QE2 Sails Historic 40th Anniversary Voyage

Next week, on September 15, QE2 sets off on an historic “lap-of-honour” around Britain to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of her launch by Her Majesty The Queen on September 20, 1967.

While the primary purpose of the voyage is to celebrate the anniversary of QE2’s launch, two other significant Cunard anniversaries will be marked: the 100th anniversary of Mauretania’s departure from the Tyne for her first sea trials on September 17 (the day QE2 will also be on the Tyne) and the 40th anniversary of Queen Mary’s final departure from New York (September 22).

Since she came into service, QE2 has had a spectacular career and is now simply the most famous ship afloat – quite probably the most successful liner ever. She has hosted every senior member of the Royal Family at least once; has welcomed Prime Ministers and Presidents, including Nelson Mandela – around the world; and has been host to a multitude of celebrities and film stars.

So far, she has traveled 5.6 million nautical miles, which is further than any ship ever. That has included 25 circumnavigations of the globe, 801 transatlantic crossings, 705 calls at New York and 697 at her homeport of Southampton, and the welcoming aboard of 2.5 million passengers. In September 2005 she became the longest-serving Cunarder ever.

But, of course, in addition to exotic voyages and ecstatic welcomes, QE2 has had her share of adventures – not least in 1982 when she was requisitioned to carry 3,000 troops to the Falklands War. She returned bearing the survivors of HMS Ardent, Antelope and Coventry.

The 40th Anniversary Voyage, which sold out soon after going on sale in 2005, begins in Southampton next Saturday with a farewell lunch on board for 350 invited guests. When QE2 sails at 5:00 p.m., she will be played off by the Band of the Royal Marines and escorted down Southampton Water by two tugs firing water jets.

The following day will see her move close to the coast at Flamborough Head at 11:00 a.m., and she will be clearly visible from the shore (weather permitting) all the way to the Tyne. Thousands are expected to turn out to see her pass in coastal towns on the way, including Scarborough, Whitby, Sunderland and Hartelepool – where small boats are expected to sail out to greet her.

The maiden arrival at the Tyne promises to be spectacular, with QE2 being escorted by a flotilla of boats and a concerto of Northumbrian pipes to the accompaniment of daytime pyrotechnics. As the ship progresses up river, the Tyne will be turned into a “virtual” red carpet by the use of aqua flares.

On September 18 the ship will be on the Firth of Forth, where she will welcome on board the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and she then sails round the north of Scotland to arrive on the Clyde on September 20, exactly 40 years to the day of her launch.

There, in Greenock, the guests of honour at a celebratory lunch will be 100 workers who helped build the ship. They, and Cunard guests on board, will be treated to a 23-minute display by the Red Arrows.

The exact moment of her launch – 2:28 p.m. – will be marked by the sounding of the ship’s whistle and a recording of Her Majesty The Queen launching the ship will be played over the tannoy.

The following day, September 21, sees the ship in Cunard’s spiritual home, Liverpool, where the company was based from 1839 to 1967. QE2 will be one of the first ships to tie up at Liverpool’s new cruise ship terminal, due to be opened that day by His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent – who will come on board after the ceremony for lunch on QE2.

A spectacular highlight takes place that afternoon when there will be a magnificent Celebration Concert at the Anglican Cathedral, to be attended by all QE2 guests and local civic leaders. The concert, starring soprano Lesley Garrett, Scottish tenor Nicky Spence, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, the Liverpool Cathedral Choir and the Band of the Scots Guards, will be a rousing mixture of patriotic and popular music guaranteed to stir the emotions. Tributes will be paid to QE2 by regular guests Sir Jimmy Savile and Carol Thatcher.

That night, QE2, her guests and well-wishers will witness the spectacle of a splendid midriver firework display.

On her final day at sea (September 22), en route back to Southampton, activities on board will mark the last sailing of Queen Mary and, after dinner, QE2 will pass her newer sister Queen Mary 2 outward bound for New York – the first time two Queen liners have passed at sea since Queen Mary passed Queen Elizabeth in mid-Atlantic for the last time 40 years ago on 25 September 1967. Guests on both ships are expected to be out on deck for this historic occasion.

The eventful voyage ends in Southampton on September 23.

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