Genoa - The pitch black of the ocean surface reflected the lights from that last ocean liner. Aboard, were the first class passengers, businessmen that have repeatedly criss-crossed the Atlantic, between Europe and South America. Then there were those traveling in Tourist class A, immigrants on an occasional visit to their homeland. Lastly, the immigrants in Tourist class B, composed often of Portuguese who scanned the horizon like trying to divine what the future had in store for them in Santos or Rio.
People and places that flowed over and over through the more than 200 voyages of the most long-lived of Italian ocean liners: the Eugenio C. She was put into service by Costa from 1966 to 1996, as the sun was setting on the age of the great ocean liners (soon to be replaced by airplanes), the Eugenio had two lives: ocean liner and, then, cruise ship. At the time, family-owned companies were being launched, the likes of Pirelli or Agnelli, the Eugenio was the pride of Angelo Costa.
A FLAGSHIP, INDEED
The Eugenio C, in the words of Cesare Zaniboni, former engine-room chief engineer and, later, in charge of the crew of the Costa enterprise, was a true flag ship: state-of-the-art for the period, but challenging to operate. It had a unique character, the Eugenio; you needed to be intimately acquainted with her, if you wanted to be able to handle her. To be an officer on board meant to be at the forefront of Italian naval expertise. It was an endless learning experience.
The crew numbered over 400 and they were for the most part Italians, from the room attendant to the captain. To a degree, all of those who worked on the ship back then have kept their connection alive: tomorrow, the former crew members of the Eugenio will mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of their Club C. The celebration will be a way to reminisce about their former ship, decommissioned in 2005, at Alang. But nostalgia for the bygone days has little to do with what keeps them together, but rather the partaking of a good but harsh existence.
Assignments lasted for a year or more; Mr. Zaniboni recalls being 18 months at a time at sea. Today, after 4 months at sea one gets a leave. In order to cut costs, when overseas, shipowners prevented crew from disembarking. In the microcosm that ensued companions and groups were made and friendships forged.
CONTINUALLY AT WORK
There was little time to kill. At most one took a stroll to have a smoke or a breath of fresh air. The crew would congregate at the bar in the evenings, perhaps listening to soccer games on the short wave radio. While horsing around was common, brawls were infrequent. Each lived the life at sea in their own way: those that hailed from the Campania region (which, in the 60’s already made up 75 percent of the total crew, according to “Notiziario C”, Costa’s company newsletter) were shrewd and hot-blooded; The Sardinians were reserved and compliant. Those from Liguria, as usual, abrasive and to the point.
OCEAN LINER AND CRUISE SHIP
As an ocean liner, Eugenio had to sail at 27 knots across the Atlantic, not to miss the tide in for Buenos Aires, or she ran the chance of being stuck for a day, disrupting tight schedules and important business arrangements. “You couldn’t stand in the stern,” when the ship’s 55,000 horsepower engines were at full throttle, recalls Mr. Zaniboni. If you were unlucky you could be assigned certain cabins where the smell of fuel oil emanated from the air conditioning. But even pushed to the limit, the Eugenio had no vibrations, it was solid.
The turbines and propellers then were something else. It was also a fact that this ship was a cross-over from two periods: it had to be fast and be able to cruise as well. Each class was separated from each other by movable partitions that could be removed, as needed: remove the separations and you have your cruise ship. The separate smokestacks would not be used together, always one at a time and always the one downwind, to avoid getting soot from the smoke in the pool water. When a cruise liner, the Eugenio’s engines would run slower, the wear and tear of the ship, however, never slowed down.
As an ocean liner, sheets and towels were changed daily only in First Class but as a cruise ship everybody got daily fresh linen. The laundry room had to be upgraded. On the ocean liner, each class got different food service and you just had to be patient if you were a “Turistica B” passenger and your supper was less than great; But on the cruise ship not one burner could be out of operation, cooks and waiters had to work to the best of their ability. Today, meals are brought to the table already on a plate; Then, the cruiser passengers of the 20th century were more select and one had to know how to flambé the food at the table, and handle huge steaming casseroles out of the kitchen.
The smell of freshly baked bread, of roasts, sauces and the sea breeze contrasted with that of burning coal, fuel oil, and the smell of sewage that sometimes reached the engine-room. It all happened in that other universe that was the Eugenio C.