The Forgotten Titanic

The name Titanic has never been a popular once since the events of April 15, 1912. Granted, there have been ships called Titanic, but very few of them have really been major passenger ships. One of the more interesting ships to bear this name was the ex- Santa Rosa, one of 4 sister ships which were built for the Grace Line in the 1930’s.

Founded by William Russel Grace in 1865, he rented space at the edge of Hanover Square in New York and set about building a trading route linking the United States, Peru and Europe. By 1945, his nephew, J. Peter Grace Jr, had inherited a host of diversified interests in South America. W.R. Grace, the parent company, had sugar estates, a paper mill and a bag and box plant in Peru; cotton mills in Peru, Chile and Columbia; as well as cement mills, flour mills, paint factories, a vegetable oil refinery, a tungsten and tin mine and a variety of interests in other manufacturing industries. In the United States, they owned the Grace Shipping Line, the Grace National Bank, the Naco fertilising company, the Panagra-Pan American Grace Airways (which eventually became Pan American World Airways), an import- export firm and a growing chemical business. all the necessary equipment, supplies and products were carried in their own ships.

Postcard of Santa Rosa/Paula

During World War Two, all their ships had been taken up from trade by the American Government, and except for the Santa Rosa and Santa Paula, had not been returned. Grace Line needed new tonnage.
The first of nine new ships, Santa Barbara, left New York on her maiden voyage on 25th June 1946. These new ships were actually uncompleted C-2 type cargo vessels, no longer needed for the war effort. Although the Grace Line would have liked larger ships, these hulls were easily convertible into useful and attractive freighters with accommodation for 52 passengers in air conditioned cabins.
Once these ships were in service, J. Peter Grace turned his attention to replacing the Santa Rosa and Santa Paula. They were the survivors of a quartet delivered in 1932 and 1933 built at the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, New Jersey and were 9100 gross tons, roughly 580 feet long and 72 feet wide and were powered by steam turbines and could carry 300 passengers. They boasted two innovations; the sampan, or winged funnel designed by Francis Gibbs, and a dining room situated on the promenade deck between the two funnels with a roll back ceiling. Passengers could dine beneath the tropical stars. Grace Line also employed waitresses instead of stewards because they thought women were more courteous to the passengers. American men, they thought, made poor servants. The old Santa Rosa resumed her peacetime service on 7 February 1947, followed by the Santa Paula on 2 May. They were to last ten years before the replacement ships commenced service.

The now renamed Santa Rosa and her sister Santa Paula ended up plying their trade in Greece under the name Athinai and Akropolis.

They were converted to carry 3 classes of passengers on voyages in the Med, Black Sea and Adriatic. Following an investigation into the loss of one of their vessels, Typaldos Lines was disbanded and the Athinai was laid up for what was to be a long sleep.

When Lord Lew Grade made the movie “Raise the Titanic”, based on the book by Clive Cussler, he scoured the shipyards, looking for a ship to play the interior of the Titanic and the Santa Rosa was the perfect candidate. Long neglected and with many fittings which would not be amiss on a 1912 built ship, she would need very little conversion work for her starring role. Being able to use the ship was no easy task as reported in the On Location Magazine (August 1980 issue).

The long laid up Athinai. Image courtesy of Trevor Jones

From England they move to Athens and began filming on the ship that they finally found to duplicate the Titanic once raised. The search for that ship, the Athinai, took several years. Says O’Connor, “We looked all over the world because of the architecture of the Titanic; they don’t make ships like that anymore. We found in the harbor of Piraeus literally hundreds of ships . . . it’s a burial ground for ships.”
“We came across a cruise ship that was built in the 1930s. It was about 550 in length and it had been just sitting there, just rotting away for about 15 years. And the story behind it was that it had been impounded and taken over by the courts because its sister ship (which was also a cruise ship) had sunk in the Mediterranean with 150 people drowning.”
The owners were two Greek brothers who were found negligent and the courts had impounded all their ships. They had had about 12 ships and the courts sold them all . . . all except this last one. And when we first went on it, I remember we had flashlights and it was really kind of eerie. What had happened was the crew had just abandoned ship. There were still playing cards and tables set up. There were still pillows and bedding in the bunks. The ship was held by the banks and the courts and the remaining brother (who was in his nineties), was protesting our wanting it, so we negotiated. But then we were getting desperate, “Do we have it, don’t we have it?’
“After a year-and-a-half of negotiating, we still didn’t have a ship. So, we heard about a ship in Hong Kong. We flew there and climbed aboard the old President Cleveland. But it didn’t work for us because we couldn’t figure out how to pull it out of Hong Kong harbor onto the open sea for the open expanse shots that we needed.
“At the last minute, we went to the courts in Greece (using Greek attorneys) and got the Athinai. Then we had to send for all our artisans from Rome, London and the U.S. to come and convert the ship to look like the Titanic once it’s been raised.
“They duplicated the pier in Piraeus to look like New York Harbor, as if the Titanic were coming back to the U.S. We then had matte works and paintings made so you see the New York skyline in the background,” says O’Connor. In Athens they made a call to the Armed Forces Radio and contacted all the military personnel and invited them down with their families to participate in the film. They had a successful response. They fixed up a few cars to look like New York police department cars and they supplemented the people on the docks so they had as many American-looking types as possible.
Now the stock footage used when the boats come out to meet the Titanic had been filmed three years prior, when Stanley Kramer was still on the film. They had used a camera crew during the Great Boats Parade. On the spur of the moment, the crew ran out and set up prepositions and photographed all of it with the Goodyear blimp and all the sailboats going by. Then later they laid in the Titanic and the matte work. They shot the life size and the model size and incorporated those together.

