From 1973 to 1981 I worked for Tansy Cruise Liners, a family-owned company founded in Atlantic City by a retired US Admiral.
For most of this time I was employed as Chief Steward on ‘The Baby Sienna’ – the smallest ship in the Tansy fleet. It seldom ventured far from port and was mostly used for short jaunts up and down the east coast.
In 1983, Jason and Andrew Tansy sold the company to the Meekos Shipping Group. Their first act as new owners was to sail the entire fleet in convoy around Cape Horn, and then back up along the west coast to San Francisco. Here, all the ships underwent an expensive program of modernisation and refurbishment that, in my opinion, robbed them of a lot of their charm.
Not long after this, The Sienna B (as she was known to her crew) gained an unwanted notoriety that alienated many of Meekos’s more conservative shareholders. The company had been attempting to bolster revenues, while at the same time keeping down costs, by leasing their vessels to third parties. The Sienna B was rented, quite openly, by a consortium of seven porn studios who went on to use its dining hall/ballroom as the venue for a 200 person gangbang, with many smaller productions taking place in other areas of the ship. All in all, over a period of three days, 49 films were made. The end result was a massive spike in nautical-themed, hardcore pornography.
Although I was well aware of the gangbang’s existence, I only laid eyes on this cinematic masterpiece on my 60th birthday, when a DVD transfer of the movie was among my gifts. That evening I settled down to watch it with a small group that consisted of my wife and some of our oldest and closest friends. John and Ann had clearly never watched pornography in their lives and took some convincing that it was perfectly legal, and that a SWAT team wasn’t about to come battering their way in through the front door at any moment.
The first thing that struck me was how bad the picture quality was. Digital TV has really spoiled us. After I got over that, I was amazed by how quaint it all seemed. I mean, people screw each other pretty much the same way they always have, but there was something about the dated hairstyles and the abundant, untamed pubic hair that made me feel nostalgic for the early 80s, as if I was watching some sepia film footage dredged up from the National Archives.
I can say with 100% certainty that, when I worked on The Sienna B, nobody was taken roughly from behind over the Captain’s table by a man wearing nothing but an ecstatic grimace and a tri-cornered hat.
During my stewardship, one of our most popular outings was the romantic New York Valentines Day Cruise (which actually took place over two days, with the option to extend the trip over a week). One of Jason Tansy’s old friends from MIT had developed a bioluminescent algae that glowed a brilliant fluorescent pink. We used to store several tonnes of it in the front and rear ballast tanks of the ship. After the candlelit dinner we would usher all the couples out onto the deck and then jettison the algae into the Atlantic where it would form a dazzling pink halo around the ship. From my observation post it was a beautiful sight. In the foreground there would be the silhouettes of men going down on one knee to propose, while other couples stood holding hands or with their arms around each other. It sounds schmaltzy but the spectacle never failed to bring a lump to my throat.
Standing apart from the others would be the solitary figure of Ms Kilshaw who attended every one of our February 14th cruises alone and never talked to anyone.
We did that for three years. During this time the only complaints we received were from a handful of residents along the eastern seaboard where some of this algae had washed up in slicks. Because it glowed they assumed that it was radioactive or toxic, when in fact it was completely harmless to humans and marine wildlife.
On the fourth year we did it, we inadvertently disrupted a clandestine naval exercise that was taking place nearby. It turns out that the electric charge generated by the algae was causing a stream of ions to surge upwards from the ocean bed, disrupting the delicate instruments on a nearby warship.
The following day a man from the Pentagon visited the Tansy brothers in their office and told them:
“Please never do this again.”
The following year we tired to recreate the algae effect using spotlights, but it never worked as well.