This story appeared in USATODAY (click on title link) and telsl how difficult it was for the QM2 to get into San Francisco
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The mammoth Queen Mary 2 cruise liner passed beneath the Golden Gate bridge Sunday, clearing the bottom of the span by 27 feet before the vessel began a nail-bitingly tight trip of San Francisco Bay before docking safely at Pier 27.
The ship was surrounded by scores of sailboats and other sea craft as it crept slowly past hundreds of gawkers on the shore. The vessel pirouetted in the bay and dropped anchor, waiting for the right tide that would allow the 1,131-foot long craft to dock at 8 p.m. at Pier 27, near Telegraph Hill.
The visit is one of the riskiest passages in modern maritime history — and a chance for 2,592 passengers to glimpse the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge before spending the night in San Francisco. It's also a pit stop for the 1,250-person crew to pick up 150 tons of food.
The hulking QM2 is the largest vessel to ever enter San Francisco Bay, said Cindy Adams, a spokeswoman for Cunard Line. It will have traveled 14,145 miles from Fort Lauderdale, around South America's Cape Horn when it docks Sunday night. It will continue Monday to Honolulu, then to the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Egypt and Europe before returning to Florida April 2.
The vessel displaces 151,000 tons. It's 134.5 feet wide and 1,131 feet long — as long as some skyscrapers are tall.
But here's the rub: The dredged-out San Francisco waterfront is so shallow and muddy in places that the ship's navigational margin for error is less than 70 feet.
San Francisco Bay is home to treacherous currents and tides, which whorl around Alcatraz and churn beneath its iconic, rust-colored bridge. Big container ships only enter and exit the bay during high tide. Some tankers can't dock here; they move upriver on the flood tide to Solano and Contra Costa counties.
Luckily, the docking went off without a hitch. "Everything was smooth sailing, and the tide and weather cooperated," said Adams.
Pier 27 juts into the water like a finger, perpendicular to tidal flow. Docking broadside to a current adds more complexity; a tug boat will be ready in case QM2 needs an emergency tow.
Docking the ship is the challenge of a lifetime for Capt. Tom Miller, 49, a San Francisco bar pilot. Such pilots assume navigational control of a ship from the sea entrance to the harbor to the berth.
"It's a big deal," said Miller, a graduate of the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, who started his career as a tugboat skipper. "This is a big, heavy ship, but she is a good ship and maneuvers well. She has all the latest technology."
Miller will board the boat from a pilot vessel in the Pacific Ocean, just outside the Golden Gate.