by Richard H. Wagner
(Originally published by the
Navy League of the United
States, New York Council in
The Log, Winter 2006).
When Cunard Line's QUEEN MARY 2 went into service in January 2004, it was clear that
she was an important ship. While there are other contemporary passenger ships that have
excellent amenities and provide good vacations, QM2 is a ship with historic attributes. She
premired as the largest, longest, tallest, and most expensive passenger ship ever built.
Moreover, she was the first ship in 40 years to be built as an ocean liner, i.e., one designed to
transit grey waters at high speed as opposed to a cruise ship which is designed to do leisurely
voyages in calm waters. A regular visitor to our harbor, The Log visited her and found that
as she approaches the third anniversary of entering into service, QM2 has developed her own
identity, emerging from the shadow of her famous Cunard predecessors.
In order to put QM2 in perspective, one has to look at the history of Cunard. As Carol
Marlow, President and Managing Director of Cunard, told The Log: "At Cunard our history is
really where our future lies. We take our history with us. Really, our heritage is our
Sir Samuel Cunard formed the Royal Mail Steamship and Navigation Company in 1839 in
order to obtain a contract from the British government to transport the mail from Britain to
America on a regularly-scheduled basis. The following year, the 1,154 ton paddle steamer
BRITANNIA made the company's first transatlantic crossing in 14 days. Although the
lucrative mail contract was the company's primary business, the ship also carried 63
passengers in accommodations that passenger Charles Dickens described as resembling a
coffin, only wet.
During the next half century, the company's name changed to the Cunard Line, reflecting
its founder's dominance of the organization. The fleet changed as well, gradually losing the
vestiges of sailing ships, growing in the number of ships, and growing in the size of the ships.
Cunard did not have the Atlantic to itself. The massive waves of immigration from
Europe to America attracted companies from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and
the United States to build fleets of passenger ships. In addition, as naval technology
advanced, it became possible to devote a portion of each ship to more luxurious
accommodations, which made it more enticing for those people who had made fortunes in
America to return to Europe to absorb the culture and to mix with other rich people.
By the turn of the century, the German lines were capturing the lion's share of the
market. In addition, American financier J.P. Morgan was purchasing steamship companies in
an attempt to obtain monopoly power over the Atlantic passenger trade. As an island nation,
this was viewed as a serious threat to Britain. Consequently, in 1903, the British government
subsidized the construction of two ships for Cunard - - LUSITANIA and MAURETANIA
(See The Log, Spring 2005 at p.10). These ships were amongst the first to have turbine
engines and were large, luxurious and fast. Everything else on the Atlantic was rendered
obsolete. They were the first "superliners."
Realizing that it could not compete with the new Cunarders on the basis of speed, the
White Star Line, a British company owned by Morgan, elected to build a trio of nearly
identical ships that would offer unprecedented luxury in even larger-size hulls. Of course, the
opulent public rooms and staterooms were only for the millionaires who traveled in first
class. But, the accommodations in second class were as nice as first class in many ships then
plying the Atlantic and even the Spartan space allotted the masses of immigrants who were
still the bread and butter of the line was better than what they had left at home.
Unfortunately, these ships never fulfilled their promise after the second of the class,
TITANIC, experienced difficulties on her maiden voyage.
Following the First World War, America restricted immigration, which meant that the
passenger lines had to shift their focus. Carrying the rich and famous would not be enough to
sustain these massive ships. Accordingly, the lines turned to the increasing amount of
business travel between Europe and the United States and to encouraging the growing
American middle class to vacation in Europe. However, these passengers were not going to
accept the dormitories that the immigrants had used. While nobody really expected a room as
nice as in a hotel, the accommodations should at least be pleasant. Furthermore, this was an
era of rapid technological advance and the public was fascinated by fast trains, fast
automobiles, and the new airplanes. Ships should be fast and sleek as well. Germany and
Italy saw the opportunity and responded with streamlined speed queens such as BREMAN
Cunard again envisioned a competitive response that would be a leap forward. It would
have two new superliners more than 1,000 feet in length that would make the crossing in just
five days and which would offer a variety of accommodations. Accordingly, in 1932,
construction began on QUEEN MARY. However, as the Great Depression deepened,
construction came to a halt and the ship sat idle, towering over the Scottish countryside for
more than a year.
