Elegance afloat

April 18, 2003

SPEAKING OF romance, the sleekest and swiftest passenger ship ever built looks like she'll be making waves again. The SS United States - stripped, forlorn and rusting at a Philadelphia pier - may be of a certain age (51, if you must know), but is about to make what could be a dazzling and completely unexpected comeback.

For several years, a quiet tug of war has been going on over the fate of the ship, between preservationists who admired her history and lines and hoped to turn her into some sort of monument, and her owner, who had his eye on the scrap metal market.

And then, as if out of nowhere, came the Norwegian Cruise Line, which this week said: Let's put this ship back in business.

The lovers of ships are thrilled. It's going to take several hundred million dollars and a whole new set of insides that may or may not be faithful to the original, and after all that the company will still have a ship that's substantially narrower than a modern cruise liner - but the United States is an American-flagged vessel, and that affords one big advantage. Under the law, she will be able to do duty on strictly American itineraries (think Hawaii).

Who knows? It might work. The United States is a dramatically stylish vessel, long and elegant and full of flair. She comes to us from an earlier age; her return to the high seas would be a moment to look forward to.

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