An image depicting a vibrant beach scene is presented, with the sun setting across the horizon and a figure in the foreground casting a long shadow.
The sand is a soft golden color, and the sky is filled with deep shades of pink and orange. The figure in the foreground appears to be standing in reflection, while the waves crash in the background. The sun setting in the distance gives the image a peaceful yet powerful feel.
It is evident that the utopian imagination will not be able to come back in its conventional form if it is to make a resurgence in the upcoming times. As opposed to the traditional spatial utopias, new utopias must tap into the dynamic and ever-changing nature of society that is gradually taking the place of life’s static points.
–As stated by Northrop Frye, “Different Kinds of Literary Utopias”
In the present day, we don’t fight against the powerful flow of events; instead, we drift along with it. We don’t construct fortresses, but instead, we create vessels for governing.
–H.G. Wells in A Modern Utopia wrote about a modern utopia.
At the beginning of William Alexander Taylor’s 1901 utopian novel, Intermere, the protagonist finds himself on board a small steamship that has been engulfed by a fog bank three days north of the equator and has been taken down into a whirlpool.
The hero recounts feeling himself being dragged down to the depths of the ocean before he loses consciousness. He soon awakens in a hammock on the curved deck of a new kind of vessel, with an abundance of suites and apartments that have been decorated with an artistic flair.
Although the hero is tempted to believe that he is already in some kind of paradise, it is revealed that the vessel, a “merocar” powered by “supernatural agencies,” is actually one of many advanced technologies employed by a utopian society that is hidden beneath the surface of the earth.
Intermere stands as a representation of the progression of utopian ideas: Numerous writers, builders, and inventors initially perceived utopia as a drifting island, then as an island which could be reached by boat, and ultimately as the boat itself. Travel became the end goal.
In 2002, the 43,000-gross-ton World vessel was launched from an Oslo dock. It was blessed by three Norwegian priests with a mixture of holy water and champagne, signifying the first opportunity to buy property on a ship.
The commencement was celebrated with grand fanfares.
The Boston Globe labeled it a “global village at sea.”
Macleans referred to it as a “Utopia afloat.”
I made my way to Norway, where I was received by Knut Kloster Jr., clad in a captain’s cap, so I could recognize him. It was peculiar to be welcomed by the creator of the contemporary cruise industry, who was a descendant of one of the most ancient shipping families in Norway.
Kloster expressed his relief that he no longer had to put on the headgear.
On the way to Oslo, he felt obligated to point out the city’s new rapid train, carrying on as a reluctant tour guide for the following days. Kloster was nearly eighty years old, but he exhibited a great deal of energy and vivacity.
He moved briskly through the streets, scolding drivers who didn’t understand the intersections without signals. We went to the lobby of my hotel to start our talks. Most of our conversations would be about whether his story deserved to be told. I really liked him a lot.
Kloster had little admiration for dependability, and even during our first conversation he shifted gears abruptly.
He remarked that the grand megaship plan he had initially suggested in the 1970s was an intriguing tale. This had been dubbed the “Phoenix Project” rather than the World, and over the years Kloster had invested a considerable amount of money in it.
He immediately followed up his statement by declaring, “I’m a disappointment. I didn’t succeed. I can’t give you what you need. I no longer have any interest in cruise vessels.”
He led me to the only spot in Oslo where his German shepherd could run free, the Gustav Vigeland sculpture garden. We hiked up to the Monolith Plateau, which had a massive granite column with intertwined and stacked human figures, some assisting each other, others pushing against each other.
Kloster commented that it was all about life and inquired if they wanted to take a photograph.
I informed him that I did not possess a camera.
To his great relief, he heard the response, “Good.” He had been worried that the request would be to take photos.
A crowd of families and young people congregated near the statue, creating a diverse amalgamation of shapes.
Kloster repeated that it was all about life.
Incorporated into the genre of utopian literature are a plethora of stories associated with boats and shipwrecks, and thus, a recounting of floating utopias would not be complete without the inclusion of a voyage narrative.
I was startled when a delivery person stepped over the threshold of my screen door and left a box in my foyer. Upon opening it, I found a container wrapped in gold twine, and inside that was a leather document wallet with an enigmatic symbol imprinted on it. Inside this wallet was my ticket to the World.
