The following is part of a short article I posted on another shipping forum and I thought it may be of some interest--the URLs at the end of the story will take you to pictures of the ship,
By chance, this week on such a site, I found pictures of a ship on
which I had traveled, a vessel that, although still afloat, has spent
perhaps 90% of her life at the end of a hawser.
In Lackawanna, NY, near Buffalo, tied up under a large derelict
Cargill grain elevator, lies the 'Marine Star', ex'Aquarama',
ex'Marine Star', peacefully rusting away with not a hope in hell of
ever again being gainfully employed. Another turbine powered vessel,
afloat but destined for a shipbreaking yard.
Built in 1945 for the US Maritime Commission by Sun Shipbuilding &
Drydock at Chester, Pennsylvania as a single screw, DRG turbine
powered cargo ship (C4-S-B5), she measured 10,780GT and was 520'LOA x
72' with a cruising speed of around 17 knots. Type C4, an American
Hawaiian Line engines aft design of 1941, was the largest of the
Commission's wartime cargo ships.
Completed too late for the War effort, the 'Marine Star' was laid up
in the reserve fleet, either straight away or after only one voyage.
Sand Products Corporation, a silica dredging company which also owned
a Lake Michigan passenger and automobile ferry, decided in the early
fifties that there was money to be made on a daylight passenger
service between Detroit and Cleveland. In retrospect that decision
was plainly wrong: the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Co. had tied up
their sidewheel fleet after years of losses and the country was in a
state of absolute automobile worship. The nationwide grid of
expressways was being built and car sales were growing from year to
Nevertheless, Sand Products persevered. The 'Marine Star' was bought
from the Maritime Commission in 1954 and in the following year was
rebuilt as a passenger ship by Todd Shipyards at Brooklyn and New
Orleans. With all superstructure over 55' above the waterline stowed
on deck to enable the ship to pass under Mississippi River and
Illinois Waterway bridges, she was towed to Muskegon, Michigan where
the fitting out was completed in early 1956 at the Sand Products dock.
Some eight million mid fifties dollars had been spent and gross
tonnage was now 12,773: capacity was about 2,500 passengers and 160
automobiles could be garaged. Escalators and elevators connected all
nine decks, there was dancing on three decks, two theatres, three
restaurants, childrens' areas and bars and snack bars galore. All
done in fifties motel moderne, awash in bright colored vinyl and
chrome, it reflected the tastes of the day and was at least bright
and easily maintained.
In exterior appearance, she followed the Delta Lines 'Del Mar' trio
in having the uptake(s) aft and a huge dummy funnel, used for both
passenger facilities and ancillary machinery, well forward. A
peculiarly American design, Moore-McCormick's 'Argentina'
and 'Brasil' were also built to this configuration in 1958. With
little sheer, high freeboard and the huge funnel, the 'Aquarama', as
she was now named, was anything but gracefull, looking bulky and
seeming to squat in the water.
She began her seasonal service, a daily voyage from Detroit to
Cleveland and return, in the summer of 1956 under the banner of the
Michigan-Ohio Navigation Company. The ship left Detroit at 0815 and
reached Cleveland about six hours later: arrival back in Detroit was
scheduled for 2300hrs and a one way passage began at $5.25. Despite
the economical tariffs and a blitz of publicity, the public stayed
For reasons never revealed, those in command of the ship apparently
thought of themselves as the Malcolm Campbells of the Detroit River:
they, for as long as the ship operated on the route, appeared to be
congenitally addicted to speed in confined waters. Small boats and
docks were damaged by the wash and people were drenched and almost
washed away. Law suits mounted and the newspapers, which had at first
welcomed the vessel with laudatory columns, began to call her
the 'Crusherama'. She became the bad joke of the River on both sides
of the border.
It was probably much too optimistic to hope that a profit could be
made with such a large ship in a season of four months or so and the
continuing bad newspaper publicity didn't help. In 1962, giving in to
the inevitable, the company announced she had been withdrawn from the
Detroit-Cleveland run and would be placed on the cross Lake Michigan
service as a replacement for their ageing 'Milwaukee Clipper'. The
channel to the Milwaukee dock needed to be deepened for the larger
ship and neither the City nor the company would pay for the dredging:
the 'Aquarama' crossed the Lake and lay idle at Muskegon, Michigan.
Since then she has been laid up in Sarnia, Ontario, Marysville,
Michigan, Windsor, Ontario and Buffalo, New York.
In 1988 she was sold to become a convention centre and hotel at Port
Stanley, Ontario but that fell through.
While at Windsor in 1995 she was sold twice and was
rechristened 'Marine Star', her original name. In the same year she
was pulled out of the mud at Windsor and towed to Buffalo to be
converted, at a cost of $30 million, to the largest casino ship
afloat. She did reach Buffalo but the rebuild was never begun.
