The Saga of the Stella Polaris

Waugh readers will know of the cruise ship M/V Stella Polaris as the vessel on which Evelyn Waugh and his first wife traveled on the 1929 cruise that became the subject of his first travel book. This was Labels  published in 1930. The travel column of the South China Morning Post carries a story about the ship’s history after Waugh’s noteworthy journey:

The arrival on Christmas Eve, 1929, of the Stella Polaris was eagerly awaited in Hong Kong. “From the illustrations and brochures,” noted the Hong Kong Daily Press on December 14, “the vessel appears to be as luxurious as any ship that has ever steamed into the port […] with spacious promenade decks and comfortable cabins with the latest Thermotank Punkah ventilating system.” The same paper witnessed her grand arrival at the Kowloon Wharf: “Her graceful yacht-like lines, and gleaming white paint attracted immediate attention as she made her way into her berth passing sturdy cargo boats, warships, and native craft.”

The SCMP article includes an excellent photo of the ship which looks more like a yacht than a cruise ship, at least by today’s standards. The article then mentions Waugh’s connection with the ship:

One of the first purpose-built luxury cruise ships, the “Stella” had carried English writer Evelyn Waugh around the Mediterranean earlier that year. The resulting Labels: A Mediterranean Journal (1930) was his first travel book, in which he had promised the ship’s Norwegian owners generous coverage, in exchange for a free berth.

“Every Englishman abroad, until it is proven to the contrary, likes to consider himself a traveller and not a tourist,” he wrote. “As I watched my luggage being lifted on to the Stella I knew that it was no use keeping up the pretence any longer. My fellow passengers and I were tourists, without any compromise or extenuation.” On board, “as one would expect from her origin, she exhibited a Nordic and almost glacial cleanliness. I have never seen any­thing outside a hospital so much scrubbed and polished.”

Waugh also offers a more detailed description of the ship not quoted in the SCMP:

She was certainly a very pretty ship, standing rather high in the water, with the tail-pointed prow of a sailing yacht, white all over except for her single yellow funnel, and almost ostentatiously clean […] So far, I was agreeably impressed, but I reserved judgment, for she has the reputation of being “the last word” in luxury design, and I am constitutionally sceptical of this kind of reputation. (London, 1974, p. 39)

The SCMP story goes on to explain that the ship was one of the first to be used for pleasure cruising in the Arctic regions of Scandinavia and concludes with this:

After a long and distinguished career, the Stella was sold to a Japanese company in 1969. She became a floating hotel then a floating restaurant, serving Scandinavian smorgasbords off the Izu Peninsula. In 2006 she was bought by a Swedish company for refurbishment in Stockholm, but sank under tow while still in Japanese waters.

For more information on the ship see this link.

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