A Love Affair To Remember

 

The reason this web site came into being is because on July 6, 2003, I read an article in The Orlando Sentinel by Arline Bleecker regarding steamships, particularly the S.S. United States, which since then I have found out means as much to her as the S.S. Argentina means to me. Through our e-mails, I found out the city and state where the Enchanted Isle is currently laid up. I then located docks and ports in Violet, Louisiana.  Fortunately, Violet is not a large town and I was able to find the Enchanted Isle in the first phone call.  Tefferny ("Teff") answered the phone and stated that the Enchanted Isle is at their location and, because she did not think I was a nut case wondering if the Enchanted Isle was at their docks, she answered my questions as best she could and mentioned the ship would be leaving "soon."  After hanging up with Teff, I decided I was on a mission, not only for myself, but for my fellow students of the Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro ("EA") who traveled on the S.S. Argentina, including the S.S. Brasil, her sister ship.

In a little over a week's time, I knew I was going to a Class Reunion for EA in Coral Gables, Florida, so I wanted to find out as much as I could so I could relay the information.  While speaking with Teff, she told me that John, an agent for Commodore Cruise Lines, could assist me with more information.  I contacted him and he mentioned the ship was due to leave within 30 days for Asia.  I then knew it was fate that I read Arline's article. Thirty days is all I have if I wanted to see her before she was to leave for whatever was down her watery road. The Enchanted Isle has been laid up at the same dock since December 30, 2000, and now finally having the time, I found her before she has to leave. John told me that because of the shape she is in I probably should just keep my memories of her and not to try to visit her. Over the next couple of weeks, I was thinking I should go, I shouldn't go, I should go, I shouldn't go....  Was she really a rustbucket?

While attending the Reunion, I spoke with Bruce Stirling, Webmaster of the EA Alumni Site.  He mentioned that it would be nice to have photos of the S.S. Argentina as she currently is so we could give her a proper closure.  This is all the incentive I needed. You see, I really wanted to go, but was afraid to go, and all I needed was a little poke.

My friend, Bill Vinson, and I were scheduled to be in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on Saturday, July 26, 2003, so it was decided we would see the Enchanted Isle on the way to Gatlinburg.  Leaving from Orlando, Florida, to go to Gatlinburg by way of Violet, Louisiana, is a long road trip in only the five days we had allotted for our Gatlinburg trip.  But after all the information and generous assistance given to me from various sources, I just had to go. The Argentina was calling me.

On the day before leaving, Wednesday, July 23, I called Teff to see if the ship was still there. She said yes, but the Enchanted Isle is expected to leave the following Monday, July 28, and she didn't know where the ship was going.  Bill and I left the following day to drive up to and across the Florida Panhandle, stopping in Chipley, Florida, on personal business, then going on to take a photo of Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the S.S. Brasil and the S.S. Argentina were built in 1958. That was quite an adventure because we got there at 4:30 p.m. just as as the employees were leaving for the day.  Wrong Move!!  The shipyard is at a dead-end and we certainly didn't have a pass to enter the facility, so all we could do was to take a few photos and hope security didn't come charging at us.  After we waited for about 2,367 employees (I swear there were that many) to leave, we were able to turn around and drive on to Biloxi, which was only a few miles away. 

When I awoke Friday morning, July 25, I couldn't wait to see her. We were close. I could taste those Shirley Temples.  A couple of hours later, as we were driving across the bridge on Lake Pontchatrain to New Orleans, I was getting nervous.  What if she really is a rusty piece of metal with her insides falling apart and smelly as John described her to me.  Would I be able to see her in her in that state?

But all that left my mind when I saw her out of my car window. She was gracefully sitting in the Mississippi River looking tired, beaten, and seemed ready to give up, but certainly not as bad as I had pictured she would be.  She was beautiful.  I knew her heart was in there somewhere.  Fortunately, I wasn't there to see her deteriorate as Teff had in the last 31 months. The last time I saw the S.S. Argentina, was when my Mom, Dad, brother, sister, and Louro, our blue-crested Amazon parrot, disembarked in New York almost exactly 39 years ago to the day, July 28, 1964.

