by John Maxtone-Graham

Courtesy of the Steamship Historical Society, Long Island Chapter and their newsletter, The Long Island Paddlewheel

They are come, now, to that inevitable sticking point, these hallowed ocean liners that either cannot measure up to the new SOLAS standards or for which insufficient funds exist to bring them up to snuff. To see them go, one by one, is doubly saddening, the loss not only of old friends but also the sundering of fragile maritime links with the past.

Well short of her 40th birthday, ROTTERDAM will be no more, either in a scrapyard or sold to the Greeks, who tend to buy everything that floats. But certainly she will be gone from our as well as Holland America's ken, leaving the line and the proud Dutch tradition that gave her life.

If she is saved from the breakers, if she soldiers on with different owners, I for one would find it difficult to reembark. Surely, the especial patina that made her both famous and distinctive would no longer obtain. Who but the Dutch would keep her in such consistantly loving trim?

Over the early 1980's, ROTTERDAM figured prominently in Mary's and my life. We were married on board in the Ritz-Carlton one sunny October afternoon in 1981. The vessel was still tied up at the pier and we had to bring our own padre aboard. We sailed away from our friends and family for an 11-day Caribbean cruise of the old fashioned kind; out of New York and back again. The date "19 October, 1981" and the name "ROTTERDAM" are carefully engraved forever inside Mary's wedding ring.

We had first ventured into the Pacific aboard ROTTERDAM, first savored the exotic East through a series of ROTTERDAM ports of call and first surrendered to the exquisite and seductive blandishments of world cruising aboard ROTTERDAM.

We made firm friends on board this special flagship as well. Just last month, when SPLENDOR OF THE SEAS called at Amsterdam, one of our first visitors was Peter van den Bemt and his wife Jeanne. For nearly forty years, Peter served as housekeeper on board a succession of Holland America Line vessels; we first met him on board ROTTERDAM and, from him, learned much of the backstage workings of the ship. He confided too, how hard she had become to work in comparison with the newer fleetmates. Captain Case Honderdos and his wife Minnie, Hotel managers Bill Dirksen and Dirk Zeller, too, all became close and enduring friends. And to this day, when I think of a world cruise, inevitably my mind focuses on ROTTERDAM slipping out of a January's ice-encrusted New York harbor bound for sunnier climes to the south and west.

ROTTERDAM's annual circumnavigations played host to demanding world cruise recidivists, passenger adherents who signed on for their annual, global indulgence. Plank - owners all, they surged on board each year with proprietary ease, the regulars greeting each other and the crew, always comparing notes and evaluating: Would this year's world cruise surpass last year's? Probably not and, if not, the line would certainly be advised why. Hotel managers learned to steel themselves for ROTTERDAM's world cruisers, a tightly organized ordeal of tact, diplomacy and brutally hard work.

I wish I had known ROTTERDAM in her earliest years, as a transatlantic vessel with her Dutch compliment of stewards on board. I would like to have embarked at the Wilhelminakade, Rotterdam's ancient passenger terminus, and then slogged westbound for yet another crossing to New York, tying up in either Hoboken or, later, at that most ingenious Manhattan fixture, Holland America's box-shaped Pier 40.

But in the mid-seventies, that aspect of ROTTERDAM's early life came to an end as the grip of the Dutch steward's union was broken and the company turned instead to Jakarta and Holland's ancient colonial empire for today's corps of charming Indonesian stewards.

She would never sail back to Rotterdam. The changover was unpleasant and abrupt as embittered Dutch stewards, locked out of the ship they had victimized, strung their uniforms derisively from atop Wilhelminakade flagpoles in a defiant yet poignant farewell to the sea life they would no longer share. I was personally surprised to hear that when MAASDAM reentered the port of Rotterdam recently, the old grievance had apparently evaporated; dockers made no overt display of animosity.

ROTTERDAM's essential Dutchness is impressive; to the end, it remains her imperishable cachet. Neat, hard-working, thrifty and hidebound conservative, the Dutch never let the vessel down during the time I knew her as a passenger, save for the lamentable and inescapable incursion of slot machines into the civilized spread of the card room. And although we must say farewell to ROTTERDAM, it pleases me that her aura of history and tradition continues as part of Holland America Line's decorative schema throughout the fleet.

In an age when too many cruise ships embrace novelty or strive for outlandish effect, it is an enduring pleasure to see that ships of the line continue their sense of history and tradition glowingly intact.

And, uplifting thought at a moment of dispair, we are told that another ROTTERDAM is in train, the sixth of the name. Within only a few years, ROTTERDAM in spirit and intent will sail on.

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