Athinai as “Titanic”. Image courtesy of Aristo Bilatis

In 1978-79 the name Titanic was painted on her bows and various scenes were shot on board her, including one poignant scene where Dirk Pitt walks around inside the ship which is dripping water, rust and decay. Alas the movie was a flop and the Santa Rosa/Paula/Athinai/Titanic returned to her sleep for a while longer until 1989 when she was finally taken for breaking up at Aliaga in a purge of derelict shipping at Faliron Bay. Raise the Titanic was never a box office success and while relegated to the late night repeat slot has found many fans and critics.

Today very few remnants of the Grace Line survive, The Santa Mercedes was converted to a training ship for the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and was renamed Patriot State. She served the Academy from 1985 to 1999, until she too was replaced in 2000. She was then returned to the James River Reserve Fleet.

On August 28th, 1957, the new Santa Rosa was launched. She was delivered on June 12th, 1958 and departed from New York on June 26th for her maiden voyage to South America and the West Indies. On June 28, 1957 the new Santa Paula was launched, her sponsor, Mrs Nixon, failed to break the the bottle of champagne and it was left to a workman to launch the ship when he caught the bottle and smashed it against her bows. She departed from Newport News on October 10 and sailed up the Hudson River to Albany, her visit in honour of the Empire State. (New York). Departing the following day became the first major passenger ship to make her maiden entry into the port of New York from the north.
The 2 new Santas had space for 300 first class passengers and the two ships quickly became very popular due to their excellent accommodation and public rooms. Yet even their days were numbered as seamen and dockers strikes began to affect their profitability. They soldiered on until 1969 when the Grace Kine management sold off the entire shipping interests to Prudential Lines, and the ships now operated for the newly renamed Prudential- Grace lines. However, in 1971, despite good passenger numbers the two ships were withdrawn from service and laid up at Hampton Roads, Virginia and offered for sale.
The Santa Rosa was sold to the Vintero Sales Corporation and renamed Samos Sky. She was used for cruising between La Guaira to the Caribbean and Florida. She was taken out of service in 1976 and sent for a refit, but she never re-emerged and was moved to an unused berth in Baltimore.
After many years she was eventually purchased by Regency Cruise Line. She was refitted with a new bow section and additional decks and sailed as the Regent Rainbow under a foreign flag. Following the demise of her new owners she then found a new home with Louis Cruise Lines but is under charter to Thomson Cruises, sailing under the name The Emerald. She soldiered on until sent to the breakers in mid 2012

Emerald. (ex Santa Rosa)

Her sister, Santa Paula lay idle for just over a year and was due to be sold to Ocean Special Shipping of Greece. It was planned to rebuild her for cruising in the Aegean. Like so many other plans for laid up ships it too came to nothing and she remained laid up and idle until 1976 when she was rebuilt as a stationary hotel and resort complex for the Marriott Corporation for use in Kuwait. She operated under the name Kuwait Marriott Hotel and later renamed Ramada al Salam Hotel in 1989 just before being set ablaze by Iraqi forces a year later during the first Gulf War. It was reported that she was badly damaged and may have been broken up since then, her wreck being photographed in 1997 by Roland (aka “GanjaTron”) who has very kindly given permission for the photographs below to be used on this website.

DRW ©  1999-2021. Recreated 25/10/2014. Picture of Santa Rosa from Grace Lines Brochure, Picture of Athinai courtesy of Björn Larsson, and the Maritime Timetable Images website. image of Athinai (as Titanic) courtesy of Aris Bilalis. Special thanks to owners of the now defunct Raise the website for permission to quote the article from On Location Magazine (August 1980 issue). Images of the Ramada Al Salam Hotel in Kuwait courtesy of Roland. Information about Grace Line and their ships from an article by Ellen Butland of New Zealand. 1990. Moved to Musings 11/02/2021

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