Sylvania sunset

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ship model in a display case

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

I often smile at magazine advertisements in glossy magazines promoting First Class or Business Class on long-haul flights.

They show the traveller under a blanket stretched out on a seat that folds back like a sunlounger. A porthole with the blind down indicates that the slumberer is above the clouds heading for somewhere exotic.

If it was anywhere else most people would be reluctant to endure such cramped sleeping arrangements.

I believe there is no comparison between air and sea travel with regards to  comfort - by and large, ships are the most comfortable way to travel.

Despite the ever-lengthening queues at airports, most people still prefer to travel by air – but for how long?

The Sylvania made the last Cunard passenger liner crossing from Liverpool to New York in November 1967, marking the end of a long history of sea travel between the two ports.

The Cunard Line, originally named the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, was founded in Liverpool in 1840 by Canadian businessman Samuel Cunard.

Cunard went on to dominate the glamorous and highly-competitive North Atlantic passenger trade for well over a century.

Based in Liverpool’s Cunard Building until the 1960s, the company is now owned by the American firm Carnival Corporation. Today Cunard ships provide worldwide cruises and still make some transatlantic sailings between Southampton and New York.

In Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Liverpool World Gateway gallery there is a small 1:160 model of the Sylvania (pictured).

The Sylvania, built in 1957 by John Brown & Co of Clydebank, was the last Cunarder built specially for transatlantic crossings – her older sisters were Saxonia, Ivernia and Carinthia.

Sylvania was originally put on the Liverpool – Montreal service in competition with Canadian Pacific liners.  In 1961 she replaced Britannic on the Liverpool – Cobh – New York route with occasional cruise work.

The regular New York – Liverpool crossing eventually ended because passengers switched to air travel after regular large-scale services between the USA and UK began.

Sold by Cunard in 1968, Sylvania was later rebuilt as a cruise ship and sailed under the names Fairwind, Sitmar Fairwind, Dawn Princess, Albatross and Genoa before being scrapped in 2004.

Today the cruise ship Oasis of the Seas is the largest passenger vessel in the world.  Built in Finland, she sailed to the United States and began her maiden voyage on 5 December 2009. Oasis of the Seas carries up to 6,300 passengers.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents and bookshops.