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Queens of the Ocean Past
Cunard's Queens in the Golden Age of Sea Travel
Before the advent of regular air service to carry mail and people between Great Britian and America, the Cunard Queens ruled the ocean. It was the golden age of sea travel, and elegant liners ruled the waves.
Three very special ones were the RMS Queen Mary, the RMS Queen Elizabeth, and the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, and they belonged to the Cunard - White Star Line.
RMS is the abbreviation for Royal Mail Ship. Cunard was awarded a contract to carry the mail, and the right to fly the Royal Mail flag when sailing.
For decades, a number of Cunard vessels ferried mail and passengers between the old and new worlds, but it was the three queens, along with the ill-fated RMS Titanic that stand out in most people's minds. Even though there are new ships carrying on the Cunard tradition today, the three queens of the ocean past made their mark on history and in the hearts of mariners and would be mariners the world over.
Cunard Line and Cunard-White Star
Although most people are at least vaguely familiar with some of the 20th century Cunard ships, some may not know that the history of the famous line dates back to the 19th century. It was in 1879 that Samuel Cunard reorganized his then 39 year old British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company into the Cunard Steamship Company. So, technically, Cunard has been around for over 170 years.
The Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were built for swift transatlantic crossings and commissioned as mail carriers. Badly needed government funding was provided for the venture on the condition that Cunard merge with the White Star Line. Thus, the queens sailed under the Cunard-White Star banner until 1950, when the name reverted to Cunard.
The company could rightly claim and advertise the "fastest ocean service in the world," as the RMS Queen Mary was swift. She captured the Blue Riband for the crossing record. She held it for all but about 13 months during the period from 1939 until 1952.
RMS Queen Mary 1936 - 1967
Regarded by some as the greatest ocean liner ever built, the RMS Queen Mary was the flagship of the Cunard (and Cunard-White Star) Line from her maiden voyage in May of 1936, until November of 1946. Not only was she fast, but she was luxuriously appointed, too.
There was an Art Deco flavor throughout and the interior was richly appointed with fine woods and specially commissioned works of art. Passengers could enjoy the use of a library, an indoor swimming pool, and paddle tennis courts. There was even a kennel for their pampered pooches!
Had I sailed on her, I think that one thing that would have fascinated me might have been a piece of artwork in the first class dining room, or grand salon. The salon itself was three stories high, and on the wall was a beautiful map-mural of the ocean route traveled by the Queens, complete with little crystal ships showing the positions of each of them!
The Blue Riband
She, and the RMS Queen Elizabeth were built to move quickly through the waters of the North Atlantic, to deliver the weekly mail on time in both directions. And, fast she was!
On her westbound crossing in late August,1936, she captured the prestigious Blue Riband with an average speed of 30.14 knots. The previous record holder, the beloved Normandie managed to win it back the following year, but only held on to it for about a year, at which time, Queen Mary grabbed back and kept until 1952, when the final holder, the SS United States seized it for good.
Queen Mary Stats
Gross Registered Tonnage - 81,691
Overall Length: 1,019 ft.
Speed: 28.5 knots (Her Blue Riband record-winning speed in 1938 was 30.99 kts.)
Capacity: 3,250 (2139 passengers and 1101 crew)
The Launch of a Luxury Liner - Captured on Film
An amazing video - the RMS Queen Mary is christened by Her Majesty the Queen, is launched, and crosses the ocean.
Footage of the Launch of the RMS Queen Mary
Buy Some Memories - of the Beautiful Queen Mary
You can find books, dvds, models and posters of the original RMS Queen Mary on amazon. Here are a couple:
A must for fans of the great liner. Not only does it recount her career, but includes pictures you haven't seen before - from the author's own personal collection.
RMS Queen Elizabeth
From 1940 to 1968
In September of 1938, Her Royal Highness, the Queen of England officially launched the RMS Queen Elizabeth with the traditional bottle of champagne. The ship had been planned to be the sister fo RMS Queen Mary, the two carrying royal mail and privileged passengers to and from New York. The planned 'fitting out,' however was halted due to looming war.
After the installations of engines, and much consideration and re-consideration of what to do with her, she embarked on her first voyage - without passengers.
Rumors flew about where she would be going... Southampton? Halifax? No one really knew! (But the Germans thought they did)
In March of 1940, the new queen put out to sea under top secret sealed orders.