I arrived in Lulea, a town in Sweden on the Gulf of Bothnia, to meet the World, a boat with a population of 200 guests and 250 crew members. It had no passengers, as it served as a second, third, even fourth home for many people, who paid between one and eight million dollars for their apartments. Its journey around the world included visits to ports other cruise ships didn’t go to, and it was currently docked near a place with old railroad tracks and the icebreaker Twin Screws.
The Ghurka-recruited security force manned the cyclone-fence checkpoint which the taxi had passed through. I hastened up the gangway due to the rainfall.
The passengers inside the security lock of the ship were crowded together, waiting to leave the vessel. Although the ship was said to be highly protective of their privacy, the atmosphere in the room was jovial and bright. Those present had an aura of contentment, as if they knew that their time was their own.
Plato’s description of Atlantis as an empire that “no man can visit” due to the lack of ships and voyages implies that the island existed on the surface of the ocean before descending beneath it.
The librarian Callimachus described the isle of Delos, the birthplace of Apollo, as a “speck of land roaming the oceans.”
In Lucian’s True History (circa 150 CE), he satirizes the Greek habit of embellishment by poking fun at the story of Jason and the Argonauts. The story begins with sirens who are filled with lust and the sailors using their erect penises as masts. A gust of wind then carries their ship to the moon. After they return to Earth, they witness a battle between giants who sail on islands as if they were war galleys.
Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, published in 1516, served as the foundation for the utopian genre. To reach this island paradise, one needed to follow the fool of a sea captain, Raphael Hythloday. While this paradisiacal place was stationary in the beginning, centuries later utopian novels began to incorporate new naval technology, thus creating the idea of a mobile, floating utopia.
In Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1626), which looks to the past where navigation was more advanced than it is today (like Noah), Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun (1623) predicted ships propelled not by oars or wind but by a “marvelous contrivance.” After James Watt, inventor of the steam engine, proved Campanella right, utopian authors began to envision ships that could be considered homes.
Etienne Cabet’s Travels in Icaria (1839) described a ferry with drawing rooms, cabins with all the necessary furnishings, and Theodor Herzl’s Jewish utopia, Old-New Land (1902), featured the Futuro vessel with an orchestra and newspaper. One passenger was so pleased that they exclaimed, “This ship is Zion!”
In 1833, J. A. Etzler, a German inventor, suggested the creation of immense propeller-powered landmasses, which were more similar to the “war galleys” featured in True History than the proto-luxury liners of Cabet and Herzl. Etzler was not aware of the joke told by Lucian. He wrote about his vision in The Paradise Within the Reach of All Men, Without Labor, by Powers of Nature and Machinery, which was about islands that were large enough to incorporate gardens and palaces, and could house “thousands of families”.
Furthermore, he proposed that the inhabitants of the islands would be offered the possibility to “roam over the whole world… in all security, refinements of social life, comforts and luxury”. However, the realization of this project required investors, and despite Etzler’s efforts, he was never able to find them.
Sixty years after the French author Jules Verne published his novel The Floating Island, the idea of a utopian society on the sea had become a reality.
The story begins with a French chamber quartet whose carriage has broken down twenty miles from San Diego, who stumble upon a docked mega-vessel called the Floating Island, which is home to thousands of wealthy people. It is an oval-shaped island five thousand acres large, powered by hundreds of propellers and two dynamos producing 10 million horsepower, and is also accompanied by its own city, Milliard City, with a population of ten thousand and an army of five hundred.
The quartet is hired to provide entertainment for the floating civilization, and they couldn’t be more delighted. Yvernes, the first violin, envisioned that “the twentieth century would not end before the seas were ploughed by floating towns”.
The Floating Island faces many perils–predators, volcanoes, and even pirates. At the midway point of the book, a liquidator is appointed for the Floating Island Company Ltd. when “The Company had gone under” in a very literal sense.
The wealthy individuals come up with the obvious solution: they purchase the vessel for themselves. After investing four hundred million dollars, the voyage of island hopping resumes. However, Jules Verne does not allow a utopian situation to remain and introduces a clumsy deus ex machina which causes the unsinkable Floating Island to start to break apart, signifying the tensions which had been increasing between characters for many chapters. In the end, the island crumbles and submerges.
In 2002, Jean-Philippe Zoppini of France sought to bring Jules Verne’s concept of The Floating Island to reality. He created various designs and the shipyard responsible for the construction of the Queen Mary II was ready to construct the vessel, provided the money and other resources were supplied. Unfortunately, this never happened.
