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Wednesday, April 14, 1999 Published at 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK


QE2 - 30 years of cruising

QE2 - launched by the Queen in 1967

Launched by the Queen from its shipyard on the Clyde in September 1967, the QE2 has become part of the nation's identity.

Its maiden voyage - from Southampton to New York - did not come for almost another two years. From that point on, the QE2 has come to represent the ultimate in luxury travel.

The liner was used as a troop carrier during the Falklands War of 1982, and was welcomed home by the Queen Mother.

And she is regarded, despite a number of revamp hiccups, as one of the last vestiges of the unhurried, luxuriant travel of a by-gone era - a perfect antidote to contemporary high-tech, globalised society.

[ image: 73,000 bottles of bubbly are drunk every year on the QE2]
73,000 bottles of bubbly are drunk every year on the QE2
Although the crowds which send the liner off on each transatlantic voyage have now dwindled to mere handfuls, there is still a brass band playing on Southampton dock every time she ups anchor.

And, although not quite as severe as the class divisions on the Titanic, the liner maintains its "cabin grades" system, which means that passengers eat in areas designated to the standard of their ticket.

Among those who have travelled on board are the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince Edward, the late King Hussein of Jordan and the Sultan of Brunei.

Although the QE2 docks in New York more than 20 times in one year, she never stops the night, requiring the crew to perform a huge "turnaround" operation.

[ image: The vessle makes more than 20 transatlantic trips a year]
The vessle makes more than 20 transatlantic trips a year
There was a time when this huge logistical manoeuvre would have taken 48 hours, but profit margins now require the ship to be kept almost perpetually in motion.

It stops only to take on approximately 2,000 tons of fuel and 1,000 tons of fresh water, exchange 2,000 pieces of baggage and to undergo lifeboat drill.

The liner's supplies cupboards have to be stocked up. One travel writer wrote that she regularly takes on something in the order of 575 pounds of coffee, 42,987 eggs, 485 pounds of mayonnaise, 2,405 pounds of butter, 9,020 feet of aluminum foil and 15,000 cocktail stirrers during one of these turnarounds.

She maintains this traditional route for about 100 days a year, sailing other itineraries the rest of the time.

[ image: She ran aground in 1992]
She ran aground in 1992
Even though the liner is loved by many for her timeless qualities, she has undergone several refits and modernisations.

In 1987, for example, she switched from a steam turbine engine to diesel-electric power. And a £19.5m refit has just been announced for November this year.

But it hasn't all been plain sailing. Low points in the liner's history have included:

  • Being grounded in 1992 after striking an "uncharted" object off the eastern US. Millions of pounds were lost while repairs took the ship out of service.

  • Owners Cunard paying £7.5m to furious passengers after a trip dubbed the "cruise to hell", in December 1994. It sailed before a £30m refit was completed, leading to complaints of "exploding toilets" and debris-strewn decks.

    [ image: The liner can carry just over 1,700 passengers]
    The liner can carry just over 1,700 passengers
    US coastguards accusing Cunard of risking passengers' lives and saying the ship should never have been allowed to set sail. They blocked her departure from New York while essential repairs were done.

  • In 1995 Southampton officials condemning food hygiene on board, and threatening legal action after inspecting the ship's Queen's Grill.

    In 1996, when Cunard's parent company was bought out by the Norwegian conglomerate Kvaerner ASA, a multi-million pound upgrade of the liner was approved, to bring it in line with new Safety of Life at Sea codes. "This magnificent vessel, certainly the most famous ship afloat, will sail into the millennium with new vigour, displaying interiors that will express her stately grandeur in totally British terms," said Cunard president Larry Pimentel.

    QE2 facts:

  • She is 70,327 gross tonnes and is 963ft long, with a masthead 167ft above sea level.

  • The vessel can take about 1,770 passengers and can travel at a maximum speed of 32.5 knots.

  • Passengers consume nearly 42,340lbs of lobster and 2,409lbs of caviar and 73,000 bottles of champagne a year.

  • The 2,500 tea bags used each day would supply a family for a year.

  • The vessel uses 18 tonnes of a fuel an hour, or 433 tonnes per day, with one gallon of fuel moving the ship 49ft 6ins.

  • Contrary to popular belief, the vessel is not named after Queen Elizabeth II, but is the second ship to be named Queen Elizabeth - hence the use of the Arabic figure 2 rather than the Roman II.

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