Shapes of Ships - Beautiful and Ugly

The Queen Elizabeth Two or the QE2.

One of the last of the truly beautiful big luxury liners, built just before they started to build apartment blocks with hulls under them.
One of the last of the truly beautiful big luxury liners, built just before they started to build apartment blocks with hulls under them.

"They don't make 'em like that anymore."

Welcome to Shapes of Ships - Beautiful and Ugly.

Back in 1977, homeward bound after a year on windswept Macquarie Island, I overheard a remark which I recall today. I was aboard the bright red polar ship Nella Dan at the time and

We happened to be slowly making our way upstream into the mouth of the Yarra River at Port Melbourne when this crewman said something along these lines.

“They don’t make ‘em like that anymore, mate. Look at those lines. She’s beautiful.”

Look at those lines! A captain and crew's pride

Typical middle sized passenger liner of a few years back.
Typical middle sized passenger liner of a few years back.

She was a real old timer

At a glance I had to agree. For at that time we were slowly steaming past a passenger- freighter of indeterminate years. She was a real old timer. But what a ship! Everything seemed in proportion; long, low seemingly seamless riveted hull, black with a white line right through from bow to stern just below her scupper line; white upper works gleaming in the sun, she was indeed a beauty.

And then we have this...

This isn't even an ugly duckling.  Even if they change the paint job, she'll still look awful.
This isn't even an ugly duckling. Even if they change the paint job, she'll still look awful.

Built to be purel functional, they're downright ugly

One immediately contrasted her to the ships tied up fore and aft and across the river from her. They were big, bluff, square-looking container carriers; built purely to be functional and not one jot of artistry in any of them. They were ugly ships. There seemed to be no ‘romance’ in them whatsoever. Commercial platforms to carry cargo that was what they were. Blitz-wagons, not streamlined passenger coaches.

The Shape of Ships - Beautiful and Ugly.

The ANARE ships, Kista Dan, Magga Dan, Nella Dan and Thala Dan were functioal but still managed to look good.
The ANARE ships, Kista Dan, Magga Dan, Nella Dan and Thala Dan were functioal but still managed to look good.

Her Danish crew were the descendants of Vikings

Now the Nella Dan herself had some charisma. She’d sailed the far Northern and far Southern latitudes, pushed through pack ice, been dynamited out of tight spots, and sailed some of the most remote and roughest seas in the world. Her Danish crew were the descendants of the famous ‘Norse men,’ the ‘Vikings of old.’ They were real seamen. And if they could see plainly that some ships had beauty and others had not, who was I to argue.

A greyhound of the deep, HMAS Tobruk

The 'Tobie,' as they called her, could well have been intrumental in my joining the RAN.  I'd see her riding so splendidly at anchor as I crossed Sydney Harbour on the Manly Ferry.
The 'Tobie,' as they called her, could well have been intrumental in my joining the RAN. I'd see her riding so splendidly at anchor as I crossed Sydney Harbour on the Manly Ferry.

The Royal Australian Navy had some beautiful ships

I also knew this to be true from my own sailor days back in the 1950s. There were beautiful ships in the Royal Australian Navy, too. For example, the Tribal Class Destroyers: HMAS Bataan, Arunta and Warramunga, these ‘greyhounds of the sea - they had it. Whereas the old boom-defense ships like the Kookaburra, Kangaroo and Kimbla were the ugly ducklings. As were the landing ships such as the Labuan, Balikpapan, and the Clive Steele. Ugh! Positively the ugly sisters.

The Shape of Ships - some please, others repel

However, a bit like the world’s population, some ships are very beautiful, others horribly ugly, but the majority fall somewhere in between. Most modern passenger liners fall into the reasonably attractive category; most container and bulk ore ships fall into the…well, they’re functional and don’t actually cause one to recoil. But beautiful? No way.

The Manly Ferry, South Steyne, definitely had that something.

This generation of Manly Ferries was definitely the most beautiful.   They'd sailed the whole lot out from the U.K. so they had to be real ocean goers.
This generation of Manly Ferries was definitely the most beautiful. They'd sailed the whole lot out from the U.K. so they had to be real ocean goers.

Container ships - the blue jeans and T-shirt versions of our world

I live in Sydney, Australia and, closer to home, the old Manly Ferry, South Steyne, now laid up at the Sydney Maritime Museum has beautiful lines, whilst the current crop of Manly Ferries such as the Narrabeen, are tolerable but can hardly be called attractive. I guess the general trend all over the world nowadays is functionality to hell with appearance. Maybe it’s a reflection on how we as human beings have tended to lay aside formal dress for casual; these ships are the ‘blue jeans and T-shirt version, and whilst black tie and dinner suite is something very rare indeed.

HMAS Kookaburra was certainly no raving beauty.

Designed to move boom nets across harbours and to lift heavy objects, they were strong, sturdy...and very slow.
Designed to move boom nets across harbours and to lift heavy objects, they were strong, sturdy...and very slow.

It's a matter of preference and perception

Ships’ Beauty is something I’d really not given a lot of thought to because, like the man who owns the VW Beetle (I’ve owned two over the years) some people see beauty where others don’t. It’s a matter of personal preference. Most love the appearance of a Lamborghini or Ferrari, others like an old Ford or Chevy. It’s a matter of perception.

Will our naval archtects ever get back to building really beautiful ships...

Unfortunately, even those big, luxury liners built as cruise ships, though they purport to have ‘everything’ are so often simply a block of six or seven storey buildings placed seemingly precariously on top a port-hole ridden hull. Not a lot unlike a high-class life-stock mover. They might have three swimming pools, eight cinemas or life-stage areas and sixteen restaurants and bars but one thing they don’t have is beauty.

I wonder if there are any naval architects out there still designing and having beautiful vessels built. If there are, let me know, eh?

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1 comment

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Jumpto 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I was surprised when I saw the title of this blog that you did not mention these yachts: http://gcaptain.com/incredible-yacht-design-oculus...

Although it is true that they dont make them like they used to, there is something to be said for modern materials and practices.

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