Matson Magic


POSTED: Sunday, February 15, 2009

Duncan O'Brien's parents met for the first time on a Matson ship sailing across the Pacific in 1962, got married a year later, had a couple of children, and the rest is a great big history book.




”;White Ship: A Tribute to Matson's Luxury Liners”;
        by Duncan O'Brien
        Pier 10 Publishing, 283 pages, $65, available through www.whiteships.com



O'Brien has lovingly documented the history of Matson's five great passenger liners, which roamed between the mainland, Hawaii and other Pacific places between 1927 and 1978. Taken together, the ships' stories help define an era, another time and place that we can only imagine in Hawaii today.

“;My hope is that this book will serve as a vivid reminder of the 'good old days,'”; O'Brien says in the introduction. It's clear from the years he's spent thoroughly researching and compiling this book that they indeed were good years for him. His parents made several more Pacific crossings on the ships and started bringing Duncan and his sister Susie as they grew up. Some of Duncan's family photos show them aboard the Monterey and Mariposa.

For others lucky enough to remember the era, this book will bring back plenty of memories. For those who know the world only through airplane crossings, the book is a chance to see travel through another set of eyes.

It's nothing if not thorough. The book includes glimpses of the ships gleaned from postcards, menus, newsletters, advertisements, newspaper clippings, ship logs, drawings, watercolors, deck plans, on-board newsletters, port-of-call souvenirs and photographs—lots and lots of photographs.

The ships—Malolo, Mariposa, Monterey, Lurline and Matsonia—were known as “;The White Ships”; for their distinctive white hulls. They sailed year-round between California, Hawaii and Australia and sometimes made stops in other places—Tahiti, New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa. So the book is equal parts history and travelogue, sometimes showcasing the ships and sometimes the ports.

You can read the book chronologically or geographically. And there's more than enough detail to keep the maritime history buff interested. There are time lines of each ship's history, and snapshots of distance places captured in time.

I preferred, however, to keep dropping into the book at random places to discover something new here and there. Did you know that Capt. William Matson named his only daughter Lurline after a ship, and not the other way around? (Page 19, “;The Man.”;) Or that in 1961, Matsonia's captain shot himself to death inside his ship's cabin? (Page 244, “;Rough Seas.”;)

Mostly, though, the oversize coffee table book is about the pictures. It's a chance to sit down and daydream: Imagine yourself on board, taking a hula class, playing bridge, dressing up to dine in, enjoying a good book while sitting out on deck. Go ahead, imagine it the next time you head for a cramped, crowded flight out of Honolulu Airport. The days of a shipboard life like this are gone forever, but there are the memories and O'Brien's book.