Lyndonia, built 1920, was the second steam-yacht bearing the name[Note 1] and the third yacht built for publisher Cyrus H.K. Curtis by the then Consolidated Shipbuilding Company of Morris Heights, New York. The name is taken from the historic name of his estate, Lyndon, in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. After Curtis' death in 1933 the yacht was purchased by Pan American Airways, converted to a floating hotel for use in the south Pacific and renamed Southern Seas in a shuttle service from Nouméa to Australia. At the outbreak of World War II the vessel was taken over by the U.S. Army for use as a passenger and cargo ship until grounded on a New Caledonian reef. The ship was salvaged by the U.S. Navy, repaired in New Zealand, commissioned 23 December 1942 as USS Southern Seas and designated as a Patrol Yacht (PY-32).
Lyndonia ((1920) photographed 27 March 1925 while owned by publisher Cyrus H.K. Curtis.
|Namesake:||Curtis estate Lyndon, Wyncote, Pennsylvania|
|Owner:||Cyrus H.K. Curtis|
|Builder:||Consolidated Shipbuilding Company of Morris Heights, New York|
|Homeport:||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USCG #219815 registry)|
|Fate:||Sunk typhoon, Okinawa 9 October 1945|
|Notes:||Purchased Pan American Airways 1940, U.S. Army 30 December 1941, acquired by U.S.N. 23 December 1942|
|Length:||70.104 m (230.00 ft) LOA|
|Beam:||9.144 m (30.00 ft)|
|Draught:||3.84 m (12.6 ft)|
|Depth:||5.67 m (18.6 ft)|
|Propulsion:||4 boilers each with two oil burners & two triple expansion steam engines, replaced in 1925 with twin B&W 6 Cyl diesels|
|Speed:||16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph)|
|Range:||6,000 at 12|
|Crew:||39, 6 guest staterooms|
Lyndonia was named "Yacht of the Year" in the May 1920 issue of The Rudder and described as the largest and most completely fitted vessel of the kind since World War I had put a stop to such construction. She was launched 3 April 1920 with Curtis and a large party of friends as witnesses, including Curtis' captain, A. W. Rich. The ship was expected to be fitted out and ready for the season by 1 June.
The yacht had three decks with the Jacobean style dining saloon, the early Tudor style smoking room and some accommodations on the main deck. Half of the lower deck was reserved for the owner and guest with six guest staterooms. The owner's apartments were created to resemble those found in a fine home ashore. The ship had a number of boats, the owner's 30-foot launch and a 24-foot crew's launch, two 22-foot life boats and an 18-foot dinghy. She was powered by four Seabury boilers with two oil burners to each and two triple-expansion steam engines with cruising speed of about 16 knots and range of 3,000 miles at that speed or 6,000 at 12 knots. Electricity was furnished by a 15 kW and a 30 kW General Electric generating set. She was fully equipped for navigation and had a ship stabilizer as well as gyrocompass built by Sperry Gyroscope Company. In 1925 the steam plant was replaced with two diesel engines. The ship had a crew of 39, and Curtis spent considerable time and did much of his business aboard.
In a 1922 interview with New York Times reporter Rose C. Feld, Curtis stated "Yachting is not a hobby with me. It is a necessity. I spend half my time on this ship."  He noted that most of his meetings with his staff or directors were held in the Lyndonia's dining room and that he stationed the ship to facilitate meetings. Comparing his use, and its position as his second home, he told the reporter "Most yacht owners show an annual run of three thousand miles. Ten thousand miles of cruising is no unusual figure for the Lyndonia. The yacht spent winter months in southern waters with many references to its Florida visits in social pages and returned to Camden for summer with her whistle on arrival signaling "summer" to some.
After Curtis' death on June 7, 1933, the ship was laid up much of the time until sold to Pan American Airways in 1940. Records related to the later sale of the vessel to the U.S. Army in 1940 mention "Corres. re: M. V. Southern Seas, including "A narrative relating to purchase and operation of the M.V. Southern Seas"; Bill of Sale from Mrs. Curtis (wife of owner of The Saturday Evening Post) to Pan American Airways, Inc."