Meanwhile, the French Line was building its own 1,000-foot superliner. Unlike QUEEN
MARY, which was essentially a larger version of the pre-war AQUATANIA, a near-sister of
LUSITANIA, NORMANDIE was to be a technological innovation as well as a palace of art
deco design. Furthermore, the French government was subsidizing her construction. As a
result, even though she was begun after QUEEN MARY, NORMANDIE entered service first.
Sensing another threat to Britain's maritime dominance, the British government loaned
Cunard the money to complete QUEEN MARY on the condition that Cunard merge with the
ailing White Star line, which had never really recovered from the loss of TITANIC. The ship
entered service in 1936 and was embraced by the public. Consequently, while
NORMANDIE and QUEEN MARY traded the title of fastest ship for the rest of the decade,
QUEEN MARY was much more successful in attracting passengers.
The success of QUEEN MARY called for the construction of a running mate. QUEEN
ELIZABETH was larger, more technologically advanced, and more modern in her décor than
QUEEN MARY. However, she began life, not in the traditional Cunard livery of black hull,
white superstructure and reddish-orange funnels, but painted haze grey. In 1940, it was
announced that she would leave her builder at Clydebank, Scotland and sail to Southampton,
England, for the remainder of her fitting out. Appreciative of this news, the Luftwaffe duly
dispatched a squadron of bombers to Southampton on the appointed day. However, they
were to be disappointed. After leaving Scotland, the untried QUEEN ELIZABETH sped
across the Atlantic for New York. She was so quick that her escort of five destroyers
appeared in New York a day after the great liner.
For three weeks, QUEEN ELIZABETH, QUEEN MARY, and NORMANDIE sat side-
by-side at the piers that now make-up the Passenger Ship Terminal. Then, the two
Cunarders left to take on the role of troop ships. (NORMANDIE would catch fire and
capsize at her berth in 1942. See The Log, Winter 2003, at 4). Because of their size, each of
these ships was able to transport an entire division at speeds over 30 knots. Winston
Churchill credited them with shortening the war by a year.
After the war, the two superliners took up the transatlantic service. For the next decade,
Cunard did very well, transporting movie stars, vacationers, and business people to and from
Europe. However, in 1957, the first transatlantic jet service began and within just a few
years, the bulk of people crossing the Atlantic were doing so by air. During one crossing,
QUEEN ELIZABETH had only 12 passengers in first class.
At first, Cunard had hoped that the public would become tired of air travel and would
return to the grace of ocean voyages. The line even tried using its flagships for tropical
cruises but the lack of air-conditioning and their poor maneuverability made the ships unsuited
for the task. As losses mounted, it became clear that Cunard's existing fleet was not what the
Once again, Cunard planned an innovative response -- they would build a ship that was not
a stuffy, old, ocean liner but rather a ship that reflected the latest in interior design capturing
the spirit of the "Swinging England" of the 1960s. Furthermore, the ship would utilize the
most innovative maritime technology and be equally at home doing crossings or cruises.
The new ship was to assume the name of the second of the Cunard Queens, which was
being withdrawn from service. However, at the christening ceremony, Queen Elizabeth II,
named the ship "QUEEN ELIZABETH 2" - - starting years of debate over whether the ship
is named after the monarch or after the earlier ship. "QE2", as the ship became popularly
known, entered service just as the ocean liner era closed. Not only were the old Queens gone
but newer superliners such as the UNITED STATES and the FRANCE would soon leave the
Atlantic. QE2 soon had the Atlantic to herself.
The third of the Cunard Queens survived through constant innovation. Her décor shifted
over the years from Swinging England to a more sedate but luxurious atmosphere. Class
distinctions evaporated and essentially all the public facilities became open to all of the
passengers. New, more efficient, diesel engines replaced her steam plant, which also had the
effect of increasing her maximum speed to 33 knots. Additional cabins and suites with
balconies were added. Over time, she became the most famous ship in the world, serving as
a troopship in the Falklands War (See The Log, Fall 2005 at 10), the backdrop for movies
and for television programs, and participating in numerous maritime festivals including such
New York events as Op Sail, the Columbus Quint-centennial, and Independence Day 2000.
