x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Britain bids farewell to iconic ship

Tens of thousands of Britons bade an emotional farewell to the QE2 as the ship headed for a new home in Dubai.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 puts into port at Southampton for the final time yesterday as Britons bade farewell to the giant ship.
The Queen Elizabeth 2 puts into port at Southampton for the final time yesterday as Britons bade farewell to the giant ship.

LONDON // Tens of thousands of Britons bade an emotional farewell last night to a great monarch of the seas. As fireworks exploded over Southampton Water, the booming horn on the Queen Elizabeth 2 blasted a final salute to the crowds lining the shore in the early evening as the ship left on its last voyage, heading for a new home in Dubai. It was a climactic finale to a day that had started embarrassingly for everyone connected with the 70,000-tonne liner when it ran aground while approaching its home port of Southampton for the last time. Extra tugboats had to be called in after high winds blew the QE2 out of the main shipping channel as it entered Southampton Water just before dawn. The liner briefly ran aground on Bramble Bank before being towed into port by five tugs, docking at Berth 38/9 an hour late. According to a spokesman for Cunard, the QE2's current owners, the grounding was "no more than a little bump when she touched a sandbank". He said the incident caused no damage or injuries. The grounding, though, served as a small reminder of the forces of nature that the QE2 has encountered and overcome in 5.9 million nautical miles travelled since being launched by the Queen on Clydeside in Scotland in 1967. It ran aground off the coast of Massachusetts in Aug 1992 damaging its hull, was severely damaged after a blaze broke out in an engine room in July 1976 and collided with a reef at Nassau in the Bahamas in Dec 1975. Other emotions came into play during the rest of its final day in Southampton. At 11am, during a farewell visit by the Duke of Edinburgh, a million poppies cascaded down on the ship, dropped by a biplane to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - the moment the armistice was signed 90 years ago to mark the end of the First World War. The duke, who has accompanied his wife the Queen on several voyages aboard the QE2, met former captains of the vessel along with crew members who travelled with the ship when it served as a troop carrier for 3,000 soldiers heading for the Falkland Islands in 1982. Later, the ship's role in the brief war with Argentina was commemorated by a Harrier jump jet - the "workhorse" of the aerial campaign during the conflict - which hovered astern of the liner and bowed its nose in salute. The ship was stripped of its luxuries for the Falklands assignment, a far cry from what lies ahead when it completes its 17-day voyage to Dubai. There it will be transformed into a luxury hotel and exhibition centre at the Palm Jumeirah resort. Among the passengers sailing to the Gulf are Diana Baker, from Sydney, who is making her 25th voyage aboard the QE2. "I just had to be here," she said yesterday. "She is a real ship and the only real ship still left afloat." George Kehler, 43, had flown from his home in Tennessee to join the ship on which he first travelled as a boy of five. He has since made 14 voyages aboard the ship. Mr Kehler and his wife, Susan, whom he met on the ship during a cruise in 2003, were at the dockside as the vessel berthed yesterday morning. He was wearing a 1960s Cunard uniform that he had bought on the internet for US$200 (Dh734). "I felt it was an obligation to be here and watch her come in," he said. "She is the last of her breed and I felt that I owed it to her after all the pleasure given to me over the years." The Kehlers are among more than 2.5 million passengers that the ship has carried since entering service in 1969. Aside from dozens of members of the British and other nations' royal families, a host of celebrities, including Bob Hope, Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, have been among the guests in the luxury suites. Still the most powerful and fastest merchant ship afloat, the QE2 has crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times and completed 25 world cruises. Tickets for the final voyage of the QE2 sold out in just 36 minutes when they went on sale last year. The voyage, which will include stops in Lisbon, Naples and Alexandria, will end on Nov 27 in Dubai. More than £3 million (Dh17m) was paid out by almost 1,800 passengers for the one-way trip. Prices for the two grand suites were nearly £18,000 for each person while the cheapest accommodation, a standard inside cabin, cost more than £4,000. When the ship arrives in Dubai, retired Commodore Ronald Warwick, the longest serving master on the QE2, will return as the owners' representative on board during a multimillion-dirham conversion. Cdre Warwick, who commanded the ship for 14 years, is the son of William Warwick, the liner's first captain. dsapsted@thenational.ae