SS OLYMPIA, Greek Line by Diane Kolyer

Memory by Diane Kolyer: SS OLYMPIA

OLYMPIA brochure cover loaned by Alan Zamchick

I made at least two Atlantic crossings on OLYMPIA. My memories are mainly of people I met and things that happened on the trips.

I have a 1966 Greek Line sailing schedule and a Greek Line deck plan from the same vintage in front of me, and still it’s a challenge! That’s what happens from not taking notes at the time.

I sailed on OLYMPIA the first time on 9/19/66 from Haifa to Piraeus (arrived 9/21). All I remember is that there were cars on the fo’c’sle deck, put there since it was too quick a trip to put them in the hold and the weather was fine anyway. I was in first class, but have no memory of my cabin. This cross-Med trip was part of a first-class, transatlantic round trip from New York to Haifa, starting 8/23 from NY to Haifa on QUEEN ANNA MARIA (with my aunt, who was moving to Haifa), then the OLYMPIA over to Greece in time for a Med cruise on a smaller ship (don’t remember the name) ending in Venice, working my way down to Naples to pick up QUEEN ANNA MARIA 10/11 for the return to NY, arriving Oct. 21. We had the most horrendous storm, starting as we rounded Cape St. Vincent and ending with the arrival in Halifax 10/19. That entire trip, including the Olympia hop, cost me a bit more than $800 RT, first class.

The next time I was on OLYMPIA was eastbound transatlantic in June 1967. I sailing tourist, but Capt. Giorgios, whom I had met when he was master of Queen Anna Maria westbound first class the year before, recognized me at the captain’s cocktail party on the second night out from New York and put me in a first class single cabin on Sun Deck. It had a porthole onto the promenade and one bed, which was the width of the cabin.

I am looking at the deck plan as I write. This is the same deck where the Aegean Club (with the V-shaped bar and recessed, step-down alcoves) was. This was the place and the sailing during which I had the nightly conversations with about five or six people, including a third officer, after the midnight buffet, and one of the group was the Greek who was returning to his village in Northern Epirus, or modern Albania. That story is below, but again, use these dates, not the ones you see in any of these stories!

During this trip, we listened in rapt attention to the BBC on the short wave radio that someone brought to some news items of great importance:

First, King Constantine of Greece abdicated and left for England. We heard his speech in mid-Atlantic. He was leaving because he had been stripped of his role by the junta of colonels that had taken power in April (1967). By his abdication, in June, he had realized that he was to be a puppet and he didn’t like it one bit. So we listened to that.

Also, the Six-Day War was taking place, or had just taken place, and we heard all about that on the BBC. This necessitated a change in plans for the ship, which was scheduled to call at Haifa, and had many passengers aboard for that destination. Instead, the ship ended its voyage in Piraeus and all the Haifa-bound passengers were stuck in Greece. One was a young woman named Christine who was also by herself, so we decided to take a hotel room together in Athens. During those Athens days, I met the man who I was to marry.

The next time I was on the OLYMPIA was westbound in March 1969, with my 10-month-old daughter, Risa. The captain was John Katsikis (katsikis means “goat”), a dour fellow who didn’t mix well with the passengers, didn’t know me and didn’t care. (He was written about in a New York Times article of that period that Alan Zamchick put on The Liners List. The story was about captains having to dock their ships during a tugboat strike in New York Harbor. Katsikis had to try three times, while the other two masters seemed to get their ships in on the first try.)

I made the stupid assumption that they would have baby food on the ship. Was I wrong! I was worried about how she would eat (no teeth, see below), but I just cut things in tiny pieces and put them on the tray of her high chair. She picked them up, gummed them and did just fine. That’s how she started eating solid food.

Risa and I were in a small tourist cabin, outside, on Upper Deck, with two lower beds and one upper (my daughter had a crib the ship supplied and I was the only other person in the cabin). I don’t know which cabin precisely, because there is a whole row of similar cabins. But I remember the interior well. Risa was teething and the voyage was pretty rough. The OLYMPIA rolled quite a bit. I have always called that crossing the “roll-baby” trip, since I had to stuff pillows in Risa’s little crib because she rolled first one way, then the other, as the ship rolled.

I remember the steward well; the first reason is because he chided me about stringing a wash line with diapers drying across the cabin. He said that was not allowed, because I might fall during a ship roll and choke myself. So I had to take down the line and hang the diapers on towel racks in the bathroom. Here’s a nugget about transatlantic trips: in those days there was no passenger-use laundry. On an 11-day trip with a baby, those diapers needed attention!

The second reason is because Risa was miserable, trying to teethe her first tooth through the gum and probably disturbing other passengers with her crying. The steward brought me a small bottle of ouzo and suggested I dip my finger in it and rub a bit on her gums to soothe her. (It worked and I used the same method later on my two sons when they were teething.)

Many years later, I rediscovered “my” ships, now sailing from Miami: CARNIVALE (QUEEN ANNA MARIA) and CARIBE I (OLYMPIA). They were changed, but somehow the same. At least my memories were still aboard.

(Diane Kolyer passed away April 2002. Thank you Diane, for your contributions to liner lore, for your willingness to share with us. You were one of the earliest contributors to the “sea of memory” on Maritime Matters. Your story will remain here for all to enjoy – with fond memories of our internet chats and brief visit in Miami when I sailed on SS NORWAY – Martin Cox, Maritime Matters).