Posted on Saturday, October 9, 2010 by Peter Knego
The second and final portion of the second installment of Peter Knego’s Sea Treks blog about his 2010 visit to Alang continues with a return to the beach for another view of the former AUSONIA, a trip to Gopnath for a distant farewell to the stranded PLATINUM II and yet more traders and temples in Gujajrat.
All Photos By And Copyright Peter Knego 2010 Unless Otherwise Noted. Please Click On Images To View Enlarged Versions.
Continued From Prior Post — Updated October 9, 2010:
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
After several discussions with Kaushal about the Luzzati panels on the WINNER 5 (ex AUSONIA), we contacted Mr. Raj who affirmed I should go back on board with his foreman and see how they could be safely removed from the stairtower bulkheads with as little damage as possible.
We arrived in the early afternoon when the tide was at its peak but even though the ship had been dragged some 500 feet closer to shore since our prior visit, the seas were too choppy for the tender to come get us. Our return to the beach provided another excellent photographic opportunity, this time in the golden afternoon light as the murky surf slammed into the embankment.
After a while, I was instructed to go inside the breaker’s office. It would actually be nice to be out of the direct sun as we awaited the final word as to whether the tender would come. Upon spotting a lingering mosquito, I zapped myself with citronella as the foreman laughed, “What are you worried about? I’ve had malaria many times and I’m fine.” Soon, it became evident there was no way a tender could take us to the ship and even if it did, we would risk getting stranded again. We finally left the AUSONIA’s plot, never to return, my last gaze of her as a still intact wonder of Italian post war ingenuity and sleekness.
Before our return to Bhavnagar, we stopped at various traders to firm up my purchases. I enjoyed dinner with Kaushal’s family and walked back to the hotel under a balmy, full moon. The tides were at their highest and as I gazed upwards, I wondered just how many more ships would be hitting the beach before the morning.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
After a somewhat leisurely morning at the hotel, Kaushal took me over to one of the locations where my ship fittings were being stored. Once there was enough material to fill a forty foot container, most of it would be heading to California to be sorted, documented and dispatched to my home or made available for sale on www.midshipcentury.com.
I have begun to shy away from the purchase of extra large items like doors and cabinetry but made an exception when the figured English sycamore and mahogany doors from the REGAL EMPRESS became available. That ship had exquisite woodwork and the doors to her former First Class entrance were, quite literally, works of art. As pleased as I was to see them saved, it pained me to see them unattached to the lovely ship that I had so often enjoyed sailing aboard.
Some railing Kaushal was holding for another one of his customers was looking pretty sorrowful after several years of being left in the elements. India is not a place where precious things should be left lying around, especially the once grand metal balustrades from the main stairtower of the 1953-built TAHITIEN, which last sailed as the Cyprus-based ATALANTE until being broken up in 2005.
We stopped at the offices of a Mr. Lalit, a mentor of Kaushal’s. After a friendly welcome, hot tea and some carefree banter, he eyed me very sternly and told me that any attempt I could make to go see the PLATINUM II at Gopnath would be disastrous. Having the permission of the breaker to see the ship was simply not enough.
If I could find a fisherman with a boat (for which I would be liable) willing to brave the dangerous currents, then I would be subject to arrest by Indian customs and or the Coast Guard as no foreigners are allowed in Indian coastal waters without permission and permission is never granted. After the recent terrorist attacks on Mumbai by Pakistanis using local fishing boats, there were no exceptions. Mr. Lalit warned me that I would most definitely be arrested and probably not be allowed to return to India.
So, although I had come to India at considerable effort and expense to visit two ships, it looked like I would only achieve half of my goal.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
My eyes opened to the sight of a small gecko skittering across the ceiling and disappearing into the recess of the fan above my bed. Fortunately, I am quite fond of geckos.
