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Back Page: Her Majesty's Ship

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Since she was launched by her royal namesake in 1969, the Queen Elizabeth 2 has carried on the grand tradition of ocean liners, spiriting passengers across the Atlantic in exquisite and elegant style. Although the QE2 will cede the transatlantic route to her younger sister, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, next year (“The Concorde is Dead. Long Live the Queen.” page 108), she will not sail off into the sunset. The QE2 will remain in service, cruising mostly along the coasts of European countries, and she will still continue to make an annual around-the-world cruise, which takes place from January through mid-April and includes stops in New York, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, and Hawaii.

We featured such a voyage in the June 1988 issue of Robb Report. Carrying the unambiguous title “Queen Elizabeth 2,” the article delivered a comprehensive survey of the many ways that passengers could be pampered. However, the QE2 was and remains much more than a pleasure ship. Britons regard her as a potent and beloved symbol of their country.
 
Recall that she led a 1994 flotilla off Southampton, England, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Indeed, the QE2 is a war veteran, though not of World War II. In May 1982, the British government requisitioned her for use in the Falklands conflict as a troop transport. Helicopter pads were installed over the swimming pools at the bow and stern, carpets were covered with protective boards, and piping was laid through corridors to allow refueling at sea. The ship’s paintings and other valuable decorative elements were removed and placed in storage, and her cabins were fitted with bunks. Cunard asked for 650 volunteers to staff the ship on its journey south, and more than 1,000 stepped forward.

Although England’s dispute with Argentina over the Falklands did not last long, the QE2 experienced some tense moments during her tour of duty. Toward the end of the journey to South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, the crew had to guide the ship through an ice field at night—a task that was especially treacherous because the QE2 was traveling with no lights and no radar, and all of her windows and portholes were covered with black plastic to avoid detection by Argentinean vessels. The ship arrived safely at the island’s Cumberland Bay, where she off-loaded soldiers and matériel headed for the Falklands. On her return trip to England, the QE2 carried 674 survivors of the sunken warships HMS Coventry, HMS Antelope, and HMS Ardent.


The QE2’s honored place in British culture has also made her a target of terrorists. During a transatlantic voyage in May 1972, the ship’s captain received a threat from someone who demanded a six-figure payoff or else he would trigger a bomb planted on board. A search by the crew, and later by a bomb disposal squad that was flown from England and parachuted into the water near the ship, turned up nothing. Four years later, a trio of Irish Republican Army members attempted to blow up the QE2 when she was in dry dock in Southampton.

“Americans are new to terrorism, but we’re not,” says Eric Flounders, Cunard’s European director of corporate communications. “Security is always very tight. It was upped slightly after September 11, but we have always been very conscientious.”

Flounders, who has worked for Cunard for almost 20 years, acknowl­­­edges the significance of the QE2 withdrawing from the transatlantic route, but he does not see the move as a demotion. “I look at it this way: The QE2 is used to cruising between trans­atlantic runs. It’s not as if she’s going away. She’s just doing more of what she’s always done,” he says. “The QM2 was built for trans­atlantic cruising. The QE2 has a worthy successor.”

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