Farewell to the QE2 . Peter Renn
Retirement for an old lady
After some 40 years of service, In 2007, Cunard announced that after nearly 40 years of service, their transatlantic liner Queen Elizabeth 2 was to be retired. The final cruise was to start on 11th November 2008, from her home port of Southampton, destination Dubai where she was to be converted into a hotel.
An old friend
The QE2, like Concorde is one of those things we all seem to feel we 'own' just a little bit. My mother grew up on the Isle of Wight, and went to university in Southampton and has always had a great affection for the liners travelling through the Solent and Southampton Water. Here's a picture of me with my sister Mary at Cowes in about 1973.
I remember a school geography field trip in the early 'eighties when we went around Southampton Docks in a small boat. What the educational value was I've no idea but we went right up close to the Queen and were all astonished at the sheer scale of a proper ocean liner. It seemed impossible that something so vast could be moved and steered. I just about managed to get most of her bows into the picture below.
Later, Cath (also a Southampton student) took these photographs of the QE2 off Calshot Spit and in the King George V Graving Dock, both in 1987. By this time the livery had changed to a red funnel.
As soon as the final departure date was announced, The City of Southampton started preparing for a farewell party. Presentations, flypasts and fireworks were all scheduled, and we made plans to go down and see her off. On the day itself, we went down for the day, planning a bit of an explore before the actual departure at 7.15- 7.50pm. By luck more than planning we found the Blue Funnel harbour tour boat which would recreate my school trip around the docks for a mere ?6. Although cold and windy, the weather was beautifully bright, the QE2 looking magnificent in the winter sunlight. We were just in time to see an RAF Harrier hover, dip in salute and fly off up Southampton Water. The Harrier had served in the Falklands, as did The QE2, being used as a troop transport in 1982.
The Royal Navy also paid tribute. A supply ship; RFA Mounts Bay and three Archer Class small patrol boats - HMS Blazer, HMS Puncher and HMS Tracker sailed slowly past, while we watched from the harbour boat just off the end of the dock. The Mounts Bay hooted in salute, and after a minute or so the Queen replied, with a long, deep, sonorous blast which brought a lump to the throat. She was flying her decommissioning pennant; a 30-foot long red banner which was later presented to the City.
We sailed all the way alongside watching the fuelling barge at work, and the dozens of small boats all scurrying about, everyone excited by the scene but also slightly sad that we wouldn't be able to do this again. In that respect the feeling was just like the last Concorde flight from Heathrow. Strange the way we get attached to machines...
The view from Hythe
Later in the afternoon we moved across to the opposite side of Southampton Water to find a suitable vantage point. Hythe Pier is roughly opposite the Ocean Dock and there's a good clear view from there. Ensconced in the pub by the pier head we watched the place gradually fill up as the sun set. By 7pm the shoreline was lined with people, and as the lights came on across the water the ship looked even more beautiful than she had in the sunshine.
At 7.15, accompanied by more sounding of that wonderful hooter, the QE2 was moved off her berth for the last time, moved back up towards Mayflower park, a small area on the waterfront. After presentations and speeches, there was a huge firework display which must have been spectacular on the docks side. From our vantage point the ship was in the foreground while the fireworks were reflected in the water, a gorgeous effect. Once the fireworks were over, another long, long blast on her hooter (gulp) announced that the QE2 was under way. Slowly, she moved forward, accompanied by a flotilla of small craft, and more fireworks from the shore, coming right past us on the pier, where we could exchange waves with the lucky people on board. Gradually gathering speed she processed, stately as a Queen should, until she was just a collection of lights in the distance, and we reluctantly had to admit she'd gone.
As this is meant to be an account of the last departure, I don't want to start in on QE2's fate now she's arrived in Dubai but it is heartbreaking. The gutting of the ship, the removal of the engines, the replacement of the funnel with glass penthouse etc. are all such a shame, and show no appreciation of the engineering or aesthetic qualities that made her so loved. The City of Southampton tried to buy her but couldn't match the money offered from Dubai, so off she went. Ironically, they are building a major hotel complex right opposite the Southampton berth...
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