50th Birthday of A Queen

Great Britain #575 (1969)
Great Britain #575 (1969)

Today, I mark the anniversary of something that is actually younger than myself!  It was 50 years ago today — September 20, 1967 — that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II christened the ship that would bear her name at the John Brown & Company shipyards in Clydebank, Scotland. The Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Queen Elizabeth 2 has long been my favorite ocean liner. As a young boy growing up in rural Tennessee in late 1978, I began writing to the Cunard Line in New York several times each year requesting brochures of their flagship, a practice I continued through the 1980s. I used to wallpaper my bedroom with the deckplans and cutaways that the brochures often contained. I wish I’d kept some of those!

I really don’t recall when my fascination with ocean liners began. I can remember visiting the Queen Mary at her permanent mooring in Long Beach, California, starting around 1973. During family trips from our then-home in Midland, Texas, every other summer or so we always spent a day at Disneyland for my mom and sister and a day at the Queen Mary for my dad and myself. Around this time, I also saw the 1958 movie based on Walter Lord’s A Night To Remember, with a reading of the book soon following. This began a 40-year-plus interest in the Titanic, recently recounted here on A Stamp A Day. The first stamps I ever ordered from a foreign philatelic bureau were those issued for the 1979 visit of the QE2, as the ship is popularly called, at the remote South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha (Scott #255-259). Not long after that, I began a correspondence with the author of a comprehensive multi-volume encyclopedia detailing the histories of North Atlantic ocean liners; he lived for much of the year on the Channel Island of Jersey and the remainder on the Spanish coast in Alicante.

To this day, I have never sailed on a large ship of any kind. I didn’t get to see the QE2 in person until I visited Southampton in May 2003. I was in the U.K. with a friend to see two concerts by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at the Crystal Palace stadium south of London and packed the trip with special events based on my many interests. One of the highlights was attending a reception marking the 50th anniversary of the ascent of Mount Everest where I met such luminaries as Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir John Hunt, and some of the family of the late Tenzig Norgay. On the morning of one of the Springsteen concerts, my friend and I boarded a (very) early train south and took the harbor cruise specifically because I’d found out that the QE2 was in port. Unfortunately, I no longer have any of the photos I took on that trip as they were lost when I moved to Thailand a couple of years afterwards. I am already making tentative plans to visit her at some point in Port Rashid, Dubai, where she has been moored since late 2008 and is finally due to open as a hotel sometime next year.

The renovated Queen Elizabeth 2 is due to open as a hotel sometime in 2018 in Port Rashid, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo taken on September 15, 2017, by Louis De Sousa.
The renovated Queen Elizabeth 2 is due to open as a hotel sometime in 2018 in Port Rashid, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo taken on September 15, 2017, by Louis De Sousa.
Hull Number 736 under construction at John Brown & Company in Clydebank, Scotland, in August 1967.
Hull Number 736 under construction at John Brown & Company in Clydebank, Scotland, in August 1967.

By the mid 1960s, transatlantic travel was dominated by air travel due to its speed and low cost relative to the sea route, and expansion of air travel showed no signs of slowing down. Cunard Line’s flagship liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were becoming increasingly expensive to operate, and both internally and externally were relics of the prewar years. Cunard did not want to give up the business of passenger service, and so gambled $80 million on a new ocean liner to replace the original ageing Queens.

Realizing the decline of transatlantic trade, and the rising costs of fuel and labor, Cunard decided their new ship had to be smaller and cheaper to operate than her predecessors. The new ship was designed to run at the same service speed of 28.5 knots (52.8 km/h) as the previous Queens, using half the fuel. Staff was also reduced from the levels on the older vessels. The replacement liner would also be able to transit the Panama Canal and her draft was seven feet less than her predecessors, allowing her to enter ports that the old Queens could not, and compete with the new generation of cruise ships.

Originally designated Q4 (a previous ship design Q3 had been abandoned due to falling passenger revenues on the North Atlantic), she was to be a three-class liner. However, looking to the SS France operated by Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (known overseas as the French Line), designs were changed to make Q4 a two-class liner that could be modified into a single-class cruise ship; transatlantic line voyages in the summer would be two-class, while warmer water cruises in the winter would be single-class. The interior and superstructure for the Q4 was designed by James Gardner. His design for the ocean liner was described by The Council of Industrial Design as that of a “very big yacht” and with a “look [that was] sleek, modern and purposeful”.

The ship was built by the John Brown Shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland. The keel was laid down on July 5, 1965, as hull number 736 on the same plot where iconic liners such as Lusitania, Aquitania, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth had been constructed. Moving with modern times the company decided to have the scoop at the base of the funnel painted in the Cunard red and the rest was black and white. Another change was the decoration of the public rooms, parquet flooring, wood paneling and majestic decoration of the public rooms on the earlier Queens was replaced with glass, stainless steel, dark carpeting and sea green leather.

