QE2’s Arrival in Dubai, November 26th, 2009
It was a rather cold November evening when I was passing the docks of Southampton on a Blue Funnel boat, one of many that were going out of the port to bid farewell to the grandest of all ocean liners, the QE2; or, as she properly should be addressed, RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.
Together with two ‘table 227’ fellow travellers from the Final Westbound Transatlantic voyage we were wedged between other Cunardites and locals hoping for a good ride alongside the QE2 when she was being tugged out of her birth and making her way into the Solent. We had spent a wonderful albeit sad day in Southampton, over at Hythe Pier watching the fly and sail pasts, later in Mayflower Park and of course, the grand finale, the giant fireworks set up by the city of Southampton. That evening I decided I wanted to fly to Dubai to witness the arrival of the QE2 in her new home port.
While figuring out if it was worth going after all I found a travel companion on Facebook. Much can be said against Facebook (as much can be said for it), when it comes to networking and finding people who share same interests, this is the platform that makes it happen. By chance I found another QE2 lover in one of the many QE2 groups who I contacted after I found out she was heading towards Dubai for the same reason. We quickly established that we were living in the same European hemisphere, she in Monaco, I in Switzerland. Coincidence it was that we were booked on the same flight out of ZRH so we decided to book seats together on one of the yachts that formed part of the QE2 Welcome Flotilla.
Marie, my travel companion went to Civitavecchia earlier. She wasn’t aware like many others that the schedule was brought forward so when she arrived before 7am, the ship was already there and also left hours before her scheduled departure. This was clearly upsetting! It would have been nice if Cunard had published the amended schedule on their website. There were so many Cunardites and fans following her final voyage that this would have been a considerate thing to do.
Anyway, once the decision was made to go I had to organize the flights and contact my colleagues who invited me to stay at their home. My friends were incredibly hospitable hosts, they drove me everywhere I had to go, which came at a great convenience and relieve as otherwise I’d been at the mercy of the taxi drivers. Dubai is not cheap! It is not common for Western women to use public transportation and in less touristy parts not always recommended.
The weather at this time of the year is perfect for travellers from the European continent, very dry and between 25-29 degrees Celsius (approx. 77-83 F). According to my friends it hardly ever rains but of course, this does not apply when I am visiting. So much for angels travelling! Luckily the rain set in late in the evening, after all the arrival festivities! I was able to get flights that were not arriving and leaving at the ungodly time of 2.30am!!!! There are no laws in Dubai regulating airport operating hours, so flights are taking off and landing 24 hours non-stop and because of the heat in summer most flights arrive or leave after 10pm. Try selling this to Heathrow residents!
The recent days had seen a media frenzy which resulted in extensive media coverage, something not unusual for the city. The story made front page on most papers and the most prestigious Khaleej Times had a full 2 page article. They all applauded her arrival enthusiastically and I assume for the purpose of taking the wind out of the controversial discussions about the acquisition by Nakheel many people were quoted being in favour of her to be decommissioned and transformed into a floating hotel. Well, I guess this kind of reactionby Dubai locals was to be expected; of course the British papers cited many readers being against the very same plans a few weeks ago. In discussions with locals I quickly realised that many of them are rather unconcerned about her arrival and the enthusiasm currently shown is to a certain degree superficial. The locals hardly know the ship; one lady expressed her surprise that the ship ‘was full of people when it arrived in Dubai’. She thought it was some kind of a party cruise ship. I doubt the enthusiasm about QE2 will last long.
But now, let’s move on to the day itself.
Marie and I had booked seats with the ‘El Mundo’, a motor sailing yacht that could easily seat 40 people. There was a bar selling alcohol which was unusual. I don’t know what length the owner had gone to for getting an alcohol license. All yachts that registered with the Flotilla received blue ‘Welcome QE2’ Banners sponsored by Nakheel – I nicked the big one seen in the photo. No kidding, I actually asked if I could take it..
