Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Queen Mary 2: Exploring the Ocean Liner

Sunday July 21st, 10am, 49N, 7W.

I’m sat in the peaceful Commodore Club on Deck 9, looking forward over the calm Atlantic on a rather grey Sunday morning.  We’re sailing WSW, having passed 12 nautical miles south of Portland Bill during the night and embarking onto the 41-million-square-mile Atlantic Ocean (covering about 20% of the Earth’s surface).

Built in Saint Nazaire, France and setting sail on her maiden voyage in January 2004, this 345-m long transatlantic ocean liner is the flagship of the Cunard line, which also includes the Queen Victoria and the Queen Elizabeth.  At the time of her construction in 2003, Queen Mary 2 was the longest, widest and tallest passenger ship ever built.  She was built to replace Queen Elizabeth 2 (1969), and incidentally I’m not the first Fletcher to travel aboard a Cunard ocean liner – my sister worked as part of the QE2 entertainment crew during the ship’s final voyages, and was aboard for the meeting of the three Queens in New York City in January 2008.  Queen Mary 2 completed her 200th transatlantic voyage two weeks ago, so I believe this is #201!

Cunard are at pains to remind us that she is not a cruise ship, but an ocean liner designed specifically for the transatlantic crossing.  She has a gross tonnage of 148,500 and carries 2630 guests plus 1250 officers and crew.   Queen Mary 2 is powered by four 16-cylinder marine diesel engines generating 90,000 horsepower, plus two gas turbines generating 67,000 horsepower when an additional boost of power is needed.  These engines power four Rolls Royce ‘Mermaid’ electric propulsion pods to drive the propellers, and provide electricity for the ship.  The forward pair of propellers are fixed, but the aft pair can completely rotate (“azimuthing”), removing the need for a rudder.  Eight spare propeller blades are located on the foredeck.  The funnel had to be designed to allow her to pass beneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York (she is 72 m tall from keel to funnel), and a minimum of 4-m of clearance is allowed under the bridge at high tide.  She is too large to traverse the Panama Canal, so must circumnavigate South America in order that she can voyage to the Pacific during occasional world cruises.  Three seawater desalination plants, each with a capacity of 630,000 litres a day, provide us with fresh water, using energy from the gas turbines and diesel engines.  Drinking water is stored in tanks with a capacity of 3,800,000 litres.

The ocean liner has 13 decks, full of restaurants, bars, five swimming pools, an enormous library, a casino, spa, the planetarium (called ‘Illuminations’) and the Royal Theatre.  There are even kennels for the transatlantic crossings.  The majority of us are Britannia-class passengers, dining in the voluminous Britannia restaurant; the remainder dine in the Princess or Queens Grill.  A promenade runs a complete loop around Deck 7 and is great for taking in the sea air.  Many of the public areas of the ship are on the lowest decks (i.e., decks 2 and 3, contained within the stronger hull), with passenger cabins stacked on top.  A daily programme of events is delivered to our cabin each night, along with miniature newspapers sourced from the satellite wires.  Clocks go back an hour each night as we traverse the time zones at 26 knots (faster than a typical cruise ship) on our voyage west.

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