University of Oxford

A Transatlantic Crossing with the Queen Mary 2

Day One

                Driving up to the Port of Southampton’s Mayflower Terminal and catching first glimpse of the white-and-black hulled Queen Mary 2, the largest, longest, tallest, heaviest, and most expensive ship ever built, evoked considerable excitement and awe.  Docked to port at a 50-degree, 54.25’ north latitude and 001-degree, 25.70’ west longitude and facing a 116.4-degree compass heading, the 17-decked leviathan, with a 1,132-foot length and 148-foot width, featured a gross weight of 151,400 tons and towered above the buildings with its balcony-lined façade, eclipsing it with its 236.2-foot height.  Its draft extended 33.10 feet beneath the water line.  The floating metropolis, complete with its staterooms, restaurants, shopping arcades, libraries, theaters, and planetariums, would bridge, in six days, the European and North American continents, the equivalent in hours to the duration of the aerial crossing by 747-400, itself then the world’s largest commercial airliner.  But the oceanic crossing would yield civility, refinement, rejuvenation, emotional repair, and return to the slower, but more elegant era of steam ship travel—a journey, I would soon find out, would lead to a search for the maritime history of the past which had created the technology of the present.

                Unlike the proliferation of modern cruise ships with their comparatively lower speeds and greater-volume, square-geometry hulls, the Queen Mary 2 had been designed as a next-generation successor to the 35-year-old Queen Elizabeth 2 and, as such, would have to offer the same year-round, passenger-carrying capabilities, predominately in the rough North Atlantic, with a design which sacrificed revenue-producing volume and lower construction costs of the traditional cruise ship for the required safety, speed, and stability of the ocean liner.  Resultantly, it featured the same v-shaped hull configuration characteristic of the long line of its Cunard predecessors, constructed of thicker steel which carried a 40-percent greater cost than those of conventional cruise ships.  Designed by Stephen Payne, whose inspirations for the bow had come from the Queen Elizabeth 2 and the brake wall from the Normandie, it was the first quadruple-screw North Atlantic ocean liner since the France of 1962.  Payne himself, a naval architect born and raised in London, had been involved with the Carnival Holiday, Carnival Fantasy, and Rotterdam VI projects.  The latter, incorporating a modified Statendam hull, had featured a less “boxy” hull shape than the traditional cruise ship, but had still been considerably removed a full liner design.

                Intended for the primary Southampton-New York route, it incorporated dimensional restrictions dictated by the United States port, including a funnel height which cleared the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by only ten feet and an overall length which exceeded the 1,100-foot pier of the Port of New York by 34 feet.

                Constructed by Alstom Chantiers de l’Atlantique in St. Nazaire, France, which had also built the Normandie, and designated hull G32 by the shipyard, it had been the first Cunard liner ever constructed outside of the United Kingdom and, like Concorde, the world’s fastest and hitherto only supersonic airliner, became the second British-French collaborative transportation project intended for trans-Atlantic service, although via vastly different, if not opposite, modes.

                Its interior offered unparalleled space and comfort.  Of the 17 decks, the first four were for machinery, storage, and the 1,254-strong crew; 13 were for the 2,620 passengers; and eight contained balcony staterooms.  Notable features included a Grand Lobby, the Royal Court Theatre, the Illuminations Theatre and Planetarium, the ConneXions Internet Center, the Queen’s Ballroom, a Winter Garden, nine major restaurants, 11 bars and lounges, an 8,000-volume library and bookstore, an Oxford University lecture program, performances by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, five swimming pools, sports venues, a Canyon Ranch Spa, a pavilion of shops, and a discotheque.  These appointments would constitute my “home” for the next six days.

                Symbolically reflected by its smaller QE2 predecessor berthed a considerable distance from its bow at the Queen Elizabeth 2 Terminal, the Queen Mary 2 represented a two-fold gross weight increase over its earlier-generation counterpart and, indeed, traced its lineage back to a long path of Cunard vessels which had spanned a 165-year period.  I somehow sensed that the imminent crossing would not only be a journey of distance, but a return in time.

                Gently vibrating at its spine, the behemoth laterally separated itself beneath from its berth below the metallic overcast at 1810, local time.

                Unlike the conventional engine-propeller shaft technology of older-generation ships, the Queen Mary 2 was powered instead by four aft, hull underside-mounted Rolls Royce Mermaid electric-motor pods, each weighing 260 tons and containing four fixed-pitch, 9,900-pound, stainless steel blades, and collectively producing 115,328 horsepower.  The forward, outboard pair was fixed and provided forward and astern propulsion, while the aft, inboard pair featured 360-degree azimuth capability and provided both propulsion and steering, obviating the need for the rudder.  The advanced-technology system reduced both complexity and weight and increased internal hull volume by eliminating the traditional engine configuration’s associated equipment.

                Three Rolls Royce variable-pitch, transverse-propeller bow thrusters, collectively producing 15,000 horsepower, provided port and starboard bow maneuvering capability at speeds of up to five knots.  At eight knots, when their effectiveness had been exceeded, they were covered by 90-degree rotating, fluid-dynamic doors.

                Led by dual water-sprout shooting tugboats, the behemoth oceanliner commenced its lumbering movement down the basin.  Maintaining an 11.5-knot forward speed in the Solent, it commenced its starboard turn from 140 degrees at Calshots Reach at 1907, poised for the similar maneuver at Brambles.

