Final orders.

The foreman told us that the engine room remained hot for a week after the ship beached. Apparently, the poor old liner’s boilers were fired up to their maximum output for enough steam to propel her keel onto the muddy embankment.

Control panel.

Alas, the builder’s plate had been removed from the control panel. My feelings were mixed. On one hand, I was grateful someone respected the ship enough to make sure it did not go to India but on the other, I was sad to know it would no longer be in “the fold” of maritime collectors or heading to a proper museum.

Reduction gear and shaft.

It was so eerily quiet and dark. The occasional drip of condensation from above and the smell of stagnant water, rust, oil and lubricants permeated our sinuses. In the shaft area, I could see the tank tops were not in such great condition and that a foot or two of rust-colored water had seeped in.

Escape hatch to fantail.

In the very stern, we peered up into an escape hatch that after over fifty years of active service, never saw emergency use. Bravo to the beautiful AUSONIA for having served her owners, passengers and crew so well!

Buffet lunch with the foreman, Bogala and Kaushal.

When we emerged from the machinery spaces, we washed the oil and dirt from our hands with soap and water obtained from the ship’s whirlpool and were then summoned to lunch in the Pharoah’s dining room. I hunted down some forks in the galley, doused them in Purelle and joined our crew for delicious Gujarati food supplemented with a bit of Western trail mix, protein bars and still fresh olive oil ransacked from the ship’s stores.

Portion of Zuffi panel.

On the starboard promenade, I noticed Bogala was standing on a sheet of ply with writing on it, only to discover that it was the back of a portion of the Pietro Zuffi panel that used to adorn the first class Lounge. Zuffi was a noted Italian scenic designer and one of the amazing cabal of artists who contributed their works to AUSONIA and other lamented ships of the Italian post war “Golden Era”.

Orangerie, facing aft.

It was so sad to see the promenade, since renamed Orangerie, empty and forlorn with only a view facing the dying monster MONT outside.

WINNER 5 running lights.

Up on the fo’c’sle, the AUSONIA’s bell was gone. Even if it had made as far as Alang, it would never have left, as Mr. Raj donates all ships’ bells to the local Hindi temples.

During the beaching, the process of dropping the anchors had sucked mud through the hawsers and onto the deck. I leaned over the tip of the bow where I once watched dolphins frolic in the spray to a much more somber view of ebbing brown water and a long anchor chain ominously stretching toward shore.

MONT stern sliced.

Directly across, bathed in Alang’s dramatic early afternoon light, the stern of the MONT was completely high and dry. A recent cut had shorn off the starboard portion, which still lay in the mud alongside the massive screw, waiting for high water so it could be winched to the beach and cut into steel plates.

Italian lines.

The WINNER’s forward superstructure’s gently arced face was so reminiscent of the ANDREA DORIA and CRISTOFORO COLOMBO, the famed Italia sisters of 1953 and 1954. At its base, a faint outline surrounded the spot where the Fincantieri plate from the 1986 rebuilding was once mounted.

WINNER 5 shadow.

The WINNER’s shadow began to creep across the incoming tide along the ship’s starboard side. In the muddy water, her silhouette was still the AUSONIA.

Tripod and funnel top.

From the base of the graceful tripod mast, we worked our way aft along the top of the house, last called Sun Deck.

WINNER 5 facing forward along top deck.

Even in their sun-bleached state, streaked in the first drippings of rust, the AUSONIA’s funnel and upper architecture were unrivaled in their sculpted beauty.

Afternoon on the after wing.

The murky delta waters of the Gulf of Cambay gradually oozed back in to lap at the WINNER 5′s keel. Soon, she would be dragged up on the beach and cut down, like the dying hulks in front of her.

MONT from WINNER 5.

Photos could never properly convey the massive scale of the neighboring MONT, a dying elephant among steel carcasses scattered as far as the eye could see. Even though MONT was literally thirty times the size of the AUSONIA, she would succumb to the same fate.

Back water.

Aft Bahia Deck was no longer a haven for lingering officers on the prowl for bikini-clad bathing beauties. The stagnant water in the whirlpool would be used for washing dishes, clothing, dirty hands and feet.

Emergency steering station uncovered.

On the fantail, we uncovered the brass and mahogany emergency steering station and binnacle. Original and in remarkable condition — to be added to my list of things to rescue.

Chief engineer's phone.