Not even the skeleton crew knew where they were bound. Once at sea, CaptainTownley opened the secret orders, and dutifully steamed full speed ahead to New York Harbor, as German warplanes flew in search of her over the sea route to Southampton.
Queen Elizabeth stats
Gross Registered Tonnage - 83,673
Overall Length: 1,031 ft.
Speed: 29 knots (She was ordered not to eclipse Queen Mary's record, so was held to < 30kts on sea trials.)
Capacity: 3,283 (2183 passengers and 1000 crew)
Prized Collectibles - RMS Queen Elizabeth
Here's a piece of RMS Queen Elizabeth memorabilia currently up for auction on eBay
The Great Ladies Go To War
Three Great Ocean Liners Fled to New York - Temporarily
RMS Queen Elizabeth found safe harbor in New York, along with the SS Normandie, and the RMS Queen Mary. There they were, great floating treasures ... the three largest ocean liners in the world, snug alongside one another, far from the hostilities in Europe. But that was not to last. The war was about to dramatically reshape their destinies.
By mid November of the same year, the queens had been ordered to sail from the safety of New York, and were readied to serve as troop carriers. Their fine china, crystal, artwork, carpeting, and other fine accouterments were removed and stored. In their place were put bunks and more bunks.
The ships had been built to be fast, and still were, so they were capable of outrunning Uboats. And they carried massive amounts of precious human cargo - sometimes as many as 10,000 to 15,000 in a single run. In fact, the Queen Mary set a record in 1942 that stands today, when she carried 16,082 from New York to England.
(As for the Normandie, she met a fiery demise during conversion to a troop carrier, without ever having left New York.)
RMS Queen Mary Trubute
Cunard Line's RMS Queen Mary was dubbed the "grey ghost" during World War II, owing to the gray paintjob...
Post War Glory
and eventual retirement
RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH
The Queen Elizabeth was the first to be relieved of war duty, in 1946. And so it was that she finally underwent her official initial sea trials - some six years after her secret maiden voyage, having already sailed half a million miles, carrying passengers numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
As her return to regular passenger service was quite a while before that of Queen Mary's, the Queen Elizabeth took her place then as Cunard's flagship.
RMS QUEEN MARY
The Queen Mary carried on in her war role for an additional year, bringing many more thousands of soldiers home from faraway lands.
By mid 1947, the world had returned to normal for the two Queens of the Sea. Their wartime grey paint was gone and their traditional liner livery restored, along with their interior appointments. Gone, too, were the guns that had been mounted on deck.
All was right with the world, and the Queens dominated passenger service on the North Atlantic sea route, and they did so in stlye. They had always been loved, but now, they were revered as not only grand ladies of the sea, but grand and heroic ones. But, more change was soon in the air.
THE END OF AN ERA APPROACHES
By the mid 1960's, transatlantic air travel had become the dominant method of travel between the two continents, and ocean liners sailed less than full, and profits declined. Some effort was made to refit the ships to refit and repurpose the ships to serve as cruise ships, but the ships were aging, and would not last forever.
In 1969, Cunard announced the retirement of the two queens.
Ocean Liners Serving their Country - in Time of War
It was a fascinating part of a horrible war - the part played in it by two luxurious ocean liners. If you'd like to read more about their part in history, here are some books that may interest you.
RMS Queen Elizabeth 2
Cunard's Longest Sailing Ship: 1969 - 2008
Built to (initially) replace both the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth 2 was designed to be smaller, more fuel efficient, and more cost effective than her immediate predecessors. Unlike the Elizabeth before her, she was a panamax ship - able to transit the Panama Canal. Her shallower draft that opened up the possibility of visiting Caribbean ports of call. It worked. She soon was paying back the government loan and turning a real profit.
Like the Queen Elizabeth before her, she became a much-loved ship with an intensly loyal following.
The itineraries she sailed included not only Transatlantic crossings in the Cunard tradition, but also world cruises, as well as voyages to the Caribbean. In her latter years, her service was more that of a cruise ship than an ocean liner, but she never completely abandoned the crossings for which Cunard was known.