                Compressed into dark gray, the sun projected its glowing orange streaks outward through the thin, unobstructed strip on the western horizon.  Assuming a 220-degree heading through the Thorn Channel, the Queen Mary 2 initiated its starboard turn to round the Isle of Wight.

                The first dinner on board the elegant, maritime engineering triumph had been served in the 1,351-seat, three-story-high, dual-level Britannia Restaurant which had featured a grand, sweeping staircase, column supports, and a vaulted, back-lit, stained glass ceiling and was reminiscent of and inspired by the grand dining room salons of the 20th century French liners such as the Ile-de-France, the L’Atlantique, and the Normandie.  The meal itself, served on Wedgwood bone china and in Waterford crystal, had included white zinfandel wine; cream of mixed mushroom soup with parmesan croutons; crusty rolls and butter; oak leaf and Boston salad with shaved carrots and sherry vinaigrette dressing; rack of pork with wild mushroom ragout, truffle mashed potatoes, morel sauce, and sauerkraut; warm apple strudel with brandy sauce; and coffee.

                The thin line of orange lights outlining the coast traced itself behind the stern.  Maintaining a 27-knot speed and a 250-degree heading, the rock-steady, 151,000-ton engineering mass plied the black channel and commenced its great circle course, from Bishop’s Rock in the Scilly Isles.  Ahead lay the infinite Atlantic—and the path forged by every one of Cunard’s previous transatlantic liners.  Tomorrow, I would begin tracing the historical one. 

Day Two

                Dawn greeted the lengthy liner as a tunnel of indistinguishable, moist gray.  Encased between the morose cloud dome above and the navy sea slate below, which spat periodic white caps, the black-and-red funneled vessel penetrated the moisture-saturated morning, the rain-emitting sky and the swirling, eddying sea merging into seamless, wind-blustery, ship-bombarded drench.

                Any undesired movement, however, was quickly, and invisibly, dampened by the two pairs of 15.63-square-meter Brown Bros/Rolls Royce fin stabilizers which were controlled by gyroscopic vertical reference instruments and extended as far as 15 feet from the hull to counteract ship roll.

                Plunging into 348-meter-deep waters 98 nautical miles off of Ireland at noon, the Queen Mary 2 had traversed 418 miles since its departure from Southampton yesterday.

                Current weather entailed intermittent, light rain with a clockwise movement to the west, predicted to drop to force 4.  The present force-5, fresh breeze out of the south, coupled with an 11.2-degree Celsius air temperature, carried a 994-millibar pressure.  The sea, with a moderate 4 state, maintained a 10-degree Celsius temperature.

                Afternoon tea, held in the Queen’s Room, had been a British tradition and a delightful intermittence between lunch and dinner served on every Cunard crossing, the last personal one of which had been the 2002 eastbound journey on the Queen Elizabeth 2.  The Queen’s Room itself, the largest ballroom at sea, featured an arched ceiling, twin crystal chandeliers, a velvet blue and gold curtain over the orchestra stage, a 1,225-square-foot dance floor, a live harpist, and small, round tables seating up to 562.  Today’s presentation included egg, ham and cheese, cucumber, tomato, beef, and seafood finger-sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and strawberry cream tarts.

                Afternoon tea at sea could trace its lineage back some 165 years.  Einstein’s theory of relativity somehow seemed to apply.  Suspended between continent, landmass, and population, the ship seemed caught within a void, an arrested warp in which history seemed captured and in which the vessel reconnected with its past, as it once again replayed it, a separation from the present on land and an approach to its past on the sea.  It was to this suspension of time, distance, and place that the threads of Cunard’s past indeed led.  One man, who had lived some 200 years ago, had made the journey of today possible.

                The name of that man, of course, had been the same as that which had graced a long line of ever-advancing Atlantic ocean liners, Samuel Cunard.  Born on November 21, 1787 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as the son of Abraham Cunard, himself a carpenter at Halifax’s Royal Naval Dockyard, he had forged a maritime link upon physical entry into the world.  His initial venture had entailed a Royal Mail contract award to transport mail over the Boston-Halifax-St. John’s route after cessation of the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States, while he later became involved with the first steam-powered vessel project intended for Atlantic crossings.  Named the Royal William, the 160-foot-long, 1,370-ton ship had been inaugurated into service in August of 1931 between Quebec and Halifax, requiring 6.5 days for the journey.

                The venture which had sparked his ultimate fame, however, occurred at the end of the decade when the British government had announced its intention to subsidize steam-powered mail service between England and the United States.  In a formal proposal to fulfill the requirement, submitted on February 11, 1839, Cunard outlined a bimonthly, steam-powered service between England and Halifax operated by 300-hp ships making 48 annual crossings.  Awarded a contract by the Admiralty in June for four 206-foot-long, 400-hp, 1,120-ton vessels ultimately to be designated the Acadia, the Caledonia, the Columbia, and the Britannia, he finalized plans to serve the Liverpool-Halifax-Boston route.

                The latter ship, the Britannia, had actually been the first to be completed.  The 207-foot-long, 34-foot-wide hybrid power ship, constructed of African oak and yellow pine at Robert Duncan’s Shipyard on the River Clyde in Scotland, had featured a clipper bow, three masts with square yards, and two mid-ship-located, black-and-gold paddle boxes which extended almost 12 feet from either side and contained 9-foot-wide, 28-foot-diameter paddles turning at 16 revolutions per minute and operating off of a 403-hp, two-cylinder, side-lever steam engine which burned 40 tons of coal per day exhausted through a single, aft smoke stack.  The engine, requiring 70 feet of hull for installation, drew coal from a 640-ton bunker.

