A new Dubai home befitting the majesty of the QE2
The fate of the 1960s ocean liner, Queen Elizabeth 2, bought by the Government of Dubai five years ago, has finally been decided. She is to be transformed into a floating 300-bedroom luxury hotel, and form the centrepiece of a new cruise liner terminal to be developed at the city's Port Rashid.
Being moored in the heart of a working port is a far more dignified residence for a lady of a certain age than being plonked down on an upmarket housing estate.
If that sounds a little too opinionated and personal, it is because as a schoolboy, I was taken to watch her launch, on September 20, 1967, from the John Brown shipyard on the River Clyde in Scotland.
I had watched her hull steadily rise above the tenements of Clydebank, before she even had a name. She was known only as "Q4" then, until Queen Elizabeth II said: "I name this ship …"
Since that day, the QE2, as she has become universally known, has steamed six million miles, carried 2.5 million passengers and even been to war, as a troopship during the Falklands conflict.
Now she will have the UAE's coastal trade for company, until the new Port Rashid cruise liner terminal rises up alongside her over the next 18 months, and the brash new generation of cruise ships come calling. And then she can show them how we used to cruise in style - because her new owners intend to respect her style and dignity.
Initially it had been planned to refurbish her and moor her on the Palm Jumeirah. But the plan was abandoned last year due to prohibitive costs, including the dredging of a deep channel necessary to move the 70,000-tonne ship there.
"There have been many great ideas about what to do with this ship, but people like the ship for what she is; her style and her history," said Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the chairman of DP World and the head of its investment arm, Istithmar, which paid US$100 million (Dh367.3m) for the ship in 2007.
"So we have decided to leave her basic design as it is. We will preserve her tradition. What we are doing today is what we should have done when we first bought her."
Dubai's economic crisis also cast doubt over her future. Now the last of the transatlantic liners will be preserved with her original decor and fittings as a memorial to the luxury ocean travel of yesteryear. She will also act as a centrepiece to a new maritime heritage centre located at the terminal, for which 25,000 individual exhibits have already been gathered.
Yesterday's announcement comes after a two-year audit of the ship, which has pronounced her in remarkable condition. Three hotel groups, including Jumeirah, have been consulted about running her, and all are "interested", says Mr Sulayem.
Go aboard her today, and she appears at first as a dimly lit warren. But pull back the curtains and the workmanship and finish sits there preserved, like a time capsule.
The chairs, carpets, and panelling are all still there, as new. Two theatres, 17 bars and restaurants, all just requiring a lick of paint and polish.
The vast main galley, a stainless steel jungle of freezers, cooking ranges, giant powered mixers, serving ranges, all ready to power-up - after a clean. The staterooms that will make up the 300 bedrooms, still have their bedding, lamps and fittings.
I never sailed on her, of course. Also, I was never close enough to see Her Majesty smash the champagne across the bow that day.
My view of the QE2 was always from the top deck of a school bus taking my class to swimming lessons. And it was only by chance that the day of the launch was swimming day. But I will never forget the huge majesty of her hull, as she slid down the slipway. All us boys cheered as her fore-end took a bow and she floated free for the first time.
I wondered where she would sail, and wanted to sail with her. Not for a moment did I dream we'd meet again on a dockside in Dubai.
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Updated: July 3, 2012 04:00 AM