Question – “Who Really Designed The Oceanic”?
By William Vandersteel – Alpine, NJ – USA
Little known history behind the identity of the original designers of the SS Oceanic, steadfastly denied by the Italian shipbuilder and the CEO of Home Lines, is the true story of how it came into being. It goes back to a meeting between Aristotle Onassis, John W. Hupkus, Managing Director of the Dutch shipyard, Kon. Mij de Schelde and the writer, William Vandersteel, USA representative for de Schelde. The meeting took place in Monaco in 1957.
Ari Onassis had asked for the meeting to discuss his proposal for the De Schelde Shipyard to develop a design for two ships, specifically designed as cruise ships, and with trans Atlantic capability, to operate in the Mediterranean during the winter and the Caribbean during the summer. Onassis and Hupkes were friends and, except for specifying cruise speed and passenger capacity, Onassis left all design details to de Schelde.
In 1953, de Schelde had completed the Kungsholm II for the Swedish American Line and, during the maiden voyage to New York, which I attended, I mentioned to Hupkes that the new Kungsholm was a nice design in the traditional sense and observed that I could suggest some “improvements” to bring the design and styling into the modern age. After discussing my ideas, Hupkes was intrigued and suggested I meet with his naval architect during my next visit to Holland. In 1955, I met with de Schelde’s naval architect, Mr. Pieterse to discuss my ideas. Pieterse was a young chap and, initially, less than enthusiastic with my ideas. Unfortunately, he died prematurely from cancer at age 36, shortly after completing the design for the Onassis cruise ships.
As for my background, I am an aeronautical engineer with a lot of experience as a youngster, sailing all over the globe with my family, giving me an abiding interest in ships. I also gained some styling design experience with my first job, after graduating from MIT, with the General Motors Styling Section for car design. The job lasted only 8 months when World War II broke out and I volunteered to join the US Army Air Corps to be trained as a fighter test pilot.
De Schelde’s Naval Architect, Mr. Pieterse and I sat down in 1955 to discuss my ideas, briefly outlined as follows;
Change the conventional curved sheer line to a straight line, parallel with the water line. Eliminate camber to make flat decks, like floors in any building ashore. Neither sheer nor camber serve any purpose on a large ship, or any ship for that matter, and they only add to cost. At first, Pieterse was horrified at the thought of a ship without a graceful sheer line as he had designed for the Kungsholm. Pieterse tried to defend camber on structural ground but eventually conceded that the same structural integrity could be achieved without camber. To achieve proper styling, all decks must be flat and parallel with the waterline.
Next, I insisted that all promenade decks be fully glass enclosed. I knew from experience that the first thing an experienced ocean traveller does after boarding, is to run for the deck steward and reserve a deck chair on the limited space of the fantail (stern), the only place where you don’t get blown away. Also, I insisted that the only promenade deck be at the very top level, also fully glassed in, with an unobstructed view of the ocean.
I also insisted that the lifeboats be stowed on a lower deck and not on the top deck so they would not detract from ship’s styling. My attempt to substitute life rafts for life boats was apparently not allowed by Lloyds’ rules, though they are obviously a safer and better solution. Naval ships only use life rafts even in the face of much larger risk.
Then, as a main feature of the ship, I envisaged an open space near the ship’s center, with a transparent sliding roof and a swimming pool as the central attraction. The beam sides to be fully glassed in with all seating (deck chairs) facing inwards, overlooking the swimming pool. The presumption is that passengers would rather stare at Bikinis than look at the ocean which they can see from their cabins or top deck. The sliding roof would close during inclement weather. I named this the Lido deck though I do not know if this name was original at that time.
After Pieterse completed the design, he had become an enthusiastic supporter of the new configuration and conceded that eliminating sheer and amber might reduce the total construction cost by as much as 10%. I was given a ten page copy of the completed design and I was satisfied that Pieterse had faithfully followed all my suggestions.
De Schelde’s proposal and drawings were presented by John Hupkes to Ari Onassis in a Paris meeting sometime late 1955. I was not present and do not know what transpired. Hupkes did indicate to me that Onassis was not ready to proceed with his plans. Though I have no first hand knowledge, I surmise that Onassis conveyed the drawings to his friend Eugen Eugenides, owner of the Home Lines. The Home Lines eventually contracted with the Italian shipbuilder Cantieri Reuniti del Adriatico of Monfalcone, Italy to build the Oceanic and it was delivered in 1963.
The significant fact is that every cruise liner, without exception as far as I know, built since the completion of the Oceanic has followed every feature and configuration which led to the Oceanic’s original design. That neither the Italian builder or the Home Lines, as far as I know, has ever claimed credit for introducing a wholly new design concept for cruise ships, probably stems from their concern that such a claim could lead to the revelation that the original design was made by Mr. Pieterse, Naval Architect for the Kon. Mij. De Schelde of Vlissingen, Holland.
2000—2009: Career with Pullmantur Cruises
On 30 December 2000, the Big Red Boat I was acquired by the newly founded, Spain-based Pullmantur Cruises. She reverted to the name Oceanic and sailed to Cadiz, Spain for refurbishment. Following completion of her refurbishment, the ship entered service on cruises from Barcelona in May 2001. During her career with Pullmantur, Oceanic was gradually rebuilt by removing flammable materials so that the ship would be better in keeping with the new SOLAS regulations coming into effect in 2010.
Oceanic was reportedly due to be withdrawn from service with Pullmantur in September 2009. In March 2009, the ship was sold to the Japan-based Peace Boat, with delivery date already in April 2009.
2009 onwards: Career with Peace Boat
Oceanic entered service with Peace Boat on 23 April 2009, departing Yokohama on an around-the-world cruise that was due to conclude in Yokohama on 6 August 2009. Oceanic ’s circumnavigation was Peace Boat’s 66th “Global Voyage for Peace”, and the first to feature extensive visits to various ports in Scandinavia, with a goal of learning about the northern European welfare and education systems.
Sometime during the week between 3 and 9 May 2010, the Oceanic came under attack by pirates while off the coast of Yemen. The ship was attacked by grenades, but managed to avoid being boarded by adopting zig-zag manoeuvres and blasting the pirates with high-pressure water hoses. Reportedly the pirates were subsequently apprehended by NATO forces.