QE2: The Final Season

(as published on Mad Mariner)

Born on the river Clyde, in the John Brown Shipyard, the Queen Elizabeth II was launched by a young queen of the same name in 1967. When she first went to sea the following year, the QE2 was powered by great steam boilers.

After four decades of service and 5.5 million nautical miles – the equivalent of 13 round trips to the moon – the world’s most traveled vessel will make her final passage.

QE2 Accompanied by RAF Nimrod

The Cunard line’s most famous queen will make her final departure from Southampton on Nov. 11 and head slowly southeast, arriving a little more than two weeks later at the port of Dubai World. As she glides to a stop at the quay, her modern diesel-electric power plant, capable of lighting the entire city of Southampton, will gradually still itself.

There she will cease her role as an ocean-going passenger vessel and be refurbished and adapted for her new home. In 2009 the vessel will be berthed at a specially-constructed pier at The Palm Jumeriah, the world’s largest man-made island, to create a floating luxury hotel, retail and entertainment destination.

The fact that her sponsor, Queen Elizabeth II, outlasted her may be testament to the British Monarch’s royal constitution, but the ship will retire with quite a legacy of her own, one that spanned generations of both technology and customers.


By the late 1950s, it was clear that the Queen Mary (1934) and Queen Elizabeth (1938), were showing their age, and there was a great deal of debate over whether a new liner was the right investment, given the recent boom in jet air travel. The British government was originally set to support two new liners but eventually settled on one, with a government subsidy reported at 18 million pounds Sterling (about $35 million at current rates).

Though the original design called for a ship of 75,000 tons, the final plan was slightly smaller – just more than 70,000 tons – to facilitate transits through the Panama and Suez canals, and cost approximately 29 million pounds, or about $57 million.

QE2 Salutes Lady Liberty

QE2’s official maiden voyage, from Southampton to New York, began on May 2, 1969, just two months before the first Moon landing. The ship was outfitted in the best of the Cunard tradition of luxury and comfort. The interior design of the time was known as Space-Age Décor, and reflected a taste for all things modern.

While other ocean liners were being withdrawn from service at the time – the United States, the fastest liner ever, left service just months after QE2 began and France, the largest liner of the day, never overcame the massive cost overruns associated with her construction – QE2 proved to be a magnet for those seeking the old-world luxury of a five-day passage between the United States and Great Britain.


Cunard’s Commodore William E. Warwick was on the bridge that inaugural day, accompanied by HRH Prince Charles. The Warwick family shares a lot of history with QE2. Commodore Warwick was the ship’s first master, and his son grew up to command the same ship. Warwick’s grandson, Samuel, maintains a tribute website to the QE2. Continue reading →

Posted by Tom in Boats, Destinations