                Of the four decks, the upper, or main deck, featured the captain and chief officer cabins, the pantry, the galley, the officers’ mess, the crew cabins, the raised, exposed bridge, and the dining saloon, which, at 36 feet long and 14 feet wide, had been the largest enclosed room on the ship.  Two aft, circular staircases linked the dining hall with the second deck, which housed the gentlemen’s and ladies’ cabins, each with two bunk beds, a wash basin, a mirror, a day sofa, and a port hole or an oil lamp, with shared toilet facilities, equaling a 124-person capacity, of which 24 had been female.  The cargo holds, located on either side of the engine yet another deck lower and capable of accommodating 225 tons, accompanied the sail locker, the mail room, the stores, the steward quarters, and the wine cellar in the stern.  Coal had been stored on the fourth, or lowest, deck.

                The 1,154-ton Britannia, inaugurated into scheduled service on July 4, 1840 from Liverpool to Boston with an intermediate stop in Halifax, operated the world’s first transatlantic steam ship service, carrying 63 passengers and taking 12 days, ten hours for the 2,534-nautical-mile crossing at an 8.5-knot speed, one third of the journey undertaken by pure-sail.  After an eight-hour port suspension in Halifax, it continued to Boston in another 46 hours.

                By January 5, 1841, all four Cunard ships had entered the fleet.

                The Britannia itself made 40 round-trips before being sold to the Prussian Navy, which had converted it to a pure-sailing ship used for target purposes and renamed it Barbarossa.  It was ultimately sunk in 1880.  Nevertheless, it paved the way for a long line of Cunard liners to come.

                Biting into the angry, dark-blue, white cap-spitting North Atlantic on a 272-degree heading at 1545 with its protruding, bulbous bow, the mighty Queen Mary 2 engineering triumph pitched on its axis at a 23.4-knot speed, the sun’s rays having been powerful enough to tear the singular cloud fabric into a puffy, white mosaic of aerial islands.  The ship had reached a 50-degree, 12.036’ north latitude and 14-degree, 26.312’ west longitude coordinate.

                That night’s dinner, served in the Britannia Restaurant, had included Merlot wine; smoked halibut mousse and jumbo shrimp on Russian salad; Lollo Rosso and apple salad with caramelized walnuts and cider vinaigrette; filet mignon and lobster tail with young roasted potatoes, polenta cake, and asparagus in hollandaise sauce; chocolate banana tart with mango sauce; coffee; and petit fours.

                The Britannia, as a ship design, had been only the beginning, and would pale in comparison to the leviathan Cunard vessels produced in the 20th century. 

Day Three

                Continually bowled significant sea swells, the Queen Mary 2 had pitched through the dark blue, star-glittering night at its center of gravity like a seesaw, its bow pounding the mountainous wave troughs and projecting avalanche-white reactions at 45 degrees from its centerline.

                Breakfast, eaten in the King’s Court with its multiple stations, had included a ham and pepper omelet, bacon, hashbrowned potatoes, a grilled tomato, white toast, and cranberry juice.

                Negotiating 25- to 30-foot seas over the mid-Atlantic ridge, which covers the Continental Divide, the ship had sailed 590 nautical miles in the 24-hour period since 1200 noon yesterday, now pursuing a 263-degree heading, with 2,075 miles remaining to the New York Pilot’s Station.

                Light rain showers were forecast to dissipate, with gradual clearing.  The force-5 wind, out of the northwest, had produced 9-degree Celsius temperatures, with a 996.5-millibar pressure.  The sea, whose moderate state had been registered a “4,” maintained a 12-degree temperature.

                Gazing out toward the Atlantic’s infinity, I could not help but think that somewhere out there, if not in physical space, then in historical time, had been the first of the “huge” Cunard Atlantic liners which assuredly had passed this way during the beginning of the 20th century.

                The design, the Lusitania, had had its origins as early as 1902 when J.P. Morgan had attempted to create a steamship conglomerate called the International Mercantile Marine by buying several existing companies, including the White Star Line.  In order to ensure Cunard’s continued autonomy and dissuade its absorption into the ever-expanding corporation, the British Parliament had granted it a 20-year contract and subsidy to build two of the world’s then largest and fastest liners and, in the process, regain the speed record the Germans had captured with three of their twin-screw vessels.

                Cunard, seeking tenders for the two ships from four shipyards, specified a 750-foot length, a 76-foot width, and a 59,000-hp capability attained by reciprocating engines driving triple screws.  The contract, awarded to John Brown and Company of Clydebank, Scotland, resulted in a 790-foott length and an 88-foot width, eclipsing the 30,000-ton gross weight by 2,500 tons for the first time, and employing turbine engine technology, also for the first time, with a 68,000-hp combined capability, exhausted, in an effort to emulate the Germans, through four funnels.

                Construction, commencing in the fall of 1904, produced two of the largest, fastest, and most powerful Atlantic liners ever built with long, sleek designs; straight sterns; rounded bridges; and four raked funnels sporting 787-foot lengths, 87-foot widths, and 31,550-ton gross weights propelled by steam turbines geared to quadruple screws.