On my second day in Norway, Kloster and I had a conversation in his Oslo home with the intention of discussing his story that we could potentially have in the future.
The house I was in had a similar ambience to that of a Russian dacha; with its vast area, furniture from different historical eras, and artworks on the walls that were similar yet intimidating. Kloster was in a state of uncertainty and I found myself encouraging the dejected idealist.
The Kloster shipping business was started with their grandfather hauling ice from Norway prior to refrigeration. His son then moved the business into oil when deposits were discovered in the North Sea, making their tanker fleet one of the largest in the world.
Kloster received his naval architecture degree from M.I.T. and took over the family business at age thirty. He quickly steered the business in a new direction with the construction of the Sunward, a nine-thousand-ton ship meant to transport British retirees to Gibraltar. Kloster was ahead of his time providing unexpected amenities for a ferry, such as overnight cabins and onboard restaurants.
When Franco asserted control over the peninsula, the Gibraltar plan failed to materialize. As Britain and Spain became embroiled in a smaller version of the Cold War, Kloster was stuck with a ship with nowhere to go.
For Ted Arison, who was to become the founder of Carnival Cruise Line, his challenge was completely different in Florida. He had already established a system to fill a gap in the Caribbean cruise industry, but the Israeli ship he had leased was taken for military service during the 1967 Six-Day War. As a result, he had a destination but no ship.
After Arison got in contact with Kloster, the Sunward boat arrived in Miami three weeks later.
The joint venture was highly successful–the Starward, the Skyward, and the Southward were added–but NCL ended up in court. Kloster and Arison had different views on capitalism. Arison was driven by financial gain and rivalry, whereas Kloster was moved to tears on the Sunward when he read Charles Reich’s The Greening of America. Kloster was a strong believer of capitalism, but he also felt that the cruise industry had the potential to counter alienation and discontentedness, becoming a way of global communication.
The dispute ended with Arison stepping back temporarily and Kloster shifting to Florida to take control of the business. In 1972, he had a notion of an entirely new kind of vessel.
At a speech called “The Shape of Things to Come,” which he delivered to British travel agents in Vienna, Kloster cited Emerson and presented blueprints for a split-hull catamaran-style “ultramodern design” that would have both a sky observatory for astronomy and an underwater observation compartment for the research of sea life.
The boat was no longer just a boat. Vessels of the future, Kloster told the agents, should be a “nexus” for three groups of people: those who visit them, those who live and work on them, and those who are seen by them.
In 1979, NCL was prepared to take a step away from mere words. Consequently, they purchased the France, the last great ocean liner, transforming and renaming it the Norway. This specific ship was a turning point. Until then, many believed that a cruise ship that was twenty thousand tons couldn’t possibly be successful in terms of profit. The Norway challenged this theory by growing to three times that size and making a profit. The vessel featured a selection of shops and stores on its “streets” such as the Champs-Elysees and Fifth Avenue.
Kloster referred to the “megaship” as being “a self-contained destination.”
Kloster, a nice guy, was left in the dust thirty years later. Arison, though, had managed to turn his fortunes around, utilizing funds that had been promised to Kloster to set up what is now the biggest cruise company on the planet. In the 1980s, Kloster took a giant risk with his Phoenix Project, a dream of building an idealistic urban area on the water–and failed.
As I attempted to persuade him that his narrative was worth narrating, Kloster glanced at me with a gaze that was a mix of incredulity and astute business acumen in his living room.
Between us, he presented a miniature representation of the bottom of a boat that featured a tandem rudder configuration on the coffee table. His idea had come to life.
Describing it as though you were on a large boat, you have to make a fast turn as you approach an island with some rocks.
Kloster elucidated that when vessels reached a certain weight, single-rudder systems could not withstand the strain. The response was a second, much smaller rudder, placed behind the first. This rudder was called a “trim tab.” The trim-tab moved in the opposite direction, creating a vacuum that enabled the larger rudder to turn the correct way without breaking. To demonstrate this, Kloster was manipulating the model between his knees, making the rudders move back and forth and turning the imaginary ship away from the rocks. The trim-tab rudder was a metaphor–engineer Buckminster Fuller had been the first to say that it showed “what one small man could achieve”–but across from Kloster, I didn’t understand.
He gazed in my direction. I inquired about the restroom.
