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The Golden Age of the "French Line"
By David at 05/11/2009 - 05:03

The Golden Age of the "French Line"

More peaceful, but just as enthusiastically fought as the sea battles of the previous war, the "Blue Ribbon" race mobilized ship-builders, engineers, and sailors of the period between the two wars. Although France had produced Denis Papin and Marc Isambard Brunel, creator of the gigantic steamship, The Great Eastern and Frederic Sauvage, who invented the spinning propeller, Samuel Cunard’s British steamers ruled the seas in the XIXth century.

In 1935, France finally surpassed, once and for all, her ancient maritime rival by launching the sumptuous "Normandie" oceanliner a veritable sailing city.The Normandie was the biggest, the most beautiful, and the fastest civilian ship to ever sail between Paris and New York: 313 meters long, 36 meters wide at the level of the promenade deck, 39 meters high from the base of the keel to the roof of the bridge, she weighed 83,000 tons and could move at speeds of up to thirty knots (nearly 40 miles per hour).

She was equipped with a 160,000 horsepower engine. Fitted with the latest innovations, the flagship of the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique possessed all the refined luxuries one would expect of a French ship. A journalist wrote, "the dining room is 86 meters long and nine and a half meters high (the same dimensions as the hall of mirrors in Versailles) enclosed by plates of cut glass, wih a fantastic gilt ceiling, a dream setting where, by the soft light of the wall lamps, 150 tables are arranged to serve as many as 700 people sumptuous feasts…" There was also a cafe that opened onto the sea, a dance floor, a main passenger lounge in which hung superb Aubusson tapestries, fashion boutiques, a florist’s shop, a gymnasium, a massage and hydrotherapy center, a book shop, a theater which accommodated 400 where the latest "talkies" were projected, a swimming pool lined with white enamel, and a chapel where the Stations of the Cross were carved in wood… Catering to the passengers of the ship’s 2,000 cabins were 187 cooks, nine butchers, ten bakers and 688 waiters.

At mid-day, onJune 3,1935, a huge crowd gathered at New York harbor’s pier 88 to welcome the Normandie. After a voyage of four days, two hours and twelve minutes, at an average speed of almost 30 knots, she set a new record that won her the "Blue Ribbon," the coveted trophy that went to the fastest vessel to cross the North Atlantic. And at this same port, on February 9,1942, after 150 flawless crossings, a fire ended the career of this seafaring giant . Renamed "La Fayette", and transformed into a troop transport ship, were it not for this accident, she would have served more modestly, but more importanly the cause of Franco-American friendship.


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