End of a Nautical Icon

Funnel preservation

When my father first came from India to the United States in 1970, he began his new life by sailing from Europe to New York aboard the SS France. In a strange twist, the legendary liner is now ending her life on a beach in India where shipbreakers are dismantling her hull. I only saw the ship in person once as a kid while on vacation (she was anchored a distance off shore), but I remember vintage photos of my father onboard during his crossing wearing thick black framed glasses, his hair caught in the sea breeze. (Photos of my father with hair are rare, so I tend to remember them.)

Many ship enthusiasts fought hard to preserve the vessel as a hotel or museum. It may seem strange, but a number of other classic liners have escaped death in this manner. The original Queen Mary (1936) ended up as a floating hotel in Long Beach, California, The Rotterdam (1959) has been preserved in Holland, and the Queen Elizabeth 2 (1969) will retire later this year to become a hotel in Dubai. Unfortunately, even though SS France has had one of the most illustrious careers at sea and is universally praised as a pinnacle of nautical design, she’s been destined to the scrape heap.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus this post on just a single design element of the liner–her funnels. SS Francewas built with a radically modern funnel design in 1961. Unlike most ships at the time with their uninspiring “paintcan” funnels, SS Francehad winged smokestacks. They became instant icons, and the French Line made wide use of them in their advertising (see the fantastic poster on the left- I’d love to get myself one of those). Twenty years later, Carnival Cruise Lines’ architect, Joe Farcus, adapted France’s funnel to create Carnival’s own winged design which is still found on every one of their ships today. Apart from being aesthetically arresting, the winged funnels actually served a very practical function. The wings expelled fumes away from the ship’s open aft decks, thus prevented soot from falling on passengers and deck furnishings.

After the transatlantic shipping trade came to an end, thanks to affordable jet travel, SS France was laid up. She was eventually purchased and converted into a warm-weather cruise ship by Norwegian Caribbean Lines (NCL) and renamed SS Norway. The French Line’s red and black funnel livery was replaced with contemporary blue and while arcs that accentuated the winged funnels and better fit the ship’s new tropical environment. For nearly a decade, SS Norway was the largest cruise ship in the world–a title that attracted fame and passengers. She and her winged funnels were once again icons.

In the 1990s, NCL came under new management and the aging SS Norwaywas remodeled to stay competitive against newer ships in a rapidly growing industry. Unfortunately, the changes made to the ship diminished her original design purity. Two additional decks of cabins were added to the top of the ship, thus reducing the funnels’ visual height. The blue and white arcs were gone, replaced with solid navy blue paint and a lame “NCL” box logo. But perhaps the worst additions were a large white radar “bubble” atop the forward funnel, and additional exhaust pipes emerging from the top of the aft funnel. The wings would no longer be functional, but merely decorative features.

In 2003, while docked in Miami, one of Norway’sboilers exploded. The ship was towed to Germany for repairs, but none were ever made. The cost of re-engineering the ship, combined with her age and inability to compete with newer megaships, resulted in NCL selling the ship to Indian breakers. Once all attempts to preserve the ship failed, the dismemberment began. Today virtually nothing remains of SS France/Norway–not even her funnels.

During the years Norwaylanguished in a German shipyard, one enthusiast proposed a plan to preserve the ships’ funnels if nothing else. He thought the refurbished smokestacks might serve as a monument, library, or a public space. A wonderful idea to preserve two icons of nautical design and history, but one that never came to pass.

SS France (circa 1961)


SS Norway (circa 1981)

SS Norway (2007 Alang, India)

SS Norway (2008 Alang, India)

  • Per Nyberg

    very sad to see here like that! it shulld be a crime to do that to an old ship.

  • Larry

    Very sad for sure. We sailed her in 1984. I’ll always have fond memories and a soft spot in my heart for her.

  • lynne langley

    I was fortunate enough to have been part of the crew on this wonderful ship. It breaks my heart to see
    something so majestic tossed aside to make way for the cheap peices of crap that today are called
    Cruise Ships.

  • Susan Berger

    My husband and I first sailed on SS Norway in Feb. 1982, and then again with the kids in June of 1987. Such magnificence and wonderful memories. Hard to see what’s happening to her.

  • Mandee

    OMG. How did they let her look like that in 2008?? I was on her in 1987. They had just refurbished her. She was magnificent. What a shame.

  • Susan

    So sad….I will always regret not getting to sail the Norway.
    We actually had a sailing booked for July 2003….when the tragic explosion happened! Needless to say, we ended up having to book a different sailing.