Like both the Normandie and France of the French Line, QE2 was given a flared stem and clean forecastle. What was controversial at the time was that Cunard decided not to paint the funnel with the line’s distinctive colour and pattern, something that had been done on all merchant vessels since the first Cunard ship, the RMS Britannia, sailed in 1840. Instead the funnel was painted white and black, with the Cunard orange-red appearing only on the inside of the wind scoop. This practice ended in 1983 when QE2 returned from service in the Falklands War, and the funnel has been painted in Cunard traditional colors (orange and black), with black horizontal bands (known as “hands”) ever since.

Large quantities of aluminium were used in the framing and cladding of QE2‘s superstructure. This decision was designed to save weight, reducing the draft of the ship and lowering the fuel consumption, but it also posed the possibility of corrosion problems that can occur with joining the dissimilar metals together, so a jointing compound was coated between the steel and aluminium surfaces to prevent this happening. The low melting point of aluminium caused concern when QE2 was serving as a troop ship during the Falklands War: some feared that if the ship were struck by a missile, as was HMS Sheffield, her upper decks would collapse quickly due to fire, thereby causing greater casualties.

The majority of crew were accommodated in two- or four-berth cabins, with showers and toilets at the end of each alleyway. These were located forward and aft on decks three to six. At the time she entered service, the crew areas were a significant improvement over those aboard Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth; however the ship’s age and the lack of renovation of the crew area during her 40 years of service, in contrast to passenger areas, which were updated periodically, meant that this accommodation was considered basic by the end of her career. Officers were accommodated in single cabins with private en-suite bathrooms located on Sun Deck.

There were three crew bars, one named The Pig & Whistle. (“The Pig” for short and a tradition aboard Cunard ships), Castaways and the Fo’c’s’le Club. A fourth bar, dedicated for the officers was located at the forward end of Boat Deck. Named The Officers Wardroom, this area enjoyed forward facing views and was often opened to passengers for cocktail parties hosted by the senior officers. The crew mess was situated at the forward end of One Deck, adjacent to the crew services office.

HM Queen Elizabeth II preparing to launch RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 at Clydebank, September 20, 1967
HM Queen Elizabeth II preparing to launch RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 at Clydebank, September 20, 1967

The newly-named Queen Elizabeth 2 enters the River Clyde in Scotland, September 20, 1967
The newly-named Queen Elizabeth 2 enters the River Clyde in Scotland, September 20, 1967

On September 20, 1967, tens of thousands of people crowded the river’s banks as the Queen appeared on a platform high against the bow of the 963-foot (293.5 meters) long liner, with Prince Philip and Princess Margaret by her side. Using the same pair of gold scissors her mother and grandmother used to launch Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, Queen ELizabeth launched the new liner, pronouncing, “I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second. May God bless her and all who sail in her.” She then pressed the launching button, and a bottle of champagne shattered against the huge bows of the ship. After a pause, the ship began her journey down into the water. She began slowly, but soon gathered speed, hitting 22 miles per hour (34.4 kilometers per hour) before she entered the water stern-first. A two-foot (0.6-meter) high wave rose up and traveled across the Clyde, announcing the arrival of the QE2.

QE2 ready for sea trials at Inchgreen, Glasgow, Scotland, November 1968
QE2 ready for sea trials at Inchgreen, Glasgow, Scotland, November 1968
QE2 undergoing sea trials, early 1969
QE2 undergoing sea trials, early 1969

On November 19, 1968, Queen Elizabeth 2 left John Brown’s fitting out berth, and traveled down the River Clyde to the Firth of Clyde Dry Dock at Inchgreen, Port Glasgow, for final trials and commissioning. Prince Charles was the first “civilian” passenger to board the ship, on her voyage from the shipyard in Clydebank to drydock in Port Glasgow. On board for the short journey was her Master Designate and first captain, William (Bill) Warwick.

The name of the liner as it appears on the bow and stern is Queen Elizabeth 2, with upper and lower case lettering and an Arabic numeral 2 as opposed to the Roman numeral II. As such, it is commonly pronounced in speech as Queen Elizabeth Two. Soon after launching, the name was shortened in common use as QE2.

The QE2 was originally fitted out with a steam turbine propulsion system utilizing three Foster Wheeler E.S.D II boilers, which provided steam for the two Brown-Pametrada turbines. The turbines were rated with a maximum power output figure of 110,000 shaft horsepower (normally operating at 94,000 hp) and were coupled to two six-bladed fixed-pitch propellers. The sea trials in 1968 turned out to be quite a disaster, due to serious trouble with the turbines she had to return to the shipyard and Cunard refused to take delivery. As a result, Cunard had to postpone the scheduled maiden voyage.  After further sea trials in the Irish Sea, a “shakedown cruise” to Las Palmas set out on April 22, 1969.