Still, QE2 was perpetually running for her life. It was always a question of whether there
was enough of a market to support what Cunard often called: "The Last of the Superliners."
Cunard was no longer an independent company. It had been purchased by the engineering
firm Trafalgar House Ltd. when that company had dreams of becoming a conglomerate with
large holdings in the leisure industry. When Trafalgar House, was purchased by Kvaerner
Group for its engineering assets, the Norwegian corporation made clear it had no interest in
operating cruise ships. As the new Millennium approached, the once mighty Cunard fleet had
shrunk to just two ships.
Meanwhile, in Florida, a passenger ship company had sprung up that was seemingly the
polar opposite of Cunard. It had begun with a second-hand ship making mass market cruises
out of Miami to the Caribbean. At times it had been questionable whether it would survive.
Reportedly, the owner of the line had to empty the cash registers in the ship's lounges during
one voyage in order to pay for refueling. However, appealing to America's insatiable appetite
for "fun", Carnival Cruise Lines had eventually flourished. Indeed, by the late 1990s, it had
purchased many of the venerable passenger ship companies, including Holland America Line,
and was now the largest operator of passenger ships in the world.
Carnival Corporation, the holding company created to oversee Carnival's various
acquisitions, however, recognized that not every person who may be interested in a cruise
vacation is interested in the same thing. Accordingly, it maintains the identity of its various
acquisitions, targeting them to different market segments. In the wake of the success of the
film Titanic, in 1998, Carnival saw a potential market for ocean liner vacations and acquired
Cunard. Not only was QE2 saved, but Carnival announced that it was going to build the
most fabulous ocean liner ever.
Here is where the threads of Cunard's history converge. As with LUSITANIA and
QUEEN ELIZABETH 2, the new ship was going to be a technological leap forward. It
would take the technological advances that had been made in cruise ships in recent years and
combine them with the streamlining and hull strength that were hallmarks of the superliners.
This was not going to be just another cruise ship. As with QUEEN MARY, the new ship
would be of unprecedented size. As with QUEEN ELIZABETH, the décor would be
luxurious but sedate. As with the White Star ships, the new ship would maintain a high
standard of service. Finally, as the shipyard that had built the earlier Cunard Queens was
now closed, the ship would be built in France at the yard where the NORMANDIE was built.
Construction of QM2 began 4 July 2002 at the Alston Marine shipyard in St. Nazaire, France
and she was christened on 8 January 2004 by Queen Elizabeth II. Although built in France
and owned ultimately by an American corporation, she is registered in Great Britain. Most of
her officers are British. Her crew is international, coming mostly from Europe and the
The ship's statistics are impressive. She is 151,400 gross tons with a displacement of
76,000 tons. Her length is 1,132 feet and her beam at the waterline is 135 feet. She has 17
passenger decks and is 232 feet high keel to funnel, which gives her just a few feet clearance
going under the Verazano Narrows Bridge. In fact, her statistics are not much different than
those of an aircraft carrier (Cf. USS NIMITZ (CVN 68): 1,040 ft. long; 134 ft. wide, and
91,000 tons full load displacement). She is no longer the largest passenger ship in terms of
gross tonnage (See The Log, Summer 2006, at p. 9). However, as QM2's master
Commodore Bernard Warner told The Log, "I don't think there is any great deal about being
the biggest or whatever. I know we are the best and the biggest liner in the world."
Indeed, what distinguishes QM2 from modern cruise ships from a naval architecture point-
of-view is not her size but the fact that she was designed as an ocean liner. At one time, the
only difference between a cruise ship and an ocean liner was in the accommodations.
However, starting in the 1970s, the cruise lines began ordering ships that were purpose-built
for warm water cruising. The object was to build ships that maximized the number of
passengers that could be packed within the dimensions of the ship. As a result, cruise ships
became taller, and more box-like in appearance. Furthermore, since they did not have to deal
with the rough weather of the North Atlantic, they did not need the long narrow bows of
ocean liners, the draft of an ocean liner, or the speed needed to do a five-day crossing.