                Accommodating 563 first class passengers amidships, 464 aft second class passengers, and 1,138 third, or steerage, class passengers in the forward portion of the hull, the first of the two new liners featured opulent appointments.  A Georgian-style lounge sported light green colors, a marble fireplace, stained glass panes, and a 20-foot-high dome.  The Veranda Café had latticed wall patterns and rattan furniture.  The dining room, of dual-deck configuration, had been the first of its kind on a Cunard ship.  The main lounge had been decorated with mahogany paneling, while the smoking room featured dark Italian walnut.  The second class dining saloon also sported Georgian appointments and the drawing room had been decorated in the Louis XVI style.  Featuring electricity for the first time, the Lusitania provided modern conveniences to its passengers, including two elevators.

                On its second westbound crossing, the liner beat all speed records, averaging 23.993 knots and covering a 617-mile, single-day distance, although it ultimately broke the 26-knot mark, reaching New York in four days, 20 hours.

                Its fate, however, was not to remain so successful.  Departing England on its 202nd voyage on May 1, 1915 with 1,257 passengers, 702 crew members, and three stowaways, the ship had approached Great Britain, sailing ten miles off of Old Head of Kinsale when it had been broadsided by a German torpedo, listing forward and to starboard.  Slipping oceanward at a 45-degree, bow-first angle, it hit bottom 18 minutes later, exploding and killing 1,201 on board, the result of a deliberate act of war.               

                Because not an outcrop of land is sighted during the six-day Atlantic crossing, the Queen Mary 2 seemed suspended in a void between two continents, the journey about course, speed, weather, sea state, distance, and interior life, the temporary, although ever-moving civilization atop the sea.

                Soldiering on, the ship burned 3.1 tons of heavy fuel oil per hour at a 100-percent load to operate its diesel engines, or 261 tons per day at a 29-knot steam speed, while it used 6 tons of marine gas oil per hour to run its gas turbines, or 237 tons per day, drawing off of a 1,412,977-US gallon tank for the former and a 966,553-gallon tank for the latter.

                Its fresh water supply, produced from seawater by 3 Alfa Laval Multi Effect Plate Evaporators, replenished itself at the rate of 630 tons per day, satisfying its 1,100-ton daily consumption.  The potable water tank capacity equaled 1,011,779 US gallons.

                A German-themed lunch, served in the King’s Court, had included bratwurst, bacon sauerkraut, cheese spaetzel, roasted potatoes, schnitzel, and black forest cake.

                Maintaining a 261-degree heading and a 23.1-knot steam speed, the city at sea had reached a 49-degree, 43.705’ north latitude and 28-degree, 25.458’ west longitude position by 1500.

                The Queen Mary 2’s Winter Garden, designed after the skylighted verandah cafes of the Mauretania, had featured a 60-by-25-foot trompe l’oeil ceiling depicting a lush, verdant gardens, paneled walls which looked through cast iron gates to rolling hills, and wicker furniture, and had been created to counteract the cold, gray, turbulent winter of the North Atlantic. 

                The Mauretania itself, the ship which had provided the Winter Garden’s inspiration,  had been the second of the two early-20th century Cunard designs after the Lusitania.  The nine-decked liner, accommodating 563 first class passengers in 253 cabins, 464 second class passengers in 133 cabins, and 1,138 third class passengers in 278 cabins, had featured its own opulent appointments.  The first class smoking room, for example, located in the stern, had featured polished wood wall panels and plaster friezes.  The lounge, located on the Boat Deck and measuring 80 by 53 feet, had been adorned with mahogany wall panels, gold moldings, long ceiling beams, gilt bronze, and crystal chandeliers.  The library, featuring bay windows, had been decorated with sycamore paneling.  The first class dining room, seating 330, had been configured with long, white clothed tables and revolving chairs, and was decorated with polished ash, teak-molded paneling, and arched windows, while the second class dining room, with parquet floors, featured Georgian oak paneling and carved cornices.  A grand staircase, installed between the second and third funnels, connected five decks with the public rooms.

                Entering service on November 16, 1907 between Liverpool and New York, the Mauretania had been retrofitted with four-bladed propellers two years later, in 1909, at which time it could attain maximum speeds of 26.6 knots.  It had been only the first of several modifications.  With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, for instance, it had been repainted gray and briefly served as a troop ship, reliveried and returned to commercial service five years later in 1919, at which time it operated in company with the Aquitania and Berengaria, offering weekly east- and westbound service on the Southampton-New York route.  It remained the fastest of the three.

                Yet another modification, necessitated by fire, resulted in conversion to oil-burning engine technology and cabin reconfiguration, reducing both the second and third class passenger capacities.

                In its 27 years of operation, during 22 of which it had held the North Atlantic speed record until it had been recaptured by the Bremen in 1929, the Mauretania had sailed some 2.1 million miles in transatlantic, Mediterranean, and Caribbean service before being usurped by two larger, more advanced Cunard liners.  Making its last crossing on September 26, 1934, it was scraped the following year in Scotland.

That evening’s dinner, served in the Queen Mary 2’s Britannia Restaurant, had featured white zinfandel wine; baby shrimp thermidor on walnut brioche; cob salad with smoked chicken and bleu cheese dressing; roasted seabass with Mediterranean vegetables and olive tapenade; banana foster flambee with rum raisin ice cream and whipped cream; and coffee.

                The Lusitania and Mauretania replacements, although larger, would prove a motley pair: although one had been the third in the series, it had been slower, while the other had been transferred from the fleet of the enemy, the Germans. 

Day Four

                Suspended in the middle of the Atlantic, the black-hulled leviathan pursed its Great Circle course on a 249-degree heading, eating the gray and foamy-white ocean with its bow with a 21.7-knot appetite.  Four hundred seventy miles off the coast of Newfoundland, the ship negotiated 3,549-meter-deep waters, having covered 607 nautical miles in the 24-hour period since yesterday, now 1,615 miles from Southampton.  At a current 47-degree, 34.066’ north latitude and 042-degree, 00.754’ west longitude position, it was 1,468 miles from its destination.