When I arrived Kloster had an air of defeat and showed me to his office without much enthusiasm. It was tiny, just a single square meter next to the bathroom–the workplace of a submariner, not a sailor. The walls were plastered with collections of the letters he had written in an effort to make the Phoenix Project a reality. The room was like a memorial to a deceased child. Kloster didn’t want to talk about it, but he was unable to discard it. This was when I understood. Kloster was the trim tab. He had turned himself in the wrong direction to save us all from the rocks. This was the plight of all idealistic utopians.
Kloster’s quandary began when he and Arison combined their companies to bring the cruise industry back to life. Kloster guided the industry with an ethical compass during the following fifteen years. NCL acquired an island and some other competitors. In 1984, the Norway was the biggest cruise liner in the world and the firm had a strong grip on the business.
Kloster then proposed an even more radical revolution.
NCL had been the first to convert old ocean liners, but by then, there were none left. The only choice was to construct something entirely from the ground up. Kloster stated that the main objective of the Phoenix Project was to give passengers a sense of belonging. He went on to say that their plan was to have a “downtown” with wide roads and squares, that would be full of stores, cafes, nightclubs and cinemas. In a nutshell, a city floating on the sea.
Kloster declared the arrival of a new age of seafaring when he presented the Phoenix, a vessel that was more than 250,000 gross tons and quadruple the size of the Norway. It was planned to also have a split-hull at its aft section which would be used as a base for 4-day cruisers, each with the same passenger capacity as the Sunward. The concept was extended to include a number of smaller ships that would act as remoras to the Phoenix, forming a “global Chautauqua circuit.”
I indicated the holy site with a gesture of my hand.
Questioning why all this is being kept if nothing is there.
He gave a shrug in response to the question, remarking that there was indeed a story to be found. He added that perhaps one day, someone would be interested in hearing it.
Kloster had two sons, both of whom proposed creative concepts for cruise ships. The elder son, Knut, imagined the World. His younger brother suggested a type of drifting beach retreat. Kloster was unwilling to accept that either ship was connected to the Phoenix Project. I believe the conception of the World finalized the narrative that the elder Knut hesitated to narrate.
The debut voyage of the World encountered the same reef as in Jules Verne’s story of the Floating Island. The management firm experienced a setback of $100 million due to the post-9/11 travel industry climate. The lender then proceeded to manage the vessel and ended up losing an additional $150 million. It seemed as if the future was bleak until the residents came up with the same idea as Verne’s millionaires: to purchase the ship.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the ship has been transformed into a cooperative.
Just prior to the crew recognition ceremony in the Colosseo, I boarded the World. Captain Ola Harsheim, a Van Gogh look-alike, was there to applaud several crew members for their years of service.
Being on the lower decks of the vessel, which lacked balconies, made me think of Charles Fourier’s phalansteries, which he designed to maintain class distinctions. E. M. Cioran noted that Fourier’s hotel-like structures were similar to a “vomitive,” however, the sentiment of “community” was strongly felt by staff and passengers during my stay. We were consistently reminded that “we’re all in the same boat.”
After the ceremony, I was directed to my own apartment. This was one of many apartments that had been created by combining two studio apartments during a period of reorganization. As a result, I had two bathrooms, two verandas with two sliding-glass doors, two flat-screen televisions, one kitchen, one bottle of champagne, and one double-sized bathtub. Strategically placed mirrors around the apartment increased the perceived space and its doubling or quadrupling effect. It was easy to become disoriented in such a small space, as it was one of the smallest apartments on board.
I went out to one of my balconies and a Swede was taking a photo of the vessel with me in it at the harbor. At some harbors, the World is a sight to behold.
Lewis Mumford had the opinion that the machine, both as a tangible tool for all and an intangible object of reverence, is itself a symbol of the ideal.
The notion of the Phoenix Project wouldn’t have been possible without the involvement of a French architect and the US military.
Le Corbusier, the son of a watchmaker, had a fondness for the saying that a house is a machine to live in. In his book, Towards a New Architecture, he asserted that even steamships could be considered as important symbols of bravery, order, serenity, and vitality. He wrote in 1931: “If we look at a steamship with a fresh eye, we might find it to be comparable to some of the world’s most awe-inspiring structures.”
Le Corbusier created buildings with the aesthetic of a ship and suggested that people could live like they were sailing on a luxury vessel with maid service, a kitchen staff, and a communal dining area. He asserted that “the steamship is an early example of a world that has been set up in accordance with the modern ethos.”
