THE THREE "DELS" & DELTA CRUISE LINES

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A number of the following pictures have been gratefully supplied  by ex R/Os with this company i.e.  Joe Prewitt and Bob Lion.
Bob's sea-going career will be included in SEA STORIES & OTHERS shortly. 

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AMERICA'S FIRST POST-WAR LINERS OF THE 1940's 

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Courtesy James L. Shaw - SM Aug/86

Delta Line's DEL SUD,  one of the three passenger/cargo liners which helped re-establish U.S. trade to South America after the Second World War.  Note the dummy 'funnel' and twin exhaust uptakes.

The Mississipi Shipping Company of New Orleans introduced three revolutionary passenger-cargo ships to its South American services in the post-war  years of the 1940s.  In keeping with the trade name of the company,  "Delta Line", the three vessels were given  "Del" names DEL NORTE,  DEL SUD and DEL MAR.  The three "Dels" unusual design,  by the naval architect George G. Sharp of New York,  made them unique along the New Orleans waterfront and the east coast of South America,  an area where theyb traded for nearly a quarter of a century.

The liners were originally based on standard C-3 design cargo hulls, all that was available for purchase during the late war years.  With the cooperation of Admiral Vickery,  head of the construction division of the American Maritime Commission,  Delta Line arranged that three of these hulls be redesigned as passenger/cargo vessels to re-establish the company's services to South America.  The ships,  built at the Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississipi,  were fitted with D.R. geared turbines giving a 17 knot service speed.  A new innovation for the time was complete air-conditioning throughout the accommodation areas for passengers,  officers and crew.  Being nearly identical,  the sister ships were all 10,074 tons,  495 feet in length and 70 feet in breadth.  Their total cost in 1946 was over $7,000,000 each.

A new day's morning at sea could be started with a stroll along the glass enclosed Promenade deck,  a visit to the ship's library - or breakfast in bed.  The latter "institution" was served with a full view of the sea sliding by outside through sem-square "windows" which had replaced the traditional round port hole in many cabins.  Mid-morning coffee was served in the main lounge,  a room decorated by murals of "old" New Orleans.  Glass partitions separated the various public rooms,  yet,  at the same time,  created an open spaciousness associated with much larger ships.  Days were lazy and relaxed with games available on the sports deck or a long siesta in one of the comfortable lounge chairs awaiting passengers out of the wind's way on the aft deck.  Evenings had their beginnings in the ship's dining room,  then were continued in the Grand Lounge while the band played - or on warm,  tropical evenings at poolside.
 
On deck a dominant feature of the new ships was the huge funnel - actually a dummy built of aluminium.  Inside this structure were two decks of officer's quarters,  the main radio room and an emergency generator.  The actual exhaust gases were discharged through two thin stacks just aft of the dummy funnel,  somewhat disguised as kingposts.  The vessels were among the first commercial ships of the world to be equipped with post-war radar,  highly refined after stringent combat use.
A scanning screen with three ranges of visual presentation gave the navigating officers views at 2,  6 and 30 nautical miles,  a comforting factor in the highly congested waterways of the Mississipi Delta and River Plate.
 
Though routes and ports of call varied somewhat during the careers of the three vessels their area of trade was normally the Caribbean and the east coast of South America.  On a south bound voyage San Juan in Puerto Rico was usually the first stop.  The ship might then proceed top Bridgetown,  Curacao of La Guaira before pushing out into the Atlantic for the long run around the eastern bulge of Brazil.  After 12 days at sea the vessel would glide by the majestic prominence of "Sugarloaf" and slip into the beautiful bay of Rio de Janeiro.
Passengers would have just enough time to see the city's sights before two long blasts on the ship's horn spoke of an imminent departure.
 
Santos,  the second port of call in Brazil,  held a special place in Delta's post-war cargo trade.  It was the world's leading coffee loading port and American consumption of the aromatic bean had made Delta the globe's largest coffee carrier - so much so in fact that Delta ships were known as the "Coffee Fleet".  The southbound stop at Santos,  however,  was limited.  Montevideo,  Paranagua and Buenos Aires had to be satisfied before coffee could be loaded for the northward voyage.

The first ship completed, the DEL NORTE, departed on her maiden voyage from New Orleans to South America on 26th November 1946.  Her sister vessels,  DEL SUD and DEL MAR, followed on 28th March,  1947 and 13th June, 1947 resepctively.  Once in service the three passenger/cargo liners maintained a regular scehdule of two sauiling per month from U.S. Gulf ports to the Caribbean and South America.  The "Del" trio quickly established an enviable record fro dependable sailings and were soon offering 44 day round-trip cruises to such ports of call as Rio de Janeiro,  Santos,  Paranagua and Buenos Aires.
 
Life on board these vessels was a pleasant surprise to passengers who had undertaken pre-war voyages in less refined ships.  Most appreciated was the air-conditioning,  particularly after reaching some of the South American ports,  but also appreciated was the swimming pool situated aft of the main superstructure on each liner.  These facilities,  together with the open sun deck and nearby bar and cafe,  assured a first class holiday for passengers as the ship sped southward.

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Courtesy Delta S.S. Lines - SM Aug/86

A first class cabin on the three 'Del' ships featured 'modern' style furniture,  air-conditioning and semi-square windows instead of port holes.

At Buenos Aires the liners turned around for the three week voyage that would take them back to New Orleans.
 