External conditions were mild: the air temperature, at 14 degrees Celsius, had been coupled with a force-4 moderate breeze out of the southwest and low level cloud, with a 989-millibar air pressure.  The sea, whose state had been slight, had a 12.7-degree Celsius temperature.

If the triplet of early 20th-century Cunard liners could have sailed past the Queen Mary 2 in chronological order, the Aquitania would have trailed both the Lusitania and the Mauretania, the third of the long, sleek, quad-funneled vessels constructed by John, Brown and Company of Clydebank.

The 45,647-ton ship, with a 901-foot length and a 97-foot width, had been both larger and heavier than its two predecessors, resulting in a 3,200-passenger capacity.  Launched on April 21, 1913, it had commenced trial runs 13 months later, achieving a 24-knot maximum speed, and entered commercial service on May 30, 1914 on the Liverpool-New York route.

Opulently appointed, it featured a long gallery which connected the main lounge with the smoking room decorated with a series of garden lounges; a carpeted, Louis XVI-style first class restaurant; a columned Palladian lounge, which spanned two decks; and the first pool ever installed on a Cunard ship.

Late to the North Atlantic, the Aquitania had sailed on the fringes of World War I and had been requisitioned by the government for military service as an armed merchant cruiser in August of 1914; but, because of its excessive size, had been recommissioned as a troop ship the following year.  Reconfigured for ocean liner service after the war, the ship resumed its civil role in August of 1920, amending its capacity six years later, in 1916, when a major reconfiguration decreased the first class passenger complement from 618 to 610, increased the second class capacity from 614 to 950, and dramatically decreased the third class complement by some three-forths, from 1,998 to 640, in order to more accurately match passenger class demand.

Once again reconfigured to a 7,724-person troop ship during World War II, the Aquitania provided eight years of military service during which it had sailed 500,000 miles and carried more than 300,000 troops.

Arriving in Southampton on December 1, 1949, the multiple-role vessel ended 35 years of service, having sailed some 3 million miles on 443 voyages.  It had been Cunard’s last quad-funneled design.

Lunch, back in the present on the Queen Mary 2, had been served in The Carvery, itself one of the King’s Court stations, and had included beef tikka masala, white rice, cauliflower in cheese sauce, and double chocolate fudge cake.

Although the Aquitania’s very long, mulitple-role, and fruitful career had ended in 1949, it had, for the most part, continued to operate in tandem, as originally conceived, with two other Cunard transatlantic liners, despite the fact that the Lusitania had been destroyed almost immediately after entering service.  The third ship, however, emanated not from a Cunard blueprint given life by a ship builder on the Clyde, but instead by the very enemy which had necessitated its replacement.

Endeavoring to compete with the Cunard and White Star Line designs which now regularly plied the Atlantic, the Hamburg-America Line had laid the keel of a new breed of transatlantic liners on June 18, 1910, intended to be the largest-capacity, highest gross weight passenger ship ever built. The specifications were, for the time, staggering: measuring 919 feet long and 98 feet wide, the elongated, tri-funneled, 52,117-ton ship, designated the Imperator, had been powered by steam engines geared to four-bladed propellers feeding off of 8,500-tons of coal nourishing two 69- and 95-foot-long engine rooms, respectively.  Accommodating 908 first class, 972 second class, 942 third class, and 1,772 steerage class passengers, the behemoth, steered by a 90-ton rudder, was christened on May 23, 1912 and entered commercial service 13 months later, on June 10, from Cuxhaven to New York with an intermediate stop in Southampton.

The Imperator featured a First Class winter garden with potted palm trees and a dual-deck indoor swimming pool.

Because initial service had demonstrated top-heavy conditions, its three funnels were shortened by nine feet during an autumn retrofit.

Ultimately banned from sailing because of World War I German atrocities, the ship had been moored in Hamburg for four years until a war reparation agreement resulted in its transfer to Cunard in 1919 as compensation for the German-sunk Lusitania.  Rebased in Southampton two years later, in April of 1921, it had been subjected to an initial retrofit during which its coal-burning engine technology had been replaced with oil and it had been reconfigured with 972, 630, 606, and 515 first, second, third, and tourist passengers, respectively.  Redesignated Berengaria, the ship joined the Mauretania and Aquitania, operating Cunard’s weekly transatlantic service.  Although it had been originally planned to continue operating it until 1940, its antiquated wiring system, which resulted in persistent on-board fires, had precluded its anticipated service longevity, temporarily leaving only the Mauretania and Aquitania until a new breed of Cunard liners, to offer double the tonnage of the existing designs, could enter service.  That ship, of course, bore the name of the current one: Queen Mary.

Dinner, served in La Piazza Restaurant on board the (present-day) Queen Mary 2, had included a mixed green salad with ranch dressing; artichoke hearts; vegetable moussaka; pasta with onions, mushrooms, black olives, garlic, and red tomato sauce; tiramisu; and coffee.