  • Deborah D

    I am so grateful to have sailed on her 3 times, 1992, 1994, and 2002..was hoping to go one more time, but the explosion took her away from us. I am so glad I got photos of her interiors and exteriors. I miss walking her decks, she was more special than any cruise ship I had been on before her and after her.

  • Jenny Kaperknacky

    That is fiarly sad to see. I ahve been on many “warm weather cruises” and you dont think much about the ships “life” other then the week or so your on it… aww and how nice they were laying out on one of my favorite sarongs and just having a relaxing time….. just to think of any of the ships I ahve been on like this in a few decades… kinda makes me sad =(

  • Mark and Diane

    The Norway will always have a dear place in our hearts…We were married on board the Norway on July 7, 2002 in Miami. It was wonderful and romantic.

  • petter kaspersen

    Sad, the king of the sea, SS Norway, is dead. the biggest norwegian pride ever,

  • http://www.woodentoystore.co.nz/haba/ Haba

    “The Norway will always have a dear place in our hearts…We were married on board the Norway on July 7, 2002 in Miami. It was wonderful and romantic.”

    It sounds like the Norway means just as much to you as it does to me and Haba. We are sad to see it go.

  • Ralph Bertelson

    In our hearts she will always live!

  • RICH

    I worked at the pier in Miami for NCL as a guest service agent with this beautiful ship. And i was there the day the boiler exploded. The NORWAY had four boilers i knew the NORWAY’S engineer. By law she only needed 3 working boilers 2 running the ship and 1 back up. NCL should be ashamed for doing this to a ship with so much history to her.

  • William S. Nall

    I worked and lived aboard the Norway in 1986, and she was the biggest cruise ship in the world. I was well aware of her lineage from the France to the Norway conversion and all the stories that went with it. It breaks my heart to see what has happened to the once most beautiful ship afloat. Her predecessor the Normandy was the MOST beautiful ship ever built to grace the North Atlantic. There were only four 1,000 foot liners built of which the France/Norway were the last of that era. In 1986 the Norway and QE2 were the trueTitans of the seas. Today the Oasis of the Seas at 1200 feet is the Worlds Largest Cruise Ship. The ships today are more like floating wedding cakes instead of the intrepid Trans-Atlantic ships of the France/Norways era.

    I was so proud to live and work on the Norway and would have given anything to see it port in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. To see the majestic funnels and the rakish clippered bow towering above everything in the harbor. The Norway will live on in my heart, and dreams. She wasn’t a “Queen”, but a more beautiful, breathtaking silhouette just appearing on the horizon will never be matched!

  • Christine Leonick-Szenes

    I went on the one of the first voyages of the SS Noway back in 1981. It was an unforgetable experience. It’s sad to see that this is her end result – but we can’t keep everything so to speak. She will always be fondly remembered by me and my family. And I have lots of pictures of her days in the sun.

  • R. A.A.Andrikus

    It is sad to see my previous ship. I was working on board S/S Norway and I was taking part in dry-dock in Bremenhaven – Germany when they add two decks up. It was a beautiful ship and they re-install the Leeward Dining Room upper level. I really missed the ship and I have nice memory on board that ship.

  • sander from the netherlands

    she was truly the most elegant liner ever built….
    the one which ship engineering will never surpass.
    a ship with such a history,just thrown away by NCL
    for a louzy boilerexplosion is unforgivable!!!
    never again will the world see the like of such a
    beautifull ship again….never ever again….
    she will allways live on in our memories.
    never she will ne forgotten….

    we miss you norway………………….

    the netherlands….

    ps.. if anyone has some photos for me
    that are different from the ones found
    on the internet,i would love to see them..


  • Gordon

    Good bye to the Norway . Along with the Qe2 you were my favourite ship, I am so sorry to see and end like this for such a lady. G.

  • Cate

    I never sailed on her, but I remember when she visited Boston in the late 60′s when I was a child. My mom was in love with the ship and drove us down to the docks to look at her. So sad to the ship in pieces.

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  • Vic Petillo

    On July 10, 1963 my parents and I boarded the SS France at Pier 88 in New York for a couple of hours to see my aunt, uncle and cousin off to Le Havre. Even though I never sailed on her, the elegance of the France made a lasting impression on me and visiting her briefly was one of the highlights of my childhood.
    After she was refurbished by NCL in her beautiful blue colors, I drove to Miami one week end just to photograph and see her in Port.
    In spite of NCL banishing the Norway to her senseless demise in India (and yes these pictures hurt) I will always remember her splendor when she was truly the queen of the high seas.

