June 18, 2024

Transatlantic crossing tugs at the heart

Arriving at the Southampton docks to board Queen Mary 2 for our first trans-Atlantic crossing, we knew immediately that something unusual was in the air.

It wasn’t that Queen Victoria was also berthed just upriver from QM2 and that the crowds of excited passengers and throngs of dockside traffic reflected that the two ships were scheduled to sail at the same time that evening. It was something else. You could just feel it in the air. Special indeed, as it soon became known that Queen Elizabeth 2 was also in port.

QE2 had arrived in Portsmouth the day before upon completion of her last world voyage and was scheduled to set sail immediately for the shipyards at Bremerhaven, Germany. At the last minute, Cunard decided the work could be done in Portsmouth so the scene was set for an historical last meeting of the three iconic Queens and a sad, farewell whistle.
Queen Mary 2 has two traditional ‘Typhon’ style whistles located at the forward end of her majestic funnel. The starboard side whistle is one of three from the original Queen Mary and on loan to Cunard from the City of Long Beach which operates the retired ocean liner as a museum ship.

On the port side of QM2’s funnel is a replica of the original whistle. Kockums Sonics of Sweden manufactured both whistles and converted the original whistle so that both are today driven by compressed air rather than steam. The whistles sound a characteristic deep bass “A” note that can be heard for up to ten miles.

On this day (April 22, 2008) passengers were told QM2 would be making a farewell whistle salute to QE2 and in preparation, we were all issued small Union Jack flags. Thousands of spectators lined the quayside and the rails were crowded with passengers as QM2 dropped her lines and moved upstream first passing Queen Victoria then QE2. As our ship glided by QE2, Captain Chris Wells (now Master of Cunard’s new Queen Elizabeth) sounded both of QM2’s great whistles. The air reverberated for miles around and our chests throbbed. Captain Wells skillfully rotated the massive ship in a tight turning circle and set a downstream course close by QE2.

As we came abreast of QE2, the air suddenly burst alive with the heart wrenching boom of the original Queen Mary whistle. Three long blasts of a sad farewell. Seconds later QE2’s own great whistle replied. The thrill of that exchange put another dimension to what had already been an emotionally charged day aboard Queen Mary 2 and it is safe to say that a few tears were shed.

Portsmouth soon faded off our stern and the largest liner ever built slipped quietly down river towards the Solent and the great adventure that lay beyond.