Postcard depicting QE2's first departure from Southampton, 1969
Postcard depicting QE2’s first departure from Southampton, 1969
Queen Elizabeth 2 arrives in New York harbor following her maiden transatlantic voyage, May 7, 1969
Queen Elizabeth 2 arrives in New York harbor following her maiden transatlantic voyage, May 7, 1969

Queen Elizabeth 2‘s maiden voyage, from Southampton to New York, commenced on May 2, 1969. Thousands of well-wishers were cheering on departure from Southampton, She arrived in New York on May 7, taking 4 days, 16 hours, and 35 minutes to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Media from around the world covered the event; everyone wanted to have a glimpse of the new ocean liner with ‘that funny funnel’ which didn’t necessarily please every Cunard hardliner.

The ship’s interior configuration was laid out in a horizontal fashion, similar to France, where the spaces dedicated to the two classes were spread horizontally on specific decks, in contrast to the vertical class divisions of older liners. Where QE2 differed from France was that the first class deck (Quarter Deck) was below the deck dedicated to tourist class (Upper Deck). Originally there were to be main lounges serving three classes, layered one atop the other, but when Cunard decided to make the ship a two class vessel, only two main lounges were needed. Instead of completely reconfiguring the Boat Deck, the ship’s architects simply opened a well in the deck between what were to have been the second and third class lounges, creating a double height space known as the Double Room (now the Grand Lounge). This too was unconventional in that it designated a grander two-story space for tourist class passengers, while first class passengers gathered in the standard height Queen’s Room. However, the configuration for segregated Atlantic crossings gave first class passengers the theate5 balcony on Boat Deck, while tourist class used the orchestra level on Upper Deck.

The year QE2 came into service, 1969, was also the year of the Apollo 11 mission, when the Concorde’s prototype was unveiled, and the previous year Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered. In keeping with those times, originally Cunard broke from the traditional interiors of their previous liners for QE2, especially the Art Deco style of the previous Queens. Instead, modern materials like plastic laminates, aluminium and Perspex were used. Furniture was modular and abstract art was used throughout public rooms and cabins.

Cutaway of the QE2 as originally constructed.
Cutaway of the QE2 as originally constructed.

The Midships Lobby on Two Deck, where first class passengers boarded for transatlantic journeys and all passengers boarded for cruises, was a circular room with a sunken seating area in the center with green leather clad banquettes, and surrounded by a chrome railing. As a kingpin to this was a flared, white, trumpet shaped, up lit column.

Another room, designed by Michael Inchbald, where QE2‘s advanced interior design was demonstrated was the first class lounge, the Queen’s Room on Quarter Deck. This space, in colors of white and tan, featured a lowered ceiling with large indirectly lit slots, which, despite reducing the ceiling height, created an impression of airy openness above to deal with the otherwise oppressive dimensions of the single story room. In addition, the structural columns were flared at the top to blend into the ceiling and to lose the visual indication of low ceiling height that straight columns would have given. The Midships Lobby copied these features but without achieving the airiness. Michael Inchbald repeated the flaring of the columns in the bases of his tables and leather shell chairs. The indirect lighting from above could be switched from a cool hue for summer to a warm hue for winter.

The Theatre Bar on Upper Deck featured red chairs, red drapes, a red egg crate fiberglass screen, and even a red baby grand piano. Some more traditional materials like wood veneer were used as highlights throughout the ship, especially in passenger corridors and staterooms. There was also an Observation Bar on Quarter Deck, a successor to its namesake, located in a similar location, on both previous Queens, which offered views through large windows over the ship’s bow. This room was lost in QE2‘s 1972 refit, becoming galley space with the forward-facing windows plated over.

Philatelic tribute to QE2's first visit to Gibraltar, April 24, 1970
Philatelic tribute to QE2’s first visit to Gibraltar, April 24, 1970

In 1971, QE2 participated in the rescue of some 500 passengers from the burning French Line ship Antilles. On May 17, 1972, while travelling from New York to Southampton, she was the subject of a bomb threat. She was searched by her crew, and a combined Special Air Service and Special Boat Service team which parachuted into the sea to conduct a search of the ship. No bomb was found, but the hoaxer was arrested by the FBI.

In 1972, the first penthouse suites were added in an aluminium structure on Signal Deck and Sports Deck (now “Sun Deck”), behind the ship’s bridge, and in 1977 this structure was expanded to include more suites with balconies, making QE2 one of the first ships to offer private terraces to passengers since Normandie in the 1930s.

