Article - Queens Company
QUEENS COMPANY
25 April – 01 May 2004

by Captain Roger Emtage

QE2 and QM2

Picture courtesy of Chief Officer Robert N. Groom, MV Freedom

At precisely 1930 hours on Sunday 25th April 2004, three long blasts pierced the still Manhattan evening, and the great new QUEEN MARY 2 moved astern into the Hudson River.

Bursting with excitement Bjorn, Nathan and I raced out on deck, closely followed by Ginny. The atmosphere that greeted us was electric! Music filled the decks, flowing across the water, helicopters buzzed overhead, whistles and sirens sounded from the crowds ashore and from the excursion boats surrounding the great ship. Passengers lining the after decks of QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 cheered and shouted messages. The maiden eastbound transatlantic voyage of the new QUEEN MARY 2 had begun!

Much heralded as the largest passenger ship ever built, and the longest and loftiest, among other superlatives, it was a great privilege to be onboard for this historic voyage. And it was the first time we had stepped onboard! This bode well for an exciting family adventure. Not only was it special for QM2, it was extra special because we were sailing together with QUEEN ELIZABETH 2. We were to sail “in tandem” from New York to Southampton, the two Queens of the Atlantic. This had never been done before, a unique occasion!

It was the prospect of the Queens crossing in company, that first grabbed my attention about 18 months ago while on QE2. It appealed to me as an opportunity of a lifetime, and I thank God that I never let go of that dream. The dream was that not only I would witness the event, but that the whole family would experience it too!

Three more mighty blasts from the ship’s whistle brought me back from my recollections with a start! The same whistle, no stranger to the Port of New York, had heralded the movements of the former QUEEN MARY for more than 30 years as she arrived and departed from the port. It was a clever scheme of the designers to fit the original whistle to the new QM2.

It was about this time, as the ship was swinging to starboard just astern of QE2, that we spotted the first of the champagne bars set up on deck. These were a tremendous success and made a significant contribution to the celebrations!!! I particularly congratulate the bar staff; they didn’t expect us to find them, they came to find us! During the next two hours they constantly toured the decks topping up our glasses. Whether we were perched on the rim of the jaccuzi (we were!) or hanging over the rails, or lining the stairs for a better view, the lads were there filling our glasses. Brilliant! Well done!

By now twilight had given way to a clear, dark night as the magnificent ship moved serenely and very slowly down river. QE2 was delayed for awhile; I never asked nor needed to know why. This only extended the festivities. Those on the shore and on the river enjoyed extra time to view the spectacle. The flash bulbs popped endlessly, the ship’s whistles resonated their thundering message, a mixture of greeting, farewell and sheer jubilation! And we sipped another glass of champagne! Time stood still as we savoured the magic of the occasion.

Before us on the port side lay the dazzling spectacle of the Manhattan skyline, every building a blaze of light. For Bjorn and Nathan undoubtedly a sight they would never forget. For every person onboard the two ships on this night, an event never to be forgotten.

Music filled the decks of the mighty Queen as she slipped past he shoreline; “New York, New York”, “The Star Spangled Banner”, “America the Beautiful”; The White Cliffs of Dover”, “Land of Hope and Glory”, “Rule Britannia”, all the Hollywood favourites. Over and over the foot tapping melodies serenaded us, and the notes carried across the water to those lining the shores. Bjorn decided to boogie – he was definitely enjoying himself!

Then word got around; QE2 was on her way. All eyes were focused astern, and she could be seen easing gently astern into the river. The cacophony of sound erupted again. The Legend of the Atlantic, the ship that has won the hearts of millions the world over, but nowhere more so than in New York, proceeded slowly and gracefully towards our position. As she drew near the excitement increased. Lights on the water flashed as boats bobbed all around us. Suddenly the sky above us and to starboard erupted in a blaze of fireworks. Everyone lined the starboard side as the fireworks lit the sky in a dazzling display. This truly was the moment that New York, the City they named twice, was celebrating the Queens of the Atlantic. QUEEN ELIZABETH 2, the Legend of the Atlantic, has served this port uninterrupted for more than three and a half decades, and now the new Queen. The legend continues. Long may she reign!

