Stephen Owens (en)

Stories from passengers

Stephen Owens

Passenger: Stephen Owens
Date of travel:  October 1972
Liner: Michelangelo
Class: Tourist
Route: New York – Genoa

“I had been scouting for opportunities to travel as a passenger on a “tramp steamer” when my dear mother, who lived in the Los Angeles area at the time, sent me a small clipping from the Los Angeles Times. The LA Times’ late, great travel writer, Jerry Hulse, had a regular column every Sunday in the Travel Section of the newspaper in which he provided travel advice and tips on interesting travel deals. The article my mother sent me described an opportunity to travel on an Italian Lines ship from NYC to Europe in a so-called “Student Class” for the total cost of $150, which was an absolutely fabulous deal, even in 1972. I immediately made my plans. I saved all the money I made in my summer job at the cannery in Sunnyvale, California and flew to New York City in October. I will never forget being greeted warmly in Italian and English at the top of the gangway by the ship’s officers as I entered the vessel.
During the crossing, we encountered fairly heavy seas and many people became seasick. Naturally, many of us made the pilgrimage to the bridge to view the ship’s log and the entry for April 1966, when the ship took a monstrous wave that killed three people. We sailed from NYC to Algeciras, Spain (next to Gibraltor), where we arrived during the night and took on provisions. No one was allowed to leave the ship in Algeciras.  We then sailed on to Napoli, where we were allowed to leave the ship for about three hours ( I very nearly missed the ship, because I had walked so far into the city at night), then we sailed on to Cannes, France.
This was just great for me, because there was a dock worker’s strike going on in Genova (which was our next port of call) at that time, so the ship had to lay over for two or three extra days in Cannes. The Italian Line took great care of us! There was a shore boat that ferried us from ship to shore and from shore to ship every 1/2 hour. That meant that a poor student (such as I) could go ashore in Cannes (a very expensive town!), look all around, and then travel back to the “mother ship” for a snack, then go back into town, come back for lunch, go back, come back for dinner, erc. etc.! Finally, the strike ended and we sailed south to Genova. That was the last stop for those, like me, who had not paid the extra money to travel to the Eastern Italian ports, of which the last was Trieste.
As you can imagine, the “student fare” that I got was a third class fare, and my small room was deep below the water line. Nevertheless, the food and the service we received was just fabulous! In keeping with the European tradition on transatlantic crossings, each passenger was assigned to a regular table for meals. I seem to remember that there were six of us at my table, all students–a Japanese concert pianist who had spent some time studying and performing in New York City; two Canadians who had not known each other previously and quarreled with each other from time to time; the others I have now forgotten. Of course, we had specific crewmembers who were assigned to our table, and one often brought us special goodies to eat and expensive liquor to drink, that I have the impression was purloined from the 1st class dining room. At any rate, the food we were given was superb and plentiful. In fact, I remember that on the Michelangelo, there was always food being served: big breakfasts of anything you wanted; brunch; lunch; tea time; dinner; afterdinner snacks; and pizza at midnight. And so many activities on board as well! High quality, intelligent films; ticker tape running in the library, where you could go to read the latest news coming in directly from the wire services; dance lessons, and on and on”.