Page last updated at 22:28 GMT, Tuesday, 22 April 2008 23:28 UK

Royal gathering of sea 'Queens'

By Eleanor Williams
BBC News, Southampton


Cunard's fleet of "Queens" have met in Southampton

For the first and last time in their history, the three "Queens of the seas" have met in their home port of Southampton.

Thousands of people gathered in the city's Mayflower Park on Tuesday evening to watch the Queen Mary 2 sail in to join her sister ships, the Queen Elizabeth 2 and the Queen Victoria.

Cunard's three flagships struggled to outshine each other while the town crier rang his bell and the ships sounded their whistles to salute each other.

"This is an unmissable sight," he called to the crowds along the waterfront.

"One that Southampton has never seen before and one that will never be seen again."

QM2 sails in to join the QE2 (background) and the Queen Victoria (foreground)
The QM2 was saluted by her sister ships as she approached the docks

The three luxury cruise liners were together in port for the very first time in New York in January.

But Tuesday's historic meeting marked the first time this has taken place in Southampton.

It was also the last time the fleet of "Queens" would meet.

The QE2 will retire in November when it will be converted into a hotel in Dubai after more than 40 years in service.

Among the onlookers in Mayflower Park were Keith and Pamela Stanley and their grandsons Daniel and Brian Anderson.

Mr Stanley has a special bond with Cunard ships.

"I started as the junior third officer on Mauretania 2 aged 29 and finished as captain of the QE2 aged 61 - that's 11 years ago," he said.

"I didn't want to come down here tonight - I've seen enough ships. But my grandchildren wanted to come and see this."

During his career on the seas Mr Stanley said he worked on more ships than he can remember and added that he had many great memories.

Crowds in front of the Queen Victoria
Thousands of people turned up and tried to get the best viewing spots

"You would never have a bad time then. People were all so pleasant.

"There could be 30 or 40 different nationalities - and the same number among the crew - and everyone just got along."

He also captained the Cunard Princess during the first Gulf War and transported "700 frontline troops every four days".

But before he joined Cunard he was told the cruise ship industry would not be an advisable career move.

"I was told don't do it. The QE2 was sailing half full then, but just look at it now."

Another onlooker, Rosalind Fountain, a singer who moved to Southampton from London last year, said it was "history in the making".

Margaret Hanson, watching the ships with her husband Graham, said: "It's a unique occasion.

"When we heard they were going to line up we thought they were going to line up in the Solent, so it's a bit disappointing really," she added jokingly.

After briefly joining her sister ships in the docks, the QM2 left on her first transatlantic crossing of 2008 shortly after 1800 BST.

The QM2 leaves for her first transatlantic crossing of 2008
As the sun went down, the QM2 embarked on her transatlantic crossing

Minutes later she was followed by the Queen Victoria embarking on her first voyage to Iberia and the Canaries.

The crowds eventually dispersed, leaving the QE2 to quietly celebrate the 39th anniversary of her official entry into service on this day back in 1969.

And with the departure of one Queen the arrival of another is looming.

Cunard's new Queen Elizabeth has been ordered and is expected to enter service in the autumn of 2010.

The 100m QE will be the second largest ship Cunard has ever had built and will carry 2,092 passengers.

But before that, the largest cruise ship in the world will make her debut in Southampton.

Independence of the Seas, which features a boxing ring, miniature golf course and art auctions, will arrive in the city on Friday.

Three 'Queens' in final meeting
22 Apr 08 |  Hampshire
Cunard's 'queen' liner sets sail
11 Dec 07 |  Hampshire
Camilla names new Cunard 'queen'
10 Dec 07 |  Hampshire
New liner arrives in Southampton
07 Dec 07 |  Hampshire
Royal liners in Sydney rendezvous
20 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Work begins on 'new QE2' vessel
19 May 06 |  Hampshire


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