  • Alex D

    I have been on many cruise ships in my life and The SS Norway was the most unique. You really got the feeling of being aboard a majestic ship of the past. She was beautiful and I had the best cruising experience of my life on her. I sailed on her in 1996 and remember it like it was yesterday. I loved her dinning room and her promenade deck. To see what has become of her and to know I will never walk on her decks again truly saddens me. I don’t know what it was about this ship that made you fall in love with her as soon as you saw her. Maybe, it was her elegant design or her romantic silhouette. Maybe it was her decks or her crew. I believe that this ship had a certain way about her that you could only truly understand if you sailed on her. I feel very fortunate to have gotten that chance and I am very sorry that my wife and children will not. So, as I could not be there to say a proper goodbye, I say it here… au revoir, mon ami.

  • Salah Al-Busaidy

    My family and I sailed the SS Norway twice in 1998 and 2000. I remember how majestic she looked docked just off shore in St. Thomas USVI. She was truly a majestic ship and we will always remember re-living the days of Trans-Atlantic travel. What a sad ending for one of the best ships ever built!

  • http://www.paullangland.com paul langland

    I arrived in New York City, my home on the SS France in November 1973.
    I am a dancer, American, who was bumming around Europe in Summer 1973 and found out that student tix were to be had for $200, Le Havre/NY on the SS France. I was hitchhiking thrrough France and got a ride from the son of Normandy nobility who put me up for one night before my departure.
    The whole family, monsieur, madame with her big hat, and my friend drove to Le havre in their Citroen DS21 to deliver me to the dock and see me off.
    I arrived in Novemeber 1973, midtown, I have been in my beloved home NYC since. I first stayed with Charlie Seltzer, friend of Bill T. Jones.
    I was at sea during the seven days war in the Middle East. We received dire telegrams daily.
    In 2001 two good friends, Robert Flynt and Pat Scarlet sailed together to Europe on the last transatlantic voyage of the “Norway”. 4 days later was 9/11. They were at sea frantic at the catastrophe, like me unable to do anything but wati for arrival.

  • http://www.examiner.com/travel-in-miami/al-quintana Al Quintana

    The SS Norway was a terrific ship. I remember when it first arrived in Miami in all of her glory. Had the pleasure of sailing on her as well and she will be remembered as one of the best.

  • Chris

    Growing up in Southampton, we use to regularly watch the France coming and going, along with the United States and the two older Queens. Beautiful ships, all of them. A sad end.

  • greg

    The top of the bow of the SS France was removed and auctioned off or is on display somewhere. So there is a little piece of this ship somewhere.

  • G of S Florida

    I worked for NCL 1982-1983 in reservations. The big treat when working the weekend was the thrill of watching this magnificent ship pull away from the dock and depart the Port of Miami. Such a wonderful sight.
    Some weekends that I did not work the wife and I would drive up to the highway directly opposite the port. We would pull off the road, find a place to sit and behold ships from NCL, RCCL, Carnival and other smaller lines. There in the midst of them was the Norway. She was the largest of them all and the most beautiful. In 1992 we finally took a 7 day cruise on her, to the eastern Carribean. Such beauty, such majesty. I shall never forget her, never. Last month was May and it was 9 years since the boiler explosion which doomed
    the Norway. I, like many others, shall never forget the queen of the seas, the SS Norway.

  • Ross

    1982-1983- Senior in highschool. My graduation present was a cruise on the Norway May 12, 1984. I spent 2 years looking over every details of the ship’s brochure, studying every thing I could of the ship. I was 19yrs old when I sailed and I went solo. My cabin was inside A033. Seeing the Noway and walking onboard in Miami was the one time in my life where a dream had come true. I remember to this day waking up the first morning at sea, walking up the stairs to the International deck, strolling the full length of the enclosed promenade deck to the back pool and just how excited I wasto actually be part of something that I could only see in a brochure for years prior. I traveled again on the Norway May 1985/July 1993. Since my cruise on the Norway, I’ve been on over 30 other cruise ships but none will ever take the place of a true crusing ship. A few years ago while looking at these awful picture of her beached off shore, I found a website based in Norway that had furniture and memorbilia salvaged from the ships. One site had all the cabin door number plates from the Nowayr. I mentioned this site to my parents. Christms 2010 I opened up a small box with a envelope posted marked from Norway and inside was cabin number plate A033. It really brought a tear to my eye. I now actually have a piece of an event in my life that meant so much to me.

  • Navig8r

    My wife and I enjoyed our honeymoon on Norway in 1985. As an active duty Naval Officer, the crew gave me the priviledge of access to the bridge. It was a great ship, and a great cruise. Like most of the ships I served aboard, she will undoubtedly make great razor blades.