With only an hour or so left before the boat was due to pick us up, I ventured back inside to scour the officers’ quarters for any historically significant paperwork. In the chief engineer’s office, I found an original bakelite phone in its custom wooden mount. Log books and plans were in a closet in the central passageway just outside. I quickly sorted through mounds of documents, trying to separate treasures from debris.

Forward Lounge, facing port.

In the forward lounge, the bar was once a favorite smoking and watering hole for the ship’s officers and staff. Now it was somber, silent and waiting for its components to either be disassembled and carted off to a new existence or broken down and recycled.

Shards of Alang.

On the port side of the main foyer, the purser’s office was closed for eternity. Its mysteriously shattered windows crashed down moments after I took the above photo.

Former First Class cabin 136, facing starboard.

In 2004, I spent a wonderful week cruising the Aegean in former first class cabin 136 on starboard Delphi Deck. It had the most beautiful figured paneling and a nice sitting area underneath the porthole. After visiting places like Santorini, Corfu, Kalamata, Rhodes, Ithaca and Kefalonia, it was a joy to come “home” to.

Bed lights.

The enameled aluminum bed lamps were quite attractive and functional. As I would never see their like again, I added 20 to my “list”.

Cinema, facing forward.

There were no important works of art in the cinema and its seating was in fixed rows and thus too difficult to obtain but I paid it a farewell visit since such dedicated spaces are becoming ever rarer at sea.

WINNER 5 owner's suite, facing starboard.

When the ship was named IVORY in 2007, I took a three night voyage from Limmasol to Rhodes and was assigned the starboard owners suite. It was very kind of Louis to provide the ship’s supposedly best accommodation but the space, which was forged from two smaller cabins in the mid-1980s, lacked the warmth and authenticity of the less opulent former first class cabins.

Original suite undone.

On forward Bahia Deck, were eight of the most beautiful suites, largely original with spectacular paneling, dressers, bed frames and fittings. Sadly, the timber bedframes had been haphazardly piled up in one of the starboard units.

Uscita!

I thought I would wrap up my final visit to this most beautiful ship with a shot of one of her original exit signs, five of which would be saved, but when I emerged on deck, the tender was nowhere to be seen. Moments later, I found Kaushal on his cell phone, having a somewhat frantic conversation. Shrugging after he hung up, he told me that the boatman was reluctant to come get us because of the rough currents.

Kaushal gave me a familiar exasperated look. Without using actual words, it was, more or less, “I can’t believe the mess you have gotten me into this time!”

Then, he matter-of-factly stated, “I offered the boatman double pay to come get us.”

We returned to the fantail to watch for the tender’s approach. A gentle breeze whipped across the deck as the sinking sun cast an amber, then orange glow. For a rare change, I was actually feeling relaxed and comfortable. WINNER had freshly arrived in relatively good, clean condition — mold and mosquitoes were not yet a problem, so if we did have to stay the night, it would not be torture. And the March weather was really quite tolerable, not yet blisteringly hot and humid. Things could have been much worse.

The boat finally broached the surf from a patch of beach beyond our port bow where Alang met Sosiya. Technically, we were in Sosiya, although the entire region is referred to as Alang.

As the tender plunged into the whitecaps and was engulfed in spray, I felt for the unfortunate helmsman. It was such a struggle for him to get to our starboard side where we rendezvoused at the gangway. As the boat bounced into the WINNER’s hull and was washed back out towards MONT, it was clear that there was no way for us to disembark safely. Even if we could, we would face worse conditions once out of the lee of the ship and on the beach, itself, where the breakers came crashing down. After much shouting, the foreman waved the boat off.

Cabins 39 and 37, facing forward.

AUSONIA was not done with me just yet. This would be my unofficial fourth “cruise” in the ship and I knew just the right cabin to stay in. On port Bahia Deck, at the end of a shared passageway were two lovely wood paneled cabins with unusual fore to aft berthing. I took the aft cabin, 39, which was my home for a three night Aegean cruise when the ship was operating as AEGEAN tWO. It was an exquisite space and I recall fondly staring out from it into a boiling sea as we entered the straits between Syros and Mykonos. With extra pillows gathered from the neighboring cabins and the help of one of the crew members who actually located a crank key to lower the brass windows, it was about as good as sleeping in Alang could get.

Currage on the fantail.

We joined the crew for a magnificent vegetarian rice curry on the fantail. They were delighted when I wanted a second helping.