For twenty years the three light grey-hulled vessels carried a steady following of passengers - including the rich and famous - but economic difficulties were on the horizon.  By 1967 rising operating costs had exceeded passenger profits and the line was forced to discontinue its passenger trade,  a service not to be renewed for another decade.  The DEL SUD,  DEL MAR and DEL NORTE were converted over to express cargo liners supplementing an already growing fleet of Delta ships serving both coastlines of the South Atlantic and the Caribbean.
 
In early 1972 the three ships,  now 25 years of age,  were placed on a one-way charter run to Indonesia,  one that eventually took them on to Taiwan and oblivion.  They had served a useful and profitable life -  just missing,  in fact,  the dramatic rise in fuel prices during 1973 that would send many a newer ship tumbling after them.  When it came time for DEL NORTE,  the first of her class to be completed,  to make her final departure from New Orleans she acted like a trooper who knew her time had come.  Twice the ship swung back snug to the wharf before the efforts of river tugs,  pilot and captain eased her out into the river for the last voyage.
 
The final parting left a gap in Delta Line's long tradition of passenger/cargo ships,  the SANTA MARIA,  SANTA MARIANA, SANTA MAGDALENA and SANTA MERCEDES were taken under long term charter in 1978.  These ships were eventually sold,  the SANTA MERCEDES took on a cadet training role while Delta Line itself has disappeared into the framework of the larger United States Lines.  

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The former Grace Line ships SANTA MAGDALENA,  SANTA MARIA and SANTA MARIANA  (all 1963/11221 grt) were eventually sold en bloc by Prudential Lines,  New York to U.S. interests.  They were turbine-driven vessels of 19,800 shp with a speed of 20.5 knots,  built by Bethlehem Sparrows Point shipyard.  They measured 166 X 24m (545 X 79 ft).  had a dw tonnage of around 9,400,  a TEU capacity of 175 and excellent accommodation for 120 first class passengers.
 
For a long time these three,  together with the SANTA MERCEDES maintained a passenger/cargo service which,  starting from Vancouver and proceeding via the Panama Canal,  encircled South America in a clockwise direction.   In 1984,  fifteen years after the amalgamation between the Grace and Prudential Lines - subsequently joined by Delta - the SANTA MERCEDES was sold to the U.S. Maritime Commission for conversion into a schoolship.  That heralded the closure of the service and by the end of that year her three sisters were all laid up at San Francisco.

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"JOIN ANYWHERE - LEAVE ANYWHERE"
 
In the seventies about every two weeks one of the four Santa Cruiseliners set sail on a voyage of discovery around the Americas.  The complete Grand Circle Cruise took approximately 54 days.  Delta Line Cruises and its predecessors had been sailing to South America for over 120 years and were ideally suited to show the cosmopolitan cities on their itineraries,  historical jungle-hidden ruins and other majestic wonders.  The ships carried a maximum of 100 passengers.

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Delta's vessels were fully stabilized and carried a fair amount of cargo boasting of an unusually smooth and stable journey.
They had American crews and all passenger accommodation was First Class.  Staterooms were equipped with full carpeting,  individually controlled air-conditioning,  private bathroom,  bedside reading lamps,  a telephone and plenty of closet and storage space.  Elevators were used to carry passengers to the glass-walled Vista Dining Room,  lounges,  the swimming pool,  sports and other recreational areas.  Special menus included the Captain's Dinner,  Fiesta Nights,  and the Epicurean Odyssey in the Vista Dining Room and the Panamanian & Argentinian barbecues on deck.  The wine list included selections from California,  Oregon and Washington,  wines of France,  Italy and South America including desert wines from Germany.
 

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Following dinner entertainment included dancing in the Club Andes.  A "Roaring Twenties Night".  A "Casino Night".  An "Evening at the Races" or simply relaxing out on the deck and watching a first-run movie in the outdoor "Theatre Under the Stars".
 
Shore excursions offerred opportunities to tour local sights,  shop for native handicrafts,  antiques,  gold and silver and fine gems.  Compared with the somewhat 'expensive' tours offerred by the cruise companies of today Delta's shore excursions were included in the price.
 
Overnight side trips and longer stays could always be arranged with the possibility of flying ahead and rejoining your ship at another port of call.

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Ports visited included the following:
Vancouver, B.C.,  Tacoma  (Seattle),  Washington,  San Francisco and Los Angeles,  Cal.,  Puerto Vallarta/Manzanillo, Mexico;  Buenaventura, Columbia; Balboa (Panama City),  Panama;  The Panama Canal;  Cartegena, Columbia;  La Guaira  (Caracus),  Venezuela;  Puerto Cabello,  Venezuela;  Rio de Janeiro,  Brazil;  Santos (Sao Paulo),  Brazil;  Buenos Aires, Argentina;  The Strait of Magellan;  Valparaiso,  Chile;  Callao  (Lima), Peru;  Manta/Guayaquil,  Ecuador;  Galapagos Islands.

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Chief Radio/Electronics Officer Joe Prewitt watches his asst. R/O send an AMVER and arrival TR to Rio.  The smile is in anticipation of a run ashore,  probably to try and 'hook up' with the Girl from Ipanema!
Joe, ham radio callsign W0TUT,  and the author communicate still by Morse (CW) on a regular basis.

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1st Radio Officer Bob Lion 'on the key' to PPR, (Rio de Janeiro), Local MF station serving the area.

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Cal Biller, 2nd Radio Officer, tuning in the Drake MSR-1 receiver,  old RCA R-6 receiver to the left of the Drake.  The consul is the RCA 6-U.

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