There’s an old sailors yarn that says if you ever watch a ship sail you will never work on her again. Fortunately my love affair with the Queen Mary 2 has never involved me waving her off so it was a welcome trip down memory lane to return to the most famous ship in the world filming for Planet Cruise.
Named by HM Queen Elizabeth II in January 2004 the QM2 was the first Ocean Liner to be built for 35 years and at her time of launching was the largest, widest, tallest and most expensive passenger liner in history. To this day she remains not only the fastest passenger ship afloat but also the only operational Ocean Liner in the world.
But for many the words Ocean Liner and cruise ship are interchangeable. So what is it that distinguishes a liner from a cruise ship? Well a liner is designed to spend the majority of it time at sea and amongst the many subtle design differences here are some of the most crucial:
• A liners hull is more streamlined. On QM2 the hull only reaches its full width a third of the way down creating a sleek sporty design which can cut through the oceans with ease.
• The hull is reinforced and almost twice as thick as a conventional cruise ships allowing for the battering of the sometimes torrid Atlantic swells.
• A liner has a deeper draft, with more of the ship under the waterline increasing stability in heavy weather. QM2’s draft is nearly 33 ft compared with an average of around 24ft.
• A liner is built with more powerful engines and a higher top speed In order to be able to maintain a schedule despite the weather. The current Commodore of the Cunard Fleet Christopher Rynd has pushed QM2 up to 32.5 knots whereas most cruise ships can make 22 knots downhill with wind behind them plus everyone paddling!
• The bridge sits further back on a longer bow allowing for waves to break without obstructing the view.
I could go on but certainly in QM2’s case for me the most important difference is the space. At just over 150,000 tons of cubic space QM2 is still one of the largest ships in the world but whereas contemporaries of a similar size cram 4-5000 passengers onboard, QM2 takes just over 2500. Huge open spaces, high ceilings and wide corridors create a unique sea going experience where you can always find a little piece of the ship just for you.
Because of Cunard’s magical history and the sheer number of their famous past liners that are still to this day household names there is a certain unfair stuffy and pompous image associated with the brand. But after three years working as one of their Entertainment Directors having arrived via Thomson Cruises, who many would say are the antithesis to Cunard’s perceived image, trust me when I say that like all successful brands they have re-invented themselves adapting to the needs of the modern cruise passenger. I mean they employed me for a start!
Having left QM2 in January of this year I was a little nervous of the intensity of memories which I knew would flood my psyche during my flying visits. But fortunately the sheer enormity of the task I had set myself filming 17 interviews and 19 separate pieces to camera in a total of 12 hours… cue mission impossible music… meant that I literally had no time to reminisce! In fact we didn’t even have time for a coffee! QM2 ability to complete a ‘turn around’ in either Southampton or New York in 9 hours when that is the only port of the voyage still astounds me and is the reason that it is without doubt the toughest passenger ship to work on as a crew member. We would joke that she was the world’s most luxurious ferry because over the summer season she would continuously sail back and forth between the old world and the new spending 6-7 days at sea then just 9 hours in port before another 6-7 days at sea. Add into that mix the clock changes either gaining or losing an hour every night and eventually you morph into a sea salted insomniac who can’t remember the last time he actually got off the ship… I remember going 3 months without touching dry land.
All of this knits the crew together with a fierce loyalty, not only to each other but more importantly in their pride of the lady herself. They know they are a part of something truly special and come back year after year.
Stepping back onto the bridge reminded me of all those fabulous New York sail aways just fitting under Brooklyn Bridge with the decks full of union jacks and champagne laden passengers! I hear my name and turn to see the big beaming smile of the Commodore striding across the bridge – the last time we saw each other was in Sydney on the very same day he docked QM2 into Circular Quay for the first time. In the back of my mind I am hoping he has forgotten that I never made that BBQ he invited me too… Within moments I remember how safe he always made me feel and I also get a cheeky flash of one particular night circumnavigating Australia when a false alarm at 2am brought me to the bridge to find the great man directing operations in his rather nice marks and spencer’s pajama’s… I shall say no more!
Another highlight was interviewing the Executive Chef Nicholas Oldroyd. Both Nick and his identical twin brother Mark head up the culinary excellence onboard Cunard’s Queens. Mark is the Exec Chef for the Queen Victoria and Nick for the QM2 and these 2 Yorkshire lads who are nigh impossible to tell apart are not only two of the best chefs I’ve worked with but also two of the nicest people you’re likely to meet. Their motto has always been ‘never trust a skinny chef’ and with the impressive Britannia Galley as our backdrop Nick tells us how his team prepare 16,000 meals a day using ingredients by the ton rather than the pound! Did you know the average cruiser gains a stone per cruise? Hence me always joking on the last night that you walk up the gangway and we roll you back down!
Around every corner is a memory, a familiar face or a kind comment – I am asked repeatedly if I am back onboard to stay… but as with all things everything has its season and although nothing in the world would change my fantastic three years with Cunard I am now sailing into unchartered waters on my new adventure! So two visits and 12 hours of filming later I step off – just making it before she sets sail for NY on crossing number 201. It crossed my mind to stay and wave her off but then us sailors are a superstitious lot and I fully intend to return again one day – maybe this time on a holiday….