Like the two Queens of the Ocean before her, she was pressed into war service for her country. Fortunately, her time as a troop carrier did not last as long as that of the older queens. Her support in The Falklands War of 1982 began in May and was over in June.
Also of interest is the fact that she was, until 1986, the very last of the oil fired steamships providing regular Atlantic crossings. Beginning in 1987, she was powered by a new diesel power plant.
The QE2 holds the distinction of having sailed for Cunard the longest of any ship - 40 years.
Queen Elizabeth 2 Stats
Gross Registered Tonnage - 70,327
Overall Length: 963 ft.
Speed: 32.5 knots
Capacity: 2,932 (1892 passengers and 1040 crew)
The QE2 in 2008
Have You Sailed the Queen Elizabeth 2?
Did you , or someone you know, ever sail on the QE2?
If You Sailed the QE2
If you ever sailed on the QE2 - or even wanted to - then you may be interested in owning a book about her, or perhaps a model of this beloved ocean liner.
And Then, They Sailed No More
What Happened to the Queens of the Ocean Past?
Retired: 1969. She is now permanently berthed in Long Beach, California, where she serves as a hotel and venue for special events. There, she is called The Queen Mary. The RMS is dropped, as she no longer sails carrying mail. She no longer sails at all, for that matter.)
Retired: 1969. Destroyed by fire in Vistoria Harbor (Hong Kong) during renovations to turn her into a floating university.
QUEEN ELIZABETH 2
Retired: November, 2008. She was currently laid up in Port Mina Rashid, Dubai, with an uncertain future for an extended period. Now, it appears a new life may await her in Hong Kong.
The Queen Mary Lives on in Long Beach - But Is She Haunted?
You can still tour the Queen Mary. You can even sleep in one of the former staterooms, now hotel rooms - except for one , There's a certain stateroom that they won't rent out because of numerous reports of 'unusual' activities there. Supposedly ghosts.
Multiple people claim to have seen and / or felt apparitions aboard the ship. Paranormal Investigators have spent hours on board.
This ship that some have dubbed as one of the most haunted places in America' is said to be home to no less that 130 ghosts, including many of children.
If you search, you'll find several videos about the spirits on the Queen Mary. Here's one of the shorter ones, so you can decide for yourself.
Did You See a Ghost?
Have you toured the Queen Mary, and if so, did you see a ghost?
Sad Fate of the Queen Elizabeth
Seaward University Fires and Sinking
After her retirement from Cunard, there had been plans to moor the Elizabeth (her first post-Cunard name) permanently at Ft. Lauderdale, FL, for use as a tourist attraction. However, that part of her life was short-lived, ending in 1971, when she was auctioned off. The buyer, Orient Overseas Line, renamed her Seawise University, with plans to make her a floating campus.
Seawise University was undergoing refurbishment when several (yes, several) fires broke out on board. Between the blaze, and copious amonts of water poured upon her by fireboats, the ship capsized.
Some parts of the former queen were salvaged, but it has been reported that arond 40% of the wreck still lies under a thick layer of mud at the bottom of Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor.
Queen Elizabeth 2
Past Royalty with an New Future
The Queen Elizabeth 2, with the Cunard name removed was laid up at Port Rashid, in Dubai, awaiting her fate for several years. She had been purchased to become a luxurious floating hotel. The investment firm had been maintaining her with a full tie staff. But, reports surfaced about a two years ago that economic woes had forced the new owners to cut the staff. The prospects for the fulfillment of those plans were beginning to look rather bleak.
At one point, the future of the QE2 was, at best, uncertain. She had apparenty been abandoned by the owners who had taken her to Dubai.
In late 2012, word came that they had agreed to sell her as scrap to a Chinese entity. It was a horrific turn of events for the grand lady of the waves and those who loved her. But . . .
Shortly afterwards, in early 2013, there was happier news. Now, it appears she is set to head for Hong Kong, where (after extensive refurbishment, already underway) she will become a luxury hotel.
Queens of the Ocean Present
Yes, You Can Still Sail on a Cunard Queen!
Three new Queens now sail the ocean under the British Flag.
The RMS Queen Mary 2, MS Queen Elizabeth, and the MS Queen Victoria carry on the Cunard tradition today.
Are You a Present Day Cunarder?
Have you ever, or do you plan to sail on any of the three new Cunard Queens?
Please let me know you were here!