Consequently, they could be built with blunt bows, shallow drafts (which enables them to
dock in many island ports), and slower speeds. Since the only line still doing regularly
scheduled transatlantic crossings was Cunard, no ocean liner had been built since QE2.
As noted earlier, Carnival planned to use Cunard as the means to appeal to what it saw as
a relatively untapped the market for ocean liner travel. This meant that the new ship could
not just be a modern cruise ship with an interior that resembled the Titanic movie set. The
dictates of North Atlantic weather and the need to have voyages short enough to fit with
people's vacation schedules, mandated that the ship be built on the old ocean liner model.
Accordingly, QM2 has a deep draft and her long, proportionally-narrow hull enables her to
slice through the waves. To give her strength, there is 40% more steel in her hull than there
would be in a cruise ship of comparable size. She is all steel, no aluminum. Moreover, she
was built to do a service speed of about 26 knots, using her four diesel engines. When the
two gas turbine engines are added, she can travel at about 30 knots.
Even though she was built on the ocean liner model, she incorporates 21st century
technology. The ship has no traditional propeller shafts and no rudder. Rather, she is driven
and maneuvered by four pods that are suspended from the hull. Two of these pods are in
fixed positions and two rotate 360 degrees. Each weighs 250 tons, roughly the weight of a
jumbo jet. In addition, the stainless steel, fixed-pitch propellers are on the front of the pods
and pull, rather than push the ship through the water. This is more efficient as the propellers
are biting into relatively undisturbed water. When used in conjunction with the ship's three
bow thrusters, the ship can essentially turn around in her own length. This splendid
maneuverability allows the ship to dispense with the use of tugs in most ports.
The pods were the focus of one of the most traumatic incidents in the life of the ship thus
far. In January 2006, the ship was leaving Port Everglades, Florida on a voyage around
South America, when she struck an unknown underwater object. Upon her return to port,
divers reported that one of the fixed pods had been badly damaged. Although the ship was
able to complete that voyage, she subsequently had to go in for an unscheduled dry-docking
in Germany where the damaged pod was removed. As a result, during the bulk of the 2006
season until a second dry-docking in November, the ship operated with three pods.
Nonetheless, QM2 was able to maintain her schedule. "At the moment," Commodore Warner
said in September, "we travel at 26 and a half knots at full speed, as opposed to 29 and a
half. If we need to vary that we can. If you plot your course correctly at the start, you
should not need to be speeding up and slowing down. You certainly don't need to be picking-
up to about 30 knots. The weather reporting that we get these days is very good and you can
Because she was built to handle the worst of North Atlantic weather, the ship is
remarkably stable. There are four stabilizers which extend 15 feet from the hull. However,
because she is so tall, one would expect her to be at the mercy of the wind but The Log was
onboard during a Force 9 gale and there was little movement. "The secret of any ship is to get
the center of gravity of the ship in the correct position. So, all of the heavy weights are in the
bottom of the ship and the lighter steel is in the top of the ship. Of course, in the bottom of
the ship you have the main engines, the stores, and everything else that is heavy. As you are
going along at sea, you are using up fuel from the tanks in the bottom of the ship and as you
are doing that you are replacing that with ballast water from the sea, so you are always
keeping the weights within the ship the same. As long as you keep the center of gravity in the
same place, it will always be a stable ship. [Furthermore, in comparison to a modern cruise
ship] we have a lot more of us underneath the water than they have. We have a draft of 34
feet, they'll have a draft of 28 feet. So, there is a big difference."
The bridge of QM2 is spacious and populated with computer display screens. There are
five flat display screens linked together by the Kelvin Hughes Mantra System. This
integrated system allows the electronic charts, radar and the Computer Safety System, which
monitors all safety systems throughout the ship, to exchange information. A deck officer can
choose which of the radar, chart, or safety displays will appear on a selected screen.
