Larry Driscoll’s book “The Last Great Race” fascination with ships started as a 7-year-old, when he, his mother and two siblings boarded the S.S. America to cross the Atlantic to join his father in Paris, who worked for the Voice of America.
- Driscoll recalls how the ship — in the age before stabilizers — rode the waves like a roller coaster. He would take off his shoes and slide on the deck’s linoleum floors as the ship cut its way through the ocean. He remembers sitting down to dinner where the chairs were tied to the floor and the table was surrounded by a ringed border to catch any falling dishes.
- “To be a little kid, to get on this big ship in the ocean … you eat well, you play, you explore the ship and watch movies — hey, that was fun,” he said.
- Driscoll, 70, grew up to work in school finances, but in retirement has taken his love of ships and transformed it into a second career of sorts — ship historian and author.
- In July, Glencannon Press published Driscoll’s second book: “The Last Great Race, The S.S. United States, and the Blue Riband.” The 239-page book, complete with several historical photos, tells the story of the S.S. United States, its designer William Francis Gibbs and Gibbs’ successful mission to set an ocean liner speed record.
- Driscoll’s first book was about the S.S. America, that first ship he traveled on and a sister ship to the S.S. United States. It was published in 2003.
- The former school administrator’s journey into maritime writing started about 15 years ago when he created a website about the two ships. It generated interest so he decided to write his first book — an endeavor that took about eight years and involved evening writing courses.
VIDEO: An off-season cruise aboard the S.S. United States.
“I worked on becoming a writer; it uses a different part of my brain,” Driscoll said.
His most recent book developed from a magazine article; the quarterly publication Power Ships asked Driscoll to pen a story about the S.S. United States.
“I had to keep it at 9,000 words but the more I started to write and do research, the more interested I got in the whole story of the ship,” said Driscoll, who joked that after six years a 9,000-word magazine article has morphed into a 45,000-word book.
His habit is to write in the mornings at his computer, but Driscoll readily admits the best part of penning the book was the research.
His fact-finding missions took him to Newport News, Va., where the ship was built; to the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., (Margaret Truman was on the ship’s maiden voyage and President Truman was instrumental in securing ship funding); to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, where the United States Lines records are kept; and even to Liverpool, England. For that trip, Driscoll took the opportunity to sail on the Queen Mary 2 to Southampton, England, and went on to Liverpool, where the Cunard ship line’s records are housed.
Driscoll calls his project “more than just a picture book about a ship — there’s a story about it … It’s a book that seems to appeal to the general reader, as well as to ship buffs.”
Since he knew books had already been written about the S.S. United States, he sought out an interesting angle and settled on the key characters associated with the ship — its designer Gibbs, owner John Franklin and Captain Harry Manning.
“These were tough guys, not the sentimental type, and hard drivers, yet each one fell in love with this ship,” he said.