Holland America Cruise Line

Eleven ships for HAL – the dramas and journey, and how I prevailed!

In the eighties, having escaped and survived a hostage crisis in Palm Beach county in which I was held captive, strangled, and robbed in my home, it was imperative at all cost to live away from the area, staying with anyone who would have me until  I opted to relocate to Miami. I knew very few people there! I was numb from shock, and on a day when my car broke down in a dodgy part of the city, I finally collapsed into tears on the pavement. I had lost my home, broken with my boyfriend, and my wonderful business partner with whom I had so much success in the United Arab Emirates, now stepped away from my new life, all in the space of a month. After I recovered from my pity fit, I walked bleary eyed towards a bookstall nearby, the first title that caught my attention was ‘Creating Money’. It was a spiritual book, and as if I had been guided, I devoured every word to propel me in this new direction, an unknown adventure in this exotic city. The same day I was mysteriously led to a magnificent apartment on the Venetian Causeway, a corner unit on the inter-coastal surrounded by water, and as I walked onto the still unfinished concrete floor, the view unfolded looking across to downtown Miami, to the west elevation was Watson island, and to the south, the small yacht club behind which lay the Cruise Ships, lined up in Government Cut.  It was an extraordinary dream, and I was instantly captivated. I put a deposit down, and so started a new chapter in my life. 

Before long I was gliding through the Chamber of Commerce meetings, and showing my newly vamped portfolio to anyone who might show an interest. I knew nothing of the Cruise Industry, but it occurred to me on my morning meditations, staring across the bay to a vessel of the now extinct Dolphin Cruise Line, that a dolphin sculpture might be pretty dramatic on the pool deck of a vessel. The doors to the lofty heights such as Carnival Cruise Lines who owned Holland America Line, were inaccessible to a lone artist. But as luck would have it I met someone who invited me to the Seadtrade conference in the city. This elusive man never showed up, but a note was left at the booking office to allow me in! 

As I wandered the colorful stands of an industry totally new to me, I fell upon the Italian shipyard, Fincatieri. They were welcoming and delighted to see my portfolio. It was hopeful, and hence started the chain of events that led me to the doors of Carnival Cruise Lines in their offices on Biscayne Blvd. It was Captain Fabietti who welcomed me into his office, the head of Corporate Shipbuilding. I had never held a proper ‘job’ in my life having always been a freelance artist, and I had not the slightest idea as to protocol in these situations, so I simply greeted him like a long lost friend! I soon forgot my reason for being there, and shared every subject in the book other than selling a dolphin sculpture. Caption Fabietti informed me that the owner of Carnival was going to be in his office the following week, and if I could leave my portfolio he would see to it that he would take a look. I followed up the meeting by sending over by courier a single small dolphin with a beautiful patina in greens and blues. It sat on his desk for some time!

Thus began a wonderful professional relationship with Mr Ted Arison, the founder of this cruise line, and myself, a lost soul in a big city. Each morning I would hold a drawing of a group of ‘leaping dolphin’ to my heart  and hope for the very best outcome for this sculpture in life-size, a grouping that would reach a height of 12′ in the air. It was a short time before it was suggested I should produce this very same sculpture for a new ship’ – and so life had taken a turn upwards. However time slipped by, we had no contract, I waited for the green light to start…months went by, and my savings were starting to run thin. It looked as if I was headed for the concrete and a harsh landing…  until shortly before Christmas the phone rang. It was Cpt. Fabietti. The shipyard Watsila in Finland was in financial difficulties. ‘We have no choice but to cancel the order for the dolphin sculpture’. I was devastated, but refused to contemplate a lost cause, and continued to trust but it was almost impossible. It was three weeks later that the phone rang again. “We would like you to produce the ‘Leaping Dolphin’ sculpture for a new Holland America Line vessel called the Statendam to be built in Trieste Italy, by Fincatieri, and by the way, would you be able to make two additional castings for the following ships?”

Thus life turned on a sixpence, and a long and wonderful relationship with HAL had begun. For many years I produced one after another Life-size Animalia sculptures for various vessels, some taking approximately a year to complete, way into the 200o’s, and shared some occasionally eventful, challenging, but wonderful moments cruising with those of the higher echelons of the company. I am so grateful for those opportunities, and look back with nostalgia and pride. Thank you so much HAL!

© 2022 Susanna Holt Studio Inc