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Sunday, 15 April 2012

Thinking about Titanic...


I was thinking about the poor souls lost on TITANIC. It reminded me of my first Transatlantic crossing on the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 when of course the ship was mentioned. This is my diary note of the crossing from Southampton to New York, which started on 18th April 2002.

"TRANSATLANTIC on QUEEN ELIZABETH 2

I boarded the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 on Thursday 18th April 2002 for my very first visit to the United States of America. The transatlantic route from Southampton by sea had sounded the ideal way to arrive in the New World and so it proved to be.

QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 is seen as the ultimate in timeless classic voyaging these days, and I happily joined the other Full World Cruise, Segment and other Transatlantic passengers on board for the 5 p.m. sailing to New York. As she set off for the last part of her 2002 World Cruise, the sight of a beautiful rainbow over the receding Hampshire coast made a spectacular sight for many of us on deck in the late afternoon sunshine.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth launched QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 on 20th September 1967 for Cunard and after fitting out and various trials, the ship made her first commercial voyage on 22nd April 1969 from Southampton to the Canary Islands. She is now 70,327 gross tons on seven decks, with a length of 963 feet, a cruising speed of 28.5 knots, and a passenger capacity of 1,777.

After Lifeboat Drill and a pleasant sail down Southampton Water, drinks on the starboard side of the Queen’s Room provided a convivial atmosphere in which to meet old and new friends from the Steam Ship Historical Society of America (SSHSA).

This was the first crossing of the year to New York, and one of the maritime themes of the voyage was the sinking of the Cunard/White Star Line TITANIC during her Maiden Voyage, on 14th April 1912, ninety years ago.

On board was a maritime artist Mr Ken Marschall, whose life-long hobby/profession was all things connected with TITANIC. He had previously worked with Mr Robert Ballard (who had found the wreck) and on the recent TITANIC film. He himself had visited the wreck in a special craft, which involved a dive of two and a half hours for a journey of two and a half miles straight down. We admired his bravery!

Dining was in the Mauretania Restaurant, with a stunning bronze centrepiece of sea horses, or the Caronia Restaurant with its beautiful etched glass. A visit to the Queen’s Grill for lunch was also a great treat.

My outside cabin on Three Deck was spacious and comfortable, the bathroom (shower, no bath) spotless and it was hard to believe I was on board an older ship, except for the use of wood and the elegance of the furnishings throughout the ship, including a grand piano previously used on the QUEEN MARY.

There were many lecturers on board – the first one I went to hear was an author called Sarah Harrison. By great coincidence, my local Library Book-Reading Group was currently reading one of her books, ready for discussion, so it was a pleasure to listen to her and meet her in person afterwards.

There was a lunchtime get-together in the Crystal Lounge, a comfortable and attractive Bar on the port side of Upper Deck. The invitation was from the SSHSA New York Chapter run by Mr Thomas (Tom) Cassidy. Captain R W Warwick, Master of the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2, and his wife, were introduced to the group, together with the American maritime author, traveller and lecturer Mr Theodore (Ted) W Scull, and the artist Mr Ken Marschall. It was also mentioned that someone from Union-Castle Line was present, so Mr Scull lifted up my hand in acknowledgement!

I was introduced to Captain and Mrs Warwick, as a former Purserette of Union-Castle Line and also as a Director of the re-launched company. We discussed the departure of the Union-Castle Line Centenary Voyage from Southampton in December 1999 when the ship’s whistle had been sounded, and an answering whistle had been sounded from QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 in her berth! I said that had been a memorable occasion. Captain Warwick said how delighted the Cunard Company had been to receive the thank you letter from the Managing Director of Union-Castle Line.

I attended a lecture by Mr Peter Boyd-Smith about TITANIC, which included fascinating information about Southampton. He mentioned that after the sinking, all United Kingdom Engineering Officers wore mourning mauve in their gold stripes, in honour of the Engineers lost on the ship. To illustrate it he showed a slide of “Union-Castle Badges of Rank”, which was a lovely touch I thought. I had used the same illustration in my own book “Union-Castle Line Purserette”.

