The end of an era in New York came on 16 October. It was the 710th and
final call by Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth 2 ("QE2") in the City. QE2 was the
most famous ship of her time, known even by people who have no interest in
the sea or in passenger ships as synonymous with luxury and superlative
service. As such, she fit in naturally with the city that proclaims itself the capital
of the world, with both the city and the ship contributing to each other's
As Cunard Line President Carol Marlow said at the ceremonies marking the
ship's final call, QE2 was "the best loved ship in the world." During nearly 40
years of service, QE2 traveled nearly 6 million miles, circumnavigated the world
25 times, and carried over two and a half million passengers. For many years,
she was the only ship providing regularly scheduled transatlantic service. During
those voyages, she made numerous rescues at sea, often lending her large
hospital facilities to injured sailors. Her ability to transport a large number of
troops half away around the world in treacherous seas made Britain's victory in
the Falklands War possible. She participated in numerous ship reviews including
the 50th anniversary of D-day, the Columbus Quint-centennial, and the July 4,
2000 international ship review in New York harbor. She was the setting for
television programs, movies, and even novels. For many years, she was the
fastest passenger ship in service and for several years the largest. However,
what really earned her the title referred to by Ms. Marlow was the delight
brought to so many who traveled on her or who came to just look at this symbol
of the second half of the 20th Century.
The Legend Begins
QE2 bridged the period between the era of the great transatlantic liners and the
rise of the modern cruise ship industry. Following World War II, there was
resurgence in transatlantic travel as businessmen and tourists once again began to
journey between America and Europe. Cunard's QUEEN MARY and QUEEN
ELIZABETH were the most prestigious of the many famous ships then involved
in the transatlantic service.
In the late 1950s, however, commercial jet airliners began to cross the
Atlantic and siphon off passengers from the ships. Within a few years, the
glamour and speed of jet travel had captured the bulk of the market. On one
voyage, 83,673 gross ton QUEEN ELIZABETH had only 63 passengers.
Compounding the situation was the fact that the two Cunard Queens were
getting old. Construction of the QUEEN MARY had begun in 1930 and while
QUEEN ELIZABETH was a few years younger, both ships had seen hard duty
sailing as troopships during World War II. Moreover, their consumption of
nearly 1,000 tons of fuel a day made them very costly to operate even in the
days of cheap oil. Thus, it was time to think of a replacement.
At first, Cunard envisioned a 75,000 ton, modernized version of the two
Queens, which was called for planning purposes "Q3". However, it became
apparent that not only were the Queens obsolete, they were no longer what the
public wanted. They had an image of being old and stodgy at a time when the
public's imagination was fixed on the futuristic Space Age. Consequently, Q3
never progressed beyond the drawing board.
Instead, Cunard proceeded with Q4, a ship that would be smaller than Q3
would have been and thus be capable of transiting the Panama and Suez
Canals. She would be designed not just as a transatlantic liner but as a cruise
ship capable of taking passengers around the globe in the height of luxury.
Cunard obtained a £ 17,600,000 loan from the British government to build
the ship. After all, the American government had essentially subsidized the
construction of the UNITED STATES (1952) and the French government had
subsidized the building of the FRANCE (1961). However, Cunard still had to
find the remainder of the £ 25.5 million needed to build the ship at a time when
its existing fleet was racking up staggering losses. To do this, it sold off office
buildings in New York and Britain, its share in BOAC (later British Airways),
and sold or mortgaged its existing fleet.
The first section of the keel of Q4 was laid at the John Brown & Company
shipyard in Scotland on 5 July 1965. However, work on the new Cunarder did
not go smoothly. This was a time of labor unrest in Britain and the shipyard
was not exempt. Also, a joke circulated at the time held that there were many
Scottish homes with the same décor as the new Cunarder. As a result, the cost
of the liner grew and the government loan had to be increased to £ 24 million.