In 1973, QE2 undertook two chartered cruises through the Mediterranean to Israel in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the state’s founding. The ship’s Columbia Restaurant was koshered for Passover, and Jewish passengers were able to celebrate Passover on the ship. According to the book The Angel by Uri Bar-Joseph, Muammar Gaddafi ordered a submarine to torpedo her during one of the chartered cruises in retaliation for Israel’s downing of Libyan Flight 114, but Anwar Sadat intervened secretly to foil the attack.

Cutaway drawing of QE2 following the penthouse suite additions of 1972 and prior to the re-engining of 1987.
Cutaway drawing of QE2 following the penthouse suite additions of 1972 and prior to the re-engining of 1987.
QE2 at Bethlehem Shipyards, circa 1974.
QE2 at Bethlehem Shipyards, circa 1974.
Philatelic cover from QE2's February 8, 1975, visit to The Seychelles. Note the overprint on the stamps.
Philatelic cover from QE2’s February 8, 1975, visit to The Seychelles. Note the overprint on the stamps.

QE2 departs Southampton filled with troops bound for the Falkland Islands War in the South Atlantic Ocean, May 12, 1982.

QE2 departs Southampton filled with troops bound for the Falkland Islands War in the South Atlantic Ocean, May 12, 1982.
QE2 departs Southampton filled with troops bound for the Falkland Islands War in the South Atlantic Ocean, May 12, 1982.
Aft decks of QE2 with one of the helicopter landing platforms installed for the Falklands War. Somewhere in the South Atlantic, late May 1982.
Aft decks of QE2 with one of the helicopter landing platforms installed for the Falklands War. Somewhere in the South Atlantic, late May 1982.

In May 1982, the ship took part in the Falkland Islands War, carrying 3,000 troops and 650 volunteer crew to the South Atlantic. She was refitted in Southampton in preparation for war service, including the installation of two helicopter pads, the transformation of public lounges into dormitories, the installation of fuel pipes that ran through the ship down to the engine room to allow for refueling at sea, and the covering of carpets with 2,000 sheets of hardboard. A quarter of the ship’s length was reinforced with steel plating, and an anti-magnetic coil was fitted to combat naval mines. Over 650 Cunard crew members volunteered for the voyage to look after the 3,000 members of the Fifth Infantry Brigade, which the ship transported to South Georgia. During the voyage the ship was blacked-out and the radar switched off to avoid detection, steaming on without modern aids.

QE2 with Royal Navy escort somewhere in the South Atlantic Ocean, late May 1982.
QE2 with Royal Navy escort somewhere in the South Atlantic Ocean, late May 1982.

QE2 returns to The Solent following the Falkland Islands War, June 11, 1982.

QE2 returns to The Solent following the Falkland Islands War, June 11, 1982.
QE2 returns to The Solent following the Falkland Islands War, June 11, 1982.
QE2 transits the Panama Canal wearing her short-lived pebble-gray livery, January 1983.
QE2 transits the Panama Canal wearing her short-lived pebble-gray livery, January 1983.

QE2 returned to Great Britain on June 11, 1982, where she was greeted in Southampton Water by The Queen Mother on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. Peter Jackson, the captain of the QE2 responded to the Queen Mother’s welcome: “Please convey to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth our thanks for her kind message. Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 is proud to have been of service to Her Majesty’s Forces.” The ship underwent conversion back to passenger service, with her funnel being painted in the traditional Cunard red-orange with black stripes which are known as “Hands” for the first time. During this refit, the hull’s exterior was repainted an unconventional light pebble grey. The color proved unpopular with passengers, as well as difficult to maintain and so the hull reverted to traditional colors in 1983. Later that year, QE2 was fitted with a magrodome over her Quarter Deck pool.

QE2 once again experienced mechanical problems following her annual overhaul in November 1983. Boiler problems caused Cunard to cancel a cruise, and, in October 1984, an electrical fire caused a complete loss of power. The ship was delayed for several days before power could be restored. Instead of replacing the QE2 with a newer vessel, Cunard decided that it was more prudent to simply make improvements to her. Therefore, in 1986-1987, the ship underwent one of her most significant refurbishments when she was converted from steam power to diesel. The steam turbines were removed and scrapped.

QE2 1987 refit

QE2 1987 refit

Images of the QE2's 1987 re-engining and refit in Bremerhaven, Germany. In the bottom photo, the ship's original funnel is shown lying on the quayside; her old fixed-pitch propellers are lying to the bottom left hand side of the photo.
Images of the QE2’s 1987 re-engining and refit in Bremerhaven, Germany. In the bottom photo, the ship’s original funnel is shown lying on the quayside; her old fixed-pitch propellers are lying to the bottom left hand side of the photo.

