September 13, 2007

What makes the QEII a legend among liners?

This article from the in the UK

"Stephen Lamport reviews QE2: 40 Years Famous by Carol Thatcher
What man-made leviathan nearly 1,000 ft long can steam through the water at nearly 40 mph, every day using more than 1,000 tonnes of water, 3,000 eggs, 2,500 tea bags, 200 bottles of Champagne and 40 gallons of spirits, and each year consuming more than 135,000 bottles of wine and 150 miles of clingfilm?

What ship has sailed 5.5 million miles - 11 times to the Moon and back - made more than 800 Atlantic crossings, uses a litre of fuel to push herself 11 feet, and houses the largest floating library in the world?

The answer is the QE2, Cunard's longest-serving ship. This book is a celebration of the 40 years of what Carol Thatcher calls "the most famous ship in existence", and whose birthday falls on September 20.

The figures are staggering. But this is also a ship whose history has been far from untroubled and uncontroversial. All celebrities are potential victims of the passing fashions that create them. The achievement of the QE2 is that she has weathered the mishaps and criticisms, has renewed and reburnished herself, and has acquired a reputation of such long-term credit that she has continued to flourish notwithstanding a succession of tricky passages.

The problems started even before her birth. As Thatcher makes clear, the QE2 was conceived in uncertainty. The early 1960s were bad years for the passenger ships business. Cunard's Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were consistently losing money. Shareholders were unhappy at plans to build what might have proved another commercial disaster. The decision to build was eventually taken by a whisker.

Construction seems to have been something of a nightmare. The John Brown yard in Clydebank was constantly beset by labour issues. "Squirrelling", as pilfering is known in the trade, was endemic and at one point some of the shipworkers were apparently stealing from the ship faster than the yard could build her.

And the name itself is a story of the unexpected. Cunard, in the greatest possible secrecy, finally chose Queen Elizabeth. But when the Queen launched the ship on that sunny September afternoon in 1967, she herself named it Queen Elizabeth the Second.

The QE2 was finally handed over, six months late, in April 1969, at a cost of just under £29 million - huge at the time, modest now. Since then, she has rarely been out of the news, and has consistently confounded the City analysts who, even as she entered service, thought she would be better mothballed.

She was the largest ship ever to pass through the Panama Canal on her first world cruise in 1975 - where there was less than a foot to spare on each side of the ship as she squeezed through the canal locks.

She was the victim of a ransom demand in 1972 made by, as it turned out, a New York shoe salesman, which saw four British bomb disposal experts parachuted on to the ship to search for bombs - the real-life forerunner of Richard Harris's Juggernaut.

She was a troop carrier to South Georgia during the Falklands war, a role for which she was converted in less than a week and which the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher said gave her a genuinely sleepless night. In 1995, the QE2 withstood a 95ft storm wave breaking across her bow during Hurricane Luis.

There has been a continuing catalogue of maritime mishaps: jellyfish fouling the ship's engines and causing her to drift helplessly towards the rocks off Jamaica; a 60ft whale impaled on her bow entering Lisbon; running on to the rocks near Martha's Vineyard.

And an endless procession of dry-dock maintenance and refits, often going over time and resulting in cancelled cruises, disgruntled passengers and awful publicity. Yet this unique lady somehow sails through it all with her reputation sometimes dented, but never apparently undimmed.

This is a great story rather than a great book. It is not for the coffee table, though this is probably the intended destination. The pictures are too disappointing and the format too unexciting. The text is too much a catalogue of refits, onboard personalities and semi-technical description to do real justice to the essential romance of this magical subject.

I yearned for more of the colour and less of the publicity handout. And yet the greatness of the ship still captivates.
But there is a final poignancy to the story when, in May 2004, the status of Cunard flagship finally passed from the QE2 to the newly arrived Queen Mary 2. The photographs of them together are perhaps the best in the book.

I suspect there will be many like me who, if they dip into this book, will reach that concluding iconic picture of the two Queens together in Sydney Harbour feeling a similar sense of nostalgic longing."

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