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