At the same time, Q4 was fortunate in that several new building techniques
and Space Age materials were coming on line. For example, computers were
used to refine the shape of the ship's hull. Also, a new epoxy and riveting
technique allowed the builders to attach a welded-aluminum superstructure to a
welded-steel hull. As a result, the ship had a hull strong enough to meet the
rigors of the North Atlantic along with a lighter superstructure that would reduce
her draft and increase fuel efficiency.
With the original QUEEN ELIZABETH about to be withdrawn from
service, Cunard planned to recycle the name to the new ship. However, when
the ship was launched on 20 September 1967, her majesty Queen Elizabeth II
proclaimed: "I name this ship QUEEN ELIZABETH THE SECOND." Ever
since, it has been debated whether the ship was named after the ship QUEEN
ELIZABETH or whether the monarch named the ship after herself. Only one
person knows for sure. In any event, Cunard decided that an Arabic two rather
than the Roman numeral used in the monarch's name would be used in the new
ship's name. Soon, the ship became known as "QE2".
Work continued on QE2 for nearly two years. Her original builder went
bankrupt in 1968 and so the work was completed by Upper Clydebank
Shipbuilders, Ltd. During her sea trials, she reached a speed of 32.46 knots.
However, the trials also revealed problems with the ship's steam turbine engine
plant. Consequently, Cunard refused to accept the ship until those problems
were resolved. Finally, on 20 April, 1969, QE2 joined what remained of the
Cunard fleet (i.e., the cruise ship FRANCONIA), at a final cost of £ 29 million.
The new ship was met with a wave of excitement. Anxious to distance QE2
from her predecessors, Cunard advertised: "Ships have been boring long
enough." Indeed, to the eyes of the late 1960s, QE2 did not look like a
traditional ocean liner. Her hull and superstructure had curving lines and her thin
funnel towered over decks uncluttered by machinery or ventilators. Inside the
public rooms had curving modernistic pillars and plastic scooped chairs, bright-
colored Naugahyde covered the benches and abstract art decorated the walls.
Stewards served guests in turtlenecks rather than in the customary uniform
jacket and tie. It was Swinging England at sea and rock stars and celebrities
flocked to the new ship. QE2 was "in".
When QE2 first came to New York, there were still a number of other
ocean liners to keep her company. However, as the 1970s unfolded, one-by-
one they faded away until QE2 was the only ship providing the transatlantic
service. As National Geographic noted at the time, QE2 was a ship "running for
A combination of factors enabled QE2 to survive. First, the strategy of
distancing the ship from the past placed QE2 in a different category in the
public's mind than her competitors - - QE2 was new and the others were old at a
time when being old was a sin. Second, while trying to distance her from her
predecessors, Cunard had painted the company name in large letters on each
side of the ship. The Cunard brand name still had the aura of being the best and
QE2 inherited that aura. Third, QE2 had been built to do cruises as well as
transatlantic crossings and this made her less dependent on the transatlantic
market than the older liners which were not well-suited to cruising. Finally, QE2
throughout her career continually evolved.
Indeed, the QE2 that left New York for the last time in October was not the
same ship that first came here n May 1969. Over the years, penthouses and
suites had been added, the staterooms upgraded, the public rooms re-arranged
and re-done, and new features and amenities added. As time passed and public
disdain for the past gave way to nostalgia, the ship gradually transformed from a
space age liner into something reminiscent of her predecessors. In fact, in the
1990s, a series of exhibits were placed around the ship showcasing items from
the Cunard heritage.
QE2 also evolved technologically. New radar systems, navigation
equipment and computer systems were added. In the most extensive of such
refits, the entire steam engine plant was removed and replaced by a diesel
electric system increasing her maximum speed to over 33 knots.
Operations also evolved. Whereas the traditional liners would spend several
days in port between crossings, QE2 would arrive and disembark one set of
passengers in the morning and sail that evening with a new set of passengers.
The length of a crossing also changed when it was determined that it would be
more fuel efficient to cross in six days rather than in the traditional five. The
longer voyage also turned out to be more popular with passengers.