Sunset on the beach of doom.

So here we were, on the former AUSONIA, in her final resting place as the sun gently set over the once proud line up of ships on her port side. I felt privileged to share this last opportunity to marvel at her beauty.

Twilight at Alang.

Gradually, the skies dimmed and the ship went dark.

Flash on the fantail.

On the fantail, Kaushal called his wife, Malvika, to let her know we would not be joining the family for dinner. We sat for a while and chatted, staring out over the rail from the vantage of our spindle-legged Thonet chairs.

Alang at night from WINNER 5's starboard wing.

In the blackness, I walked slowly around the promenade. The stars were brilliant, challenged only by the glow of spotlights and cutting torches on the shore.

Moonlight on the superstructure.

A couple workers were following me as I circled the deck. Were they just curious or were they sent to keep an eye on me? No matter, I was tired and soon found my way back to the cabin, where we tore a light from a lifebelt, dipped it in water to make it illuminate, and hung it in the passage outside. I lay by my open window, listening to the stillness outside and the gentle snoring of my friends in the neighboring cabin. The moist sea air soon drenched me in a salty dew but I really didn’t mind. I felt safe and strangely content.

END OF “ALANG AGAIN, NATURALLY” Sea Treks, Part One.

Click Here for “Alang Again, Naturally” Sea Treks, Part Two.

38 Responses to Alang Again, Naturally (2010): Part One — Updated

  1. David

    September 9, 2010 at 9:41 am

    TRUE BEAUTY………BUT SHE LOOKS SO SAD

  2. Michael

    September 9, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Fascinating, looking forward to part two!!

  3. Greg

    September 9, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Again, another old girl going to the torches. Its really sad as this is one of the nicest ships from that era, she still looks like shes in good shape.
    I will miss these older ships. They may not have Aamericanized glizzy lights and thos ugly balconies, but I would feel safer in one of the older ships, they were built to last. unlike these new mamoth ugly boxes that are built in a year. time will tell…..

  4. Mage Bailey

    September 9, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    One of these days, you should write a brief tell-all about luggage.

    Seriously, thank you.

  5. George

    September 10, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    It seems like only yesterday that you (Peter) and I were discussing your upcoming cruise on the Ausonia. Now here she is, one of so many beautiful classic liners going to the scrap heap. Yet lines like Carnival, NCL, RCCL and oh so many other companies are turning out these grossly ugly BILLION $$$$ “cruise ships”.
    Peter I want to thank you for the excellent manner in which you write these storys. Reading the story is just as if I were standing there and seeing what it is you are writting about.

  6. Kenneth Eden

    September 11, 2010 at 7:24 am

    Sad, oh so sad, to see the Ausonia going for scrap. I have fond memories of seeing her sailing about Venice, with the Ventian Lion proudly adorning her stack.

    Looming ever so near now, CAFE requirements must be met, and the older ships just can not be retrofitted. PERIOD. Cruise ship dining habits have changed, and, so, cruise ships change as well. SOLAS and the rage for balconies or a veranda, are now a must for many passengers. New dining venues on board and high ceilings for ever more dramatic staged shows on board are demanded by todays cruisers, regardless of whether a new ship is mostly a fast food/shopping mall, or luxurious, these changes are here to stay.

    I can wax poetic as much as the next person about these truly lovely ships and how much I loved them, and I am sad to see them go. A good many of them that I knew over the years are sadly gone, many after being sold countless times to other owners, with seeing a name changes,enjoying refurbishments and delighting thousands of new passengers to enjoy the ships. but, face it, they barely competed as they were sold to new owners, mostly bargain cruises , on classic ships.

    Today there are many new ships, it is mind boggling and many of them I will never sail in, as I have my favotites, spread over a mere handful of cruise lines.

    I have sailed 75 times, since 1970, and there are still cruise ships/lines that I favor, and there is something out there to please everyone, save a camper that wants to sleep in a tent.

  7. Kevin

    September 11, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Great details Peter! The small details on the process are interesting to read about. Thanks for sharing and looking forward to more!

  8. Jay Beaumont

    September 13, 2010 at 3:57 am

    Thanks for sharing. unreal!

  9. David Ingram

    September 13, 2010 at 6:51 am

    Whenever I see these fascinating photos, like those of the MONT with a large chunk of its stern sitting in the mud beside her, I always wonder how the scrappers handle these large blocks.

