Casting Off

My final post in this series is a thank you, as there is so much more that I wish to cover in so little time and space on this subject.

Thank you to the workers of shipyards all over the world who laboured intensively, sacrificing everything to build the great liners of the world. Many died, many lost limbs, and many hours were worked by all of them. Thank you to the stewards and stewardesses, pursers, waiters, maids, captains and countless other members of the crew of the great liners for striving to provide exquisite service and safe passage.

Thank you to the world media for documenting the furious game of one-upmanship and fuelling the propaganda machine that kept these great ships afloat and alive for so long. Thank you to those who gave their lives to save others or committed selfless acts during the many tragic sinkings and calamities at sea. Thank you to the millions of soldiers who endured scorching heat and bitter cold as they were ferried across oceans in converted liners – often on routes not intended for their design. I still remember hearing stories of soldiers sleeping on the foredeck of the RMS Aquitania at night due to the heat.

Thank you to John Maxtone-Graham, William H. Miller, Bob Ballard, Ken Marschall, J. Kent Layton, and countless other ocean liner historians who researched, documented, and archived all sorts of detailed information on the subject, keeping the legacy of the liners alive.

Finally, thank you for following me on this retrospective journey through the annals of time. May you learn the importance and power that history holds.

I have learned so much from my time studying the great floating palaces of the North Atlantic. I learned how to respect and honour innocent, incorruptible beauty and art, and appreciate the hard work of our forefathers. I learned the hallmarks of naval architecture and history, and discovered the secrets buried beneath the oceans of the past.

If you wish to learn more about the fascinating history and legacy of the liners, then do check out the following links:

There are also a plethora of documentaries on Youtube that I heartily suggest, most notably The Liners , a 4-part TV series.

Photo Credit: Corey Reed


COREY REED

An Ottawa-based writer, born in Cobourg, Ontario. A shortlisted winner of the 2014 National Capital Writing Contest, Reed is currently studying Professional Writing at Algonquin College to further hone his skills. His passions include ocean liner history, Art Deco design, fiction writing and everything to do with Stevie Nicks.

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Reverence: The RMS Empress of Ireland

There's a grave that few visit - and it rests at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River. In 1914, the ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland was rammed by the coal carrier Storstad in thick fog off Point-Au-Père, Quebec. She plummeted beneath the frigid waves within 14 minutes, the immense hole in her hull aided by open portholes in capsizing the liner and pulling her under – along with much of her passengers and crew. With ordinary, common folk filling up the passenger list (heaven forbid) and the First World War arriving shortly afterwards, the RMS Empress of Ireland was largely forgotten.

What speaks most to me about this ship, as well as the tragedy surrounding it, is the fact that it has grown to become a Canadian legend, similar to the Edmund Fitzgerald. We seem to revere and respect events such as this with a little more dignity and awareness – which is rightly so, considering that the bones of many of the disaster’s victims still linger deep within the pitch-black confines of the ship’s mangled hull. The ship holds many secrets that continue to elude and excite us, mainly due to sediment on the riverbed tending to shift and flutter about. I remember reading one story of a diver who discovered a perfectly preserved bundle of newspapers – twine still bound around them and the paper white as virgin snow. He returned a few days later and found a pile of shifted sediment instead. That air of mystery has intrigued me for years, and the RMS Empress of Ireland was one of the first ships to catch my interest, as a result.

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Another reason she appeals to me is because I have visited her in person – in a sense. Having seen her artifacts on display at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa, I felt emotionally connected to the ship, her legacy and lasting appeal. Seeing shoes worn by a dead passenger, the ship’s bell and wheel, a horn belonging to one of the 167 Salvation Army Band members travelling during the voyage (159 of whom perished) as well as other remnants of lives long passed were a strong and emotional reminder of what happened. Many woke that night to ice-cold water filling their lungs. Let us wake with love in our hearts. This tragic innocence is what is so beautiful about the RMS Empress of Ireland - and so very haunting. Once you're face to face with a piece of history such as this, it never lets go of your heart. Such is the way of humanity. If only more would reflect on moments such as this to gain a better understanding on the value of human life.