The engine rooms were then fitted with nine German MAN L58/64 nine-cylinder, medium-speed diesel engines, each weighing approximately 120 tons. Using a diesel-electric configuration, each engine drives a generator, each developing 10.5 MW of electrical power at 10,000 volts. This electrical plant, in addition to powering the ship’s auxiliary and hotel services through transformers, drives the two main propulsion motors, one on each propeller shaft. These motors produce 44 MW each and are of synchronized salient-pole construction, nine meters in diameter and weighing more than 400 tons each. The ship’s service speed of 28.5 knots (52.8 km/h) can be maintained using only seven of the diesel-electric sets. Her maximum power output with the new engine configuration running was now 130,000 hp, which is greater than the previous system’s 110,000 hp. Using the same IBF-380 (Bunker C) fuel, the new configuration yielded a 35% fuel saving over the previous system.

The redesigned funnel as seen in a February 28, 2008, photo of QE2 at Station Pier in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
The redesigned funnel as seen in a February 28, 2008, photo of QE2 at Station Pier in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

During the re-engining process, her funnel was replaced by a wider one to accommodate the exhaust pipes for the nine B&W diesel engines. The original pencil-like funnel was rebuilt as a more robust one, using metal from the original. Another part of the refit was the replacement of the original fixed-pitch propellers with variable-pitch propellers. The old steam engines required astern turbines to move the ship backwards or stop her moving forward. The pitch of the new variable pitch blades, however, could simply be reversed, causing a reversal of propeller thrust while maintaining the same direction of propeller rotation, allowing the ship shorter stopping times and improved handling characteristics. The new propellers were originally fitted with “Grim Wheels”, named after their inventor, Dr.-Ing. Otto Grim. These were free-spinning propeller blades fitted behind the main propellers, with long vanes protruding from the center hub. These were designed to recover lost propeller thrust and reduce fuel consumption by 2.5 to 3%. However, after the trial of these wheels, when the ship was drydocked, the majority of the vanes on each wheel were discovered to have broken off, and so the wheels were removed and the project abandoned.

With this new propulsion system, QE2 was expected to serve another 20 years with Cunard. The passenger accommodation was also modernized, including the final expansion of her balcony accommodation.

On August 7, 1992, the underside of the hull was extensively damaged when she ran aground south of Cuttyhunk Island near Martha’s Vineyard, while returning from a five-day cruise to Halifax, Nova Scotia along the east coast of the United States and Canada. A combination of her speed, an uncharted shoal and underestimating the increase in the ship’s draft due to the effect of squat led to the ship’s hull scraping rocks on the ocean floor. The accident resulted in the passengers disembarking earlier than scheduled at nearby Newport, Rhode Island and the ship being taken out of service while temporary repairs were made in drydock at Boston. Several days later, divers found the red paint from the keel on previously uncharted rocks in the vicinity of where the ship was said to have hit the bottom.

The area under the funnel scoop was a popular location for sunbathing by QE2's crewmembers.
The area under the funnel scoop was a popular location for sunbathing by QE2’s crewmembers.

By the mid-1990s, it was decided that QE2 was due for a new look and in 1994 the ship was given a multimillion-pound refurbishment in Hamburg code named Project Lifestyle. QE2‘s final structural changes included the reworking of the aft decks during the 1994 refit (following the removal of the magrodome), and the addition of an undercover area on Sun Deck during her 2005 refit, creating a space known as Funnel Bar.

In the 1994 refit, almost all of the remaining original decor was replaced, with Cunard opting to reverse the original design direction of QE2‘s designers and use the line’s traditional ocean liners as inspiration. The green velvet and leather Midships Bar became the Art Deco inspired Chart Room, receiving an original, custom designed piano from Queen Mary. The (by now) blue dominated Theatre Bar was transformed into the Golden Lion Pub, which mimics a traditional Edwardian pub. Some original elements were retained including the flared columns in the Queens Room and Midships Lobby which were incorporated into the reworked designs. Unfortunately the Queen’s Room’s indirect lighting from above was replaced with uplighters which reversed the original light airy effect by illuminating the lowered ceiling and leaving shadows in the ceiling’s slot; and the furniture and carpet which replaced Michael Inchbald’s designs were incongruous next to the flared columns and slotted ceiling.

QE2 in choppy North Atlantic seas.
QE2 in choppy North Atlantic seas.

On September 11, 1995, Queen Elizabeth 2 encountered a rogue wave, estimated at 90 feet (27 m), caused by Hurricane Luis in the North Atlantic Ocean about 200 miles south of eastern Newfoundland. One year later, during her twentieth world cruise, she completed her four millionth mile. The ship had sailed the equivalent of 185 times around the planet.