The Electronic Chart Display Information System gives instant access to navigational
information, including speed, distance to go, and estimated time of arrival. The system allows
the ship to largely dispense with paper charts. Whereas QE2 carries some 1,800 paper
charts, 80% of the world's charts are carried on 11 CDs on QM2. These charts are also
frequently updated electronically.
Four radar antennas are located on the mast and a fifth is located at the stern so that there
is 360 degree coverage. With the Automatic Radar Plotting Aid, over 40 targets can be
tracked simultaneously, with each target's true course, speed, closest point of approach, and
time of closest approach displayed. Despite such electronic marvels, QM2 maintains a
lookout with binoculars at night and the deck officers can often be seen peering through them
during the day. Staff Captain (i.e., XO) Trevor Lane explained: “Analysis of past and
modern operational marine incidents [shows] that despite the provision of state of the art
navigational equipment, there is never a substitute for the calibre of the personnel interpreting
the information technology, that teamwork is the only safeguard against human error and
ultimately, it is as true now as it was in the days of Captain Cook, that maintaining a proper
lookout is fundamental to the safe navigation of the vessel.”
QM2 is fitted with a Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) which can control the positioning
of the ship to within a few feet. It uses wind, heading, and global positioning system data to
determine what combination of bow thrusters and pods will be needed to maintain the desired
position. The DPS also allows the officers to use joysticks located in the center of the control
console to steer the ship although the ship is often on autopilot while at sea. When going in
and out of port, a wheel is still used to steer.
Consistent with Cunard's goal of evoking the "Golden Age of Ocean Travel," the interior of
QM2 is one of sophisticated luxury. However, while there are some design ideas borrowed
from earlier ships, it is not a pastiche of past ocean liners. The décor is contemporary. There
are more than 5,000 commissioned works of art in the public rooms, corridors, and
staterooms. While, as on QE2, there are accommodations for movie and rock stars, there are
also more affordable staterooms. "We have a cross-section of society traveling onboard the
ship," notes Commodore Warner. "We also have prices here to suit all pockets. I think in
some aspects, people look at the QUEEN MARY 2 and say 'well, we can't afford to go on
that ship' but that's not true. We provide facilities onboard the ship to suit all price ranges."
With a few exceptions, passengers in the lowest stateroom category can go anywhere and use
any of the facilities that passengers in the more expensive cabins can.
During the "Golden Age" of ocean liner travel, the lines essentially left it to the passengers
to entertain themselves. The lines viewed themselves as in the business of taking people from
A to B, not entertainment. Aside from providing an after dinner dance band, shuffle board
equipment, deck chairs, and a bar or two, the passengers were on their own and contented
themselves with talent shows and egg and spoon races. Perhaps, this is why there were so
many shipboard romances.
Fortunately, QM2 departs from the ocean liner model in this respect. Among other things,
the ship offers lectures provided by Oxford University, a full size planetarium, acting lessons
from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, computer instruction, and a large library. For
those more inclined to the physical, there is a golf simulator, a large gym, pools, and various
other forms of sporting equipment. There are also shows, movies, and live music in the
disco, the English pub, and in the other bars and lounges. Of course, as on all modern
passenger ships, there is a very busy casino.
While there is an active cruise staff organizing activities, no one chases after the
passengers to participate. Moreover, there is ample space to be by oneself. Even though
2,600 passengers may seem like a lot, they are spread out over a very large area. Consider
that in approximately the same physical space, FREEDOM OF THE SEAS has 4,400
passengers. CROWN PRINCESS carries about the same number of people as QM2 but is
only about 75% the size of QM2.
At the same time, QM2 has approximately the same number of officers and crew as
FREEDOM OF THE SEAS and CROWN PRINCESS. This higher passenger to crew ratio
should translate into better service. However, there were problems when the ship first went
into service. As Commodore Warner explains: "We'd be the first to admit that when the ship
first came out, we weren't as hot in the service area as we should have been. Everyone is
now telling me that is the area in which we have improved dramatically. I think we now
provide a very good five-star service for the passengers. I think it was a general change in
management of the hotel in the ship, in the way things were done. When the ship first came
out perhaps Cunard weren't used to operating a ship of this size. That has been developed
bringing in people with experience in big ships."