The United States military was taking the idea of floating islands seriously around the same period. Edward R. Armstrong, who once was a circus strongman, but later became an engineer and inventor, proposed the use of “seadromes” as floating airports which would make it possible for fighter planes to cross the Atlantic.
The plan was brought to the attention of FDR, but the development of aircraft flight range made the plan obsolete. Another plan during the war was the secret Project Habakkuk, which was named after a biblical prophet and was a favorite of Churchill’s.
This project was to create an artificial iceberg, and the vessel was to be made of pykrete, which is a blend of ice and sawdust, making it resistant to torpedo strikes.
Though Habakkuk never came to fruition, the idea of a floating island never left the minds of the military.
Subsequent to the seadrome, the fundamental concept underwent multiple updates, including the “megafloat” and the “Mobile Offshore Base.” In 1996, details were released for the “Joint Mobile Offshore Base,” a multi-module platform resembling the idea of a floating Guantanamo, including an artificial beach, space for a prisoner of war camp, and room for 3,500 vehicles, 150 aircraft, and 3,000 troops. This was comparable to Lucian’s “war galley” with airports and Quonset huts.
I was given a tour of the public parts of the World, which was referred to as “the Village.” There, I saw the theater, a sanctuary space, a jewelry store, a boutique, a deli, a cigar lounge, a casino, an Internet cafe, a library, some restaurants, two bars, and a spa with massage services and a fitness center. The World has been called a ghost ship since it didn’t seem like there were many people around, but the residents contended that if others wanted more activity, they were free to do so. They explained that the apartments on the ship were not just places to sleep while on vacation, they were homes.
I had the opportunity to take a look at two of the more luxurious homes. The first was a more luxurious replica of my own unit, that was available for rent when the owner was away. It cost thousands of dollars a night. The second was fit for a king. Each of the three bedrooms had its own private bathroom. The whole place was paneled. The master bedroom had a veranda and an immense closet. The inhabitants would spend a lot of time customizing their own spaces and the upper-level staff could not believe how distinct the apartments could become, with furniture and art that was worth more than the apartment itself.
No one I encountered had visited every area of the ship.
That evening, I dined with James St. John, the past president and CEO of ResidenSea–the resident-owned firm which managed the World. We ate at East, the vessel’s generic Asian eatery.
The ship boasted too many restaurants, which opened on a rotating schedule, but East was a popular spot. If the weather was nice, most of the restaurants had outdoor seating; the yearly food budget amounted to millions. Afterwards, I went to the Colosseo to watch a local combo (saxophone, bongos, harp, accordion, xylophone) rush through a selection of show tunes so they could disembark before the ship left Sweden.
Later, I encountered an elderly couple in the Village after the show. They enjoyed the performance, they said, but they were more partial to the ship’s lecture series. A team of scholar-tour guides, who put the region into historical context, accompanied the World wherever it went. The vessel was currently in the middle of its “Bothnian Expedition.”
The woman mentioned that it had become necessary to plan one’s day around it.
This was not the first time they were on the ship; they were contemplating the idea of purchasing a flat. Although they were not owners, they would come for extended visits of between six and eight weeks. I calculated the cost of these visits in terms of money.
“That is quite a substantial amount of time.”
The man declared, “It certainly is,” and then added that it was time to go to slumber.
Roaming around the Village, I noticed the cigar lounge was devoid of people, and the chess tables in the game room had been stripped of their pieces. It felt less like a ghost ship, but more like an amusement park that I had rented or purchased.
At a deserted bar on the eleventh floor, I spoke with a Filipino bartender who surprisingly knew my name. He had been on board the cruise since the start, and had traveled the globe multiple times due to it. An hour after the engines roared to life, he gazed out of the window with eagerness.
“Hallman, we are relocating!”
We ventured out to the rail to observe the land pass by, catching sight of steel works on the periphery of Lulea. Their structures were crowned with a blue and ethereal flame, a recognizable indication of heat. Beneath us, the Gulf of Bothnia was a murky winter ocean, rough and furrowed in moonlight, like skin viewed through a magnifying glass.
I uttered, “It is possible that this may be my last view of Sweden.”
The barman’s voice had a slight hint of compassion in it when he uttered the word, “Really.”
It was Buckminster Fuller, known for his work with trim-tabs, who was the first to meld together Le Corbusier’s maritime ideals to something that was feasible and could be put into action. In the early 1960s, a Japanese patron asked him to come up with a plan for a “tetrahedronal floating city” for Tokyo Bay.