Dusk could be more accurately gauged by looking beyond the wooden deck with its Queen Mary I-reminiscent line of deck chairs and down toward the sea, rather than up toward the sky.  The former, a reflection of the latter, had appeared a deep blue, mirroring the temporary brightness of the sky during the early-evening when the mountainous white cumulous formations had parted, creating a blue rift.  It then rapidly metamorphosed into a dark blue and, momentarily, a cold, morose, winter gray, the prevalent environmental conditions of so many earlier transatlantic crossings, as the dark, billowing clouds reassembled into a tight, cohesive quilt, hindering even a momentary glimpse of the sun.  Merging dimensionally with the ocean, the amorphous, referenceless void cacooned the floating city until visibility extended no further than ten feet from either of its sides.  Two souls, well dressed, braved the fierce, blustering wind as they attempted, buttressed by the force, to circle the deck.  Thus was life on a transatlantic crossing.

As the day bordered the midnight demarcation line, the ship crossed from the Newfoundland Basin to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and, effectively, reached the North American continent.  Two days of steaming remained before it arrived at its terminus, the Port of New York. 

Day Five

                Wrestling the fierce currents of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland at 0800, the elongated titan thundered over the barreling gray surface, its peaks so high and frequent that they appeared white, snow-covered mountain crests.  The pitch was tumultuous and unrelenting.  Propelled at 24 knots, the vessel moved between troughs, pivoting on its center of gravity and pinnacling each crest with surmounting triumph, before exploding into its next valley with gravity-induced momentum, its axis of rotation sliding down the mountain of sea in partial aerial suspension at which time even the stabilizers failed to dampen its descending, momentarily sea-detached profile.

                Speed perception was a function of distance: the lower one descended in the ship relative to the water line, the more rapidly did the gray surface seem to move by outside, its cascades of white froth and mist exploding directly on to the windows and portholes.

                Death on the high seas, although at this writing still beyond conception, had briefly reduced my crossing to an Agatha Christie murder mystery.  Before having retired to my cabin the previous evening, a passenger, whose name I have momentarily forgotten, had been continually paged, both in the theater and throughout the ship, with an increasing degree of urgency.  During the early-morning hours, the liner, for a then unexplainable reason, had turned round, pursuing a heading which would have taken it back to the United Kingdom.  It was later revealed that a man from Germany, who had been traveling with a group, had for some time been unlocatable, and his wife, who had not undertaken the journey with him, had been contacted in Germany where she ultimately discovered a suicide note.  The man, who had been elderly and very ill, had apparently make the crossing for the purpose of taking his own life, and the ship had circled the area of suicide until a time beyond which he would have succumbed to hypothermia, even if he had survived the ocean plunge.

                The incident, immediately transcending that initial hesitation between two strangers, had been the talk of the formal breakfast served in the Britannia Restaurant that morning.

                The chosen area, along the Great Circle route in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, could not have been more hazardous and every predecessor Cunard liner had traced its path through it.

                Glaciers descending the mountains on Greenland’s west coast calved with thunderous roars in to the Davis Strait, forming icebergs which are carried southward by the Labrador current, some 400 of which, rising 150 feet above the water line and weighing in excess of 100,000 tons, move as far south as the shipping lanes off of Newfoundland.  During the April-to-July period, the area off of St. John’s is known as “iceberg alley.”  Because of the size of the smaller bergs and their associated field ice, they are particularly difficult to spot, posing a significant hazard to any ship undertaking a transatlantic crossing during this time and justly earning the area the title of “North Atlantic graveyard.”

                Further exacerbating the conditions had been substreams of differential-temperature waters which originate along the continental edge of South America, near the equator, where tradewinds propel them toward the channel between Cuba and the Florida Keys.  Accelerating, they follow the 30- to 50-mile-wide eastern seaboard at 2- to 6-mph speeds toward the North Carolina coast where the actual substreams form, flowing toward Nova Scotia at a 150-million-cubic-meter-per-second rate.

                It is on the Great Circle route, east of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, that the collision between the warm Gulf Stream and the cold Labrador current takes place, producing divergent temperatures which themselves create rain, gales, squalls, mist, tumultuous waves, winter hurricanes, and cyclones.  Off of the southeastern tip of Newfoundland, at Cape Race, summer sea fog, sometimes lasting weeks, shrouds icebergs from visual perception.

                Oblivious to these conditions, the 151,400-ton Queen Mary 2 negotiated its course by means of its pods and bow thrusters, whose electricity had been supplied by a common, high voltage main switchboard, which produced an 11,000-volt, 60-hertz, 3-phase current.  The current itself had been supplied by four Wartsila W46 V1646C, 16.8-Mw diesel generators and two 25.0-Mw General Electric LM2500+ gas turbines.

                The morning’s intrigue, once digested and discussed, enabled greater focus on the abundant breakfast served in the Britannia Restaurant, which had included grapefruit juice, poached eggs, crisp bacon, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, sautéed potatoes, white toast, croissants, French bread, butter, coffee, and peach pastries.

                 By late-morning, the long, majestic, red-and-black-funneled liner, of 165-year lineage to the vessel which had lent its name to the massive restaurant, carved its trench beneath bright, blue skies in the equally-reflected deep blue sea, leaving a snow-white wake behind its stern, which itself stretched back to the countless crossings of all the Cunard liners which had preceded it.

                If the Berengaria had been “huge,” no adjective could describe the size of its replacement, which emanated from an original blueprint and not from an existing hull.  The ship, which had been a pure and original Cunard design, had not only launched a new breed of liners, but an altogether new period known as the “era of the four queens.”  The design, of course, had been the first to bear the name of the current ship, the Queen Mary.

