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The Death Of A Sea Salesman

The Orator of the Seas is silent. John Maxtone-Graham, who entertained cruisers with ship stories on whatever line would hire him, died of old age last week. He was 85.

We met him once, on the Celebrity Eclipse. It was both our good fortuneand our misfortune … to have met him at all, and to have met him only once. He was a delightful speaker who captivated us enough during his lecture in the ship’s theater that we wanted to interview him.

Off the stage, he was just as delightful.

We are among hundreds, perhaps thousands, who met this delightful man. Many of us have one of his books, signed with a personal message, because that’s what he did. He Maxtone-Grahamwrote 30 books, maybe more. It seemed that his first was his favorite, The Only Way To Cross (1972), perhaps because of all things cruising that he was passionate about, nothing compared to being on a ship crossing the ocean. He refused to call them cruises because they weren’t, they were “crossings,” and the fewer stops the better.

“Ships were meant to be at sea,” he said. “Draw a line from A to B. That's what cruise ships were for, to carry immigrants from A to B.”

He was born in New Jersey, lived in New York and spoke with a British accent, having been raised on both sides of the Atlantic by his Scottish father and American mother. A former stage manager on Broadway, he graduated from Brown, served with the Marines in Korea, worked on Broadway as a stage manager and became an author, lecturer and maritime historian.

He became a writer by accident when asked to author a book about ships that cross the ocean, a trip he first made at the age of six months. His two sons became writers, one for The Simpsons, the other for Beavis and Butthead.

Maxtone-Graham’s books – more eloquent than the works of his offspring — will be his legacy, but to us he was more captivating and spell-binding as an orator.

“I play it like a piano,” he said. “I know what works and what doesn't work”

Some people went on ships if they knew Maxtone-Graham be speaking. We didn’t. We just lucked out. He was 81 at the time, and it was appropriate that the Eclipse was “crossing” from Miami to Southampton. It was his kind of cruise, although there probably wasn’t a cruise that wasn’t.

He was often asked to name his favourite ship.

“The one I’m on,” he would say.

We thought it was ironic that his passing came during the height of Cunard’s 175th anniversary celebrations. Morever, he died as the Queen Mary 2 was “crossing” the Atlantic in a recreation of the famous cruise line’s first Transatlantic voyage, on July 4, 1840. It would have been even more ironic if he’d been able to be on the ship this month…if he’d passed away on board…if they’d buried him at sea.

From our one meeting, we think John Maxtone-Graham would’ve found that a fitting crossing to the after-life, for the Orator of the Seas.

In the news…

• Keel laying ceremony for new Princess ship going to China in 2017
• Spain's cruise visitors January to May up 6 per cent over last year
• NTSB looking for flight-seeing accounts from Alaska passengers

Today at portsandbows.com: Oceania's new early-booking promotion

Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas
14 nights
October 9, 2015
Barcelona, Crete, Ashdod, Suez Canal (cruising), Petra, Dubai
Inside: $533
Cost per day: $38
www.royalcaribbean.com

Rockers to perform…on Cunard?

You know you’re getting old when it catches your attention that Crosby, Stills and Nash are going to be performing…because they’re getting old (Crosby 73, Stills 70, Nash 72). What really makes you feel that way is that they’re performing on ships from the fleet of Cunard, the most staid and proper cruise line of all.

Who has moved the dial the most is open to debate, but the gap between three-quarters of the rebellious and arguably most anti-establishment band of the ‘60s and the ultra-CSNestablishment ships of Sir Samuel Cunard has been bridged. By time, for sure, but also by clientele.

The Cunard customers of today remember Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young from their youth, and while these rockers can still rock, they also have become mellow enough to attract a crowd that’s far more sedate than the ones they played to 45 years ago. Their last album, Looking Forward, is suitable evidence — and it’s 15 years old!

And after all, Graham is a member of the Order of the British Empire.

Indeed.

CSN will board the Queen Mary 2 on September 4 for her one-week cruise from Southampton to New York. The group will perform three times while crossing the Atlantic, and answer questions from and give autographs to their aging groupies. Whether the three Grammy Award-winning artists will dress in tuxes for dinner remains to be seen. Without Neil Young, there is perhaps a chance it could happen.

It is, after all, a long way from Woodstock.

Today at portsandbows.com: The Windstar expansion

Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas
7 nights
May 15, 2015
Vancouver, Inside Passage, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, Hubbard Glacier, Anchorage  
Inside: $595
Cost per day: $85
www.royalcaribbean.com

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