Consequently, Fuller designed three floating cities, one for harbors, one for seas with some protection from the weather, and one for deep-water. In his book Utopia or Oblivion, Fuller mentioned a claim that those who have attempted to create perfect worlds have failed because they have been too ambitious from the start.
On the other hand, he argued that ship design could be different, as it necessitated a comprehensive understanding of all its functions prior to construction. If the plans weren’t realistic, the boat would not be able to stay afloat.
In 1966, the death of Fuller’s supporter paved the way for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to take an interest in the Tetrahedronal City.
The Navy approved the project as both a viable watercraft and a financially sound plan. Baltimore, MD still had their eye on a city in the Chesapeake Bay until Lyndon B. Johnson, a fan of the plan, left office. He took two of Fuller’s models with him to his presidential library in Texas, and they remain there to this day.
The emblem on my file folder–the symbol of the World –was not a boat; it was a depiction of an island.
In the original frontispiece of Thomas More’s Utopia, there was a depiction of two islands. It is commonly thought that Utopia’s crescent-shaped design, where the tips almost come together to form a large inner harbor, was based on Plato’s description of Atlantis.
It has been hypothesized that Plato may have been inspired by the Greek island of Santorini, which has a similar shape and contains smaller islands situated between its ends. This likely gave Plato the idea of an ideal spot to build a fortress for protecting a secluded inner harbor.
When King Utopus first took control of the land, it was a peninsula. To create the island of Utopia, he dredged the narrow strip of earth that had connected it to the mainland, symbolically severing its life-line to the outside world.
This new Utopia was shaped like a womb, an idea that had already been explored by Hesiod’s Elysium (circa 700 BCE) and Simon Magus’ Eden. A phallic tower guarding the inner harbor, featured on the book jacket of Utopia, gave a somewhat clinical visual representation of intercourse.
If I were to set sail, it would be with the World from Lulea, Finland to Vaasa, and then down the Finnish coast to Mariehamn in the Åland Islands. This archipelago is unique, as it technically belongs to Finland while the population speaks Swedish and is recognized by the United Nations as autonomous.
The Ålands’ advantageous location has been noted for centuries, but it was not until much later that a fortress was ever built there–first by the Swedes and then by the Russians. This made me ponder if when Thomas More was designing Utopia in Antwerp, he may have had the Bothnia region in Finland in mind rather than Plato’s Greece, which is much further away.
At five o’clock in the morning, I opened my eyes to a peach-colored sky, the blue water passing by at a speed of seventeen knots, a gentle gust of wind blowing my curtains, and a sound like a light surf coming from the shore.
From the bathtub window, I watched the first ray of sunlight illuminate the horizon, and room service delivered a light breakfast.
The ship had gone through gale-force winds and four-meter waves during the night, but the captain had deployed the stabilizers and the ten-meter wings, so the heavy seas were barely felt.
From that point on, during my journey, as if my subconscious was aware of the comfortable and relaxing atmosphere as well as the possibility of a long-term stay, I was caught between wanting to explore the ship and just returning to my apartment, my home, to admire the gulf. It was like a cozy haven with a stunning view.
Once I had finished my breakfast, I returned to the spot where the sun had warmed the bed and took a nap.
The cruise had scheduled a Thai lemongrass-oil massage for the late morning, and my masseuse apologized for not being able to provide candles and incense (due to ship policy) before she got to work (“Mr. Hallman, please put your head in the hole, sir”). I then joined St. John for lunch and we went on a tour of the back of the ship. He was quite jovial, much like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island. _He had once thought about joining the clergy, but his life changed course and he spent time in the military, worked in the hotel and shipping industries, and eventually became the manager of a private community on Jupiter Island, Florida–all of which gave him the perfect background for working on the _World.
As we descended the stairs, St. John confidently claimed that the World was the most spotless vessel in the industry. Similarly, the main corridor at the back of the house resembled a street in its utilitarian yet neat appearance. In two lower decks were saloons, an officers’ club and a crew bar, where everyone was welcome to mingle and intermingle. Once we reached the mooring decks, a group of men were securing the ship to the dock in Vaasa with giant cleats and capstans the size of barrels. After that, we visited the recycling center. St. John commented that ecological awareness was one of the few shared characteristics among the passengers, and the ship was the first of its kind to be powered by industrial diesel rather than heavy bunker fuel. Furthermore, it put much effort into reclaiming as much of its waste as possible. Anything that could not be salvaged and stored for recycling was burned, and this included sewage.