QE2 celebrated the 30th anniversary of her maiden voyage in Southampton in 1999. In three decades she had made 1,159 voyages, sailed 4,648,050 nautical miles (5,348,880 miles or 8,608,190 km) and carried over two million passengers.

Following the 1998 acquisition of the Cunard Line by Carnival Corporation, in 1999 QE2 was given a US$30 million refurbishment which included refreshing various public rooms, and a new color palette in the passenger cabins. The Royal Promenade, which formerly housed upscale shops such as Burberry, H. Stern and Aquascutum, were replaced by boutiques typical of cruise ships, selling perfumes, watches and logo items. During this refit the hull was stripped to bare metal, and the ship repainted in the traditional Cunard colors of matte black (Federal Grey) with a white superstructure.

In 2004, the vessel stopped plying the traditional transatlantic route and began full-time cruising, the transatlantic route having been assigned to Cunard’s new flagship, the Queen Mary 2. However, QE2 still undertook an annual world cruise and regular trips around the Mediterranean. By this time, she lacked the amenities to rival newer, larger cruise ships, but she still had unique features such as her ballrooms, hospital, and 6000 book library. QE2 retained her title of one of the fastest cruise ships afloat (28.5 knots), with fuel economy at this speed at 49.5 feet (15 meters) to the gallon. While cruising at slower speeds efficiency was improved to 125 feet per gallon.

At the end of her 2005 world cruise, some pieces of her artwork were damaged when some crew members who had become inebriated at an on-board crew party, went on a vandalism rampage through the public areas of the ship. A unique tapestry of the QE2, commissioned for the launch of the ship, was thrown overboard by a drunken crewman. An oil painting of Queen Elizabeth II and two other tapestries were damaged, along with a part of the entertainment area and a lifeboat. The crew members involved were dismissed from service, with charges pending.

On November 5, 2004, the QE2 became Cunard’s longest serving express liner, surpassing the RMS Aquitania‘s 35 years, while on September 4, 2005, during a call to the port of Sydney, Nova Scotia, QE2 became the longest serving Cunarder ever, surpassing the RMS Scythia‘s record.

On February 20, 2007, the QE2, while on her annual world cruise, met her running mate and successor flagship QM2 (herself on her maiden world cruise) in Sydney Harbour, Australia. This was the first time two Cunard Queens had been together in Sydney since the original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth served as troop ships in 1941.

On June 18, 2007, it was announced by Cunard that QE2 had been purchased by the Dubai investment company Istithmar for $100 million. Her retirement in part was forced by the oncoming June 2010 implementation of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations, which would have forced large and expensive structural changes to have been implemented to the ship.

QE2 moored in New York to the right of her younger sister, Queen Mary 2.
QE2 moored in New York to the right of her younger sister, Queen Mary 2.
RMS Queen Mary 2 next to QE2 with stern of MS Queen Victoria on far right.
RMS Queen Mary 2 next to QE2 with stern of MS Queen Victoria on far right.

In a ceremonial display before her retirement, the QE2 met the Queen Victoria and the Queen Mary 2 near the Statue of Liberty in New York City harbor on January 13, 2008, with a celebratory fireworks display; the QE2 and QV had made a tandem crossing of the Atlantic for the meet. This marked the first time three Cunard Queens had been present in the same location (Cunard stated this would be the last time these three particular ships would meet, due to the impending retirement of the QE2. However, due to a change in the QE2‘s schedule, the three ships met again in Southampton on April 22, 2008.

QE2 final deck plans

On October 3, 2008, QE2 set off from Cork for Douglas Bay on her farewell tour of Ireland and Britain, before heading for Liverpool. She left Liverpool and arrived in Belfast on October 4, 2008, before moving to Greenock the next day (the ship’s height with her funnel made it impossible to pass under the Erskine Bridge so Clydebank was not reachable). There she was escorted by Royal Navy destroyer HMS Manchester and visited by MV Balmoral. The farewell was viewed by large crowds and concluded with a firework display. QE2 then sailed around Scotland to the Firth of Forth on October 7, 2008, where she anchored in the shadow of the Forth Bridge. The next day, following an RAF flypast, she left amidst a flotilla of small craft to head to Newcastle upon Tyne, before returning to Southampton.

QE2 completed her final Atlantic crossing from New York to Southampton in tandem with her successor, QM2. The two liners departed New York on October 16 and arrived in Southampton on October 22. By this time, the Synagogue was the only room on QE2 that had remained unaltered since 1969. However it was reported that during the ship’s October 22 five-night voyage, the Synagogue was carefully dismantled before being removed from the ship prior to her final sailing to Dubai.

