End Of The PRESIDENT, American President Lines PRESIDENT TYLER goes for scrap

In the ongoing efforts to rid Suisun Bay in Northern California of the remaining inactive ships of the Ready Reserve Fleet, the second vessel in a month has left to be scrapped. The PRESIDENT was towed away from the raft of ships at the end of Row J, on March 8, 2011, the few miles to her final resting place at Allied Defense Recycling, a.k.a. California Dry Dock Solutions, on Mare Island where she will be dismantled.

PRESIDENT in Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, courtesy MARAD.

The PRESIDENT is the former American President Lines (APL) PRESIDENT TYLER, built in 1961 as the third ship of that name. The vessel was laid down as hull #5489 at the Bethlehem Steel Company in San Francisco and launched on December 20, 1960 by Mrs. Maryon Davies Lewis. On August 3, 1961, the ship was delivered to her owners as the second and final vessel in the Sea Racer class, type C4-S1-1Qb. A sister, the PRESIDENT LINCOLN had been delivered earlier. These ships are particularly notable as they represent APL’s first attempt to build breakbulk cargo ships, also specifically designed to carry containers. The containerized cargo was carried in hold #4 just forward of the superstructure. Ironically, despite two rebuilding efforts that eventually brought their container capacity up to 410 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units) these early attempts at containerization were never completely converted to full container ships like the rest of the fleet.

From the collection of Shawn J. Dake.

The PRESIDENT TYLER was 563.75 feet long with a beam of 76 feet. The 13,223 gross ton cargo-liner was designed by famed naval architect George Sharp. Summer displacement tonnage was 22,630 and cargo capacity was 721,656 cubic feet. In addition to cargo, the ship carried 12 passengers in 8 staterooms including a spacious suite. Public rooms were placed in an aft-facing location over two decks and included an observation lounge, a second lounge one deck higher with an adjacent card room and dining room. Outdoor deck space was provided on both levels. The ship’s complement included 60 crew members.

From the collection of Shawn J. Dake.

The Sea Racers were very similar to the earlier Mariner Class cargo ships which made up the majority of the APL fleet at the time. With a service speed of 20.5 knots they were billed as “the fastest freighters afloat, rivaling the finest passenger liners not only in speed, but in the luxury and comfort of their passenger accommodations.” All staterooms had picture windows, wall to wall carpeting, private bathrooms and were fully air-conditioned. By contemporary freighter standards, they were very nice, to say the least. As with the Mariner Class, the ship was powered by a single-screw geared steam turbine producing 19,250 HP.

PRESIDENT March 11, 2011, photo © Frank Cleope Jr.
PRESIDENT showing passenger areas, photo © Frank Cleope, Jr. March 11, 2011

In the short span of just over a decade the PRESIDENT TYLER went from being a state-of-the-art freighter to a somewhat obsolete example of an earlier transitional era in cargo shipping. By the early 1970’s she was relegated to month-long voyages in Southwest Asia, sailing from Singapore as far west as Bombay, India and back via Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia. By 1976 the itinerary had been switched to two-week voyages from Hong Kong to Singapore and Jakarta, marketed to passengers under the hipper title of “Singapore Swing” cruises. By this time, her days as an American President Lines vessel were numbered. On August 30, 1979 they traded her to the Maritime Administration, with the name abbreviated to simply PRESIDENT and registered in Washington, D.C.  The 18 year old ship was placed in the Ready Reserve Fleet at Suisun Bay where she quietly spent the next 31 years rising and falling with the tides. Near the opposite end of the raft of 12 unwanted freighters tied side-by-side was her sister PRESIDENT LINCOLN, now renamed LINCOLN. Undoubtedly, that ship will soon follow her sister to the same inevitable fate. Both ships had their designation within the mothball fleet changed to “Inactive Status” in 2001. In July of 2009, the PRESIDENT was stripped of all useable materials. In December, 2010 MARAD announced the ship would be scrapped at California Dry Dock Solutions along with the former Lykes Lines freighter SOLON TURMAN. They would be the first two ships scrapped locally in California, in a deal worth $3.1 million. Both are now being dismantled near each other at Mare Island, the PRESIDENT in Dry Dock 2, the SOLON TURMAN in Dry Dock 3. The latter ship already has her masts cut down and some portions of the stern cutaway as of March 25th.

PRESIDENT at Mare Island, March 11, 2011, photo © Frank Cleope Jr.

The PRESIDENT is the 18th ship to leave the reserve fleet since October 22, 2009 when the purge of old ships began. With her departure there are still 39 ships listed under “Non-Retention Status” awaiting their turn at the breakers. Just like the PRESIDENT, each one has a story to tell.

Shawn Dake

Shawn Dake

Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years.  A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary.  A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs.  Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America.  With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
Shawn Dake

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