A Tribute to the Swedish American Line
Robert Davis Neilson
Cruise Memories 1962 - 73
Robert Neilson of West Palm Beach, FL, sailed on SAL ships across the oceans for months at a time,
continuously from 1962 -73, aged 9-20. He became a close friend of Captain Carl-Otto Wijkmark,
Captain Per-Erik Sjölin, and Mr Jack Fraser of the SAL Office in New York City.
Mr Neilson has kindly offered to share his personal memories of these cruises.
The texts have been compiled from several emails written in 2008.
© Robert Neilson 2008
Robert in 1997.
Photocopy of passport photo.
I was a passenger on very many more cruises, under the command of my perfect Captain Wijkmark, and his "deck" officers. We were always a happy ship and crew. EVERYONE. Passengers too. We also loved our service personnel and Chief Purser Eriksson and his capable staff.
Daddy did not wear a hat or cap. At 8+ Degrees LAT N. He got scorched on his head. Burned him, while going through the Panama Canal the day before.
The M.S. Kungsholm's doctor kicked my Father off the ship. There were no decent hospitals within the next 2 weeks, or more. Gorgas Hospital/ U.S. MIL/ CZ was the very best place for Daddy.
Colonel Daddy was sent to the famous, and very excellent, Gorgas Hospital in the U.S. Canal Zone. Howard Air Force Base. (I think that U.S. Senator John McCain was born there in the 1930s.) U.S. Army GEN Gorgas, M.D. was the doctor that solved the malaria problem for us, during the construction of the Panama Canal in the early 1900s.
You should have seen Daddy's cute attentive American USAF nurse. She was 29 and I was 21. Another story. We spent a week there.
St. Vincent, or possibly, St. Lucia Island/ Windward Islands/ S.E. Caribbean Sea. Winter/ Circa 1970. It was morning. Beautiful, hot and humid. (LAT N. Apprx. 12 dgs.) Typical wx. The M.S. Kungsholm was setting her starboard anchor near offshore. The volcanic mountains near onshore were steep. Meaning that what was below the water was also steep.
28 MAR to 7 APR 1973
No matter where in the world we went, we were the very finest two cruise ships afloat. This is not bragging, but a true fact. Not only did we all know that, but the many ports that we visited knew that as well. It was indisputable. Including, New York City.
Brazil - West Indies Cruise.
15 DEC 73 - 14 JAN 74
I joined this cruise on 20 DEC 73, after completing my "Final" exams by flying to Barbados, via JFK-NYC, from Tulsa. There was a very unfamiliar, unknown Captain on this cruise. Capt. Bertil Gronberg. At least Ronnie Morton was our Cruise Director. Carl was probably deservedly home in Sweden for Christmas.
I was placed in the "Social Staff" aft A-Deck area on this cruise. I shall not comment further. I was not a bit pleased. Used to being in my Pilot Cabin #1, with my male deck officers, who dated gorgeous blonde hairdressers and nurses. Different Captain and VERY different cruise for me. They did not bother me. Knew better, I guess. I am more into uniforms than silky smoking jackets and slippery robes. They were chosen for a good reason. To dance and keep their mitts out of the estates of the old Biddys. They performed well. Left me alone. We well tolerated each other. They knew me and vice versa.
THEN!!! Here came the hammer. The head salesman draped a huge, dripping set of diamond crusted emeralds hanging off of a necklace around GM's neck in front of a perfectly placed mirror, with great glee. Exclaiming, "Mrs. Giffey this is YOU!"
GM took a peek in the mirror and simply said that she was quite satisfied w/ her pearls, and that it was time to go. Would they accept her personal check drawn on the national Bank that she owned 100% of in Kansas City? Of course they complied, and she left with the goods. Probably took about 3 weeks for that check to clear back then. But, it was good. About $10 K. No big deal. GM really was fond of her cultured pearl necklace.
The Kungsholm's Final Voyage
Some years later, circa 1978 +, I received from Captain Wijkmark a letter describing his sorrowful duty to take our empty M.S. Kungsholm into a British port ( Portsmouth ?) for retirement. High fuel costs, AND, high Swedish taxes killed her. Even after she was re-flagged for a year or two. It was too late and her long ranging/ long cruise patrons were dying off. As we all know, we had a very wealthy and increasingly elderly passenger corps. Most of the cruises that I was on had 99% repeaters. They not only knew each other WELL, but visited each other's homes in between cruises. There were also onshore visitations to passengers' homes by our beloved crew staff and vice versa.
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