A cruise on the Grace Line’s S.S. Santa Rosa across the caribbean and through the Panama Canal in the 1930s.

The SS Santa Rosa (1932) (later SS Athinai) was a passenger and cargo ocean liner built for the Grace Line. The vessel was one of four ships (including the Santa Paula, Santa Lucia, and Santa Elena) ordered in 1930 from the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Kearny, NJ. Her regular service route included inter-coastal service between the East Coast and the West Coast of the USA via the Caribbean and the Panama Canal. She was the second of ultimately three vessels to bear the name Santa Rosa for the Grace Line. (The first Santa Rosa being a 1917-built ship that was sold in 1925.)


Grace Line’s SS Santa Rosa passing the Stature of Liberty… 

Design and construction

index.phpDesigned by Gibbs & Cox, Santa Rosa bore some resemblance to his later ships, the SS America and SS United States – such as his signature winged funnel.

The public rooms were all on the promenade deck. The dining room was located on this deck between the two funnels and had an atrium stretching up two and a half decks.

Unique for its day was a retractable roof which allowed the passenger to dine under the tropical sky.

The Grace Line also employed female waitresses instead of male stewards.

All first class cabins were outside twin beds and private baths.


Prewar Grace Line Era

grace_line_posterThe Santa Rosa sailed on her maiden voyage on 26 November 1932. Her East-West coast route of New York-Seattle was 20 days and included a one day call in Los Angeles and two days in San Francisco. The ship’s service speed of 20 knots and her superior accommodations made her very popular compared to that offered by Pacific Coast shipping. In 1936 however the inter-coastal service ended and Santa Rosa and her sisters transferred to service to the Caribbean.

World War II service

Upon the entry of the United States into World War II, the vessel was requisitioned by the US government for troop service. Even in wartime gray, the ship retained its elegant ocean-liner lines:

“..Further down and across the dock, the Grace Line passenger ship SS Santa Rosa, also lay waiting. She was painted wartime gray but she still flaunted her nubile twin funnels, sweeping bow and long, beautiful lines; She exuded an aura of speed, luxury, and moonlight tropical nights. The SS Santa Rosa was sexier than Rita Hayworth in a travel poster…”

Santa_Rosa_(1932)_WWIIWartime colors for the SS Santa Rosa…

Designated USAT Santa Rosa, she would make 21 voyages from the east coast of the US from 1942-1945: one to Europe, one to Australia, one to India, and three to Africa. Her voyages during wartime included:

• January 1942 – New York to Melborne and Nouméa via the Panama Canal
• April 1942 – Suez, Massaua, Adan, Durban
• November 1942 – to the Clyde
• November 1942 – to Casablanca
• January 1943 – to Casablanca
• February 1943 – Bermuda and Casablanca
• April 1943 – Casablanca, Gibralter, the Clyde, Algiers, and Phillippeville
• August 1943 – Oran in Algeria
• October 1943 – Boston to Swansea, the Clyde, Palermo, Newport UK
• December 1943 – via Boston to Bristol and Newport
• February 1944 – Belfast
• March 1944 – from Boston to Avonmouth and Cardiff
• May 1944 – via Norfolk to Naples and Gibralter
• July 1944 – via Norfolk to Oran, Naples, and Cape Henry
• October 1944 – Marseilles, Oran, and Gibralter
• December 1944 – from Boston to Swansea and retuen to Boston
• January 1945 – Le Harve and Southampton
• February 1945 – to La Harve and Plymouth
• March 1945 – to The Solent, Le Harve, Southampton
• June 1945 – Southampton
• July 1945 – Le Harve and Cherbourg with return to Hampton Roads, to Plymouth and Le Harve
• August 1945 – Le Harve and Cherbourg with return to Hampton Roads, to Plymouth and Le Harve
• September 1945 – Marseilles
• October 1945 – from New York via Port Said to Karachi
• December 1945 – from New York via Port Said to Karachi with return to New York in January 1946

Postwar Grace Line service


SS Santa Rosa during the 1950s…


Grace Line’s SS Santa Rosa returns to service after WW 2…

After her war service she underwent repair and refit at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company prior to redelivery to her owners. Santa Rosa returned to the Grace Line and resumed the Caribbean service on 7 February 1947.

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Lifeboat drill aboard the SS Santa Rosa in the 1950s…

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Children with ship’s nurse on the SS Santa Rosa in the 1950s…

Putt-putt on the SS Santa Rosa

Miniature golf on the SS Santa Rosa…

In 1958, after 26 years of service, Santa Rosa was replaced by a larger liner with the same name. The older ship would be laid up at Hoboken, NJ until 1961 when she was sold to Greek interests.



The SS Santa Rosa becomes the SS Athinai…

Typaldos Lines service

Santa Rosa was renamed SS Athinai and began a new career as a cruise ship for the Typaldos Lines. A refit increased her accommodation and converted her to carry three classes of passengers. She entered service for her new owners for voyages in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Adriatic. Athinai in her Typaldos Line livery appears briefly in a scene of the port of Piraeus, Greece, in the 1963 film The Bullfighter Advances. In 1968 the Typaldos Lines owners were arrested and the company disbanded after the Greek government investigation of the SS Heraklion incident found them guilty of manslaughter and negligence. The company’s ships were taken over and sold except for two, including SS Athinai, who attracted no buyers and were subsequently laid up at Faliron Bay.


Santa Rosa/Athinai would never return to active service. In 1978 she was towed out of layup to be used as a film set for Raise the Titanic. After a decade of neglect, and with fittings that did not appear to be out of place on a 1912 built ship, Athinai would need very little conversion work for filming the Titanic’s interiors. Her bows were painted to resemble Titanic and she was sprayed with concrete to simulate 68 years on the ocean floor. After the filming she was returned to at Faliron Bay. She would linger another ten years until finally, in 1989, she was towed off for scrapping at Aliaga in a purge of derelict shipping.

Photo acknowledgement: A. Davey and the Grace Collection.

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