As the cost of scrap keeps rising, it's only a matter of time before
she's towed to an Asian hellhole to be broken up.
A truly misbegotten career, a ship that in sixty years has spent
probably less than 30 months total in active service.
Welcome to the site Oldsalt. The name you are using I used on this site when I first joined but changed it about two months ago, I have also used it on other boards for the past 10 years including my emails. Hope you and I don't get blamed for things and our pay checks don't get mixed up.
The last thing I know that she will be sold and rebuild. The upper structure will be removed and the vessel will be used for casino-events. Of course, I've already heard several different future plans for that ship so...
Your story on the "Aquarama" was ideed excellent and put to bed all the questions and thoughts on my mind when I first saw her at Windsor,Ontario. My first thought was "What an ugly ship? seems to be today's trend, a bit before it's time?
Thanks, Neil. Many moons ago I managed a trip to Cleveland and back on her during the short time that the ship was in business and I've been interested in her ever since.
She, like a toothache, kinda grows on you.
As to her being before her time, someone on the other shipping group asked about her design and my answer is below.
URLs to pictures are at the end of the item.
Capt Bill---You couldn't be more right-----BOATNERD'S site has to be seen to believed---everything you want to know, and more, about Great Laker shipping.
".......... I think AQUARAMA's conversion may have been designed by
George G. Sharp - hence the similarity with the DEL MAR and sisters;
and hence the characteristic flick of the paintbrush about a third of
the way along her hull - a George G. Sharp trademark touch. I'm not
Bullseye, you're correct.
The reason I picked the 'Del Mar' trio as an example of the uptake
aft/dummy funnel forward design was that they are much better known
than the 'Milwaukee Clipper', which was owned, as I mentioned in
passing, by Sand Products.
In 1905 there was built for the Anchor Line (Pennsylvania Railroad)
the 'Juniata', an engines aft, single screwed, quadruple expansion
powered passenger and package freight steamship measuring 4,333GT and
346' x 45'. She and her two sisters maintained the long Buffalo, NY
to Duluth, MN route for the Anchor Line and then the Great Lakes
Transit Company until the depression and new safety requiremetnts
caused the vessels to be laid up in 1936.
After a period of inactivity, the Michigan & Wisconsin Steamship
Company (Sand Products} purchased the 'Juniata' for a Milwaukee, WI
to Muskegon, MI passenger and automobile ferry service. Apparently
Sharp had previously drawn up plans for a new ship for the company
but the costs were prohibitive and the naval architect then modified
the design to use the existing hull and machinery of the 'Juniata'.
In 1940 she was taken in hand by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company
at Manitowoc, Wisconsin and rebuilt into what most newpapers at the
time called an "Art Moderne" or "Art Deco" ship.
This, I believe, was the first ship with his trademark uptake/dummy
I've only once seen the design of the 'Aquarama' credited to Smart
and I'm not sure if it was not really a quick update of the Clipper's
layout rather than a completely new design. Anyway, it has all his
trademarks and to me they are visually even more obvious than on the
The 'Milwaukee Clipper' successfully crossed Lake Michigan, powered
by her original 1905 engine, for thirty years before being laid up. She's
had a fairly rough time of it since, but she is still afloat and
being slowly restored, as funds permit, to her former glory.
Next year will be the one hundredth since her birth and sixty-five
years since her rebirth as the a Lake Michigan ferry.
You'll find it best to use your "find on this page..." utility (click on "Edit" on your browser bar" and imput "Aquarama", and commence clicking next as needed. Also, under "Updates - July 16" click on he "News photo gallery" for pictures.
She is at this moment in the Welland Canal being towed to the breakers yard.
Must be some value in the steel still remaining as she was a load of rust when i last saw her. Again the "A" word is talked about for her demolition
Hi folks, I'm a new member and wanted to ask a question. While still in high school my grandmother took me on the Aquarama from Cleveland to Detroit and back which must have been in 1962, her last year. But here's the puzzle and I hope someone out there knows the answer. I was in the Coast Guard and attended two Navy training schools in January 1966- first at Norfolk and then Philadelphia, and on the docks of one of those cities (and I can't remember which) I found the Aquarama tied up. She had "Wilmington" on her stern. Now how did she get there then if she was supposed to have spent so much time in Muskegon and Buffalo? Does anybody know? Or could there have been a second Aquarama and the original was named Marine Star at that time? Really appreciate any information. You could also reply directly to [email protected].
She did, in fact, end up at Alang and is now history. I tried unsuccessfully to find the date, but believe it was 2010. (oops, I see on another thread someone said she was scrapped in Turkey--could be correct.)