Incorporating the technological advancements of 86 years of Cunard maritime design, the new flagship, whose origins can be traced to 1926 when a replacement for the Mauretania had first been envisaged, had been intended as the first of two 1,000-foot-long liners which would be fast enough to permit five-day crossing schedules and hence obviate the need for the Lusitania/Berengaria-Mauretania-Aquitania trio.  Although the keel had first been laid on January 31, 1931 for a ship then designated hull 534 in the John Brown and Company Shipyard on the Clyde, the depression halted its construction a year later, on April 3, 1934, intermittently permitting the Normandie to take the title as both the first 1,000-footer and the first 60,000-ton+ liner which, as the current fastest to cross the Atlantic, earned it the Blue Ribband.  During December of the previous year, it had been announced that Cunard would merge with the White Star Line, forming Cunard White Star Limited, the former having designated all of its ships with the “ia” ending and the latter having used the “ic” ending, such as in “Titanic.”  The name “Queen Mary” would be the first to eliminate both.

Launched on September 26, 1934, the sleek, elongated, three-funneled ocean liner, with a 1,018-foot length and 118-foot width, had featured an 80,774-ton gross weight and had been powered by four quadruple-expansion steam turbines connected, via propeller shafts, to four external, 35-ton, manganese bronze, four-bladed propellers grouped in pairs.

The elegant interior appointments featured more than 50 varieties of wood, such as English yew, bird’s eye maple, ivory white sycamore, Pacific myrtle, African cherry, and pearwood.  The ship’s Sun Deck, sporting an open promenade with access to all 24 lifeboats, ended at the small, intimate Verandah Grill, which offered an alternative, a-la-carte menu dining experience with views overlooking the stern.  The enclosed Promenade Deck, located immediately below, featured the main public rooms, including a forward, 21 window paned Observation Lounge and Cocktail Bar directly under the bridge; a studio, lecture room, writing room, and library on the port side; and a drawing room, a second writing room, and the children’s playroom on the starboard side.  The main entrance hall, located behind, spanned the width of the ship and was accessed by glass doors on either side from the promenade and configured with a shopping arcade.

The travel bureau and the suites were located one deck below, on Main Deck, while A through H Decks were set even lower in the hull, and accessed by Empire wood-paneled corridors.

The dining salon, measuring 160-feet-long and 118-feet-wide and seating 800, was located on C Deck and featured a high ceiling, colonnades, and a 24-by-13-foot mural of the Atlantic Ocean with a crystal glass, electronically-operated model of the Queen Mary to indicate its position during transatlantic crossings.  The cabin class swimming pool, located on D Deck, had featured golden quartzite, and a walking alleyway led to the crew accommodations, workshops, and storerooms.

Inaugurated into service on May 27, 1936 on the Southampton-Cherbourg-New York route, the Queen Mary recaptured the Blue Ribband from the Normandie three months later on a westerly crossing, attaining a 30.63-knot speed between Bishop’s Rock and Ambrose Light, becoming the fastest, largest, and heaviest superclass liner until the title had been overtaken by its transatlantic counterpart, the Queen Elizabeth.  Although it had carried 56,895 passengers during its first year of service, the storm clouds of World War II thwarted its continued civil operation, the last of which, from Southampton, had occurred on August 30, 1939.

Repainted, the now drab, military version, unofficially dubbed the “Gray Ghost,” sailed from New York to Australia in order to assume its role as a troop ship, maintaining transatlantic ferry service by 1943, in July of which it carried a record 16,683 troops on a single crossing.

Decommissioned from military service on September 27, 1946 and returned to Cunard, the ship had been reconfigured as a passenger liner with accommodation for 711 first, 707 cabin, and 577 tourist class guests, resuming weekly scheduled transatlantic service on July 31, 1947 between Southampton and New York, with the Queen Elizabeth.

Usurped not by a newer or more advanced nautical design, but by an aeronautical one instead, the Queen Mary, recording ever-decreasing passenger loads and plummeting revenues, operated its last scheduled service from New York on September 22, 1967, having made 1,001 crossings, during which time it had sailed 3.7 million miles, had carried 2.1 million passengers, and had earned $600 million in revenues.

Its last-ever operation occurred later that year, on October 31, when it embarked on a 39-day repositioning journey from Southampton with 1,040 passengers round the southern tip of South America to its new, permanent Long Beach, California, mooring where it assumed its role as a hotel and tourist attraction.

Sailing 140 nautical miles into the Grand Banks of Newfoundland by 1200 noon, the present Queen Mary 2, pursuing a 250-degree heading and a 24-knot steam speed, had been positioned 115 miles south/southeast of Cape Race, having covered a paltry 431 miles since yesterday’s position report because of the morning’s attempted rescue.  Negotiating rough seas with moderate swells amid cold, 3-degree Celsius temperatures, the ship had traversed 2,046 miles since its departure, with 1,040 remaining to the New York Pilot’s Station.

The Queen Elizabeth, the second of the two designs intended for Cunard’s weekly, bi-directional transatlantic service, completed the world’s most famous pair of ocean liners, but, contrary to initial belief, had not been an identical sister to the Queen Mary, but an entirely separate design, sporting, for example, only two versus four funnels and 12 as opposed to 24 boilers.  Its keel, first laid on December 4, 1936 in Clydebank, resulted in an almost two-year construction period, leading to initial launch and naming on September 27, 1938.  Weighing only 40,000 tons at the time, the 1,031-foot-long, 118-foot-wide ship, with a 38-foot draft, had been moved to its fitting out pier.  However, the Queen Elizabeth, like her sister, immediately fell victim to the war and, upon order by Winston Churchill, had been dispatched to New York, departing on February 6, 1940 and berthing, still unfitted and with only essential plumbing, next to the Queen Mary one month later.

