A Tribute to the Swedish American Line
Tommy Stark's Pages
Tommy Stark har skrivit en bok om sin resa genom livet.
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Tommy Stark on top of the forward funnel, 1973
I worked on the Kungsholm from June 28, 1971 until May 1973.
These two exciting years have been very valuable for the rest of my life. It all started when I was a kid, and my father, Karl-Erik, told me about his exciting years on board the Gripsholm and the Stockholm, during the late forties.
Most of the time he was working as a bartender. During those years the ships only made transatlantic crossings. He told me stories about the life onboard, his colleagues and friends, and of course also about the visits to New York , at the time more than just “the Big Apple”. Over the years as a teenager, I started to dream about working onboard one of these white ocean liners.
During the Christmas holidays in 1968, my family was on vacation in Las Palmas, Canary Islands. My father got an invitation from a friend from Stockholm who was a passenger on the newly built Kungsholm, and the ship was docked at port of Las Palmas when we were there. So our family was picked up on the dock by my father's friend, and we went onboard the ship. For me, this was really a breath taking adventure. We walked around on the different decks, we saw the different lounges, in – and outdoor pools, the Aft Bar, the Forward Bar and also the Snack Bar. After this experience, I made a decision – I am going to work on this ship after my senior high school graduation in 1971!!! This was a very strong goal for me!
From 1967, I worked for three summers at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, where my father worked as a bartender for thirty years before he passed away in 1987. My job at the hotel, was as a piccolo, supporting the porters at the reception of the hotel. So apart from school, this was my only working experience. I wrote an application to the Swedish American Line, about six months before my graduation in June 1971.
The initial answer I got from SAL personnel department was: You have not got enough valuable work experience for a job on the SAL ships. During spring of 1971, I called Torkel Tistrand, Sea Personnel Manager, and talked to him on the phone, and explained that I was determined to come onboard the Kungsholm, and I was willing to take any kind of job. At the time I was eighteen and a half.
After a couple of weeks, I got a written confirmation, I had got a job on the Kungsholm, in the crew canteen, starting June 28, 1971 in Gothenburg. This was my lucky day – I was really happy !!!
I got my High School graduation, and everything else at that time were preparations to leave for the Kungsholm.
Since I came from Stockholm , I took a train the day before to Gothenburg, and stayed overnight at Hotel Volrath Tham (now Hotel Panorama). In the morning of June 28, there were some procedures at the personnel department, and then I took a taxi to “Stigbergskajen” where the ship was docked.I was really looking forward to this experience ! I got my cabin key, my white jacket, and I was introduced to my new boss.
Before lunch I started to work. It was OK, and the days passed. Via Copenhagen , we arrived at pier 97 in New York , seven days later. I was really looking forward to walking on solid ground again. Then I understood that we worked, not only weekdays, but the entire week, also when we had docked in New York. The crew canteen was open, regardless if we were at sea or not.
The following voyage, was the North Cape Cruise, and after a couple of days I asked my boss if there were any opportunities to get another job some time in the future…… He confirmed there was a possible opportunity, and also mentioned that if you work well and hard, there are always opportunities, “always do your best”…….
After another week I was offered a job as assistant room steward for two weeks, before they wanted me to start work as “barnisse” giving service to the bartenders. I had that job for five months, and in December 1971, I was offered the job as deck waiter on the Veranda Deck, a job I had for 1,5 years.
As deck waiters on Veranda Deck we worked in the bars and in the different lounges mainly serving drinks. During the cruises, there were a lot of private passenger cocktail parties, where we started by decorating the lounge, often according to a requested theme. During the party we mixed and served the drinks and the snacks. And then later in the evenings we served drinks in the Main Lounge.
I think we were about twelve to fifteen colleagues working as deck waiters on Veranda Deck.
We had different bosses that alternated during the different cruises, Allan Persson, Ingwar Gemzell “Snow White”, Rolf Mayer and Arthur Lindell
Several times I was asked to serve drinks and snacks in Captain Kjell Smitterberg's Commander Cabin.
During port-of-calls we also worked at the gangway, supporting the passengers when they were leaving or returning to the ship.
During lunch hours we either worked by the Snack Bar or at the Forward Lounge, one deck up, assisting the lunch procedures, and serving Bloody Mary's…….
Some of the passengers, you got to know, almost on a friendly basis, and when they returned on other cruises, you really appreciated the friendship.
During one of the shorter West Indies cruises in December 1972, one of the passengers we knew since before, had brought her granddaughter and a friend of hers. The granddaughter was a former Miss Teen Texas. My colleague Jerry, from Kramfors, and I asked the passenger if it was appropriate to ask the young ladies for a date when we had docked at Bridgetown, Barbados.
Yes, the elderly passenger was delighted, as well as the young ladies, and we got our date…….. and we were good SAL ambassadors throughout the entire evening and brought the two young ladies safely back to the ship.
Two other friends from the Kungsholm experience were Hans Gustavsson & Peter Aspemar. Peter came from Mjölby , Sweden , and was onboard 1971-1972. Hans Gustavsson was onboard during the same period as I, 1971-1973.
We had a lot of fun together both onboard as well as in New York, Lisbon, Rio, Sydney, Hong Kong, Honolulu and Acapulco and also other places…..
In May 1973, I left the ship in Rotterdam, and flew home to Sweden. My military service started three weeks later, and that was a piece of cake after the Kungsholm experience. The Kungsholm experience taught me lot about life, about people, cultures, relations, friendship, and about service in general, and different standards of service. This is still valid when I experience different kinds of service today. The SAL service was at a very high level.
To work and to live at the same place in a limited area of space, is not always easy, and that was also a learning experience.
After my university degree I have been working as a manager on a top management level for over twenty years, within health care, banking and Tetra Pak. Since eight years I have my own consultant company – coaching managers and supporting management teams, both in Sweden and internationally.
And still, I am very proud to be a part of the Swedish American Line history.
February 21, 2010,
P.S. Last summer, 2009, my wife and I went on a round trip with M/S Finnmark, Hurtigruten in Norway , Bergen – Kirkenes and back. I can really recommend this trip. It is not a cruise in a SAL sense, but a breath taking experience. Midnight sun, fjords and mountains –and very good food and wine in the dining room. Some of the ports the Kungsholm visited during the North Cape Cruise
Tommy Stark and his wife, went on a cruise on the Queen Mary 2 in November 2012, to celebrate Tommy's 60th birthday.
Read a letter about the cruise here.
See a gallery of pictures from the cruise here.
King Neptune Ceremony, crossing the Equator, 1972
Photo: Tommy Stark
Kungsholm at Moorea French Polynesia, 1972.
Photo: Tommy Stark
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More than 250 web pages developed and maintained by Lars Hemingstam ©1998-2023
Hasse Gustafsson and Tommy Stark have interviewed crew members and contributed many of the stories.
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