Since Bhagwan had assured me I could see the PLATINUM from shore, I decided not to cancel the taxi I had reserved to take us to Gopnath. Better to see the ship from a vast distance than not at all. Within seconds of getting into the cab, the driver began blasting rhythmic Bhangra music with shrill female vocals on what must have been a very expensive, powerful sound system. My morning ears were more incensed by his shouting into his cell phone over the cacophony as he gestured with his hands and sped along the highway. Butterflies splattered into the windshield as he swerved between oncoming cars and the usual obstacles. I began to count the day’s flattened road kill but when I saw smiling Bogala motioning to the pulsating music, I finally decided to give in to the chaos. I had done all I could do to see the PLATINUM without risking other peoples’ livelihood and safety and, hello(!), I was in India. Might as well enjoy it.
After we passed the turn off to Alang, the road brimmed with new sights. Different trees, meadows and as yet unseen temples unfolded. A ruggedly steep mountain topped with a Ja’in temple jutted into the sky on our left side. We passed under a large, broken concrete bridge which Bogala told me had recently collapsed under the weight of several large lorries, taking several lives. Finally, we had reached Gopnath, turning off toward a small lighthouse with a view of the sea. From here, I got my first glance of the PLATINUM II, a tiny smear on the misty horizon.
I steadied my cameras on a concrete platform and zoomed in as far as their lenses permitted. Even through the mist, something did not look right about the backlit ship. Mr. Lalit and Kaushal were not exaggerating when they said she had broken her back and would never move again. The old INDEPENDENCE had chosen a nice spot to die, within sight of land in a natural environment that was actually quite beautiful, unlike the industrial slaughterhouse of Alang.
We headed into the village with its many temples. Again, despite the poverty, the people were so welcoming and seemingly content. A group of worshippers stopped in their tracks and posed for me, actually wanting me to take their photo.
I stopped at one particularly compelling altar to take a photo and heard a shout. A man in orange came running up, signaled for me to halt, then jumped in front of the altar and posed proudly. Gopnath, although physically close, was about as far as one could get from Alang.
We removed our shoes and Bogala took me into two adjacent temples with numerous altars for different deities. He told me the names of several of them, stopping to ring bells and make small offerings.
The Hindi priests we encountered smiled and were almost elated to apply the red “eye” in the center of my forehead. Once again, I felt welcomed into the strange, mysterious and joyful existence of the Gujarati Indians. “Sitaram and Jai Shree Krishna”. I soon learned these mantras would immediately reciprocate smiles and blessings in return.
On our way back, there was time to stop at the paper traders to seek out blueprints and logbooks from recently broken passenger ships, including EMPRESS OF BRITAIN, HAMBURG, JEAN MERMOZ, BLACK WATCH, and more. Unfortunately, despite Kaushal supposedly asking the proprietor to save these things, all I could find in the piles of mud-soaked paper filth were some soiled mylar plans of the ferry ST GEORGE, which I actually sailed on twice as the day cruise ship SCANDINAVIAN DAWN. Although I put them aside, Kaushal never negotiated for them and they have since disappeared.
At dinner with Kaushal and Malvika in a local restaurant serving Southern Indian food, he told me that the 1966-built MAESTRO, the former RENAISSANCE, had to stop in Crete for emergency repairs that morning as she slowly made her way to Alang for scrapping. Another classic beauty on her way out…
Friday, April 2, 2010
My last full day in Bhavnagar began with the usual breakfast and work out in the hotel. Kaushal came to get me in the early afternoon so I could inspect the artworks and other items I had recently purchased from the 1969-built MAXIM GORKIY (ex HAMBURG). They came at considerable expense after the breaker had commanded exorbitant rates for the items he sold from his prior passenger ship, the BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY). Although the HAMBURG was not as famous as the FRANCE, he was convinced he could extract a fortune from her handsome fittings. After several months of negotiating, the breaker finally sold them to me, although I still paid far more than their local market value.
It was well over 30 degrees Celsius and that was just the beginning of the hot season, which will be followed in a few more weeks by the monsoons. I needed to get all of the art and woodwork out of India well before the rains began. Bogala and a couple workers pulled out the large suede art panels by Kristin Koschad Hote from the Volga Bar and began to wrap them in protective bubble. As I inspected them, several local cows passed along the dusty road, pausing to take stock.
HAMBURG was not only the first major German passenger liner built after World War Two, she was the epitome of MidCentury Modern style. Her fittings were of the highest quality and so pleasing to the eye. The beige and gold ceramic tiles that were once interspersed along her main central promenade passageway were now lined up in the dirt.
