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Motorboat Monday: Scrapyard sadness? That ship has sailed

Chris Haining November 12, 2018 All Things Hoon, Motorboat Monday 18 Comments

Anybody else having trouble keeping up? When I was 14, my parents would dismiss the music of the day as a repetitive series of bleeps and yowls. Frankly, their description of The Prodigy was pretty accurate, but I would defend Braintree’s incendiary pop/rave/rock crossovers to the hilt. Hey, guess what? I’m now not far off the age that my dad was back then, and find it difficult to comprehend what teenagers listen to today.

Back then, I couldn’t possibly appreciate how quickly time would end up passing, and I’m far from alone on that. The future is coming at us like a bullet from a gun, and there’s just no dodging it. It’s hard to predict what people will want to listen to, drive or experience in the years ahead, and it hurts when things like car magazines, favourite bands and local landmarks disappear that you thought would be around for ever.

On this latter point, we say goodbye to the cruise ship on which I proposed to my wife back in 2013. It’s just been sold for scrap — a victim of the fact that time waits for no man and tastes, desires and expectations are constantly changing.

Many would suggest that this old ship has done well to avoid the cutter’s torch for so long. She was built in 1983 for Holland America line as Nieuw Amsterdam, becoming the Patriot of America Classic Cruises in 2000, and then Thomson Spirit from then until 2017. It was in this guise that Nicola and I spent 9 nights aboard on a cruise of the Norwegian fjords and coast. We returned home engaged to be wed, and with a fond wish to board that ship again at some point in the future.

That never happened. In 2015 she (the ship…) was renamed Marella Spirit due to a change of company name, and certain letters of that name were painted over on 29 October 2018, becoming Mare S for the final journey to the shipbreaking beaches of Alang, Bangladesh. For the Spirit, there is no longer a future, but for the metals she’s made from, there most certainly is.

What destiny holds for her near-identical sister ship, the Marella Celebration, is unknown but, although a year younger, Celebration is plagued by the same notable defect as Spirit. Both are Described in Berlitz’ Cruising and Cruise Ships as having “poor build quality”, leading to “excessive vibration, particularly at the stern, since new”. It seemed to me that vibration wasn’t quit the right word — the ship actually throbbed, a big, distinct pulse, perhaps linked to the rotation of the prop shafts. Depending on whereabouts you were on board, you’d feel it less or more. In our cabin right forwards at the bow and down on the waterline we felt little of this powerful low-frequency oscillation, but a fair amount of shimmy would fizz through the metalwork that supported all the wood-effect decor surfaces. Head to the Horizons lounge bar atop the bridge, though, and the oscillation was exaggerated to head-banging levels.

Whether or not this characteristic was instrumental in sealing Spirit‘s fate, I can only conjecture. However, there’s no doubt at all that her design and size were both rather dated, and a comparatively long (704ft) ship with space for only 1,350 passengers probably isn’t quite the money-making machine that cruise operators want these days, especially when a refit is due, too. At 35 years old, she was far from the oldest cruise ship in circulation, but the vast majority of older vessels are smaller and less costly to run, and operate on more expensive, ’boutique’ services that are a long way removed from the ‘mass market’ that Marella Cruises are engaged with. And, frankly, if Spirit no longer satisfied the Marella accountants, why would any other operator want to take her on?

The cruise concept is changing — into something that leaves me a little cold. A typical cruise ship is now a floating resort, both in terms of the amenities it offers and its outwards appearance. The leviathans that criss-cross the world’s oceans are akin to gloss-white tower blocks, all sea-view balconies and rooftop golf courses. Any resemblance to a ship has become purely coincidental. While cruise customers still want food, retail, constant entertainment and a conveyor-belt of constantly-changing scenery,  you’re in the minority if you hanker for an experience like how things used to be.

Nicola and I wanted to feel like we were on a ship. It was our first (and thus far, last) cruise, and we wanted all the romantic, traditional aspects that a cruise could offer. To feel the ocean beneath us, to stroll on teak-laid promenades and to escape from constant noise, activity and cheerfulness. On the Spirit, we soon ran out of things to do on board, and that suited us just fine. When we weren’t ashore, we’d turn to reading a book, either inside, with a beautiful view from one of the lounge windows, or on deck, huddled beneath a blanket on a sun-lounger. It was absolute bliss. And, that all-pervading mechanical rhythm criticised by Berlitz became a defining part of the experience. The ship felt alive. A comforting reminder that there were things going on below that would take us places. This may seem like the sentimental babbling of a lunatic, but Spirit felt human. A ship for people who like being on a ship. It’s no surprise to me that she enjoys such loyalty among guests, with many repeat visits — but alas not enough keep her from the breaker’s yard.

Just as too few people demand simple cars with a manual gearbox, an absent infotainment screen and a bias away from glitziness and towards tactility, society’s hunger for constant entertainment and endless amenity means cruise ships are getting bigger and more horrible. And, while car manufacturers may pay lip service to enthusiasts — BMW by offering the M2 Competition, for example — their radar is sure to be tracking the demands of the mainstream, who, ultimately, line the coffers with sales of bread and butter models that leave many of us cold. ‘Traditional’ cruise ships are disappearing because they just don’t turn over as many bucks as a water-borne condominium might. Such vessels are the ‘white SUV on finance’ of the vacation world. ‘Everybody’ wants one.

