Thursday, April 19, 2007

White Ships-Hawaii

I was in Hawaii in the late '60s and early '70s and saw these ships. I later saw them around the Pacific as my travels took me out to the "Far away places with strange sounding names". The romance of the old movies plus the ships themselves struck a chord that still stirs...

Matson's "White Ships" and the ports they visited were vividly promoted in a series of print advertisements and other promotional materials, beginning in 1927 with the launching of the Malolo and its unprecedented 4 1/2 day service from California to the "stately palms of fair Hawaii."

A stunning variety of ads and promotions continued for the duration of the ships' American passenger service, until the mid 1970s. Below is a chronological sampling of some of the ads, from various American publications





Now that boomers are aging and airplane travel is annoying, irritating, insulting etc...Maybe-Maybe-Maybe.... Cross fingers, click heels, whatever else is supposed to make a wish come true...

I sure would love to have coastal travel by ship San Diego, LA, Monterey, SF, Portland (Astoria) Seattle, Vancouver, Juneau, Anchorage and back... I'd really like to travel to Hawaii by ship .... That would be wonderful... A new design that would allow automobiles to be taken onboard... Or maybe just smaller vessels... Would they find a niche like the boutique hotels? Would small passenger liners that carry only a few hundred people vs the thousands of the cruise liners be attractive and economically viable?

Lots of money has gone down the gurgler trying to resurrect American shipping... Dotcom/High Tech gazillionaires are building multi-hundred million dollar vessels.... The same tax laws apply to them that apply to aircraft...

There once were federal funds available for US built ships (built at union ship yards) and laws regulating ships sailing between US ports (only US Union crews).. Could a compromise be reached?

By the late 1960s, Matson was confronted by rising costs (including expensive, unionized American labor and costlier fuel), as well as insurmountable competition from airlines and resorts in Hawai'i and elsewhere. Matson's parent company, Alexander & Baldwin, was losing money on its shipping business. Although the White Ships were often full, and despite subsidies provided by the US government, increased operational costs could not be offset. After selling the last of the original four White Ships, the Lurline, to Chandris in 1970, Matson's ran its last advertisements for passenger service. They were suitably dreary and sad in comparison to the "good old days". The Mariposa and Monterey were sold to Pacific Far East Line in 1971.

Changing markets, changing times, changing demographics.... 80 million boomers retiring soon.... Travel to Europe.... Scandinavia,... Business travel vs Cruise travel? Yes, the cruise lines are the natural providers and competitors. They have the super large vessels and fixed overheads. But the laws regulating US crews and US manufacture of the ships would limit their response, at least in domestic waters.

I think this is another "Opportunity Knocking" ..... If it could be costed and priced right... The economy of scale probably comes from frequency and ease of use as opposed to the resort theme of the cruise lines. i.e. a hotel that travels vs a resort that entertains... Frequent sailings with reasonably fast ships might hit the right numbers.....

UPDATE: Word from friends in Hawaii that Norwegian Cruise Lines have four ships sailing between the islands. They have received a exception to the Jones Act that allows them to hire non-American citizens as staff on ships sailing between American ports. They will be pulling out their largest vessel for economic reasons. They are expected to add some RoRo (Roll On Roll Off) or ferrys to the trade in the near future... Still, its the tourist resort style cruise business...

One of the biggest problems of tourism over the years is the disposition of the used rental vehicles. New cars are shipped in for rental. The used vehicles overwhelm the local market. The price offered locally is substantially less that the price for similar vehicle on US west Coast. Seattle and Portland are preferred destinations as that avoids the unique California emissions equipment, requirements, testing... There is always an opportunity knocking.... "Open the door. Let em in" as the Beattles sang.