    Is it a matter of cutting torches, and then “stand back!” as the enormous chunk of ship goes flying?

    I never see cranes aboard the ships. How do they manage to lower things like funnels and masts? Or do they simply chop-and-fall them like trees? If the latter, it must be a risky proposition to be the person wielding the cutting torch when making the last cut!

    Peter, this might be my favorite of all your articles so far. The details of the experience of Indian travel are fascinating in and of themselves!

  10. David Ingram

    September 13, 2010 at 6:53 am

    It’s also interesting to contemplate how the scrapping process will work when the first of the “new” generations of ships meets its end. Will there be quite so much uproar about the conditions and materials to which the scrappers’ laborers will be exposed?

  11. Missy Gendron (Knego)

    September 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks for sharing your trips. I am learning more about these great ships. I love the pictures along w/ the detail. I feel as though I am reading a short novel on Alang and the ships that reside there.

  12. Heinu Schütte

    September 15, 2010 at 2:16 am

    Wonderful work! So tragic, but also very interesting and enlightening! It would have been an even greater tragedy if this was not documented, thank you!

  13. Glenn Paull

    September 15, 2010 at 9:07 am

    If I didn’t know otherwise I would swear this was written by John Maxtone-Graham. Pics are great too my favorite is “Flash On The Fantail”.

  14. Elias

    September 15, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Great article and amazing pictures, Peter! Were you able to take some pictures of the Indy/Platinum on your trip?

  15. Tobias Tegethoff

    September 15, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Allways fascinating how something so big and (mostly) nice goes down. I believe breaking a ship is a hard job. It’s dangerous and the working conditions aren’t nice. If like to see this aspects you may watch “Eisenfresser” (in engl.: Ironeater), a german documentary film on breaking ships in Bangladesh.

    Thank you for your report Peter. You showed me how nice the SS Ausonia was and want I will never see in my live because I’m too young. Thank you

  16. Andy

    September 15, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Any word on the SS Independence since those pictures of her with her back broken were published? It seems as though the ship has fallen off the map.

  17. Miguel

    September 15, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Many thanks for sharing these pics.

  18. Peter Knego

    September 16, 2010 at 3:34 am

    Thanks everyone for your comments — I really appreciate your reading this particular story. Nothing has changed my life more than my visits to Alang.

    Also, I want to welcome my beautiful niece Missy Knego Gendron to the shiplovers’ fold! What a pleasant surprise and delight it was to read her comment! Much love to you, MIssy and hope to see you and family soon!

    I know many of you have already seen the photos from the second post — I slipped them in a few days ago but now I have just completed the text to accompany it, so hope you will return to read about it.

    Peter

  19. Goran Arild

    September 16, 2010 at 4:52 am

    Hello!

    Do you have more picture of the Tanker formerly named Jahre Viking and Knock Nevis. They changed name to S.T.MONT when they ran her up on the beach 22nd December 2010.

    I see she is on 3 of your pictures in this article.

    Goran

  20. Andrew

    September 16, 2010 at 4:59 am

    A great report looking forward to part 2, I would like to know are any parts for sale am particually interested in the old MSC cntr ships that have ended there days there? Do they sell of bridge names, floats with the vessel name on etc if so where or how do I find these?

  21. Mage Bailey

    September 16, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Part two captured the whole experience and left me open mouthed at your bravery. Hugs………

  22. Glenn L.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:28 am

    Peter, you are one dedicated journalist! Thanks for sharing this great story, the ships last days would have gone undocumented whthout you. Must be something to spend nights on a dead ship with no a/c, electric and limited cuisine. Great job!

  23. Paul Stipkovich

    September 17, 2010 at 6:16 am

    Though it is always sad watching yet another beautiful liner going to the gallows, at least there is someone like yourself there to document their final hours. Some may find it strange to personify a machine but I like to think that these proud ships who’ve been given their last rites appreciate one last visit from a friend or even a just caring stranger to let them know that they will be missed before the slaughterhouse employees descend upon them.

  24. Dieter Killinger

    September 17, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    And they talk about the great adventurers of yore. You are to be commended for walking the extra mile (to say the least) and doing what others don’t even dream of. It gives all of us a taste of what it must be like to see first-hand the heart-breaking end of these wonderful old ships. Keep up the good work.