On Monday 22nd April in the Yacht Club aft on Upper Deck I attended a Service for the Committal of Ashes to the Deep of the late William Farmer (1916 – 2001), previously a Chief Engineer on QUEEN ELIZABETH 2.

Mr Farmer’s widow and daughter were present. Mr Farmer had wanted his ashes committed in memory of those Engineers and others that lost their lives on the TITANIC on 14th April 1912.

Captain Warwick commenced the Service by saying that we were thirty miles south of the usual route across the Atlantic, because of the unusually southerly ice this year.

He said this was only the third time in his long career that he had ever needed to come so far south to avoid danger from icebergs.

The final hymn, ‘Eternal Father Strong to Save’, had the lines “O hear us when we cry to thee, For those in peril on the sea” at the end of each verse, which I consider a fitting reminder of the power of nature and the sea.

Another lecture in the Grand Lounge was in fact a discussion between Captain Warwick and the artist Mr Ken Marschall, who had both descended to the wreck of TITANIC in October last year and again the audience was impressed by their bravery in travelling to such depths.

I had one breakfast in the Lido restaurant aft on Quarter Deck, which provided delicious food and was a fascinating place to sit and enjoy watching the ocean.

A lecture by Mr Ted Scull on New York was excellent, especially to someone who was very excited at the thought of arriving there by sea on the wonderful QUEEN ELIZABETH 2! The Theatre is the ideal place for such a slide lecture, with comfortable seating and a good view for everyone.

One morning I was told that our speed was back to about 24 knots; previously we positively flew at about 27.8 knots to get clear of bad weather. I gather a sudden storm, rated as Force 11, came out of the North East and sent the ship into a list for two hours. Added to this was an overnight electrical storm, but as we were in the shelter of Newfoundland all should now be calmer, and my stomach was grateful. Thank goodness for a robust ship and superb British seamanship.

A birthday celebration for a senior Staten Island Ferry Captain, Captain Ed Squire, travelling home to New York, provided another happy time. The occasion was used to make a presentation to Captain Warwick of a painting of QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 by the British maritime artist Mr Robert Lloyd.

Captain Warwick had commissioned the picture himself, but was delighted to be presented with it by Mr Cassidy as a gift from the Steam Ship Historical Society of America.

Another picture proved just as memorable, for different reasons. Whilst Mr Ken Marschall had been on board, he had made a large pencil sketch of the two ships, QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 and TITANIC, together as if at sea. This picture he generously offered up for auction, and a large sum of money was raised for the New York Firemen’s Fund, in remembrance of the tragic events of 11th September 2001.

My cabin television was switched on to the “View from the Bridge” at an incredibly early hour on 24th April, and I saw my first sight of the lights of America at 4.15 a.m.! I was soon up and on the Sun Deck with my fellow passengers to get the first view of New York soon after daybreak. That famous Manhattan skyline soon came into view, against a cloudless blue sky.

We went under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and cleared it nicely, although Mr Scull had warned us that many ship passengers think the famous red and black funnel (or stack, as the Americans say) will not get safely underneath! There was talk that the QUEEN MARY 2 funnel design allegedly had to be lowered to take account of this – better now than at the crunch!

We approached Staten Island and saw the famous Ferries plying back and forth between Battery Park and the Island. One of them, the JOHN F KENNEDY, blew its whistle to acknowledge their senior Captain on board the incoming liner as a passenger. QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 responded – what a heart-wrenching moment, for so many people on board.

We sailed past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, up the Hudson River and past the now deserted old Piers that previously saw the like of such ships as QUEEN ELIZABETH, QUEEN MARY, OLYMPIA, UNITED STATES, AMERICA and INDEPENDENCE. Mr Scull described all this for us as we approached our destination at Pier 90, aided by the tug MARGARET MORAN. I remembered that the world-renowned maritime author and collector Mr Frank Braynard was at one time Public Relations Director of the Moran Towing Company.

The docking pilot from the tug saw us safely into Pier 90 soon after 7 a.m., and I was soon to stand on American soil for the very first time.

It had been a thoroughly enjoyable voyage in classic comfort with new friends on a wonderful ship, which is what sea travel is all about. Great Britain is an island nation, a maritime one, and we can all be grateful for having the opportunity to remember and enjoy our heritage."

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