St. John noted that they even preserve the ash that they produce.
The daily routine for passengers involved morning exercise in the pools or a walk on the track or treadmills in the gym, followed by a leisurely breakfast as the ship arrived in port. Some people left their cabins early so that the crew could complete their duties and go ashore for the day.
The same applied to the residents, either renting cars for their own tours or joining prearranged groups that were detailed in onboard publications and the ship’s morning television show.
I hung around on the ship for a couple of days, playing Pebble Beach on the golf simulator, having lunch with the captain, and exploring the massive engines and the water treatment facility that could generate three times the daily two hundred tons of fresh water needed for the vessel.
I recently attended a lecture concerning the Åland Islands. According to the lecturer, the archipelago served as a boundary between hunter-gatherer and agrarian civilizations.
He proposed his own hypothesis on how the original inhabitants of the Ålands, who were known to hunt both people and seals, ultimately evolved into culturally Swedes but Finnish nationals. Additionally, the Gulf of Bothnia was of interest, due to its gradual shallowing.
The islands were ascending.
Kloster faced a challenge when the Phoenix was deemed too daring, leading him to step down as chair in 1986 and shift his attention to making the plan reality.
A team then gathered to support the endeavor, which included past admirals and a Coast Guard commandant. Changes to the plan resulted in the ship being dubbed the Phoenix World City and the America World City. When it was realized the vessel was ahead of its time, the America World City group employed Le Corbusier’s imagery for promotion (see image on opposite page).
In 1989, America World City was close to being realized, but Citicorp backed out during the meeting that would have finalized the contract.
Kloster assumed Arison was somehow involved in this. By 1996, Westin Hotels and Resorts had given their support to the project, yet it soon ground to a halt due to a disagreement concerning personalities.
Kloster’s offspring’s dream was beginning to become a reality around the same time that The World underwent five years of downsizing before building commenced.
The younger Knut exclaimed when the World became wet, “This is the new way of life – to explore the world without ever having to set foot outside!”
On the day I left, nearly forty people, including myself, were asked to explore some of the Ålands’ attractions.
We all gathered in the Village, went down the ramp and clambered onto the shuttle. Despite being millionaires, the inhabitants were talking and laughing like adolescents traveling back from class.
I was informed that although they are wealthy, they are also very kind; this was mentioned almost as if it was a surprise.
I had to ask myself if the World, beyond merely allowing its passengers to travel without leaving their home, also offered a sense of community and connectedness to those who are typically isolated by their success.
It might seem like a waste of sympathy to feel for the wealthy, but I began to understand that they are often kept apart not because they prefer it, but because a system that encourages disparity–one that does not put everyone in the same boat–divides people into two distinct categories: rich and poor, privileged and deprived.
Do we need to erase class differences for there to be a utopia? Is it possible for a class system to preserve dignity for everyone without making one party feel uncomfortable? Was Charles Fourier right to believe in perfection without pursuing economic equality? Is that the best world that can be created? The World was created by capitalism, but I felt that it was taking a step away from it.
This was evident not only in the sense of community that was formed on board, the poker games that sprouted up and the karaoke nights that showed that the wealthy have the same interests as everyone else, but also in the lack of money transactions that took place on board; the green values they adopted not for the profit, but because they felt it was the right thing to do; and the government that they had formed for themselves when they bought the ship.
St. John declared to me, “I don’t believe it is a utopia,” yet I was not entirely certain.
Our journey to Mariehamn was filled with several sights, particularly the fortresses which had been recommended by More and Plato. The Swedish castle was prominent and tall, but it was unable to handle the Russian invasion and the subsequent construction. The Russian fortress was unfinished when it was attacked by 10,000 French and 40 British ships, led by Admiral Nelson. Noel Broadbent, an archaeologist from the Smithsonian, gave us a detailed account of the event as we stood before the ruins of the wall. Locals around us petted the cold and thick cannons still present, and admired the impact marks of the British ball.
We returned to the vessel.
The next morning, I took the same flight out of Mariehamn that Broadbent had. While we were in the small airport, I compared the World to a votive ship we had seen in one of the churches we had visited the day before.
