The cruise, on a Saturday, began at Berth 53 in San Pedro as a stream of passengers, most of them of retirement age, made their way up the gangplank of the gray cargo ship. To the tune of "Anchors Aweigh," performed by an on-board jazz group called the Yellow Houn' Dawg Band, the Lane Victory slowly got under way, escorted by a tugboat. As part of a ceremony to honor the U.S. merchant mariners who died in World War II, an honor guard fired a three-gun salute.
The ship's crew was made up almost entirely of grizzled veterans. At the helm was Capt. Steven Tilghman, 75, a chief mate on Victory and Liberty ships during World War II who only recently retired after 33 years as an oil tanker captain.
"It looks kind of like a trip home," the captain mused in between barking orders from the bridge. "I didn't think they'd ever get her going again, but they did. It really surprises me how well they've brought her back."
The chief engineer for the cruise was Pete Jacobelly, 71, a retired tanker engineer who served on Victory and Liberty ships in World War II.
"It's a dream come true," Jacobelly said as he stood in the oven-like confines of the engine room, where the thermometer read 104 degrees. Unlike on other passenger ships, passengers aboard the Lane Victory are encouraged to visit the engine room--if they can take the heat.
"Aw, this ain't hot," Jacobelly told a heavily perspiring reporter. "I been on a lot hotter."
After clearing the breakwater, the Lane Victory headed for Catalina at a speed of about 10 knots. Riding high in the water, as unladen cargo ships always do, she rolled more than one might expect of a ship that size. Some of the younger, less-experienced passengers started to look a little green.
The ship cruised along the Catalina coast, and a catered buffet lunch was served. The high point of the day came when a vintage aircraft group called the Condor Squadron out of Van Nuys staged a mock attack on the ship.
Flying World War II-era AT-6s, four with German markings and two with U.S. markings, the fliers buzzed the ship at low altitude while gun crews on the Lane Victory's stern blazed away--with blanks, of course. Many of the gun crew members were veterans of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard in World War II, which provided gun crews for merchant ships.
The crowd loved being attacked.
"They give us a damned good show," cruise director Johnson said of the fliers, who attack the ship on every cruise. He explained that when the Lane Victory group asked the fliers, most of whom are in their 70s, to participate, they jumped at the chance.
"They said they'd always wanted to attack a ship," Johnson said. The Coast Guard granted permission for the display on condition that it be held outside the shipping lanes--perhaps to avoid an attack on the wrong ship.