When our car came to a stop, I couldn't take my eyes off her. I was afraid she would disappear. When I was finally able to pry my eyes off her, I went up to the office to meet Teff in person. Teff is a very friendly, southern woman with a captivating voice like Lauren Bacall. After she filled me in, she called Captain Pavlos Papantelaras on the phone who generously agreed to give us a short tour. The Captain and his small crew were getting ready for the ship to leave on Monday and had a lot of work to do in front of them.

As Bill and I walked up and over the levy to the Enchanted Isle, I could not believe that I was there. It had been 39 years.  I realize I could have traveled her as the Enchanted Isle, but it wasn't meant to be. It was only a few years ago that I finally found her through the internet. Before the internet, it was next to impossible. When I was able to, I started to book a cruise for February 2000, but through no fault of my own, I had to cancel my plans.  I knew her time would be short because she was getting up in years and most ships don't last as long as she had and I knew I would have to see her soon.  When I was able to book another cruise, she was lost.  No internet site, no Commodore Cruise Lines, nada.  It wasn't until I read Arline's article that I decided to try to locate the S.S. Argentina again.

Chief Steward Errol Fletcher waved us onto the ship.  You could say that I really had to see her because I am afraid of heights and we had to climb up this super colossal ladder to the Promenade Deck.  The last few rungs were difficult and I tried not to look down but I just had to to see each rung so I knew where to place each foot.  After having made that treacherous journey, he led us up to Boat Deck to meet with Captain Pavlos Papantelaras in the Captain's Quarters.  The Captain told us that he has been Captain of the Enchanted Isle for one year, but he had also been Captain while she was the Monarch Star. Captain Pavlos apologized to us that his time was short because there was a lot of work to be done in two days before the ship was to leave on Monday. He was not sure as to whether the ship could leave for dry dock in Mobile, Alabama, under her own steam or she would have to leave under tow.  As we graciously said our obrigados and obrigadas, the Captain gave us a deck plan of the Enchanted Isle and he had Errol show us around the ship.  Shortly after we left Captain Pavlos' quarters, I realized that his Quarters was the only space that was air conditioned on the entire ship.  The ship's power was being supplied by a generator and there were only a few light fixtures on.

While Chief Steward Errol Fletcher was explaining the ship to us, he guided us by flashlight, and where we were able, we snapped a few photos.  Since the additional deck and a half that was added to the S.S. Argentina in 1963, I have noticed the following:  The Observation Cafe on the Sun Deck is still there but has been renamed Spyglass Lounge.  (A poem was written for the Spyglass Lounge, check out "Jack's Joint.")  The Enchanted Isle has expanded its deck space on Boat Deck.  The Boat Deck Cafe was removed and more staterooms were added.  The S.S. Argentina did not have a complete deck on Boat Deck but had a U-shaped decking effect where you could look down at the pool from Sun Deck and Boat Deck.  The decking was expanded on Promenade so that the pool was added closer to the stern than where the original swimming pool had been.  This was because more lounge area was added to the Promenade Deck up to where the twin uptakes are.  There was a large amount of square footage of decking on the stern of the S.S. Argentina that was prohibited to passengers and it is now useful deck space.  The Junior Pool was removed from Upper Deck.  An excellent view of S.S. Argentina's decking can be viewed by enlarging the second photo of the Brochure by enlarging it twice (once by clicking on it then by clicking on it at the bottom right hand corner).  Where there was gray decking on the S.S. Argentina, there is now green indoor-outdoor carpet. I also noticed the beautiful teak deck on Promenade, starboard and port, now gave way to more green indoor-outdoor carpet.  The lounge areas on Promenade were barely recognizable and totally refurbished.  The Dance Studio, Gift Shop, and Writing Room are now a Casino.  The Dining Room is in the same place as it was, but revamped.  The ship seemed to have been refurbished in order to book more passengers (725 instead of the original 553), but I think there is more deck space as it presently sits.