Indeed, while QE2 was a big ship when she entered service in 1969, by 2004, she was at
best an intermediate-size passenger ship, dwarfed by the mega-cruise ships of other lines.
Moreover, her technology was advanced 1960s technology, not the 21st century technology
built into QM2. Accordingly, Carnival placed Cunard under the same management as its
Princess and P&O subsidiaries, which, inter alia, allowed officers and hotel staff who had
experience on the mega-cruise ships of those lines to serve on QM2. Meanwhile, Cunard
officers and hotel staff were rotated to Princess and P&O ships to gain experience with large
ships and larger numbers of passengers.
This does not mean that QM2 is merely a Princess ship in Cunard livery. "They have
always been very keen to maintain the Cunard brand. I believe that that is being upheld and
it is very important to the company that it is. About five years ago, I had Micky Arison
[Carnival CEO] on the same ship with me for five days and we had a long chat about this sort
of thing. He is very keen to maintain the brands of all his different companies and he doesn't
want to change them because each one has its particular following. I think the company
operates more efficiently yet maintains its traditions."
As a result, the former Princess officers had to learn Cunard traditions such as mixing with
the passengers. "I enjoy those traditions. When the ship is operating on the North Atlantic, if
the weather is good, fine weather, not too rough and not any fog, it gives me the opportunity
to do that. On cruise ships where they are much closer to land much of the time, maybe they
don't have that opportunity. On here, it is great to have those traditions and I have met some
very lovely people."
This cross-pollination as well as the difference in size and amenities ensured that QM2
developed an identity different from its famous running mate, QE2. "Whenever I speak to
passengers from the QE2 who come here and taste this ship, I say to them: 'Take this as a
Cunard transatlantic liner but please don't try to compare us in style to the QE2 because we
do definitely have our own feeling on here onboard this ship."
Another factor that has improved the QM2 experience has been the shift from using the
Manhattan Passenger Ship Terminal to the Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal. "The Brooklyn
terminal is a first class facility for people boarding and leaving the ship whereas in Manhattan,
it certainly was not. It is also an easier area for the ship to berth. We don't need to use tugs
as often as we did in Manhattan. I mean to get into those slots in Manhattan, one did need to
use tugs. They have produced a very fine facility [in Brooklyn] there for us. Plans are afoot
to continue to develop the area. It is an efficient facility. It is a proper terminal for the ship
which is important. I don't think the Manhattan piers were big enough for the ship and I
don't think it created the right impression for passengers coming onboard the ship. There is
no doubt about it, the terminal at one end or the other can spoil the whole [voyage]. You can
have a lovely time but you get so cross getting off that you just leave the ship angry. That's
not something we want. We want the people leaving the ship relaxed and saying 'That was
good, let's book another cruise or whatever it is."
All the emphasis on the fact that the ship is an ocean liner, tends to obscure the fact that
she also does cruises. Her schedule includes cruises to Canada/New England, the Bahamas,
the Mediterranean, Germany, the North Cape of Norway, and the Caribbean. This winter,
she is doing a world cruise. However, next winter, she will be sailing from New York to the
Caribbean on a series of 10-day cruises. The ship's speed enables her to do itineraries that
other slower cruise ships cannot. Her maneuverability allows her to visit ports where there
are few tugs. Her modern technology enables her to do cruising in an efficient and enjoyable
Still, QM2's home is the Atlantic. "We certainly still have a tremendous following on the
Atlantic. It is an experience that is different to any cruise. We have people who continually
come back here. People who are crossing the Atlantic are looking for all sorts of different
things. Some of them are traveling from A to B, some of them are traveling on the ship
because they don't want to fly, some of them are here because they want to go visit people in
the other country, some of them are here just because they want to have a whale of a time on
holiday. And the ship is full most of the time traveling the Atlantic. Whether there will ever
again be room for two making the schedule as they did in the past, I would rather doubt.
But, I think there will always be a place for one to do the transatlantic."
Cruise shipfeature article - - Cunard - - Queen Mary 2