All text and photographs (unless stated otherwise) © Paul Timmerman
The most famous cruise ship of the thirties, the inter war years and probably even in the history of cruising is the Stella Polaris.
She was owned by Bergen Line from Norway during the first part of her career, and resembled a royal yacht, with her clipper bow, bow sprit, well deck and lavish accommodations for just 200 passengers. She was built by Gotaverken in Goteborg in 1925-26, measured 5.020 GRT and went into service in early 1927.
As mentioned, Bergen Line ordered Stella Polaris in Sweden; it was the first passenger vessel built by Gotaverken. They built the hull, and interior fittings were subcontracted to other firms.
Dressed overall in port
She was launched in September 1926 by miss Lehmkuhl, the daughter of Bergen Line`s director. Sending her on trials in February 1927 already, these were so successful that the yard had no problems at all to deliver her on schedule. Instead of April 1st 1927, she was delivered 5 weeks early on February 26th.
Stella Polaris is considered one of the first "real" cruise ships in the history of cruising, being not only one of the first full-time cruise ships, but also one of the first purpose built cruise ships. For the most part, until the 1950s passenger ships were a means of transportation, and consequently, most cruise ships were passenger liners that were sent off cruising in "weak" periods, e.g. winter on the North Atlantic when passenger numbers were low.
Stella Polaris' interiors were nothing short of splendid. There were 6 passenger decks, Bridge Deck and below Decks A to E. On A Deck, 7 life boats were placed, but she also carried two motor barges. Aft on this deck nine passenger cabins were located and the gymnasium. On B Deck: the Music Salon, Verandah Cafe, and Smoking Room were situated. One deck below, C Deck housed the dining room seating max. 214 guests, meaning all passengers could be served in one seating. On its ceiling 150 lamps formed a star. On the remaining part of C deck and the two decks below D and E, passenger cabins were located. Her most luxuriously appointed accommodations were 4 suites (on C Deck), each fitted with its own sort of wood!
Sailing in the fjords...........
Normally, the Stella Polaris carried about 200 passengers, and only half this number on round the world cruises. With a crew numbering 130, one can imagine the impeccable service onboard. When not on a world cruise, she mostly sailed in European waters.
In 1940 she was seized by the Germans and was used as a recreation vessel for U-boat crews until 1943. Until the end of the war she sailed as a troop ship. When returned in 1945 to her owners Bergen Line, her once beautiful classic interiors were almost completely destroyed by the Germans.
Stella Polaris now renamed Scandinavia moored in Japan
Bergen Line still saw potential in their beloved ship and sent her back to her builders Gotaverken, and an almost new ship was redelivered. In the process her bridge was enclosed and a new dance salon was added. It cost Bergen line more than her original building price in 1927!
In 1952 she was sold to Swedish Clipper Line of ship owner Einar Hansen after having been on the sales list for several years. She retained her name, but was immediately sent to Gotaverken again for a refit during which she received new carpeting and airconditioning in her public rooms.
Two years later, another refit took place, but this time work was carried out by AG Weser in Bremen. Her passenger capacity was now a mere 155 and her public areas were completely rebuilt.
Stella Polaris sailed for Clipper Line until 1969. She had been refitted several times during this period, in 1965 and 1968, which saw her passenger capacity reduced again and her number of crew members also to about a hundred.
Because of her age (over 40 now), a new ship was needed, but Clipper couldn't finance a newbuilding at the time. So Clipper ended all cruise activities and closed her doors...
In 1969 she was sold to the Japanese to International Houdse Cy. from Tokyo.
Stella Polaris has been used as a floating hotel in the small village of Kisho Nishiura until a few years ago, when her hotel facilities were shut down. Her restaurant is still open and she can be visited by those who are interested in this still magnificent vessel.
Although she still had the name Stella Polaris on her bows, she was presently marketed under the name of Floating Restaurant Scandinavia. As her propellors have been removed, she was classified as a building nowadays.
In 2005, rumours started to circulate that the ship would be sold to undisclosed buyers and towed to Stockholm for further use as a hotel and restaurant. Indeed, a few months later a Swedish firm, Petro Fast AB confirmed this and at the end of August 2006, she left her berth for the first time in 30 years to be taken to a yard nearby for necessary refitting before the long voyage to Europe.
Alas, on September 2nd, while under tow, the Scandinavia started to take on water and sank in southeastern Japanese waters in 70 meters deep water.