QE2, by the man who knows her best

January 04, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

For those who love the sea and its great ships, this book serves as a reminder that the era of the great Trans-Atlantic liners will finally draw to a close when the Queen Elizabeth 2 -- known commonly as the QE2 -- finally sails on its last voyage to the breakers' yard.

The ship is descended from a grand pantheon of Cunarders with a pedigree so hallowed on the Great Circle Route that the years have not washed away their memory.

The Mauretania, Lusitania, Aquitania, Berengaria, and the superliners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth -- legendary predecessors on the North Atlantic route -- figure mightily in the QE2's heritage.

The ship is a floating repository of all the grandness and excitement that was associated once with a North Atlantic crossing in an era before the traveling public deserted the swaying decks and salt air for jet lag and third-rate airline food, all in the name of next-day arrival.

Today's vessels are nothing more than Atlantic City pleasure domes, where an atmosphere of a perpetual Saturday night is pervasive and the roulette wheel never ceases to spin. Gluttony in all of its bizarre incarnations is not only encouraged on these vessels but expected. This attitude stands in direct contradiction to the quiet and elegant lifestyle that was the benefit of shipboard life, so much so that physicians routinely prescribed voyages of any duration as a panacea for a host of human ills. Clearly, a physician today making such a suggestion would be considered out of touch with reality.

The QE2 and only a handful of other liners steam along maintaining traditions and a way of life that will most likely expire in not too many years.

The story of this grand survivor is told from the perspective of her master, Ronald W. Warwick, the only man to command the same Cunard ship as his father, Commodore William Eldon Warwick, who was the QE2's first master.

The QE2, the largest liner afloat today, measures 963 feet and weighs in with a gross tonnage of 69,053. It's capable of transporting 1,900 passengers and 1,015 crew members at a speed of 30 knots. It has steamed 3.25 million miles and visited more than 200 destinations in a career that stretches over 25 years.

When built in 1969, the ship cost $80 million, and it recently underwent a major $100 million refurbishment. It has crisscrossed the oceans of the world in a 25-year career whose highlights include being requisitioned by the British government during the Falklands War in 1982 and being deployed as a troop and hospital ship to the South Georgia Islands.

Captain Warwick's detailed commentary will satisfy both the novice and the dyed-in-the-wool old salt.

Lavishly illustrated with color and black and white photographs, the book documents the ship's beginnings in the same berth from which the earlier Queens emerged 30 years earlier, as a mere 180-ton block of steel. It took four years to complete the building of the vessel, which made its maiden voyage in 1969.

When the QE2 transited the Panama Canal in 1975, it was the largest vessel in the world to do so. It crept through the canal's six locks with only 30 inches to spare on each side, an amazing achievement eclipsed only by the $90,000 canal toll.

A 1987 conversion from a steam turbine propulsion system to diesel engines was completed in 179 days and was the largest marine engineering conversion in merchant shipping history.

A crossing from Southampton to New York at an average speed of 28 1/2 knots, depending on the route, takes about 4 1/2 days. Provisioning of food and beverages for one week includes some of the following items: 135 jars of baby food; 7,720 tons of beef; 130 bottles and 12 brands of brandy; 865 gallons of ice cream; 1,950 pounds of lobster; 26,500 tea bags; 255 bottles of whiskey (35 brands); 2,200 bottles of wine (203 labels); 30 pounds of haggis; and 2,342 dozen eggs.

Captain Warwick concludes his book with a tour of the QE2, complete with color photographs, which begins at the mast -- 169 feet and 1 inch above the waterline -- and ends on decks seven and eight, where there is a bulk beer store that is able to hold 13,000 gallons of beer in 27 stainless steel tanks.

The QE2 is the legatee of the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., known more familiarly as the Cunard Line, which was established in 1840 by Samuel Cunard and which has never lost a passenger's life in peacetime.

Long may she sail!

Mr. Rasmussen is a reporter for the local news section of The Sun.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "QE2: The Cunard Line Flagship, Queen Elizabeth II"

Author: Capt. Ronald W. Warwick

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.

Length, price: 224 pages, $40

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