With accommodations for 120 First Class Passengers Only, the “Del Triplets” – Del Norte, Del Mar, and Del Sud – were the first modern American flag liners to be built after World War 2 and became a top choice for cruising to South America.
- The streamline vessels, built at the Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi, were 10,074 tons, 495 feet in length and 70 feet in breadth. Their total cost to construct each ship in 1946 was over $7,000,000 or $80,000,000 in today’s dollar.
THE DEL TRIPLETS
- S.S. Del Norte was the first ship of the trio to be completed. She sailed on her maiden voyage to Buenos Aires on the 26th of November 1946.
- She was soon followed by her sister ships: S.S. Del Sud (28th March 1947) and S.S. Del Mar (13th June 1947).
- Once in service, the three passenger/cargo liners maintained a regular schedule of two sailings per month from U.S. Gulf ports to the Caribbean and South America.
- The “Del Triplets” quickly established an enviable record for dependable sailings and were soon offering forty-four-day round-trip cruises to such ports of call as Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Paranagua and Buenos Aires.
CRUISING TO SOUTH AMERICA ON MODERN AMERICAN SHIPS
Life on board the “Dels” was definitely a leisurely affair and it was one of the hallmarks that set them apart from other ships.
My family traveled a number of times to South America aboard the Del Sud and Del Mar.
- Resembling something closer to the cruise ships of today, as opposed to the more stuffy liners of the past, this trio of sister’s offered a more relaxed approach to travel, with an updated twist.
- Sailing on board these vessels was a pleasant surprise to passengers who had undertaken pre-war voyages in less refined ships. With more discriminating tastes and a broader sector of travelers, the “Dels” accommodated their guests beautifully.
- Passengers could start their day with a stroll along the glass enclosed Promenade deck, a visit to the ship’s library, or breakfast in bed. The latter “institution” was served with a full view of the sea gliding by outside through semi-square “windows.”
- The newer and fresh design of the ships had banished the traditional round porthole in many cabins.
- Instead of bouillon on deck, kin to her sister’s of the northern Atlantic, on a Del liner mid-morning coffee was served in the main lounge, a room decorated by colorful murals of the home port of “old” New Orleans.
- In an effort to create the more open spaciousness often associated with much larger ships, glass partitions separated the various public rooms.
- The open design of the ships along with larger expanses of windows meant a lighter and brighter feeling throughout.
- This concept took full advantage of and showcased the beauty of nature that surrounded the ships through their voyages.
- All three sisters shared the same general design layouts and themes.
- Where they differed was in the finished colored schemes of their respective public rooms.
- For instance, the main lounge of the S.S. Del Sud was in colonial blue, that of the S.S. Del Norte was in rusts and browns, while that of the S.S. Del Mar’s was in tones of green with red accents. No matter which Del a passenger sailed on they had an incredible experience.
DAYS AT SEA WHERE LAZY AND RELAXED
Days were lazy and relaxed with games available on the sports deck or a long siesta in one of the comfortable lounge chairs awaiting passengers out of the wind’s way on the aft deck with a nearby outdoor bar and café.
- Warm beautiful evenings under the Southern Cross had their beginnings in the ship’s airy dining room, followed by music in the Grand Lounge while the band played.
- Often on the warm, tropical evenings dancing was hosted poolside.
- Without doubt, these vessels assured a first class holiday for passengers as the ship sped southward.
THE DELTA SHIPS MODERN DESIGN AND LARGE FUNNEL
Where the innovative design of the sisters was most apparent was on deck. One of the dominant features of the new ships along those lines was the huge funnel.
- Actually, a dummy funnel, built of aluminum. It no longer performed the function of a traditional smokestack, but rather, inside this structure were two decks of officer’s quarters, the main radio room and an emergency generator.
- The actual exhaust gases from the ships were discharged through two thin stacks just aft of the dummy funnel, somewhat disguised as kingposts.
NEW MODERN NAVIGATION EQUIPMENT
In a salute to their modernity, the vessels were among the first commercial ships of the world to be equipped with post-war radar, highly refined after stringent wartime use.
- A scanning screen with three ranges of the visual presentation gave the navigating officers views at two, six and thirty nautical miles, a comforting factor in the highly congested waterways of the Mississippi Delta and River Plate.
- A traditional voyage along the southern route meant a departure from New Orleans, the ships sailed southwards through the Caribbean to San Juan (Puerto Rico), then to Bridgetown, Curacao and La Guaira.
- Eventually, the ships headed out into the South Atlantic around the east coast of Brazil. After twelve days at sea, the ships would sail past the majestic Sugarloaf and into the bay at Rio de Janeiro.
Santos was the second port of call in Brazil and held a special and highly coveted place in Delta’s post-war cargo trade. It was the world’s leading coffee loading port and American consumption of the aromatic bean had made Delta Line the globe’s largest coffee carrier.
THE COFFEE FLEET
So popular and useful were they that Delta Line ships were known as the “Coffee Fleet”. After leaving Santos the ships sailed on to Montevideo, Paranagua and finally its destination of Buenos Aires.
- Although the passengers were pampered and enjoyed themselves while traveling aboard a Del, the cargo was still the larger revenue generating commodity of the two.
- That being said, time ashore was often very short with little time for sightseeing. Coffee was king and consumer demand was the all-important driver.
- Two long blasts on the ship’s whistle heralded departure for the next port. After departing from Buenos Aires the liners turned around for the three-week voyage that would take them back to New Orleans.
The “Dels” set a pattern and for twenty years the three light grey-hulled vessels carried a steady following of passengers, including the rich and famous, maintaining this set schedule and route.
TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY – SOON PASSENGER SERVICE ENDS
Unfortunately, just as the sisters reached their twenty year anniversary of superlative, loyal and unbroken service, economic difficulties were seen looming on the not too distant horizon.
- High fuel costs and the continued growth in the capture of passenger market share by the airlines meant things were about to change.
- By 1967, rising operating costs had exceeded passenger profits and the line was forced to discontinue its passenger trade.
- The S.S. Del Sud, S.S. Del Mar, and S.S. Del Norte were converted over to express cargo ships supplementing an already growing fleet of Delta ships serving both coastlines of the South Atlantic and the Caribbean.
This was but a short respite from the inevitable. Once considered the cutting edge of their kind but no longer viable, they were now out of date. In fact, a new breed of ship was being built and the “Dels” fell way short in comparison with the competitive new “container ship” concept.
In early 1972 the three ships, now twenty-five years of age, were placed on a one-way charter run to Indonesia, one that eventually took them on to scrapping in Taiwan.
When it came time for S.S. Del Norte, the first of her class to be completed, to make her final departure from New Orleans she seemed reluctant to leave. It was not once but twice that she swung back snug to the wharf before the combined efforts of the river tugs, the pilot and the captain finally and most reluctantly eased her out into the river for the final voyage to the scrappers.
Granted the “Dels” had served a useful and profitable life, but sadly the “Grey Ladies” were gone way too soon and long before their time and they are still missed along with their former ports of call to this day.