A life on the open waves beckons for one of the "Drunken Duchesses" - the SS Duchess of Richmond. One of four sister ships commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Steamships company, her siblings were the Duchesses of York, Bedford and Atholl. The four ships earned their unflattering nickname due to their somewhat eccentric behaviour in high seas.
The ship's launch was attended by the Mayor of Richmond, George Wade, and the champagne was set on its way by Lady Ethel Nanton, the widow of a wealthy Canadian businessman. After a period of wartime service (which left two of her sister ships at the bottom of the Atlantic), the ship was refitted and promoted to became the RMS Empress of Canada in 1947. Six years later a fire broke out on board while the ship was wintering in Liverpool docks, leaving the former Duchess lying ignominiously on her side. It took over a year to right the ship, after which she was towed to Italy, eviscerated and fed into steel mills; the end of an eventful life-cycle seen starting in this film.