We set off from the Dubai International Marine Club at 2.30pm to make our way out towards the flotilla. There wasn’t not a single cloud on the sky, the weather was perfect for this occasion, but Dubai city was continuously covered in a haze. The water was quite choppy, absolutely the opposite of what you’d call ideal conditions for photo shootings.
Maintaining steady legs and a steady camera was going to be the challenge of the day!
We soon were accompanied by other yachts, most noticeably the Dubai Magic, a 140-foot motor sailing yacht, which apparently was the ‘media yacht’ judging by the heavy camera equipment on board. The atmosphere on our yacht could only be described as electric paired with excitement, anticipation but also with bouts of sadness and the occasional outcry of frustration by some true fans. As we continued to make our way towards the ‘meeting point’ the choppy sea started to separate seasoned yachters from those without sea legs. We had no casualties to report but on some of the other boats, a few really got sick. I wonder if that was the sea, the alcohol or a combination of the two…
At about 3.30 pm we could spot the QE2’s imposing silhouette appear on the Golf’s horizon – still a long distance away – and recognizable by the plume of smoke billowing from her funnel. It was a fantastic sight to see her approach from the cloudy horizon and suddenly she was right in front of us, glistening in the sun and ploughing calmly through the sea, while we tried to remain on our feet and avoid a sea shower on our bobbing boats -unlucky those on board who didn’t bring a towel to dry off. The QE2 was accompanied into the port by Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum’s Royal Yacht ‘Dubai’ which is just 34 meters shorter than the QE2 itself and a Royal Navy destroyer, the HMS Lancaster, how appropriate. The destroyer followed the QE2 and looked very tiny. Well, who was protecting whom? Only a close look through the camera objective confirmed the heavy armoury on board the destroyer, so I guess the QE2 had been save from attacks while making her way through pirate waters.
A grand fly-past was carried out by Emirates’ A380, an impressive double-decker. I thought the
A380 would fly past once, make a turn and then disappear, but it wasn’t so. After the 5th circle I gave up counting. It flew so low, you could take brilliant pictures without using a zoom. I don’t want to know how much kerosene was burnt; it certainly wasn’t a day to discuss CO2 omissions.
The deck was packed with passengers and crew members waving the Union Jack Flag. Well, hundreds of flags. There was all kind of banners on display. The crowd was cheering and shouting and they got a good response from the flotilla
At one point the QE2 stopped about a kilometre out to sea, we never found out why. Another great photo opportunity.
We travelled alongside her for until 5.30 or so. When the tug boats were attached to lead her into port, our yacht turned round to head back to the Marina. It became quiet on the boat and a rather sombre mood set in. What had been anticipation has finally become real: The QE2 has made her last journey and will never carry passengers across the Atlantic or around the globe on her famous World Cruise. The QE2 entered Port Rashid under a red sunset for the final ever port call. It must have been around 6pm when Captain McNaught announced ‘done with engines’ for the very last time. From the distance we were able to see a glittering fireworks display lighting up the sky and marking the beginning of an exclusive party for passengers, the royal party and other local dignitaries and, I do hope so, for the crew.
Passengers and crew disembarked the next day. I cannot imagine how the crew members must have felt to walk down the jetty and leave what for many of them was their home for many years. It must have been a very sad day for them to know they will never return.
It’s been a long and emotional day and I was glad I decided to make the trip
And there finally it is: The end of a long and elegant era as the world’s last true ocean liner sailed into history. The final docking represents the end of the ship’s active days and, more so, the end of a form of travel. She is the last true ocean liner on which long transoceanic voyages with formal dinners were cultivated. I will miss the intimacy of her public areas and the faded elegance of the interior design. I personally find the new cruise ships with there rows of balconies very ‘unsocial’ as people have the option to stay in their cabin rather then venturing out into the public areas. Containerships with balconies. But I guess this is a matter of taste.