On her final arrival into Southampton, on November 11, 2008, with 1,700 passengers and 1,000 crew on board. QE2 ran aground in the Solent near the Southampton Water entrance at 5.26 am, on a triangular sandbank roughly equidistant between the mouth of Southampton Water and East Cowes named Bramble Bank. BBC reported “Cunard has confirmed it touched the bottom at the Brambles Turn sandbank near Calshot, Southampton Water, with three tugs attached to her stern (0530 GMT). A fourth tug secured a line to the ship’s bow.” Solent Coastguard stated: “Five tugs were sent out to assist her getting off the sandbank, and she was pulled off just before 6.10 am. She had been refloated and was under way under her own power and heading back to her berth in Southampton. She had only partially gone aground, and the tugs pulled her off.”

Once safely back at her berth, preparations continued for her farewell celebrations. These were led by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh who toured the ship at great length. He visited areas of interest including the Engine Control Room. He also met with current and former crew members. During this time, divers were sent down to inspect the hull for any possible damage caused by the vessel’s earlier mishap — none were found.

QE2 in Southampton just prior to her final departure, November 11, 2008.

QE2's final departure from Southampton, November 11, 2008.
QE2’s final departure from Southampton, November 11, 2008

The QE2 left Southampton Docks for the final time at 1915 GMT on November 11, 2008, to begin her farewell voyage. She arrived at Port Rashid in Dubai on November 26 in a flotilla of 60 smaller vessels, led by MY Dubai, the personal yacht of Sheikh Mohammed, ruler of Dubai. Her official handover to Nakheel Properties, a company of Dubai World, would occur the following day. She was greeted with a fly-past from an Emirates Airbus A380 jet and a huge fireworks display, while thousands of people gathered at the Mina Rashid, waving the flags of the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. Shortly after her final passengers were disembarked, she was moved forward to the cargo area of the port, to free up the passenger terminal for other cruise vessels.

The decommissioning of the ship was particularly poignant for the QE2‘s only permanent resident, Beatrice Muller, aged 89, who lived on board in retirement for fourteen years, at a cost of some £3,500 (~€4,300, ~$5,400) per month. Since her arrival in Dubai, QE2 has remained moored at Port Rashid.

At the time of her retirement, QE2 had sailed 5.6 million miles, carried 2.5 million passengers and completed 806 transatlantic crossings. At the time of retirement, the ship had a gross tonnage of 70,327 and is 963 feet (294 m) long. QE2 had a top speed of 32.5 knots (60.2 km/h) with her original steam turbines; this was increased to 34 knots (63 km/h) when the vessel was re-engined with a diesel-electric powerplant.

Original plans for the QE2's
Original concept for the QE2’s “display” at Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

QE2 was expected to be refurbished and berthed permanently at Nakheel’s Palm Jumeirah as “a luxury floating hotel, retail, museum and entertainment destination.” The refurbishment planned to see the QE2 transformed into a tourist destination in Dubai, however due to the Global Economic Crisis QE2 has remained moored at Port Rashid awaiting a decision on her future.

QE2 remains an oceangoing vessel, and as such, Ronald Warwick (former Captain of QE2, QM2 and a retired Commodore of the Cunard Line) was initially employed by V-Ships (who have managed QE2 since Cunard handed her over) as the vessel’s legal master, but has subsequently been replaced by other V-Ships captains. Since 2009, she has been captained by William Cooper.

Queen Elizabeth 2 was joined in Mina Rashid by Queen Mary 2 on March 21, 2009, while QM2 visited Dubai as part of her 2009 World Cruise. She was joined once again by the Queen Victoria on March 29, 2009, as a part of her 2009 World Cruise. QM2 and QV again visited QE2 in 2010 and on March 31, 2011. the new Queen Elizabeth (QE) called at Dubai during her maiden world cruise — photos were arranged by Cunard to capture the occasion. QM2 called in Dubai two days after QE left.

On June 24, 2009, QE2 made her first journey after nearly eight months of inactivity since the liner arrived in Dubai. She maneuvered under her own power into the Dubai Drydocks for inspection and hull repainting. On July 10, 2009, it was revealed that QE2 might sail to Cape Town, South Africa, to become a floating hotel (for use primarily during the 2010 FIFA World Cup), in a Dubai World sponsored venture at the V&A Waterfront. This was confirmed by Nakheel on July 20.

Shortly after her refit, QE2 was registered under the flag of Vanuatu, and Port Vila (her new home port) was painted on her stern, replacing Southampton. QE2 returned to Port Rashid where it was anticipated she would soon sail for Cape Town. The arrival of QE2 in Cape Town was expected to create many local jobs including hotel staff, restaurant staff, chefs, cleaners and shop attendants, all being sourced from the local workforce. In January 2010, it was announced she would not be moved to Cape Town.