While the fireworks cascaded over the harbour, the whistles and sirens of the two great ships sounded in acknowledgement, and the myriad of smaller craft surrounding us joined in. And then the display subsided, and our ship slowly gained headway. QE2 meanwhile, had lain astern by a few cables and off to starboard. Now she picked up speed, and it became apparent that she was going to pass us along the starboard side. We were all on deck 13 in a fantastic position to view her as she passed. To the notes of “Land of Hope and Glory”, and I believe with nearly every single passenger and crew member lining the rails of the two ships, QE2 drew alongside her big sister. The cheers reached a crescendo! The whistles roared, flash bulbs lit the night, and I am sure a tear rolled down my cheek. At the top of my lungs as she began to draw ahead, I voiced my deepest feelings: “GOD BLESS QE2”. Bjorn and Nathan took cover, roaring with laughter! Oh what a night! What a night!

And so QE2 drew ahead, taking her rightful place, showing the way to the newcomer. We followed. Passing the statue of Liberty, the boys stared in fascination and admiration. By now it was none too warm, the decks were clearing fast, as we neared the Verazano Narrows.

After boarding the ship I gave no more thought to security. It was a great relief to be off US soil, and knowing we would soon be heading eastwards into the Atlantic. Now that the excitement was over and as we drew towards the Narrows, I paused to look first down the starboard side and then along the port side. On each side we were being escorted by ten New York Police boats and Coast Guard cutters. Flashing blue lights filled the night close alongside. Clearly our security was a high priority while in US waters. Once onboard the ship I had not dwelled on this aspect, but an hour or so earlier I did point out to my boys that ahead of us, in the vicinity of the Statue, the entire harbour seemed to be flashing blue lights at us, and these were not flashlight bulbs!! One American passenger drew my attention to the myriad of red and blue flashing lights on the Bridge under which we would shortly pass. As we passed underneath, a squad of officers with their vehicles could be clearly seen, ensuring that no cars stopped and noone was loitering. This is USA today!

With a final signal of three long blasts QUEEN MARY 2 slipped safely beneath the span of Verazano Narrows Bridge. Ahead of us lay five days and six nights on this great ship! Halleluja! Time to find the cabin! I’m sure I had one!

The following morning, eager to see where QE2 was, I was on deck early. How would she be positioned for this much talked about ‘Tandem Crossing’? We had departed together and received a spectacular send off, but would we see the other Queen before we arrived in Southampton? My concerns were soon allayed. Making my first circuit of Deck 7, there she was away on our port bow, perhaps three miles ahead. Already QE2 was attracting the attention of the early morning walkers; we stopped to exchange greetings and share memories of the much loved ‘Legend of the Atlantic’, the ship I had first seen and visited in Barbados in December 1969. Rising and dipping to the gentle swell, QE2 carved her path eastward at 28 knots. Occasionally a mist of spray could be seen thrown aside as her bow shouldered the grey rollers. What a sight!

During the course of the next few days it became clear that one of the main reasons that many passengers chose QM2 for this crossing, was to be able to study the QE2 in her natural element. In this regard we were richly rewarded. Each day she would change position, moving from port to starboard of QM2, and at noon she closed to a position one mile abeam, thus affording all the photographers ideal opportunities.

As a family we were immensely impressed with the gleaming new QUEEN MARY 2. Having had a quick look around after embarking, the first day at sea was given to exploring. Bjorn and Nathan simply vanished! In fact I began to wonder if they were on the other ship! When we did eventually cross paths, their voices and faces were filled with enthusiasm and news of what they had discovered! They were ecstatic about the new Queen! Illuminations, the Gym, the Spa, Royal Court Theatre, pools and Jacuzzis, the lifts with a sea view, Golden Lion Pub, the History Trail and more.