For more information on the RMS Empress of Ireland, click here.

To learn more about the golden age of ocean travel, join Lovers of the Ocean Liners. 

Photo Credit: Corey Reed                                                                                                                                                                                 Video Credit: Shaw TV


COREY REED

An Ottawa-based writer, born in Cobourg, Ontario. A shortlisted winner of the 2014 National Capital Writing Contest, Reed is currently studying Professional Writing at Algonquin College to further hone his skills. His passions include ocean liner history, Art Deco design, fiction writing and everything to do with Stevie Nicks.

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Witness: The SS Andrea Doria

Sunk in July 1956 after being struck by the Swedish liner MS Stockholm, the elegant SS Andrea Doria was truly a marvel of shipbuilding - albeit mingled with that ever-so-famous Italian penchant for lavish extravagance. The tragic collision and sinking resulted in nearly fifty deaths and was witnessed by countless television viewers around the world - it was the first ever televised sinking of an ocean liner. The stunning aerial photography of Harry Trask for the Boston Traveler won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize and made the sinking world-famous.

It's difficult to describe what draws me to the SS Andrea Doria - it is almost an ethereal, otherworldly feeling, of a spectral hand dragging my mind under the Atlantic waves. The sheer beauty of this vessel is astonishing; her draft, beam and streamlined superstructure were a match made in heaven and a naval architect's wet dream. This is why the sight of her current condition after so many years of being prey to deep waters and shifting currents is horrifying to say the least. The superstructure is warped and collapsed, and her blackened hull is buckling inwards. It looks almost as if a meteor struck the ship from above, creating a crater where elegantly clad women once descended gilded staircases for sumptuous dinners with their dapper husbands. I suppose, in a way, knowing what once was there exists only in postcards or photos from that era haunts me. We lose too many beautiful things to tragedy and hardship, and that will never change. But with something as close to my heart as ocean liners are, it guts me to know their fates. So many lay crippled, broken and rotting like scattered corpses on a long-forgotten battlefield.

That is the problem – we forget.

Countless souls have been lost to the sea, yet the only tragedy people know of by heart is the RMS Titanic, which has really become a cliché and joke amongst us liner enthusiasts, considering that every ship is her to most people. There are so many other disasters at sea that are long forgotten – the SS ArcticWilhelm Gustloff, and Awa Maru for example – and they deserve to be remembered. I suppose this harkens back to my previous posts in the sense of the same underlying theme that resonates with them all – if we forget what we’ve lost, then forget the future. Be a witness to the past –  you’ll thank yourself for it.

To learn more about the SS Andrea Doria, click here.

For more on the MS Stockholm, which is still sailing (albeit under a different name), click here. 

Photo Credit: Harry A. Trask (Wikimedia Commons)                                                                                                                                       Video Credit: British Movietone


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COREY REED

An Ottawa-based writer, born in Cobourg, Ontario. A shortlisted winner of the 2014 National Capital Writing Contest, Reed is currently studying Professional Writing at Algonquin College to further hone his skills. His passions include ocean liner history, Art Deco design, fiction writing and everything to do with Stevie Nicks.

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Frigid Angel: The RMS Lusitania

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It was May 1915. Carrying thousands of passengers across the bone-chilling cold of the Atlantic Ocean – and towards the shadow of the First World War – was the RMS Lusitania, a luxurious greyhound of an ocean liner. Off the Irish coast, passing the Old Head of Kinsale, a torpedo fired from German submarine U-20 pierced the giant ship's hull below the waterline, causing a great explosion that shook the ship about. The coal dust in the air of her bunkers ignited, causing a second, more ferocious  explosion that blew her side out.

RMS Lusitania vanished below the Atlantic waves within 20 minutes. Out of 1,959 passengers and crew, only 761 ever set foot on shore again. 124 Americans perished, influencing America’s decision to join the First World War.

