The Man Who Turned His Home Into A Cruise Ship Shrine
Heard the one about the man who liked the shaver so much that he bought the company? It’s not a joke – his name was Victor Kiam and the company was Remington. Now meet maritime historian Peter Knego, who liked the former Aureol, once the flagship of Elder Dempster Lines, so much that when she was broken up, he rescued enough of her fittings to fill a shipping container, including a mahogany bar, tiger-maple panelling, cabinets, chairs and light fixtures, and installed the lot in his California home.
Getting them there from the world’s biggest ship-breakers’ yard at Alang, in the Indian state of Gujarat, took eight weeks. His packed container went by truck to Ahmedabad, train to Mumbai, ship to Singapore and then Los Angeles, and 120 more kilometres by road to Moorpark, California, where it was unloaded on to Knego’s front lawn. Over the next few months, the haul was moved into his back garden and garage, and each item cleaned of grime and mould before being repaired and documented.
Not long afterwards, he acquired all the brass bridge equipment from the former Ivernia, originally owned by Cunard Line; spectacular Italian ceramics, paintings, brass panels and furnishings from the Greek cruise ships Stella Solaris and Stella Oceanis; etched glass panels and doors from former Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Canada; shipyard plans and blankets from the former Windsor Castle; and cutlery, china and crystalware from numerous other ships.
Fast-forward 10 years and Knego has made nine visits to Alang and had hundreds of items from more than 30 scrapped vessels delivered to his newer, larger California house. Knego now runs a thriving e-commerce business selling artefacts to interior designers and collectors who share his love for the magnificent decor of mid-century passenger ships.
With the help of contacts in Alang, numerous ship’s officers and a few shipbrokers, he keeps track of which classic ships go to the breakers and are put up for sale; and in some cases – such as Voyages of Discovery’s former flagship, Discovery – can trace their final journey and arrange to visit Alang himself soon enough to rescue the contents before they get damaged or sold on.
In fact, so often does Knego 'shop' there, that he has now appointed a local to act on his behalf, negotiating prices and supervising the packing and shipping of items he wants. “I’ve no doubt the ship-breakers and traders of Alang think I’m eccentric,” he says, “and they’re probably not wrong.”
Blasts from the past: 10 Bizarre Cruising Customs
Another cruise lover: Cruise Ship Captain Found Calling
Times have changed: Life On Board A Cunard Ship – Then And Now
A piece of history
He is certainly passionate about old liners and cruise ships. As he explains: “With their massive scale and sleek lines, they were not only beautiful to behold but also the engineering marvels of their day. Unlike today’s boxy computer-generated monoliths, they were the hand-drawn creations of naval architects who married function with beauty.
“Interiors were fitted in fine woods, etched glass, nickel and brass – materials that are now too expensive or don’t meet fire safety regulations. Today’s ships have a lot more creature comforts but the liners of yesteryear were unique, brimming with character and designed to have a closer connection with the sea.”
Selling ships’ treasures was not part of Knego’s career plan. Born in Los Angeles to a fashion model and an actor, he graduated from UCLA with a BA in Theatre Arts, and then, smitten with the 1980s music scene, started a music promotion company when offered the chance to work with one of his favourite bands. Income from that financed his purchases from forgotten liners.
This interest was sparked by a school assignment to write about the Lusitania, sunk by a German U-boat in 1915, and, after a trip to see the Queen Mary at Long Beach with his mother, a chance sighting of P&O’s Spirit of London in Los Angeles harbour. Wanting a closer look, they got there as the ship cast off her lines but a security guard advised coming back in two weeks, when Arcadia would be in port.
Love of the liner
Knego has never forgotten the date they returned – January 20, 1974 – because, he says: “I fell madly in love with that gorgeous ship.”
Thereafter, the teenager saw virtually every passenger ship that visited Los Angeles. He sailed whenever possible in older vessels documenting, videoing and photographing items on board, not realising that his 400,000 images and 1,000-plus hours of videotape would later help to secure those he admired. He also began to write, blog and video ship’s tours for travel publications.
By the time that first container arrived, Knego was at a career crossroads. Friends suggested going into business to sell ship’s treasures. In 2004 he learned that 10 great old ships were beached at Alang, where he filled two containers with artefacts.
Back home, he set up a website to promote the spoils, began work on a documentary series about Alang and moved to a larger house near San Diego. He hopes in future to work with museums and galleries to showcase parts of his collection.
If you would like an evocative reminder of a long-gone vessel, Knego advises starting with small items of ephemera, such as daily programmes or menus. He adds that the most important, rarest historic items from a ship are bells and builder’s plates, which are unique to each vessel.
Set sail on a dream holiday with CruiseAbout
This article was written by Pat Richardson from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.