World's fastest superliner awaits rebirth - or the scrap yard

By Dan Koeppel

Out of service for 40 years, the SS United States still holds speed records. But what fate awaits this storied piece of naval history ?

When I remember the great ocean liner, we're steaming into the wind, east across the Atlantic. I'm at the bow. I let go of a balloon and run aft, trying to keep pace with the floating object.

But it rises too high long before I reach the ship's end. As it vanishes into the clouds, my attention is drawn downward to the perfectly symmetrical wake trailing behind us.

Though I didn't know it then, at age 4, that wake, sharp and narrow, was a clue to what made the SS United States one of the greatest—if not the greatest—ocean liners of the 20th century.

To cut such a trail in the water a ship has to be fast, and there was no ocean liner faster than the one known to enthusiasts as the "Big U." Although four city blocks long and 17 stories high, the United States could slice through water at 44 knots, or more than 50 mph—14 knots faster than today's largest cruise ship, the Queen Mary 2.

During her maiden voyage in 1952, the ship set records on both the east and westbound crossings; the latter, three days, 12 hours and 12 minutes at an average speed of 34.5 knots, has never been broken.

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