Ginny and I explored too. The laundrette to get rid of the many pairs of socks since we left home two days earlier, then on to the Commodore Club, the Library and Book Shop, Queens Room, Grand Lobby, the shops, Champagne Bar and Chart Room. The Queens Room is absolutely exquisite, a masterpiece of design. Cleverly arranged terraces overlooking the ballroom, ample views of the sea through huge windows, and QE2 was usually in full view – what a bonus! The chandeliers are magnificent, dimming as the evening wears on, dazzling at the turn of a switch. Quite beautiful. This was the venue for dance classes that we attended at noon each day, and where we tried to put the steps into use in the evenings. Both boys turned out to create top hats for the Royal Ascot Ball, and I was proud of them for that. The only men to do so! I was disappointed that they received not even a mention in the evening of the Ball when they paraded. Shame on the judges! Perhaps the judges consider that the future of the new ship lies with the passengers who sailed on the QUEEN MARY of 1936, not with the teenagers of today. I am afraid they are sadly wrong, and maybe this is something that old guard Cunard needs to learn.

The wonderful Grand Lobby echoed with the strains of the piano or harp at intervals during each day, especially pre dinner, and is a delightful place to relax and drink in the splendour of the new ship. Four excellent wandering minstrels entertained, and were well received.

The Chart Room and Commodore Club are tasteful. Music pre lunch and dinner make these venues popular, and the Commodore is especially relaxing with views over the bow. It is a pity the windows are not larger, as view is restricted. The Champagne Bar is another fantastic design, redolent of the 1930s. Here one really can imagine one is on the QUEEN MARY in 1950s!

And so the voyage progressed. The variety of activities and spaces means we could lose the boys for a whole day, and I insisted we meet for a drink before lunch each day. I enjoyed hours walking the wrap around open deck. Three circuits were a mile. Along with other keen walkers and ship buffs, this became a daily routine, sometimes Ginny joined in. The boys swam, used the gym, watched films, attended Bridge lessons, and did some homework! This latter was part of the deal and they were brilliant! Bjorn missed a week of University, and Nathan had SATS the week after the voyage, so a period of work each day was a must! Well done boys! Evenings found us in the theatre for one of the excellent productions.

Meals in the Britannia restaurant were a delight, after a shaky first day when service was slow. Service and cuisine were outstanding, and our table companions great fun. I was privileged to receive an invitation to visit the Bridge. In view of the current levels of security, this was indeed a privilege; I have known Commodore Warwick for many years, since we first met in Barbados on the CUNARD COUNTESS in the 1980s. It is wonderful to see him in command of the new Queen - a fitting tribute indeed. I also had the pleasure some years later to meet his father Commodore Bil Warwick, who told me he first visited Barbados in 1939 on AQUITANIA. While on the Bridge it was great to meet Sam Warwick, Ron’s son. Ron kindly agreed to my boys joining me in the wheelhouse, and we all learned a lot about the state of the art navigational and control equipment.

Nearing the UK coast on a none too brilliant Friday 30 April, we were given advance information that aircraft of the RAF would greet us. On cue at 1400 we were met by Nimrod and other jets and helicopters. These made several fly pasts and once again the open decks of both ships swarmed with passengers and cameras!

For one last memorable time, the dowager Queen of the Atlantic drew close alongside to starboard. The Queens exchanged salutes, to the cheers of all we humble subjects. The following day the British papers carried excellent photos of the ships off Lizard Point, our rendezvous off Cornwall.

One final evening onboard as the ships steamed up the Channel in dense fog. The fog whistle sounded throughout the night until we fell asleep in the early hours. At 0446 hours those now familiar whistles shattered the air and shook me from my bunk. It seemed awfully early and very dark! When I did scramble on deck it was a grey and dismal morning. Nonetheless Commodore Ron rewarded the brave souls in their several hundereds who lined Town Quay, Hythe Pier and the decks of SHIELDHALL and many other excursion boats. They received more deafening blasts, as we swung onto the QEII Terminal.

At 0630 on 01 May 2004 we landed gently alongside berth 38/39 in Southampton Docks. The Maiden Eastbound Transatlantic Voyage of QUEEN MARY 2 and the ‘Tandem Transatlantic Crossing of QM2 and QE2’ was safely over.

May God continue to bless both these great ships, and all who sail in them. What a privilege and joy to have shared this magnificent experience. We shall certainly be back!

©2004 Roger Emtage

Article reproduced by kind permission of Captain Roger Emtage.
For photographs of the historic Tandem Crossing see the Pictures section.