Page last updated at 23:06 GMT, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

City bids fond farewell to QE2

By Kieran Fox
BBC News, Southampton

The QE2 leaves Southampton
Thousands of people watched the vessel leave port to fireworks

For 41 years Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 has carried the name of her home port, Southampton, to all corners of the globe.

On her 726 and final visit to the Hampshire port, the city of Southampton turned out to honour the ship they call the Lady of the Seas.

Talk to the any of the thousands of people who packed the city's Mayflower Park to wave goodbye and they will tell you about the ship's graceful lines, or the affection they hold for her.

She's not the biggest but, since 1967, QE2 has been synonymous with luxury, celebrity and trans-Atlantic adventure.

While the cost of a voyage on board the liner may have been beyond the reach of many, the sense of pride was everywhere.

"She was the only ship I worked on, I could not work on any other ship," said Josephine Tombs, 67, from Cape Town, South Africa, who worked on board as a massage therapist for six years in the 1970s.

"I had great times on board, I saw Frankie Howard, Nelson Mandela.

"Today is very important, she is the most elegant ship there is and I loved my time on board."

Depart Southampton, 11 November
Lisbon, Portugal
Rome, Italy
Naples, Italy
Alexandria, Egypt
Suez Canal
Arrive Dubai, UAE, 27 November

She added: "It's sad to see her go but at least she's not going to be scrapped."

Earlier, QE2 ran aground on Bramble Bank in the Solent, as she sailed in to Southampton. Many took it as an omen.

"She clearly does not want to leave Southampton," quipped Peter Shanks, the chief commercial officer of Carnival UK, Cunard's parent company.

In 1620 the Mayflower set sail from Southampton to take the Pilgrims to America.

From the packed park named after the Mayflower, a city bade farewell to another ship that will never return - this one destined to become a floating hotel in Dubai.

After slipping her mooring at the dedicated QE2 terminal in Southampton's Dock Gate 4, the ship was towed backwards up Southampton Water for all in Mayflower Park to view.

Shipping editor Keith Hamilton, of the local Southern Daily Echo newspaper, has chronicled the ship since she first arrived in the city in the late 1960s.

"She may be 40 years old but there is not a ship that compares," said Mr Hamilton, who admitted to having a tear in his eye at her departure.

Well-wishers bid farewell to the lady of the seas

Tickets for QE2's final journey sold in just 36 minutes.

And as Rule Britannia played out from her decks and fireworks exploded overhead, a message of thanks was broadcast to Mayflower Park from Captain Ian McNaught.

"For 40 years QE2 has striven to serve Southampton and serve her country with flair and fortitude," said Cpt McNaught, who also presented a commemorative pennant to the city's mayor.

"But now her sea days are done and she passes on to a new life in a new home. We wish her well.

"On behalf of QE2, I bid Southampton farewell and thank you for all the affection you have shown to her in all these years.

"Southampton I salute you."

Cunard has lost its flag-ship, Southampton has lost a name bearer and, as with Concorde, the UK has lost an icon.

The Queen Mary 2 now carries the city's name around the world.

And as the cruise industry booms, a new Cunard liner, Queen Elizabeth, will do the same when she arrives in the city in two years time.

Only time will tell if she can win so many hearts as QE2 did.

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