I saw three Queens come sailing in…

For the first time ever the Cunard passenger cruise company’s three cruise liners named after British queens: Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria set sail up the River Mersey.  They were here to celebrate the company’s 175th anniversary.  On Bank Holiday Monday I wandered down to Woodside Ferry in Birkenhead where the Queen Mary 2 was berthed following a contingent of uniformed Police officers who were along the riverside ensuring crowd control.

OK3A1605v2

OK3A1607v2

The Cunard company was founded by Samual Cunard initially as the British and North American Steam Packet Company with its first ship the Britannia setting sail on 4 July 1840 from Liverpool to Halifax Nova Scotia and Boston.  The company provided the first ever weekly timetabled steamship service across the Atlantic.  For the next 30 years, Cunard held the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic voyage.

OK3A1633v3

OK3A1644v2

However, in the 1870s Cunard fell behind its rivals, the White Star Line and the Inman Line and the British Government provided Cunard with substantial loans and a subsidy to build two superliners needed to retain its leading position.  In 1934 the British Government offered Cunard loans to finish Queen Mary and to build a second ship, Queen Elizabeth, on the condition that Cunard merged with the then ailing White Star line to form Cunard-White Star Ltd. Cunard owned two-thirds of the new company and purchased White Star’s share in 1947.

OK3A1653v2

OK3A1664v3

The name reverted to the Cunard Line in 1950.  However in 1998 Cunard was acquired by the Carnival Corporation who are based at Santa Clarita, Los Angeles, California and their British headquarters are found at Carnival House in Southampton.  But it is celebrating 175 years of operation in its spiritual home of Liverpool in 2015.

OK3A1675v2

OK3A1681v2

More than one million people lined the banks of the Mersey to watch the Three Queens spectacular, according to some official estimates.  Both sides of the River Mersey were lined all the way along, in some places around ten people deep.  I walked along from the Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead along to Seacombe to find a good spot but some people had been there sitting on camping chairs from very early in the day.  I managed to get a spot in the crowd at Seacombe near to the Twelve Quays ferry terminal where the Belfast Ferry was in port awaiting the cruise liners manoeuvres.

OK3A1694v2

OK3A1693v2

The Queen Mary 2 berthed at the cruise liner terminal in Liverpool on Sunday 24th May.  At 10.45am on Bank Holiday Monday 25th May she sailed out to sea to greet sister ships Queen Victoria travelling from Guernsey and Queen Elizabeth coming from Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands at the mouth of the River Mersey before all three travelled down the river into Liverpool accompanied by a small flotilla of smaller vessels.

OK3A1705v2

OK3A1707v2

The three cruise ships then made dramatic 180 degree turns in the river to face the Cunard Building, one of the ‘three graces’ on the Pierhead on the Liverpool side of the river, the spiritual home to the cruise line.

OK3A1712v2

OK3A1722v2

Some people were lucky enough to be aboard the Mersey Ferries to view the Three Queens from the river.  One of the Mersey Ferries has been redecorated as a ‘Dazzle ship’ commemorating the practice which took place in World War 2.

OK3A1628v2

OK3A1765v2

The Queen Mary 2 then left heading for St Peter Port in the Channel Isles with the Queen Elizabeth tying up at the cruise liner terminal before she too left late in the evening heading to Southampton.  The Queen Victoria moored in mid river and she will berth at the cruise terminal on Tuesday 26th May before she too departs at around 17.30 hours completing a three day celebration.

OK3A1734v2

OK3A1737v2

The crowds peaked in the afternoon when the three giant ocean liners turned in the river to perform a salute to their spiritual home of Liverpool as the RAF Red Arrows flew overhead at precisely 13.51 hours as scheduled.  The RAF Red Arrows flew over the three Queens on the way to Blackpool Pleasure Beach further up the coast for a public display from 2pm.  I managed to get a couple of shots of the planes as they flew overhead.

OK3A1791v2

OK3A1792v3

OK3A1793v2

The ships were accompanied up the river by a flotilla of smaller vessels.  The ships themselves have impressive features.