At the end of the article you will find a collection of links to interesting internet sites and my photo library. Let me now take a side step and digress a little: I think a few thoughts about her new home are appropriate.
Dubai these days is one big construction site which has more cranes than houses and more holes dug up than a Swiss cheese. Many of the construction projects have been going on for months without a sign of ever being finished. Residential compounds are sprucing up everywhere, unfortunately it seems no one wants or can afford to live in them. They look like ghost towns.
The ruling Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum has long ago realized the city’s dependency on oil and gas and ever since had ambitious plans and attract other business and tourism. The dwindling oil and gas reserves only make up 6 % of its GDP and there is a need to diversify. There’s more money than anywhere else in the world which is spent on building and developing the highest, biggest, newest, fanciest, flashiest; and a great share of money is spent on shopping sprees to acquire world class icons like the QE2. My personal impression is that by Dubai standards her acquisition represents just another addition to a big collection of ‘must haves’ in an attempt to turn Dubai into a modern Middle East city which is designed to attract a constant stream of visitors. Dubai is full of superlatives; the QE2 is only one of it. There are rumours that investors are trying to buy one of the remaining Concorde planes which would be fitting. The QE2 and the Concorde make an impressive couple, both born in 1969.
When talking to locals, it becomes apparent that Dubai does not have any great historical nor emotional affiliation with the ship. There are no details as of today with regards to the amount of transformations planned to turn the ocean liner into a luxury hotel, although the digital images of Palm Jumeirah that have been published recently are quite impressive. I wonder if there will be a giant inauguration party as seen last week when the Atlantic on Palm Jumeirah was inaugurated. The Atlantic resides at to top of the palm where the QE2’s new pier will be on the left hand side at the bottom of the ‘tree trunk’ (as seen from the sea). It was a blast of a party with the rich and almighty attending. At the end a multi million dollar fireworks display covered Dubai in a sea of lights. Here’s a link to a video. You have to hand it to the Emiratis , when they open their purse strings they do generously.
Dubai somehow never fails to amaze me: Dubai is trying to establish itself as a host for prestigious international sports & social events but at the same time it is getting a reputation of advertising big events and then hosting them badly. Last year’s Gold Cup horse race was a case in point. Some people had flown half way around the world to be there and ended up missing the whole event because the security was such a fiasco. Or take the new rugby stadium which was said to be purpose built for the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens which is part of the International Rugby Board’s Sevens Series. For the Rugby illiterate, the Sevens Tour is equivalent to the Alpine World Cup or the Soccer World Cup (or for the Americans, the Super Bowl). Dubai is one of the stops. The old stadium was just getting too small so a new one had to be built and the newspapers placated it as a purpose built sporting venue in brick and mortar. This year was the stadium’s opening and it coincided with my visit and of course, being a Rugby fan, I wouldn’t have missed it in the world. The purpose build stadion looks like a makeshift to me, and I am told this is temporary. Never mind, the games were fantastic and I enjoyed it immensely. The atmosphere was great. There’s a great deal of national pride involved and people get excited about everything that makes a great headline in the newspapers the next day. I loved every day and for sure will return in 2009.
It is for the reasons mentioned above that I have ambiguous feelings about her new home. Personally, I am not happy with Cunard’s decision to sell her off to Dubai, it’s not exactly what one can call ‘first choice’. However, reality is neither Southampton nor any other UK port could have afforded her. And I am not thinking in terms of acquisition but in terms of transformation and maintenance. I cannot blame Cunard for retiring an old ship that may become soon uneconomic to maintain. I think she reached an age were her upkeep is costing Cunard a fortune and she is retiring for a combination of reasons, including safety and environmental rules. Another factor is probably that customer demand has changed enormously since she was built; younger passengers are expecting a few more things than the QE2 can offer.