  25. ken

    September 17, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Peter—-This is the first time I`ve seen or read this————–what a fantastic job along with the great photos. Should be required reading for every lover of ships present or past.

  26. Jeff Macklin

    September 17, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Hey Peter:
    Terrific story and a good read. Glad to see you are still doing your thing and documenting the last days of these beautiful ships and salvaging parts for posterity. Love the Italian ships the most next to the FRANCE/NORWAY.
    Jeff

  27. Cecil Migdal

    September 18, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Peter,what would we do without you?You are just as much a gem,as what you are posting.

  28. Dave Lee

    September 18, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    How wonderful that you could spend the night aboard her. I can imagine you slept well there. Better than in your hotel maybe! I can’t wait for your second Alang DVD, if there is still one in the works. Still haven’t found a use for the punkah louvres you sold me a few years ago, my home has electric radiant heat, not forced air. Your writing is superb. Thanks very much, Peter!!

  29. Fred Rueckert

    September 19, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    As a fellow ship lover since about age 12, do you think eventually this will become to much for you?

  30. alfredo

    September 19, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    I have many unhappy to look ship as ausonia at alang .I travelled on wedding cruise 1990.I travelled as an officer deck on raffaello .The end of big ships with line ,today I dislike modern ships as boxes .

  31. 1Matt20

    September 20, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    The poor Viking Queen looks sad on that oil stained beach… thanks for the post. And by the way Peter, do you know if the MV Ocean Majesty is still in service and if she is who owns her? I can’t find much info on her anywhere. Thanks
    Matt

  32. Glenn Paull

    September 24, 2010 at 6:00 am

    Peter are some of these photos available for purchase?

  33. Greg

    September 26, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    It looks so sad…I was on the internet on some old sites where the Ausonia was painted with the livery on the front, she looked awesome.
    As I have said previously Im saddened to see these ships being scrapped. I guess thats what happenes when a huge company like Carnivale buys up all cruise ship companies and they have to be uniform. The new ships to me are ugly period. the base of these ships seems very shallow and the ships themselves llok like tghey are going to topple over. I wish that the cruise lines would allow variety of old and new…Now its going to be very difficult to go on a classic liner, they have been scrapping them for 10 years, not many left..
    I appreciate this site as it gives us updated info on these ships and what the future is of shipping. thanks

  34. Jack

    September 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    If it hasn’t been said once (and I know it has been said and written many times), THANK YOU, Peter. For all your perceverence, joy, work and ecstacy in documenting the passion of passenger ships- that so many of us have. Forever grateful to you and your life, Peter! And of course for Martin for providing the platform and support you share.

  35. Gaurav

    September 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Dropped by to say Thanks to Peter.

    Bhavnagar is my hometown. This article has inspired me to pay another visit to Alang whenever I am back the next time.

    A great homage, Peter!

  36. Tupsis

    January 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    I didn’t know Mont had a ducted propeller.

  37. Nancy C

    February 14, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Peter —

    I’m so glad to have found this 9/2010 article – Alang Again Naturally- 2010. I’ve read the Road to Alang so many times, looking at the pictures of the Enchanted Isle (renamed New Orleans) and the SS Norway (Blue Lady). I sailed on each of these ships toward the end of their cruising days.

    The work you do in documenting and preserving artifacts of the ships is so important. And your writing style is just delightful. I truly felt I was at your side during your time on Winner 5.

    The images of these magnificent vessels laying at Alang stay in my mind. As I walk around new ships (most recently the Costa Atlantica – which I think is beautiful and contains many important works of art), I can’t help but think that one day this relatively new ship’s life will come to a sad end. I only hope that by that time, the contents of the modern era ships will be properly removed either to be sold or preserved in such a way that more of the items remain ntact. After being stripped, ships could then sail to the breakers with most minimal of items and equipment aboard that would be needed for safety of it’s final crew. I’m aware that the contents are sold to the breakers with the ship, but it seems from the photos that so much of the fixtures, furniture and finishings get scrapped instead of repurposed. It’s just sad.

    Thank you, again, for the important work you do. Keep documenting via phots, salvage, and your writings!

    Nancy C – NY State

  38. Peter Knego

    February 15, 2011 at 12:01 am

    Hi Nancy,

    I’m deeply touched by your message. Thank you for taking the time to write it. As much as I dislike going to Alang, I must admit, I’m very grateful to have had such a life experience.

    Much appreciated,

    Peter

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