One of my all time favorite panels from the HAMBURG (or any ship, for that matter) was the rising sun located at the aft end of the central passageway. The melamine is exquisitely patterned and I suspect that it actually portrays the earth rising over the moon, as seen on the Life magazine cover from 1969, the year that the ship was built. But even if it is merely a sunrise, it is absolutely spectacular and even enjoyed a cameo in the terrorist suspense film “Juggernaut” of 1975.
After samosas and papad masalas at the hotel with Kaushal, I finished my packing, then joined his family for one final dinner. We even scanned through a video tape of the Jack Palance/Charlton Heston western “Arrowhead” to find a scene or two with my father.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
The morning flight out of Bhavnagar was delayed three times and looked as though it might be canceled altogether. Finally, four hours after it was due to depart, I was Mumbai-bound. At 11:50, we reached Alang, where the great panorama unfolded for one last view. This time, anyway.
Special thanks: Bhagwan, Martin Cox, Mr. Lalit, Kaushal Trivedi, Malvika Trivedi, Mr. and Mrs. Trivedi
End Of “Alang Again, Naturally (2010)”, Part Two
First Portion of “Alang Again, Naturally (2010)”, Part Two — Published October 5, 2010.
Friday, March 26, 2010:
The draft seeping through the cranked down brass window in cabin 29 of the beached SS WINNER 5 brought with it a salty humidity that permeated everything in the room. And while I lay comfortably propped atop several damp pillows obtained from neighboring cabins, sleep remained unobtainable.
The purple glow of dawn finally transformed the night sky and was met with the chirping of birds that had taken shelter on nearby railings and davits. Sunrise over Alang was too rare and important for this Westerner to miss, so I silently gathered my gear and tip-toed out and up to Sun Deck. The ladder on the radio mast was soaked in slippery dew, so I climbed only as far as the first platform to catch the sun’s appearance behind the ship’s exquisitely shaped funnel.
A golden morning light illuminated the otherworldly line up of ships on the beach, from the handsome reefer off our port bow to the motley hulks in varying stages of demolition directly in front of us.
Barely visible alongside a container ship, was the stern and port side screw of the GLORY, the former ANNA NERY of 1962, which last operated as Salamis Cruises’ SALAMIS GLORY. Out of view, a huge hunk of her hull came crashing down with a massive thud. I had seen this sleek, former Brazilian liner many times during various Eastern Mediterranean cruises and even spent a day on board the ship at Limmasol way back in 1997.
A protein bar and some trail mix helped chase down my morning dose of vitamins and Malarone. Kaushal advised me that I should take the opportunity to remove the glow-in-the-dark SOLAS tape from the Luzzati panels in the forward stairtower before it was haphazardly ripped off by the demolition crew. After almost three hours of painstaking effort, I managed to get all three decks’ worth safely removed before the tender finally came to retrieve us.
Once ashore, I begged Kaushal to drive over to the bridge between Alang and Sosiya where I could get some quick shots of the GLORY. Needless to say, it was a hurried effort but well worth the risk — to me, anyway. The ship was being scrapped in a similar fashion to the STELLA SOLARIS, with nearly all of the outer superstructure cut free, leaving the innermost wedge of her rakish profile intact.
Our unexpected night’s stay on board the former AUSONIA had wreaked havoc on Kaushal’s schedule, so he dropped me off at the hotel and spent the rest of the day in his office. As a giant ceiling fan whirred above my head, I uploaded photos and video, caught up on some writing and made a list of AUSONIA treasures I intended to present to Mr. Raj.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
We stopped by Mr. Raj’s office to deliver my offer for the AUSONIA items, then continued to Alang to meet with the REGAL EMPRESS’ breaker, a man I had met a few years prior when visiting the BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY). He welcomed us to his yard, the same plot where the MONTEREY met her end in 2006/7. Unfortunately, the very last bit of the REGAL EMPRESS had disappeared weeks before my arrival. A container ship had replaced her and was well in the process of demolition. In the next plot, however, I was surprised to see the handsome little DALMACIJA, the 1965-built former Yugoslav flagship that had taken me to Croatia in 2005. Although she had arrived months prior, demo was deferred until the ship in front of her was finished off. Another one was lined up behind her in what has been the busiest season Alang has seen in years.