These types of ships, which are prevalent in Scandinavia, are thought to represent the spiritual journey undertaken by early Christians. Broadbent acknowledged this, but said that the World was more like something from Swedish poet Harry Martinson’s works, such as Ghost Ship and Trade Wind. Subsequently, Martinson was awarded the 1974 Nobel Prize for Literature for his poem Aniara: A Review of Man in Time and Space, which posited huge spacecraft called Goldondas transporting people from a deteriorating Earth to a better Mars.
Broadbent made an interesting observation when we boarded the plane to Stockholm. He commented that if one was to be entirely independent, then they would be similar to the ships in sci-fi stories that carry civilization away after disaster. He concluded that this is not far from the truth, as islands too are in constant motion due to the passage of geological time. Ultimately, he surmised that it is all about boundaries and the act of travelling.
The plane tilted upwards, allowing us to observe the World from our elevated position. It seemed as vast as the city near it, yet appeared diminutive, like a toy.
On my final day in Norway, Kloster revealed to me that he had been feeling downcast the preceding day.
We weren’t meant to meet because his German shepherd had taken ill and had to be taken to the veterinary; however, our plans changed. As we ran into each other in the lobby, Kloster was not downcast because of the dog, but rather as he believed his narrative was dull.
We took a trip to the Oslo fjord. Monumental cruise ships were moored near the city. Kloster had an aura of peacefulness and gentle innocence, as if he was some kind of mystic. He pretended he didn’t see a prostitute walking along the dock.
Together, we toured several maritime museums. The first was devoted to Thor Hyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition, which I thought dabbled with the past. The second was dedicated to Viking ships; I peered down into their ancient wooden hulls as people streamed around Kloster, as if he were an atoll.
Lastly, we went to a museum that commemorated Norway’s shipping industry, with models and replicas of minuscule crew quarters. We went to the back and found the Sunward‘s original model, simply set among other notable tankers.
When Kloster exited NCL, the corporation neglected the strategies he had put in place, dubbed “process of vision”. This resulted in a storm of misfortune and negative publicity. It switched the flags of its vessels to the Bahamas, disregarded accords that shielded third-world employees, and attempted to go public in 1987, only to see its Initial Public Offering (IPO) happen the day after the infamous Black Monday. In the 90s, it endeavored to do a U-turn with a more forceful strategy, but the damage had already been done. Subsequently, even Arison joined the fray when the company was put up for sale.
Once the plan for America World City fizzled out, Kloster then went on to propose more ambitious projects of a smaller scale. In 2001, he proposed a seventy-story glass globe, dubbed “Planet Earth at Ground Zero,” to be located at the World Trade Center memorial. A year later, he wrote to Kofi Annan, the then Secretary General of the United Nations, suggesting Gaiaship, a goodwill vessel which could be funded if all countries in the world contributed one tenth of one percent of their military budgets.
Arthur C. Clarke expressed his endorsement in a letter, describing ocean liners as a “microcosm of the Earth”. Nevertheless, an aide to Annan declined the suggestion.
Kloster’s original concept continued to come closer to fruition in the interim.
Starting with the Norway in the 1980s, cruise ships have been getting larger and larger. The Sovereign of the Seas held the record of 73,000 tons in 1988 before Carnival topped it at 100,000 tons in 1996. The Grand Princess went even further two years later, hitting 109,000 tons. Subsequently, even larger ships have been built, with Royal Caribbean now planning the Genesis Project of 220,000 tons. Other enterprises are also getting in the game, such as Residential Cruise Line with the Magellan and Ocean International Holdings Ltd. with the Four Seasons, as well as Condo Cruise Lines International who are converting old cruise ships into condominiums.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch commented that the last of the new views could be enjoyed daily as a luxury.
At the maritime museum, Kloster and I encountered a model of the Norway. Kloster then demonstrated to me the contrast between it and the more contemporary vessels: the Norway had a curved hull that encircled it completely, while newer ships had a more rectangular design with interchangeable sections. Every part of the Norway was distinctive.
Kloster spoke admiringly of the Norway as though it were a person, who had lived long and accomplished something. His eyes glazed over as he looked at the model in its glass enclosure. It had been a difficult journey for the ship. In 2001, it had multiple leaks in its sprinkler system, leading to fines, and in 2003, a boiler room explosion resulted in the deaths of eight people. The ship was retired shortly after.
I queried Kloster as to the current location of the item and he responded by informing me that he had been told it was on a beach in India, however he wasn’t certain.
He finally cracked a smile and stated, “It’s alright. Nothing can last forever, not even a ship.”
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