OK3A1754v3

OK3A1805v2

Queen Elizabeth was launched in 2010 built at the Fincantieri Monfalcone shipyard near Venice, Italy.  She is the second largest Cunard liner ever built.  She has a gross tonnage of 90,900 and is 964.5 feet long.  Queen Elizabeth can carry a total of 2,092 passengers.

OK3A1772v2

OK3A1779v2Queen Victoria was also built at the Fincantieri Monfalcone shipyard near Venice, Italy.  She is the smallest in the fleet at just 90,000 tons and is 964.5 feet long with a passenger capacity of 2,014.  She was launched in 2007 in Southampton.  Her annual itinerary includes a world cruise.  Queen Victoria has seven restaurants, thirteen bars, three swimming pools, a ballroom, a two storey library and Royal Court theatre.

OK3A1812v2

OK3A1782v2

Queen Mary 2 was launched in 2004 as the replacement for the Queen Elizabeth 2 which was retired as the transatlantic liner regularly sailing between Southampton and New York.  QM2 is 151,400 tons and is 1,132 feet long which is equivalent to four football pitches or 41 buses.  She was built in St Nazaire in France for £550m.  She has a maximum capacity of 3,090 passengers and 1,238 crew. On board are 2,000 bathrooms, 5,500 stairs and 22 passenger lifts.

OK3A1807v2

OK3A1789v3

Plans for the 175th anniversary celebrations have been made over sometime and it has taken careful timetabling to allow all three ships to be in the Mersey on one day.  Liverpool is only the fourth place where the three ships have met together.  It certainly was an incredible event not likely to be repeated for some long while.

Queen Mary 2 in Liverpool

Last week saw great excitement as Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 berthed in the city.  It’s only the second time that she has visited the city.  The first time was in October 2009 when she celebrated her fifth year in service with an 8-night voyage around the British Isles which included maiden visits to Greenock and Liverpool.

IMG_7532v2

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 sailed into Liverpool at 3am on 17th May.  QM2 is able to carry 2,620 passengers and in docking at the new cruise liner terminal it allowed passengers to either sail into Liverpool or embark on a cruise from the city.  This is the first time in 45 years that passengers can sail on a Cunard liner from Liverpool.

IMG_7561v2

Cunard has a long association with Liverpool. From 1917 Cunard Line’s European headquarters were in the grand neo-Classical Cunard Building which is the third of Liverpool’s ‘Three Graces’ on the Pierhead.  The headquarters were used by Cunard until the 1960s.  In 1934 Cunard merged with The White Star Line which had been founded in Liverpool in 1845 strengthening the company’s links with the city.

IMG_7537v2

A seven night cruise departed from Southampton on May 10 sailing to Hamburg, Greenock and then Dublin before arriving in Liverpool on the 17th.  The itinerary for the cruise from Liverpool is an eight night sailing to Invergordon, Stavanger, Hamburg and finally Southampton.  Fares for the cruise from Liverpool started from only £599 but there were only 200 berths available for this leg of Cunard’s five star cruising experience on probably the world’s most famous ship.

IMG_7547v2

Queen Mary 2 succeeded Queen Elizabeth 2 which was built in 1969 and retired from active duty in 2008, as the flagship of the Cunard Line.  Queen Mary 2 operates a cruise liner service between Southampton and New York and is also used for more general cruising including an annual world cruise.

IMG_7519v2

IMG_7570v2

She was built in 2003 by Chantiers de l’Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire, France. She is one of the longest, widest, and tallest passenger ship ever built, and with her gross tonnage of 148,528 she was also the largest at that time.  However she no longer holds this record after the construction of Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom of the Seas in April 2006.  Whilst later cruise ships are larger, Queen Mary 2 remains the largest ocean liner (as opposed to cruise ship) ever built.  As the Queen Mary 2 was intended to routinely cross the Atlantic Ocean she was designed differently from many other passenger ships and required 40% more steel than a standard cruise ship.