The legendary story of this majestic liner is something that I keep very close to my heart. It is difficult to explain in so few words, but to think that something so beautiful, elaborately furnished, and shamelessly elegant rests crumpled and rotten on the seabed like a great hand-riveted corpse is utterly astonishing to me. Every rotted deck plank, pitch-black hallway, and rusted rivet carries the story and legacy of a human being – many whom perished aboard one of the finest liners ever built. An owner of Lusitania artifacts myself, I feel a deep connection with that great ship as well as a heavy responsibility to respect and honour her legacy. Her everlasting story is one that, for the good of humanity, cannot be forgotten. It would be a travesty for such a thing to happen. Amid this world of processed food and selfies, we need history more than ever before. 

This is why the final voyage of RMS Lusitania is heavily featured as a major plot point in the manuscript for my debut novel. It is a dramatic period thriller that, I feel, has the potential to leave readers shaking their heads in disbelief. It is really the telling of a fictional passenger’s crossing and struggle for survival. In a way, the disaster also has piqued my interest in my Irish heritage, and what that lovely little green island is like. I’m also inspired by the lifestyle, fashion, and even the etiquette of that era, thanks to what I know of the tragedy.

The history of this splendid ship is deserving of all your attention, admiration, and respect. She is truly a frigid angel – her final moments carrying men, women, and children from this life into another existence, via an icy burial at sea. 

To learn more, join Lovers of the Ocean Liners.

For more information on the RMS Lusitania, click here.

Photo Credit: DeGolyer Library of Southern Methodist University | Corey Reed                                                                                                                                       Video Credit: 


COREY REED

An Ottawa-based writer, born in Cobourg, Ontario. A shortlisted winner of the 2014 National Capital Writing Contest, Reed is currently studying Professional Writing at Algonquin College to further hone his skills. His passions include ocean liner history, Art Deco design, fiction writing and everything to do with Stevie Nicks.

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Powerhouse In Purgatory: The SS United States

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She was once the pride of a nation. Now a floating behemoth of rusty, crusted metal, the once-grand vessel is moored at a forlorn Philadelphia port  beyond which rests a parking lot for the local IKEA. Many think of her as little more than a faded remnant of a long-dead era  that of the ocean liner. However, she is so much more than "just a ship".

She is the SS United States.

Once the fastest, grandest ocean liner afloat, the Big U, as she was affectionately known, was a powerful, luxurious vessel. This streamlined giant was famous for carrying presidents, celebrities, and artists. However, the age of jet travel spelled doom for her, like most other ocean liners.

To me, this ship is appealing in her stubborn determination to survive. She has been moored for half a century at the same grimy Philadelphia dockside, the last remnants of a long-faded age clinging on for hope . I suppose I'm drawn to her shape, majesty, and grace that withstands the test of time  even right down to the chipped paint on her iconic funnels. Something about her remaining so visually impressive and imposing despite being coated in rust and grime bears testament to the age of ocean liners itself, and its determination to remain relevant in this digital, fast-paced, espresso-fuelled age. That is what inspires me most about her.

In early October 2015, the SS United States Conservancy had the hull examined for how much income it would take in as scrap. If the Conservancy doesn't gain enough funding and public interest to save the ship, then by the end of this month, a most fateful and final decision will have to be made. As someone who grew up studying, researching, and becoming fascinated by all things related to ocean liners, it breaks my heart that I cannot do more than the paltry donations I have made as a broke college student. I can only hope that, with the recent spike in media attention, perhaps somebody with deeper pockets is willing to step forward and save one of the very last of these beautiful ships. Why we can't simply keep something beautiful and innocent alive to inspire and educate future generations instead of funding ridiculous military expenses, the bombing and chokehold of other countries, and injecting fear for greed and profit via the media is completely beyond me.

Click here to visit the SS United States Conservancy website. Donate today and save a legend.

Click here to join Lovers of the Ocean Liners, the most active group of ocean liner enthusiasts.


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Corey Reed

An Ottawa-based writer, born in Cobourg, Ontario. A shortlisted winner of the 2014 National Capital Writing Contest, Reed is currently studying Professional Writing at Algonquin College to further hone his skills. His passions include ocean liner history, Art Deco design, fiction writing and everything to do with Stevie Nicks.

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