Firm marks Queen Mary 2's launch

In $3 million contract, city-based Chesapeake Printing provides genteel touches for world's largest cruise ship

January 12, 2004|By Todd Beamon | Todd Beamon,SunSpot Staff

When the Queen Mary 2 began its maiden voyage from England today, Kenneth H. Wahler was on it -- in mind and spirit.

"You can't hear its whistles here in Baltimore, but I will hear them in my heart," said Wahler, president of Chesapeake Printing Inc. on Fayette Street. "It's absolutely breathtaking."

Chesapeake Printing, a unit of Chess Communications Group Inc. with about 50 employees, spent the past year preparing printed materials for the oceanliner's maiden voyage. Under a $3 million contract, Chesapeake provided a range of items -- menus, wine lists, menu cards, do not disturb signs, seating cards, invitations, envelopes and personalized stationery.

Wahler, 43, Chesapeake's president since last year, returned yesterday to Baltimore after working with his wife, Megan, on the QM2 since Dec. 29. The company, founded in 1960, has been a vendor for Cunard Line Ltd., the Miami-based unit of Carnival Corp. and operator of luxury ocean liners, since last year.

Chesapeake supplies all printed materials to six Cunard vessels, including its current flagship, the Queen Elizabeth 2. According to Cunard officials, Chesapeake is the company's only Baltimore-based vendor.

"It was the most spectacular ship I've ever seen," Whaler said. "This was absolutely mind-boggling. The ship is so big."

In fact, Queen Elizabeth II read menus printed by Chesapeake during her tour of the vessel after a lavish naming ceremony last Thursday. It was the first time the Queen had named a Cunard ship since the QE2 was launched in 1967.

Leave from Southampton, England, about 1:30 p.m. on a 14-day cruise to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the QM2 is the world's largest, tallest and biggest ship. Stretching 1,132 feet, the 150,000-ton luxury vessel is about the size of four football fields. The $1 billion QM2 is more than twice the size of the QE2 and can carry up to 2,620 passengers.

Until now, luxury cruise ships can only carry 200 to 600 passengers.

The QM2 also has the first planetarium at sea, 10 restaurants -- overseen by New York-based chef Daniel Boulud, as well as one named after celebrity chef Todd English -- a Veuve Clicquot champagne bar, casino, two-story movie theater, classrooms, shops featuring such upscale products as Chanel and Dunhill and a "pillow concierge" offering nine kinds of pillows. It staff totals 1,253 employees.

The ship's 14-passenger decks contain 1,310 cabins, including include four royal suites and six penthouses. The QM2's standard cabins, at 194 square feet each, are the largest of any British-registered ship -- and 955 of the cabins have balconies.

In its first year, the QM2 will cross the Atlantic 13 times between England and New York, replacing the QE2 next year. The QM2 will sail to New York for the first time on April 16, and both ships will depart New York together on April 25.

That day will mark the first time two Cunard Queens have been berthed in the same port since 1940.

"It's just beyond a ship," Wahler said. "There's something very romantic and very special knowing that this ship will be taking over transAtlantic trips. There's a historical significance."

Beyond understanding the significance of participating the QM2's inaugural voyage, Wahler said he quickly realized that Chesapeake had a job to do.

"It's one thing to manufacture everything here, and seeing all the materials come off the printer and all, but when we actually arrived at the ship, it really struck me at all the work we were doing over the past year," he said. "I realized that the champagne menus had to be in the right place, I had to make sure the letterhead was in the right place, the postcards ...."

He said Chesapeake supplied about 10,000 square feet of materials to the QM2, equal to 70 full pallets of boxed materials. "The first thing I had to do was sort through 400 sea containers (each about 60 square yards) that were sent to Cunard," Wahler said. "They contained everything from mattresses to printed materials."

Only two of those containers belonged to Chesapeake, he said.

While Chesapeake had a contract with Cunard, the $3 million deal for the QM2 was not guaranteed, Whaler said. "We work very, very hard for out clients, but we didn't take the Queen Mary business lightly," he said.

"They did re-screen us," Wahler added. "There was extra pressure, sure, but my thoughts were that they had a lot of things to worry about with the launch of the Queen Mary 2 that they didn't have to worry about the printed materials not being there. They had to be there."

And that meant many last-minute changes and quite a few 24-hour shifts at Chesapeake's facility at 901 E. Fayette St..

"The days became endless," Wahler said. "The days became weekends and the weekends rolled into the next week. I've got a tremendously dedicated staff here."

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