One by one they appeared on the horizon, circling and sounding their horns, white sails bobbing on the waves. More than 100 yachts, navy frigates and speedboats were giving chase, like paparazzi pestering an A-list starlet. In their midst, dwarfing all around, its size still enough to take your breath away, was the Queen Elizabeth 2. Belching black fumes, and gracefully cutting through the water, this great ocean liner was on the last leg of her final voyage, preparing to drop anchor in a new port and, after nearly 40 years of service, ready to enjoy an opulent retirement. Some said it was reluctant to leave its native Britain, even running aground two weeks ago as it was due to embark for Dubai. But its welcome here could not have been warmer. Hundreds had gathered to watch as the liner regally glided to its final berth. Overhead, an Emirates Airline A380 flew past at 1,000ft to salute its arrival. "I feel quite emotional," said one British fan who sailed out to meet her. Another, a Canadian, sighed: "She is absolutely awesome." David Ross, 60, who was an apprentice at the Clydeside yard where the QE2 was built, joined the flotilla. As bagpipes played in honour of the ship's Scottish birthplace, he said: "She really is quite something isn't she? There is definitely a sense of pride today. I am sorry she is no longer a seafaring vessel but I am glad she is going to live on." Sinclair Liddell, 52, whose father James helped build the ship, added: "I am sure he will be shedding a tear." Mark Thomas, in Dubai on business, said: "This really is an amazing day. It is a historic moment and something to tell the grandchildren." The ship will be transformed into a luxury floating hotel permanently moored alongside the Palm Jumeirah. Since it was officially launched in 1969, it has crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times, given 2.5 million passengers a taste of an extravagantly glamorous lifestyle and travelled around the world 25 times. Nakheel Hotels, its new owners, thought 60 yachts might sail out to greet the liner. In the event, twice that number took to the water. "It is incredibly exciting," said Johann Schumacher, director of the Palm Jumeirah. "It is amazing to think people have made the effort to take days off work and get in their boats to greet her, from the British to Australians and locals. It shows the level of excitement there is about her. "The QE2 is an iconic, historic piece of British maritime history and she is now coming to a place also associated with a maritime past - plus, she is going to have a home alongside the Palm Jumeirah, which is iconic in itself." Leading the flotilla was Dubai, the supersized yacht owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Its decks were crammed with Emiratis keen for a glimpse of a legend. But even the 535ft Dubai looked small compared to the 963ft liner towering over it. As it sailed into dock, the QE2's 1,000 passengers lined its decks, many waving the Union Flag. They were greeted by fireworks and traditional Arab dancers in Port Rashid. Today, the British flag will still be flying from its mast alongside the UAE flag. But it will soon be taken down, along with the name of its former owners, Cunard, and its docking station in Southampton. Its previous home will be honoured, however, by being presented with its anchor, said to weigh the equivalent of three elephants. The ship's refit could take up to three years and will involve its cabins being replaced with larger hotel rooms. The red funnel is to be dismantled and replaced with a hollow replica housing a deluxe suite. All the internal electrical and plumbing is to be completely overhauled. Not everyone is thrilled with the changes to the 70,000-tonne liner. Residents of Southampton launched a campaign to have the funnel returned, while traditionalists say the ship should have stayed in Britain. Yesterday, as the QE2 finished its final voyage, was 40 years to the day since the day since the ship had first taken to the water to begin sea trials. firstname.lastname@example.org
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