I tried to negotiate with the REGAL EMPRESS’ breaker for a few items, from cabin lifeboat signs to framed plans and even a section of her dining room paneling. Unfortunately, the prices were well over my budget, so I walked away with some regret, knowing these things would ultimately be left to rot or get recycled.
We next headed to the DALMACIJA’s plot and sifted through some sliverplate items from a Lloyd Triestino tanker. The breaker had decided to keep the ship’s Brodogradiliste builder’s plate but was willing to sell her 1968 transformation plate from the San Marco shipyard in Trieste, when she was converted for full time cruising. His rates were outrageous but I refused to let this bit of history get melted down and finally agreed to purchase it for some ten times its worth in the local market.
Once out of the restricted area, we had some time to “shop” at the traders. I was quite happy to find one item that Kaushal had forgotten to rescue for me: the painting from the 1965-built MV JASON’s stairtower. The three piece psychedelic sun panel by Erminio Lozzi was not only important for being an historic link to the now defunct Epirotiki Line, it also had a certain degree of pop art gravitas.
Lozzi was the principal decorator of all the line’s ships and his artwork, which included paintings and tapestries, were a huge part of their ambiance. He was also the creator of the iconic “Dino the Dinosaur” character in the Hanna Barbera cartoon series, “The Flintstones”. Although it had suffered some nicks and a tear or two, I had to get the painting and made a fair offer to the trader, who mulled it over as we continued onward to the crockery sellers.
Crystal goblets and tiny condiment bowls from Epirotiki Lines and Royal Olympic Cruises were also “must haves” for my own personal collection as well as the MidShipCentury catalog. More remnants of the handsome little JASON, which last sailed as Indian Ocean Cruises’ OCEAN ODYSSEY before she was sold for scrap in late 2009.
I went to a local market with Kaushal to buy some Meswak (an all natural toothpaste flavored with Anise seeds), then retreated to the hotel for a fully air conditioned, good night’s sleep.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Although Kaushal had made an appointment and we arrived at his office promptly at 10:30 AM, the PLATINUM II’s breaker never showed up. PLATINUM II was the final name given to the beautiful former American Export liner INDEPENDENCE of 1951. I took my first true cruise in her during the ship’s maiden Hawaii cruise season for American Hawaii Cruises in 1980 and sailed on her in July of 2001, weeks before her last operators, American Classic Voyages, went bankrupt. The ship spent several years laid up in the San Francisco Bay region before being towed to Dubai under the delivery name OCEANIC. In late 2009, she was renamed PLATINUM II and sold for scrapping at Alang but was denied access due to her high content of asbestos and PCBs and was left abandoned off Gopnath, some thirty miles southwest of Alang. My goal was to hire a local boat and visit the ship to see what was left of her original Raymond-Loewy fittings before she was broken up on the spot. If the breaker granted permission, our biggest challenge would be the dangerous currents and tidal conditions off Gopnath.
Often, the things I want to do the least while I am in India end up being the most satisfying in retrospect. Since the traders and various yards were closed and the heat index was on a steep rise, I yearned to spend the rest of the day in the hotel and catch up on my writing assignments. However, Kaushal had something entirely different in store.
Late that afternoon, I jumped into his car and joined him and his family on a countryside outing. Our two vehicle caravan headed down the dusty highway toward Alang, turning off at the halfway point onto a dirt road that led through several local villages and into the farmland.
We pulled over underneath a tree with a canopy of brilliant orange flowers. Kaushal instructed me to pick as many blossoms as possible. Being the tallest in our group, I carefully plucked around bees and other insects, until I had gathered enough to cover the left side of his dashboard.
We stopped next at a local farm, where Kaushal led me through patches of vegetation, from corn rows to eggplant. We were joined by the farmer, who happily posed with us for photos. I was a little concerned about mosquitoes and drenched my arms and neck in citronella, just in case. Kaushal’s mother poured us chai tea from a flask and we toasted as the sun began to set. After they picked various vegetables, we headed back to the cars and continued on our drive through the countryside.
