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Classic Monterey Returns to Hawaiian Islands

<i> Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers</i>

An early morning rainbow arched around Diamond Head as a welcoming flotilla gathered in the gentle mist the Hawaiians call “pineapple juice.” Under the Aloha Tower at Pier 8, the Royal Hawaiian Band was playing and the hula dancers were swaying for an enthusiastic crowd participating in the first boat day in Honolulu in a long time.

The Monterey was coming home.

As the classic steamship neared the pier a gigantic red and yellow cellophane lei was draped over its bow, and a shower of purple orchids rained from a helicopter overhead.

After 10 years of rusting in ignominy in the backwaters of San Francisco Bay, the famous and much-loved old Matson Lines ship, bright and beautiful after a $40-million makeover, was back in Hawaii to stay.

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From her stern fluttered the Stars and Stripes, signifying the U.S. registry required by the Jones Act to sail exclusively in the Islands.

Christening Ship

“This lady out here had a soul . . . she was destined and determined to come back,” said an emotional James Kurtz, chief executive of Virginia-based Aloha Pacific Cruises, at the Sept. 15 christening in San Francisco. His wife, Carol, godmother to the vessel, swung a bottle of champagne that broke resoundingly against the hull.

Capt. Robert J. Lowen, president of the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots and a key figure in saving the ship from decay, got a standing ovation at the San Francisco ceremonies.

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In 1980 Lowen negotiated the union’s purchase of the Monterey from the late Ed Daly, legendary founder of World Airways and ex-owner of both the Monterey and its sister ship Mariposa, “for the express purpose of saving her for the American flag” at a time when foreign investors were making offers. (The 1953 Mariposa was later sold to a Chinese company, Jin Jiang Shipping.)

The IOMMP owns 10% of the vessel in limited partnership with 172 private investors throughout the United States, each brought in personally by Kurtz, a Washington, D.C., attorney who spent eight years on the project.

Rough Seas

Along the way the new cruise company and its 36-year-old ship, built at Baltimore’s Sparrows Point Shipyard in 1952, hit some rough seas both literally and figuratively. The former happened on a bouncy day and a half off California en route to Honolulu before the seas smoothed out.

The latter came just before the Monterey’s debut in late August when competing American Hawaii Cruises, whose 38-year-old Independence and 37-year-old Constitution, also U.S. flag ships cruising the Hawaiian Islands, brought suit against the Coast Guard in an attempt to reverse the U.S. flag status already granted to the Monterey. In dispute is whether restoration work done in Finland should prevent the ship from having U.S. flag status. The case is pending.

Ironically, in November, 1979, a special bill had to be approved by Congress to allow the Independence, then the Oceanic Independence owned and operated by Hong Kong entrepreneur C. Y. Tung’s Atlantic Far East Line, to return to U.S. waters and carry the U.S. flag for American Hawaii.

As with most shakedowns and inaugurals there were some glitches at the beginning--too much air conditioning in one area and not enough in another, erratic water temperatures in a few bathrooms and one of the two Jacuzzis on deck, an out-of-order elevator, a fouled fuel line that required shutting off the engines during the Pacific crossing for about an hour and a half until it was corrected. Most serious, some galley sanitation problems cited by the Food and Drug Administration about food storage temperatures and inexperienced food handlers.

But no cases of diarrhea were reported among crew or passengers between Sept. 12 and the ship’s arrival in Honolulu Sept. 23, according to Dr. Robert Simich, the ship’s doctor, and both equipment corrections and food-handler training sessions have been implemented.

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One of the avowed intentions of Aloha Pacific has been to disprove the old cliches that Americans can’t provide the same quality of service that Europeans and Asians can. “Americans can serve better than anybody else in the world,” John Broughan, Aloha Pacific’s chief of operations, said.

Impeccably Dressed

Except for key personnel from Royal Viking and other cruise lines, most of the dining room and cabin staff was recruited from top hotels and restaurants around the United States. They are handsome, personable and impeccably dressed in trim uniforms, and were getting their sea legs and service routine in place by the end of the inaugural sailing.

A tremendous amount of care and attention has gone into the Monterey. The entertainment produced by cruise director Alan Grier is a tasteful reflection of the best of Hawaii rather than the crowd-pandering a-lowww-haaa school of island jollity.

We thought the cuisine from executive chef Stephen Simmons, formerly with San Francisco’s Campton Place, was outstanding, as good as that of any ship we’ve ever sailed with, although a few of the passengers said they would have preferred larger portions and more of the traditional banquet-type food found on most ships. While reluctant to label his style, Simmons said: “If I were going to call it anything, I’d call it American Pacific.”

“A lot of cruise passengers are like kids with bedtime stories--they don’t want anything changed,” Capt. Adrian Jennings, master of the Monterey, said about passenger reactions to the renovated ship.

Only Piano Is Left

But the new Monterey is more than just a sentimental favorite. “She’s beautiful,” said Paul Dana, for 17 years a cruise director on the Monterey and other Matson Line ships. About all the interior left from the old ship, Dana said, is a black Steinway piano in the Palm Terrace lounge and a load-bearing steel “totem pole” in the forward stairwell.

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“The ship rides like a dream,” said a former master, Capt. John Kilpack. He and a handful of other Matson veterans were among the participants in the nostalgic homecoming cruise.

The Monterey formerly carried 365 passengers plus some cargo, but the renovations have expanded its capacity to 600. Cabins and suites (there are four of the latter) are divided into 11 price categories. But to many, a more important distinction may be between the 125 old cabins remodeled from the original staterooms and 175 new cabins added in the renovation.

While the new cabins have more modern bathrooms and twin beds that can be converted to queen-size, the originals have ultrasuede-covered built-in sofa beds, lots of built-in storage and a practical rim around the shower. Fresh fruit, flowers, toiletries, terry-cloth bathrobes and slippers are provided in each cabin.

On Saturday night the Monterey sailed on its first cruise around the Islands in a tangle of bright-colored streamers, to the strains of “Aloha Oe” played by the University of Hawaii band.

One by one the streamers broke as the ship slipped away from the pier. The lights of Honolulu sparkled against the sky and a round full moon shone down. It was so magical that Aloha Pacific has scheduled it to be repeated on all subsequent Saturday night sailings.

The Monterey sails from Honolulu every Saturday all year, on a seven-day cruise to Nawiliwili, Kauai; Lahaina, Maui, and Hilo and Kona, Hawaii.

Fares from $1,195 for a small inside cabin to $3,295 for a suite, per person, double occupancy. Various pre- and post-cruise options and golf and tennis programs are available.


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