Pan American AirwaysEdit
Pan American Airways acquired the ship and made modifications for use as a "hotel" ship and surface link for its Clipper service based in Nouméa to Australia before it acquired landing rights in Australia. By September 1940 the ship was in Sydney for overhaul. The combination air-sea link between San Francisco and Sydney, made necessary by early British air lines' opposition to landing rights, was to be on a seven-day schedule with the ship's twenty luxurious staterooms providing the sea link for forty passengers at a cost of about £24 Australian.
The war in Europe was intruding with the German raider Orion having sunk ships and been active off New Caledonia in mid August 1940 and even flying a reconnaissance aircraft over Nouméa that observed pro-de Gaulle and anti-Vichy crowds in public areas. Changed plans were indicated by early September with reports in connection with a report of high level visitors, including Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, chairman of Pan American's directors, arriving by Clipper in Auckland by way of Nouméa that the yacht was purchased as a "floating air base" and not as a surface connection to Australia. The tense political situation contributing to these decisions is noted in a report of Mr. Vanderbilt's description of Nouméa with crowds demonstrating in favor of General de Gaulle under the guns of a Vichy warship, the Dumont d'Urville. By mid September 1940 agreement had been reached on sharing routes, part of Pacific defense plans reached at a Wellington, New Zealand conference, resulted in plans for the ship's surface shuttle being replaced by its use as a floating transit hotel in Nouméa's harbor while the wartime political situation on the French island was resolved with the September 19 arrival of de Gaulle's representative Henri Camille Sautot backed by HMAS Adelaide.
By May 1941 the ship was described, in contrast to a somewhat shabby but free Nouméa, as lying a half mile out in the harbor, a "dazzling white motor yacht" the "embodiment of smartness and comfort" with American officers and drink stewards, Melanesian deck hands and Japanese waiters that make passengers feel like millionaires at least for a night.
After 7 December 1941 Pan American abandoned its commercial facilities in the Pacific war zone and requested they be taken over by the U.S. military. Southern Seas, along with other company property, was taken over by the U.S. Army and the seaplane base was kept operational by two Army Engineers, Captain MacCasland and Lieutenant Sauer, after Pan American evacuated its employees shortly after 7 December. On 30 Dec. 1941 the M.V. Southern Seas was purchased from Pan American Airways Inc. by the U.S. Army District Engineer (Hawaii) for the sum of one dollar while settlement was reached on value of the ship. The ship had been recommended for use as a transport supporting U.S. Army construction of South Pacific air ferry route airfields by Leif J. Sverdrup with some work surveying islands for suitable field locations.
The Southern Seas was being used in February 1942 for accommodating airbase construction personnel in Nouméa harbor with a meeting aboard described by Captain Norman Miller in I Took The Sky Road between himself, a Lt. Colonel Rich and 'Jack' Sverdrup, in charge of constructing airfields on a number of the islands, during a stop in Nouméa harbor on the return flight of XPBS-1 from Java:
The luxury of the Southern Seas was a far cry from the cramped quarters of the old XPBS, and I remained aboard over night, reveling in comforts previously enjoyed by Pan Am's customers. But the yacht was of no further use to Pan Am. Their service to New Zealand had been discontinued. The yacht was to be turned over to Sverdrup to serve him as a floating office which could follow him around among the islands.
In the meeting they decided Sverdrup would fly from Nouméa to Suva, Sverdrup's headquarters, with the former yacht following.
The Navy salvaged Southern Seas, towed the ship to New Zealand and made repairs before formally acquiring and commissioning the ship as USS Southern Seas (PY-32) on 23 December 1942. The ship was used as a quarters ship in Auckland, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Nouméa, Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands and the Marianas where she was located at Guam at the end of the war. She was dispatched to Okinawa where she arrived with the 15 September typhoon. During typhoon "Louise" of 9 October 1945, in which twelve ships were sunk, two hundred twenty-two grounded and thirty-two damaged beyond crew's capability to repair, Southern Seas suffered collisions with five other vessels before sinking with loss of thirteen crew.
Pacific Clipper for a significant event related to Pan American assets, Nouméa and the outbreak of war in the Pacific.
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