QE2 began life as a two-class ship. Indeed, there were separate stairways,
restaurants, and public rooms for first class and tourist class passengers. As the
years went by, the class distinction disappeared. In the mid-1980s, there were
still signs discreetly pointing out that certain rooms were for the use of first class
passengers only but even then they were largely ignored. By the 1990s, a
passenger in the most humble stateroom on the ship could make use of any of
the public rooms and only a well-informed ship buff could say which rooms had
been first class and which tourist. The only exception was one small lounge near
the top of the ship that remained until the end the province of guests staying in
the top accommodations.
Throughout the ship's career, a passenger's cabin category dictated which of
the ship's restaurants he or she would dine in. However, over time restaurants
were added and cabin categories changed. As a result, a person staying in a
given stateroom at various points in the ships career would not necessarily
always have dined in the same restaurant. In addition, a permanent buffet dining
option was added in 1994 replacing an informal operation that had grown up
around one of the ship's swimming pools.
QE2 was always a formal ship. For many years, every night on a
transatlantic crossing required guests to dress for dinner except the first and last
night. The rationale was that one would not have had time to unpack ones
dinner suit or gown on the first night and that such garments would already be
packed on the last night. On those nights, jacket and tie were sufficient. In
more recent years, the number of formal nights decreased and "elegant casual"
entered the dress code. Again, this reflected changing tastes.
QE2's evolution was not the work of a group of far-sighted corporate
planners. Construction of QE2 depleted Cunard's resources and in 1972, the
company was acquired by Trafalgar House Ltd., a British engineering company
that had ambitions to become a major player in the leisure industry. In addition
to Cunard, Trafalgar House purchased a string of luxury hotels including the
London Ritz and built several resorts. However, in the 1990s, the company's
core engineering business began to go sour and it decided to concentrate on that
business. This left Cunard adrift.
CMDR Christopher Wells, RNR, now a Cunard captain but then a senior
officer on QE2, recalls those days. ""We went through different management
every year. Our president used to leave and we would have a new president.
'What are we going to do?' 'We are going to change everything!' 'We are going
to be all Cunard' or 'we are going to be an all luxury brand.' A fellow came in at
one stage who had previously been managing director of Rolls Royce and said:
'Right, we are going to be luxury only' and the lower grade cabins on QE2 were
shut down and the Mauretania restaurant, which was the dual seating restaurant,
became single seating. We dropped from 1,900 passengers to 1,600 passengers
and we were the luxury QE2 brand. A year later, he disappeared and we had
somebody else come in and it was: 'No, no, no. We are going to maximize
revenue and we are going to fill the ship up to the brim. Put all of those cabins
back into service, make the Mauretania two seatings again.' So, we had lots of
Some Military-related Anecdotes
During her 40 years in service, QE2 frequently came into contact with the
military. Indeed on her transatlantic crossings, a four-engine Canadian Air Force
patrol plane would often practice making low level passes over the ship to the
thrill of passengers on deck. Less visibly, submarines operating in the Atlantic
would use the 30 plus knot liner as a proxy for surface warships when
conducting torpedo drills.
QE2's best known connection to the military was her use as a troopship in
the Falklands War. (See The Log, Fall 2005 at 10). When Argentina seized the
Falkland Islands, a British possession, in 1982, the British were faced with the
problem of having to transport an army 6,000 miles and land it on a hostile shore
that was far from any friendly airport. The Royal Navy did not have the
necessary ships. Consequently, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher requisitioned
QE2 and the P&O liner CANBERRA to transport the Army. Quite simply,
without these two ships, the British would not have been able to re-take the
Falklands. (See also The Log, Fall 2007 at 23).
In May 1972, Cunard's New York office received a telephone call
threatening to detonate six bombs on QE2 unless a ransom was paid. A bomb
disposal team from Britain's Special Air Service ("SAS") and Special Boat
Service ("SBS") were assembled and flown by an RAF Hercules to the mid-
Atlantic. The team then parachuted through low-lying clouds into the sea where
they were picked-up by one of QE2's launches.