I wanted to see so much more, but we didn't want to keep Errol from his job.  He was very friendly and more than happy to show us around, but I knew we should not take up his time.  Besides I was in awe and couldn't register everything at once.  Errol had a lot of ship stories to tell and I wanted to hear all of them.  He worked on many ships, as a Chief Steward and assisting in refurbishing a few ships.  Some of the ships he helped refurbish included the Pacific Princess (the Love Boat), the Oceanic (one of the Big Red Boats), and the one that did the Commodore in, the Enchanted Sun.   He found his way into a shipping career while he was living in Bermuda and admired a ship which regularly came to Bermuda, the Bermuda Star.  His dream was to work on her.  When he was old enough, his dream came true and he worked himself up from Head Cleaner to Chief Steward.  Today we know the Bermuda Star as the Enchanted Isle.  Errol found his way back to her a few months ago and is assisting in repairing her.  He, too, wants to see her cruise again because out of 23 years in his shipping career, she is his favorite.  If only we could pull a few million dollars together and put her out there again.  How about a Semester at Sea for EA or a place for our class Reunions?  Or as Bruce has stated, what about timeshares for EA Alumni?  Her home port could be where I can keep my eye on her though, Port Canaveral, Florida. 

As I was walking away from her, I took some photos myself.  I kept clicking away.  It was hard to leave because I felt I had not visited her entirely.  So, we sat there for a while on a roll of chain link fence, soaking her in and comparing her to her photo as the S.S. Argentina.  There were many changes that we could see.  The funnel's windows that disappeared underneath yellow paint in the refurbishment of 1963 were still there but painted over in blue.  The twin uptakes on the stern now have a cross beam between them.  As I was taking this all in, Bill reminded me that it was getting late and we had better leave if we wanted to get to Gatlinburg that evening.  So, reluctantly, after saying our good-byes to Teff, we left and as we were leaving I kept looking back at the ship through the car's windows until she was out of sight.  After five minutes of driving I realized I forgot to take Spike's picture with her.  After all, Bill and I had our pictures taken in front of the ship, so Spike should too.  (Because I can't take my two cats and Quaker bird with me while I travel, Spike volunteers to travel with me wherever I go.)  So, goody!  We have to return.  We returned to the Enchanted Isle and we sat Spike on the roll of chain link fence and he proudly posed with the ship behind him.  Again, I looked back until Bill had to turn my head around.

To date, we do not know what the near future holds for the Enchanted Isle.  During my search, I read stories from many people who traveled her over the years.  They developed a Love Affair with her as much as the students and their families did from EA.  She was supposed to leave for dry dock two days after our visit, but on the afternoon of our visit, it was found out she would be kept in Violet to be considered for repairs.  But for what?  Is she being considered for a few more years as a passenger cruise ship?  Is she going to be repaired in Violet in order to be able to make it to dry dock in Mobile?  And after they check her over in Mobile, will she then head towards the breakers in Alang, India or South Africa?  The S.S. Ryndam sank before it arrived in India, but then maybe that was considered lucky for her.  It's probably better to be a reef than to be torn apart piece by piece like a turkey being carved up.  As I find out information, I will keep you informed.  Select Destination, "Timeline," for information as it develops.

We know our beloved ships can't travel the waters forever.  The S.S. Argentina has a soul.  It will hurt to see her leave without us, but for those of us who have traveled on her either as passengers or as crew will keep her in our hearts and memories forever. 

If you have a story to tell, please let us know or place your comments on our Guest Book.

Ginger Quering Casey

Oviedo, Florida

September 1, 2003

 

(Music on this page is "Corcovado")

 

 

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