It was nearly dark when we arrived at a temple on a hill. Backlit by an almost full moon, eerie trees cast skeletal shadows on the otherwise barren terrain. We climbed up a series of steps, removed our shoes and proceeded to an altar where the local Hindi priest greeted us with chants.
We each got to ring a bell and make a small offering. It was a fascinating and moving experience, especially for someone who has found little solace in Western religion. What moves me the most about the local Gujarati people is how they seem to have so much joy, despite having so few, if any, material things.
I cherished my time with Kaushal’s family and will forever be grateful to them for welcoming me into their lives. We ended our visit with one final photograph at the base of the temple, then headed back along the rocky road to Bhavnagar.
Once we reached the hotel, Kaushal gave me a handful of the orange blossoms and told me to let them soak in the bucket of water in my bathroom overnight, then use the water to bathe in in the morning.
Monday, March 29, 2010
When I arose, the water in the bucket was a vivid orange color. I bathed in it and my skin felt silkily fresh and smooth. The blossoms lasted several more days.
Our first stop was Mr. Raj’s office, where I finally negotiated for the former AUSONIA’s original artwork and fittings. Although he is a savvy businessman, I have tremendous respect for this man, a local Gujarati who stands out among Alang’s nefarious shipbreakers. From there, it was off to the PLATINUM II’s breaker, who granted his personal permission for me to take a boat out to the stranded, partially submerged and broken ship if I was willing to hire a fishing boat and brave the currents at my own risk.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with Bogala at the traders. As I was well over my budget and the heat was stifling, I tried to make quick work of it. We passed one shed where there were stacks of wood paneling from REGAL EMPRESS, but Bogala assured me that he had already put aside better paneling for me.
As our taxi sped along the trader’s road, one yard filled with scrap wood caught my eye. I recalled this particular yard on prior visits and remembered that Kaushal was very weary of its proprietor. As we approached, I recognized the man, one of the less agreeable traders, who barely lifted his head to acknowledge us. Unfortunately, the pile of scraps included recognizable bits from the beautiful REGAL EMPRESS. I climbed into the piles of wreckage, coat hangers and garbage and selected bits of Scottish maritime craftsmanship from another era. I wondered how many times I had presented my shipboard ID in front of the “all aboard at 5:00” sign that used to be at the ship’s gangway.
I was especially smitten with odd, unwanted bits, such as the zebrano pillars from the dining room, maple and mahogany facades from the lift casings and Deco metal fixtures from the stairtower landings. Bogala assisted me in pulling the items I wanted from the piles of trash as the trader and two of his friends wearily looked on.
Were it not so filthy and damaged, I would have saved the “Welcome On Board Regal Empress” sign that lay in the dirt, awaiting the mulchers.
In another section of the same trader’s yard, I recognized a large abstract marquetry panel from DALMACIJA. I believe it depicted the pillars along Stradun, the central street in the walled city of Dubrovnik. I should have kept my cool when I discovered it as the trader nudged his friends when he saw it was something I wanted.
I felt sadness, alarm, a bit of rage and relief to find the strips of paneling that comprised carved wooden artworks depicting Dubrovnik and Split by an artist named Antun Zunic. I had to be very careful of encounters with insects, splinters and old nails as I yanked them out of the piles of doomed woodwork. I had asked Kaushal repeatedly to buy these panels directly from the breaker so that they would be removed carefully but he had somehow forgotten to follow through. Now he would have a second chance.
In a neighboring yard, I found two of the REGAL EMPRESS’ walnut and glass Library cabinets. The ship’s first class Library was an Edwardian-inspired study in carved panels that were removed in Alang and sold separately to a UK-based maritime dealer. The cabinets were too large and difficult for me to obtain but I did save the magnificent painting of St. Paul’s Cathedral by respected scenic artist William Ware that hung on the room’s forward bulkhead.
I practically had to wrestle the trader to purchase a carved oak pilaster from the REGAL EMPRESS’ tourist class card room. The last of many such panels, he wanted to make it into part of a bed frame but I managed to convince him otherwise….
Continued at top of page