Upon reaching QE2's bridge, the SAS officer reached into his wet suit in
dramatic fashion and said to QE2's captain: "I expect you will want to see this."
However, rather than some top secret message, what he produced was a copy of
that morning's newspaper.
A search of the ship produced no bombs and the FBI later arrested the
would-be extortionist. But, one lasting consequence of this incident was that
security was increased and the traditional practice of allowing the general public
to visit passenger ships in port was discontinued throughout the industry.
In 1973, QE2 was chartered for a cruise celebrating the 25th anniversary of
the founding of the state of Israel. This did not sit well with Libyan dictator
Muamar Gadaffi and he threatened to sink the ship. In fact, at that time, Libya
had a political and military alliance with Egypt and Gadaffi went as far as
directing an Egyptian submarine to torpedo QE2. However, Egyptian President
Anwar Sadat countermanded the order.
Because of the threats, special forces units from the SAS and SBS were
onboard for the voyage to Israel and back. Some were disguised as passengers
and were able to partake in passenger activities during the day. However, after
the passengers had gone to bed, the special forces teams would don their combat
gear and drill.
One of the drills was premised on the scenario that terrorists had captured
the ship's bridge. The action plan was to approach the bridge from the stern,
climbing along the top of the ship past the funnel and over the kennel and the
penthouses to the bridge. In movie-like fashion, the black clad fully armed
troops climbed to the top of the ship and began to run along until they came to
something they had never encountered before. Immediately below them in the
open air area outside the kennel was an elderly lady walking her poodle. So as
not to frighten her, the soldiers remained motionless in the darkness as the
woman and her poodle finished their business. Eventually, she disappeared back
into the ship unaware that she had not been alone.
After participating in the international ship review during the July 4th, 2000
weekend, QE2 was scheduled to dock at the Passenger Ship Terminal.
However, when she arrived, she found four warships from various nations were
already berthed on the opposite side of the slip from where QE2 was supposed
to berth. In theory, there should have been enough room for everyone as half
the slip was still unoccupied. However, in practice, due to her size and the
strong currents, QE2 usually needed to use the entire slip to maneuver into her
Since there was no other option, QE2 attempted to dock. However, when
one of the tugs that was assisting the liner had to reposition, QE2 slid along the
side of the Japanese warship pushing her into a British destroyer.
Other than scraped paint, no damage was done to any of the ships.
However, then-Staff Captain Ian McNaught was dispatched to apologize to the
warships commanders. Calling first at HMS MANCHESTER (D 95),
McNaught's apology was met with a dismissive gesture and an offer of a gin and
"The Japanese ship - - where life is a little more formal perhaps - - was a
different story," remembered McNaught who later became captain of QE2. "I
was shown to a waiting room and the Japanese admiral would call on me when
he was ready. I just sat there absolutely terrified for about ten minutes. Then
the door finally opened and I was ushered in. He bowed gentlemanly-like and
said: 'Welcome aboard my ship."
"I said, 'I do apologize, sir, for the slight mishap this morning."
"Think nothing of it, Staff Captain. It was a pleasure to be kissed by a
The Legend Concludes
While QE2 was evolving, the passenger ship business was transforming itself
into the modern cruise industry. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, small
companies such as Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise
Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line began offering warm-water cruises.
This was not a sideline to transporting passengers from point A to point B as it
had been for the traditional passenger ship companies. Rather, the object was to
provide an all-inclusive resort-like vacation in the sun.
The cruise lines began by providing these cruises on converted second-tier
ocean liners. As such, they were by definition, inferior in quality to QE2. Even
when Norwegian Cruise Line converted the luxury liner FRANCE into the mass-
market cruise ship NORWAY, there was still a substantial difference between
QE2 and the cruise ships, although it was clear that the cruise lines were moving
As the cruise lines began to grow, they started to build ships that were
specifically designed for cruising. Because they were meant for leisurely trips in
calm waters, they did not need the speed or sea keeping qualities of transatlantic
liners. Therefore, they were built taller and wider to maximize the revenue
At first, the new cruise ships were much smaller than QE2 and thus did not
have the space for all of the features and services offered aboard the Cunarder.