It’s my heart and emotional attachment to this grand ship that resents her being turned into a floating hotel and amusement centre, but from a rational point of view this was probably the best option at the time Cunard decided to decommission her. Turning her simply into a ‘heritage museum’ is more than a challenge in the current economic climate, proper maintenance costs a fortune, and if she isn’t to become a derelict icon of the past, there have to be sound business plans for turning her into a money maker that will be her rescue from such peril.
Alas, the question of whether Nakheel will be successful is quite valid. My friends took me to a birthday party on the day after her arrival and the host turned out to be a British expat working as project director for the company that is responsible for the construction of the Trump Tower and the QE2 Pier on Palm Jumeirah. He told me that they just got the order to scale down the pier massively in size and grandeur. Consistent with those plans were announcements on November 29 that Nakheel was going to cut 500 jobs or 15 % of its workforce as it scales back projects amid the global financial crisis, as a result the Trump Tower has been put on hold. Whether this means a set back for the remodelling and refurbishing of the ship remains to be seen. There are also very contradicting views on the transformations. Gossips and rumours are spreading wildly and I tend to treat them with a great pinch of salt until the final plans are revealed by Nakheel. The sale included everything on the QE2 except the new painting of the QE2’s final arrival in the Solent (unveiled by HM the Queen in June 08) and the two personal standards of HM Queen Mary. There are plans for a museum onshore which is supposed to display most of the arts and artefacts but I am not quite sure where this would fit in the design.
Review of my notes: Most of my article was written shortly after my return to Switzerland. The ship is still docked in Port Rashid, and the most ridiculous rumours are unsettling the ocean liner community and are hotly debated in various Forums. In my opinion it pointless to speculate, especially as QE2 Enterprises are keeping the cards close to their chests and are not forthcoming with any viable information. It is quite possible that their Plan A has gone down the drain amidst the financial crisis and that there isn’t really a plan B for a less ambitious transformation. To be fair, the economic crisis would have hit any other investor in a similar way if not worse.
Well, it’s over now and all that is left are wonderful memories. I assume it is now time to move on to the QM2. The Maiden Eastbound Voyage (in tandem with the QW2) in 2004 was a major disappointment (and I think a hard time for both passengers and the crew) but I have been told she is a lot more settled now, she is receiving many compliments so it is time to give her another chance. I am now booked on a round trip in summer and maybe she will become my new ‘Transat’ home for the next couple of years.
My story comes to an end and I’ve been thinking of an adequate quote to finish this article. Well, I think I found it: The following poem was written by Carmel Rogers, the last librarian on the QE2 for her performance on the last night on QE2: (click on her name to view viedeo)
When I was young I saw the QE2, she was often in the news.
I wondered, in passing, what it must be like, to be in a sailor’s shoes.
Little did I know that I would walk her decks and sail around the world.
How many times I would see her ensign snap and in the wind unfurl.
Seven times around the world in my short 8 year career.
Now the day we have to leave her is drawing awfully near.
The strains of music and the sound of laughter will slowly fade away.
The tinkle of tableware and crystal glasses will be memories of another day.
The ever present heart beat of the great engines will be still at last.
As to her final resting place her ropes will hold her fast.
The world’s oceans will seem empty without their greatest queen.
Her magnificent shape on the horizon will never again be seen.
But we must do her justice and celebrate her reign of so many nautical miles.
All the anniversaries, birthday parties, friendships forged and years of laughter and of smiles.
Yes many happy memories and lots of anecdotes to tell.
Of the Golden Age of Cruising and how we knew it well.
She will take her place of honour, as the Jewel in the Crown of The Palm.
A resting place fit for our favourite Queen, where she will be kept from harm.
So now we must wait impatiently as three long years go by.
Until she has had her refit and been scrubbed up in Dubai.
I hope she will still resemble the Great Lady we all knew.
In these days that we all made History – guests and crew.
As we sail in with fanfares and fireworks to our very final port.
Sound that whistle one more time. Delivered safe by Ian McNaught!!
This Final Voyage seemed so far away and it proves how much time flew.
She will always sail within our hearts. Long live QE2!