The S.S. Alameda was a 13,350-gross ton cargo vessel. She belonged to the Matson Steamship Line. On my voyage, she sailed from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia. There were only 11 passengers and a crew of 17 on board.
Her sailing history goes back to 1945 and the Newport News Steamship and Drydock Co. in Virginia, where her keel was laid. The Alameda was built to carry supplies to those troops scheduled to invade Japan, but the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima changed all that.She plied the Pacific for the government in the post war years from the West Coast to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Mothballed in 1951, the Matson Line purchased the Alameda two years later, refurbished her throughout with a very expensive face lift. She was then put to sea again as a passenger/cargo vessel.
None of the strange collection of gentlemen that made up the crew ever referred to the SS Alameda as a "freighter" or a "tramp steamer." Only once did I overhear one of the able-bodied seamen make a disparaging remark about the ship. "She is held together by a hundred coats of paint. She's living on borrowed time - like the rest of us."
It was impossible to know what was below the deck in the cargo hold. This area was off-limits to the passengers. However, above deck I observed two diesel locomotive engines covered with a gray tarpaulin. There were also several tons of raw lumber cut in 22-foot lengths on the deck. I was informed that both the engines and the lumber were on their way to New Zealand.
I shared my large but rather spartan cabin with two other gentlemen. The Matson officials back in Los Angeles obviously had little regard for diverse backgrounds and personalities. LaPointe and Preeble were genuine collector's items.
LaPointe was on his way to do missionary work in Samoa for some obscure Bible-belt organization in Alabama. He read from the New Testament and Old Testament all day and snored profusely throughout the night. I made several attempts at striking up a conversation with him, but it was always of short duration. When I would ask his opinion on matters relating to religion, his responses were deeply pondered and deliberate. It was as though I had been given a weighty pronouncement from Mount Sinai.
Preeble was a small, quiet man. He had protuberant frog eyes that suggested he may suffer from an obscure thyroid maladjustment. Preeble planned to disembark in Auckland, New Zealand, along with the lumber and diesel engines. He confided in me that his plan was to find a wife and then buy a sheep station on the South Island. He had retired after working 36 years as an actuary for New York Life in Boston. He said he didn't want to let life pass him by any longer. I agreed he had a lot of catching up to do.
As peculiar as my cabin companions may have been, it was the cabin steward that remained most vividly in my memory. He was not what you would refer to as fiercely normal. Yet there was about him a certain gargoyle charm. He was short, completely bald and Italian. His movements were quick and his speech staccato in sound.
In the morning he did not walk into our cabin. He would leap in speaking as he landed, "Breakfast is about to be served. For breakfast in bed - raisa you hand, otherwise, a no food for a you. How about a little exercise? It is a beeeautiful day!" Then he was gone.
He returned minutes later with the food. While we ate, he would bring in fresh towels, throw open the port holes and clean the cabin. As this was being accomplished, he entertained us with Italian operatic arias. In the closing moments of the solo, if the mood struck him, he would do something flamboyant and utterly unpredictable. He would, for instance, stand in the shower with the water on, wrapped in our sheets or leap from bed to bed without touching the floor or wrap the breakfast dishes in a tight bundle and toss them through the open port hole into the blue Pacific. (To be continued.)