The final tragedy when Mare S hits the beach is this: All the finery that created such a relaxing, contented feeling — the acres of lush carpet, the handsome teak decking, the cabin woodwork, everything whose purpose was cosmetic rather than functional or structural — will likely be thrown away. Destroyed, and not even recycled. Just as when a car hits the crusher, it’ll probably be consumed seats ‘n all. Unless intercepted by a junkyard shopper — and such people are certainly thinning out markedly in the UK — the stereo, the window switches, the column stalks, the instrument cluster, the carpets, seats, sunroof, door trims, everything the car’s occupants interact with during a journey, and everything that makes the car what it is to travel in, will be reduced to garbage. The major mechanical units may be removed for resale, but even that’s not a given. For the poor old Spirit, just like any end of life car, the money is in the metal.

Like it or not, that sleek machine on your drive will, one day, be condemned to the same fate. The colossal new cruise ships that blight the oceans today? Just the same. One day, they’ll follow the Spirit onto the beach of doom. Both your car and that ship might be the right machine for the moment, but time seems to be accelerating away, and one day both will give way to the next big thing.

(All images copyright Chris Haining / Redusernab 2018)

  • Sjalabais

    You write so well, I just willingly consumed a text about cruise ships, which come not far below RVs on the list of human inventions that make me shudder a little. That said, it’s a shame to see a memory like that scrapped for good. I would think though that the whole business model of those horrible scrapping beaches is to make money whereever you can, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the deck teak for example makes its way around to some new use anyway.

    Thinking about cars, the “moving timeline” of what is desirable is eternally fascinating. Just yesterday I moaned a little about how Volgas explode in value – and no one is surprised. Just a select few were prepared though, and run businesses through it. 1990s cars are ready to appreciate, and we’re all aware of it. The falling value of vehicles from the ’30s-50s as another example is simultaneously sad and a good reason to cheer: Some will find new owners that otherwise couldn’t have afforded such a classic. It’s a good thing, too, that time moves on.

    • You’re very kind, and you’re dead right on the later points. By way of thanks, here’s a slightly murky shot of the ship and bits of Bergen as seen from Mount Floyen.

      • Sjalabais

        Ha, my wife’s former apt was right behind that yellow church in the left-most middle of your picture. You were lucky with the weather!

  • Harry Callahan

    My 50th birthday has made me wistful too. I fondly remember corroded breaker points…and carburetors… with a bit of nostalgia….remembering the starting procedure for my cold-engined Pinto–depress accelerator fully twice, turn key—feather throttle repeatedly as engine stumbles…drive away once a smooth-ish fast idle is achieved.

    I similarly fondly remember using a phone to actually speak to other people. Paper maps. Crowded churches. Telephone directories. Politics before . Star Trek without sexual deviancy. Ah…those were the days.

    • Alff

      • Harry Callahan

        Spock’s Leila worked for me.

  • P161911

    Apparently some of the non-steel stuff does get salvaged.

    • I’ll have to keep an eye out for Spirit memorabilia. So far all I have is a Thomson Spirit souvenir mug, a load of photos and a wife.

      • 0A5599

        Honey, guess what. I’m giving you a piece of ship for our anniversary.

        Stop crying. I said SHIP! With a P at the end. PUH. PUH. SHIP!

      • Manic_King

        I think you’re a bit unfair towards Indians, they will not throw away much, there’s markets there where furniture, fixtures, materials etc, basically everything will be resold:

        • True enough, but those materials aren’t necessarily in mind when such ships are bought for scrap. As with scrap cars, they’re bought by weight in $/ton for their scrap steel. Anything else of potential value that happens to be on board is a bonus. The GTS Finnjet was left unscrapped for so long that, by the end,it was so riddled with mould that many of its interior fittings were ruined.

  • 0A5599

    Though I have never been on a cruise, I do work for a company that services many cruise ships. It’s interesting to see the way some cruise lines have multiple brands, where one might provide premium service at a premium price, and commission new ships, replacing older ones which go to their “for the masses” brand. That’s sort of analogous to a Certified Pre-owned car. Then that brand sells a ship to the next level down, which will probably take a few months to refurbish the ship. That’s kind of the equivalent to a non CPO used late model car at a franchised dealership.

    Once the ship leaves it’s third fleet, the next buyer is like a customer at a buy here, pay here lot. They want something that looks presentable, that hopefully will last a few more years, but no guarantee.

    After that, the bottom rung cruise lines are like people who shop Craigslist for something inexpensive enough that even if it breaks down almost immediately, it can still be scrapped for more than the purchase price.

    • P161911

      My wife was originally really turned off on cruises, because in high school in 1993, she sailed on the 1961 vintage, then Carnival Mardi Gras. That ship was at the end of its Carnival life (2nd owner). It was sold at least once more after Carnival got rid of it.

      We did have a great Alaskan cruise on the Holland America Oosterdam in about 2009.

      • neight428

        The Mardi Gras was briefly repurposed as a floating Casino that would run out of Galveston into international waters and let people play $5 blackjack for a day. It failed miserably.

    • Lokki

      In all the excitement, I’ve clean forgot whether this cruise ship has been sold five times or six. So ask yourself one question newlyweds: do you feel lucky? Well do ya?

      • Harry Callahan

        Made my Day!

  • Manic_King

    The cries of treason emanated from Finland when their national treasure, legendary (originally turbine powered-) big and fast ferry Finnjet was scrapped, biz men tried to put together co. to buy it while it was on journey to scrapyard in Asia etc. It was shock on a national level that Finnjet could be ‘killed off’.

    • Yep, the smaller vessels end to be regarded as a “boutique” option, with rather higher ticket prices in exchange for the extra intimacy afforded. And Finnjet really was astonishing, if only for the GTS in its name.