However, led by Royal Caribbean, the cruise companies recognized the
economies of scale inherent in operating larger ships and built increasingly larger
ships. In 1987, Royal Caribbean's SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS actually
surpassed QE2 in gross tonnage. Furthermore, in order to attract more
customers, the cruise lines competed with each other to add more features and
services to their ships.
Because QE2 had incorporated features that were ahead of her time when
she was built and because she had been continually upgraded, she was still
competitive with the new cruise ships as the 20th century drew to a close. But
then, in 1996, Trafalgar House was acquired by the Norwegian conglomerate
Kvaerner. Although Kvaerner owned shipyards that built cruise ships, it made it
clear from the outset that it did not want to operate Cunard. When the most
likely purchaser, Britain's venerable P&O Line said that it was not interested,
time appeared to be running out for Cunard and QE2.
In 1997, however, an unlikely white knight appeared. Carnival Corporation,
which had grown from the highly successful "Funships" of Carnival Cruise Lines
to own most of the major cruise lines, purchased Cunard for $500 million.
Micky Arison, Carnival's Chairman, saw a potentially valuable market niche in
the transatlantic service. "He saved the company, he saved the line, he saved
QE2 by buying [Cunard]," Commander Wells noted.
Carnival brought a focus to Cunard, which had been lacking for many
years. "What was a good thing was deciding what we were. We became the
liners and concentrated on the liners," Wells explained.
To this end, Carnival sold off or distributed to its other subsidiaries the
hodge-podge of cruise ships that had been acquired by Cunard over the last
three decades. It quickly injected some £30 million into re-vitalizing QE2. In
addition, it invested three quarter of a billion dollars in building a new
In designing the new ship, Carnival carefully analyzed what had made QE2
successful. As a result, many features of what was to become QUEEN MARY
2 ("QM2") can be traced to QE2. However, the new ship also incorporated
features and technology from modern cruise ships. The result was a ship that is
more than twice the size of QE2 and which is better described as a descendent
of, rather than a sister to, QE2.
As demonstrated by its multi-million dollar investment in QE2, Cunard's
new owners had no intention of scraping QE2 when QM2 came into service.
Indeed, in 2006, another $15 million was spent refurbishing the ship. However,
they did not feel that there was enough of a market to support two ships on the
North Atlantic. Consequently, when QM2 began her transatlantic service in the
spring of 2004, QE2 was re-deployed to doing cruises from Southampton,
England, primarily to the Mediterranean, as well as an annual world cruise.
Whereas the majority of QE2's passengers had heretofore been Americans, the
British public re-discovered QE2 and the ship developed many new admirers.
Along the same lines, Cunard intended to retain QE2 even after it added
another new ship, QUEEN VICTORIA, to its feet in 2007. Ms. Marlow told
the Log: "She wasn't built as a replacement for QE2. That wasn't the purpose
of her." Rather, QUEEN VICTORIA was built to complement QUEEN MARY
2. Cunard wanted a ship that could go into ports that the deeper draft QM2
cannot and transit the Panama Canal, which the huge QM2 cannot. The
thinking was that QUEEN VICTORIA could spend much of her time deployed
away from Britain at more exotic locales and thus appeal to the fly-cruise market
while QE2 could operate directly from Britain.
Not even the new Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations due to go into
effect in 2010, which have sounded the death knell for many older ships, were
seen as an obstacle to the continued operation of QE2. "I'm assured by people
who know these things that we [didn't] find any show-stoppers." Ms. Marlow
said. Indeed, even the wood that decorates the ship was not seen as a problem.
"The wood is actually quite thin and it is my understanding that wood [would
not] have been an issue."