IMG_7568v2

Queen Mary 2 has a maximum speed of just over 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) and a cruising speed of 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph).  This is much faster than a contemporary cruise ship.  Instead of the diesel-electric configuration found on many ships, Queen Mary 2 uses an integrated electric propulsion system that uses gas turbines to augment the power generated from the ship’s diesels.

IMG_7543v2

IMG_7518v2

Queen Mary 2’s facilities include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the first planetarium at sea. There are also kennels on board, as well as a nursery.  Queen Mary 2 is one of the few ships afloat today to have remnants of a class system on board, as seen in her dining options.  The passengers’ dining arrangements on board are dictated by which ‘class’ of accommodation they choose to travel in. Most passengers (around 85%) are in Britannia class and therefore dine in the main restaurant.  Passengers can choose to upgrade to either a ‘junior suite’ and dine in the “Princess Grill”, or a full suite and dine in the “Queens’ Grill”.  Those in the two latter categories are grouped together by Cunard as “Grill Passengers”, and they are permitted to use the “Queens’ Grill Lounge” and a private outdoor area on deck 11 with its own whirlpool.  All other public areas can be used by all passengers.  This arrangement features on both of Cunard’s other liners, the Queen Victoria and the Queen Elizabeth.

IMG_7539v2

On 19 October 2011, Queen Mary 2 had her registry changed to Hamilton, Bermuda, from her home port of Southampton, England to allow the ship to host on-board weddings. This continued 171 years of British registry for Cunard ships, as Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory.

IMG_7572v2

Liverpool’s new cruise liner terminal was officially opened on 21 September 2007 by HRH The Duke of Kent when the Queen Elizabeth 2 berthed in the city.  Since then Liverpool has seen a growing number of ocean going cruise liners coming in to the River Mersey.

IMG_7522v3

The £19 million facility is able to accommodate vessels of 345 metres (1,132 ft) in length and 10 metres (33 ft) draft.  The terminal was mostly funded by grants from the UK government and the European Regional Development Fund.  The £9 million grant from the UK government came with a condition that the terminal could only be used for cruise ‘port-of-calls’ rather than ‘turnaround’ visits meaning cruises would not be allowed to begin or end at the terminal.  Turnaround visits generate more revenue for the port and city than ‘port-of-calls’. The reason for this restriction was that it was to minimize unfair competition with other ports notably Southampton that had been built with private funding.

IMG_7565v2

Liverpool City Council tried unsuccessfully to have this restriction removed.  In July 2011 the council offered to pay back part of the UK government funding in exchange for being allowed turnaround visits and after further negotiation in March 2012 the government agreed a repayment offer from Liverpool City Council.  With Liverpool paying back the public funding they will be competing on a purely commercial basis with other British ports to secure passenger cruise turnaround opportunities.

IMG_7524v2

On 29 May 2012 a cruise began from the Pier Head for the first time in forty years, when Ocean Countess departed on a cruise to the Norwegian fjords.  From 2014 Liverpool will be the home port of Thomson Spirit, which will operate cruises out of Liverpool.

IMG_7560v2

Last year 30 ships visited Liverpool carrying 37,000 passengers and 15,000 crew.  The city council estimates the spend of the cruise passengers is worth about £1m to the local economy.  As well as cruise ships the Royal Navy also berths ships at the terminal several times a year, often allowing the public to visit the naval vessels.

IMG_7534v2

IMG_7535v2

Many thousands of people had turned out to see the Queen Mary 2.  Many came to view it from Princes Dock where it was berthed opposite some of Liverpool’s waterfront offices.   It’s the size of a large office block in itself with its four stories of passenger cabins with their private balconies high up on the ship.

IMG_7555v2

IMG_7553v2

I had managed to get some photos of the ship in my lunch hour and I had planned to take some more of it sailing out of the Mersey from New Brighton.  Unfortunately it appeared to have left fifteen minutes early rather than its published 5pm departure and by the time I got to New Brighton it was sailing out into Liverpool Bay in the distance.  Maybe I’ll get some shots next time it is berthed in Liverpool.

IMG_7578v2