Sometimes, maritime history conspires to throw up some pretty beguiling co-incidences. One just such is unfolding today. In two venues- Hamburg and Long Beach, California- two very different ships are celebrating awesome chronological milestones.
Two ships, separated by several thousand miles and seven decades, and yet inextricably linked by a heritage that is anything but common. Each has become a legend. Each was an improbable piece of construction, in and of her own time. The survival of each continues to inspire awe, pride and, in some cases, sheer disbelief.
It was on May 27th, 1936, that the brand new Queen Mary set out on her hugely anticipated maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. She emerged, shining and pristine, from the blood bath following the shotgun marriage of Cunard and White Star. A bloodbath that was actually necessary for her existence in the first place.
It is no exaggeration to say that the eyes of the world were on the new Queen Mary. The new Cunarder was a thrilling diversion for a world already twitching nervously at the bellicose sabre rattlings of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. That May day, hopes flew as high as the flags that festooned the great three stacker as she was warped majestically into mid stream.
Fast forward to today, and the arrival of the Queen Mary 2 in Hamburg for her first major structural alterations since her maiden voyage in January, 2004. Over the next three weeks, Cunard’s mighty flagship will undergo a substantial refit and refurbishment, the sum total of experience gained over a decade of highly successful operation, both on the Atlantic and as a cruise ship.
To date, this is the most significant update for the ship that, even before her launch, had already become known as simply QM2. But, like her dowager ancestor resting quietly in Long Beach, Queen Mary 2 is anything but simple.
Even at the conception stage, the ship seemed extraordinary and unfeasible. A 154,000 ton ocean liner in the 21st century seemed like a sure fire way to bleed a company dry. Only the deep pockets and forward thinking of a company the size of Carnival Corporation could ever have wrought such a fantastic creation from the realms of fantasy into hard, solid reality.
Yet here she is, braced for her first major surgery. Fast in the hands of Hamburg workers who, over the next few weeks, will give her the upgrades, the alterations and the amenities that will make an already extraordinary ship into something even more compelling.
In an exquisite irony, part of that refurbishment will include the embellishment of Art Deco detailing and carpets, deliberately designed to evoke the elegance of the original Queen Mary. I can think of no ship better suited to wear such finery anywhere.
Like her exalted predecessor, Queen Mary 2 will continue to cross the Atlantic between Europe and New York, weaving her own, enduring legend in a series of fantastic, processional voyages that will gradually embellish her own status as time unfolds. She will become as enduring as any Queen before her.
Two ships. One heritage. Each, in it’s own way, still taking people on a series of fantastic voyages. Fast in her berth in Long Beach, the dear old Queen Mary remains a proud, petrified time capsule, taking people from all over the world on a trip back into the hey day of the transatlantic liner.
As for Queen Mary 2, she continues to embrace and enhance those proud old traditions in a stunning, modern style, one shot through with a hefty dollop of elegant, enchanting nostalgia. A ship that is part of a fleet, and yet paradoxically one that is, in so many ways, truly out there on her own.
Each of these two extraordinary ships is like an emotional lightning rod, marking not just our passages across the ocean, but through time and history itself. Long may both continue to reign in their respective spheres.
Long live the Queens.