Still, QE2's days were limited. Commander Wells explained: "She cannot
compete in style with the modern arrangements on modern cruise ships or
liners. The cabins, although they were magnificent cabins for 1967 when they
were built, are different sizes, they are different shapes. She is very dark inside,
portholes as opposed to windows. People expect more. People's expectations
are more now, far higher than they were in the 1960s. It is a different
generation. So, she cannot compete." Thus, while Cunard planned to continue
to operate QE2 past 2010, it was clear her service career was coming to an end.
Then, in June 2007, it was announced that Cunard had accepted an offer
from Dubai World to sell QE2 for $100 million. The ship would remain in
service until November 2008, at which time she would be sailed to Dubai to
become a floating hotel.
The Final Call
Part of QE2's last season was taken up with a series of farewell voyages.
Accompanied by QM2, QE2 sailed from Southampton for New York on 10
October 2008 on her last westbound crossing. Arriving on 16 October, she
berthed at her traditional location the Passenger Ship Terminal in Manhattan.
Before embarking on her final crossing, Cunard held a ceremony to mark the
occasion onboard QE2. Among those who attended was Sir Nigel Sheinwald,
British Ambassador to the United States who made the following remarks.
"It is great for us to be able to represent the government at this important
and poignant moment. For four decades, this ship has represented something
rather special in our special relationship. It represents I think three things: First
of all, the importance of the human links between Europe and this country and
particularly between the UK and this country. This ship has nurtured a huge
number, millions as you say, of human relationships and has done so over the
years with great distinction.
“Secondly, this ship is a part of our fantastically successful trade
relationship. The trade and investment relationship between the UK and the US
is one of the jewels in the crown of our overall relationship and a very, very
large part of it is travel and trade and tourism.
“Lastly, that indefinable something which is part of transatlantic life which
this ship expresses and that is something about transatlantic style and character
and policy. I think that you have done that remarkably.
“So, over the past four decades, this ship has been a very visible, distinctive,
inextricable part of transatlantic life. Although I have never set foot on the ship
before, it is an instantly recognizable part of that relationship. We will all miss
the ship but I think it is very appropriate that it is going out to a market and a
country which is incredibly important to both of us, to the United Arab Emirates
as an emerging market and a partner and an ally of both the United States and
the United Kingdom, I'm sure she'll find a very happy second home."
Commodore Bernard Warner, master of the QM2, added: "I am very
pleased to be a part of these celebrations here today and to be aboard what has
been the most famous ship in the world for the past 40 years. She has been held
in affection by millions and millions of people all over the world. She has
captivated countless generations of travelers over many, many years. And
indeed, we are proud of her for her outstanding and heroic achievements during
the Falklands campaign of 1982.
“She has resolutely carried the North Atlantic mantle for all of this time
bringing the Atlantic traditions back to life with splendor and unmistakable
glamour. Thanks to QUEEN ELIZABETH 2, the Cunard brand goes hand in
hand with luxury ocean travel."
Following the ceremony, QE2 departed the Passenger Ship Terminal. The
current in the river had been strengthened by a heavy rain, and despite the
efforts of two tugs, the great liner drifted downstream with her bow towards the
City until past the INTREPID. It seemed like she was taking a final look at the
city that had been her second home. She then turned and proceeded to
rendezvous with QM2 near the Statue of Liberty. Followed by a number of
small craft, the two liners left the harbor.
QE2 docked in New York for the last time on 16
Above: The dog walking area outside the kennel on QE2.
Below: JDS Koshmia and HMS Manchester after QE2
encountered them on 5 July 2000.
Above: QE2 in 1986 when still a
steam ship. (photo: G. Wagner)
Below: QE2 at the Queen Elizabeth II
Terminal in Southampton in 1986.
Sovereign of the Seas, the first modern cruise ship to
exceed QE2 in gross tonnage, crosses QE2's bow.
British Ambassador to the United States Sir Nigel
Sheinwalkd with Cunard President Carol Marlow.
A lifeboat from QE2 goes to the recue of an
injured Spanish fisherman in the middle of the
QE2 resident passenger Bea Muller
talks with Chris Wells and Ian
McNaught, both of whom later
became Cunard captains.