QE2 at Port Rashid, Dubai. Photo by Louis De Santos, September 13, 2017.
QE2 at Port Rashid, Dubai. Photo by Louis De Santos, September 13, 2017.

In early 2010, due to the continued poor financial performance of Dubai World, there was much media speculation that QE2, along with other assets owned by Istithmar, Dubai World’s private-equity arm, would be sold to raise capital. Despite this sale speculation, a number of alternative locations for QE2 were rumored including London, Singapore, Clydebank, Japan and Fremantle, the latter showing interest in using QE2 as a hotel for the ISAF Sailing World Championships to be held in December 2011.

On January 28, 2011, during a heavy dust storm, QE2 broke loose from her moorings and drifted out into the channel at Port Rashid. She was attended by pilots and tugs and safely returned to her berth. Images of QE2’s unexpected movements appeared on-line after being taken by an observer on the ship in front of QE2.

Throughout 2011 and 2012, QE2 remained berthed at Port Mina Rashid in Dubai. She was maintained in a seaworthy condition and generated her own power. Each of her nine diesel generators were turned over and used to power the ship. A live-in crew of approximately 50 people maintained QE2 to a high standard. Activities include painting, maintenance, cabin checks, and overhauls of machinery. Istithmar were considering plans for QE2 which would involve the ship sailing to an alternative location under her own power.

On March 21, 2011, Queen Mary 2 called in Dubai and docked close to QE2. During the departure, the two ships sounded their horns. In September that year, it was announced that plans to berth QE2 at The Palm had been dropped due to plans to build 102 houses on the site which was once intended to be named the QE2 Precinct. Nakheel suggested that QE2, under the ownership of Istithmar, would remain at Port Rashid to become an integral part of the growing cruise terminal. “The QE2 will be placed in a much better location”, Ali Rashid Lootah, the chairman of Nakheel, told Dubai’s The National newspaper “The Government of Dubai is developing an up-to-date modern cruise terminal which will mean a better environment”, confirming the ship would remain in Dubai for the foreseeable future.

QE2 rescue lifeboat at Port Rashid, Dubai, July 12, 2017

QE2's lifeboats at Port Rashid, Dubai, on July 12 (upper) and September 14 (lower photo), 2017. Photos by Louis De Santos.
QE2’s lifeboats at Port Rashid, Dubai, on July 12 (upper) and September 14 (lower photo), 2017. Photos by Louis De Santos.

On August 12, 2015, the QE2 was observed to have been moved from her berth within Dubai Dry Docks, where she had been since January 2013, to a more open location within Port Rashid. On November 17, 2015, QE2 was again moved within Port Rashid, to the former cruise terminal. In the summer of 2016, observers noted that the ship’s lifeboats were lowered and stored on a nearby parking lot, and the lifeboat davits were removed.

To mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the QE2‘s launch, in September 2017 the MS Queen Elizabeth embarked on a 17-night commemorative cruise. Planned events include a QE2 day on September 25 and keynote speeches by Captain McNaught, Commodore Warwick, Social Hostess Maureen Ryan and maritime historian Chris Frame. Meanwhile in Glasgow, The QE2 Story Forum hosted a 50th Anniversary conference with Captain Nick Bates as a headliner speaker. Several books have been released for the anniversary including Building the Queen Elizabeth 2 by Cunard historian Michael Gallagher, and QE2: A 50th Anniversary Celebration by Chris Frame and Rachelle Cross.

QE2 at Port Rashid, Dubai, September 19, 2017
QE2 at Port Rashid, Dubai, September 19, 2017
QE2 as seen on her 50th birthday at Port Rashid, Dubai, September 20, 2017, Photo by Louis De Santos.
QE2 as seen on her 50th birthday at Port Rashid, Dubai, September 20, 2017, Photo by Louis De Santos.

Queen Elizabeth 2 has appeared on numerous stamps over the course of her career; in addition, many of her voyages have been commemorated with special philatelic covers and other souvenirs. Much like the Titanic, a sizable thematic collection can be built around just this one ship. For today’s post, I chose the first stamp to portray the QE2. Great Britain issued a set of six stamps on January 15, 1969, commemorating British shipbuilders and seamen (Scott #575-580). The low value — 5 pence — depicted the QE2 while the two highest values — denominated at 1 shilling each — portrayed the liners S.S. Great Britain and RMS Mauretania. All three of these stamps measured 58×22 millimeters. The three middle denominations — 9 pence, measuring 38½x22 mm — pictured older sailing ships: an Elizabethan galleon, an East Indiaman, and the famed Cutty Sark, which I featured in the ASAD article for Great Britain. All six stamps were perforated 14½x14.

3 thoughts on “50th Birthday of A Queen

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