After an eight-month mooring, during which time it had been converted into a military ship, the Queen Elizabeth had sailed to Singapore and ultimately operated weekly transatlantic troop transfers between New York and Gourack, Scotland, carrying as many as 15,000 servicemen who slept in tiered, canvas bunks during two daily shifts.

Returning to Southampton on June 16, 1946, the 83,673-ton troop ship had been reconverted into a luxury liner, accommodating 823 first, 662 cabin, and 798 tourist class passengers, and operated its first civilian scheduled service four months later, on October 16.  Although the Queen Elizabeth had been almost as popular as its Queen Mary counterpart, with most passengers crossing on one in one direction and on the other in the other direction, the traffic pendulum had begun to swing toward the British and the US transatlantic jetliners, with the first monetary losses being recorded in the early-1960s until economic reality could no longer support their continued service.  Operating its last crossing in October of 1968, the Queen Elizabeth had briefly served as a hotel and a museum in Port Everglades, Florida, but neglect and financial burden quickly terminated the venture, leading to its sale to C Y Tung, a Taiwanese shipping tycoon, who invested $6 million in its conversion into a floating university.  Fires, whose origins could not be pinpointed, erupted on January 9 and 10, 1972, while the ship had been in Hong Kong Harbor and excessive water applications only resulted in its capsize and ultimate demise.

Nevertheless, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth would remain the most famous Cunard liners to have ever sailed.

Dinner had been served in the Queen Mary 2’s Todd English Restaurant, a small, 156-seat, reservations-only venue located in the stern which harked back to the days of the original Queen Mary’s Verandah Grill.  The Mediterranean-inspired cuisine had included Riesling white wine; lobster and baby corn chowder with whipped parsnip, black truffles, and potatoes; asparagus tart with caramelized onions, Fontana cheese, brown butter, and morel vinaigrette; rack of lamb with confit of shank crepenette, assorted salads of roasted red pepper, chickpea, cucumber and yogurt, and rouille with black olive sauce; hot, molten chocolate cake surrounded by raspberry sauce and cold vanilla ice cream; and coffee.

Night ordinarily draped its veil over day, diminishing and ultimately eradicating all light.  With the persistent, unrelenting cloud deck of the North Atlantic winter, however, no light or color marked the daily transition.  Instead, like a flipped light switch, the transformation was little more than a protracted denouement from gray to black, the external horizontal environment providing no reference for hue change.  Like a falling curtain, the day seemed symbolic of the curtain which had definitively fallen on the Golden Era of transatlantic liners…

As the calendar day eclipsed another, the Queen Mary 2 assumed a 249-degree heating and a 25.6-knot steam speed, now southeast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. 

Day Six

                Shrouded in fog throughout the night and continually piercing the engulfing darkness with its forlorn horn, the mighty liner, internally configured as a city at sea with its almost 4,000 inhabitants, penetrated the void of mist in which neither light nor external reference could be glimpsed.  The 150,000-ton behemoth, swallowed by the elements, had paradoxically been reduced to but an infinitesimal speck as it inched closer to the North American continent.

Maintaining a 250-degree heading in a slight sea 210 nautical miles east of Cape Cod and a 26-knot steam speed at 1200 noon, the Queen Mary 2 had sailed 648 miles since its position report 24 hours ago, now 2,694 miles from Southampton with a 388-mile gap remaining to the New York Pilot’s Station.

Lunch, served in the Lotus Restaurant station of the King’s Court, had included chicken, scallion, and vegetables; basmati rice; soba noodles with scallions and light peanut satay; egg fried rice; and chocolate, graham cracker crust squares.

By 1500, the cold front had, in ernest, passed.  The skies, unraveling into remarkably bright blue ones, left not a cloud vapor and 11-degree temperatures.  The sea, a brilliant, deep blue, barreled at the apartment-lined ship from the starboard side, inducing a rhythmic roll which even the extended stabilizers could not fully dampen.  Pursuing a 253-degree course and a 24-knot speed, the ship, now in the outer perimeter of the Gulf of Maine, had reached a 40-degree, 44.853’ north latitude and 068-degree, 11.27’ west longitude position, the latter having unwound, like a clock, from its 001-degree Southampton coordinate.  Only a few degrees of longitude remained before the ship reached Ambrose Light.

With the vessel now due east of Connecticut, the transatlantic crossing, the suspension between continents, and the return to the opulent and elegant Golden Age of transatlantic liner lifestyle, was rapidly ending.

The speed and technological advancement of more modern ocean liners, such as the France, the United States, and the Rotterdam, coupled with changing travel patterns, ultimately usurped the most famous pair of Queens ever to ply the seas, prompting both a Cunard replacement and serious consideration over whether a replacement should be designed at all.

Their successor, a modernized version of the Queen Elizabeth designated the Q3, featured a 990-foot length, able to accommodate 2,270 passengers, and a 75,000-ton gross weight, as detailed by June 1, 1960 design plans.  Its engines, largely based upon those of the original Queen Elizabeth and generating between 85,000 and 95,000 shaft horsepower to permit 28.5-knot speeds, had been configured with two six-bladed, 31.75-ton, 19-foot-diameter propellers, each driven by an independent set of turbines, while two sets of double reduction geared turbines were supplied with steam from three 278-ton high-pressure water tube boilers producing 850 pounds-per-square-inch of pressure with 1,000-degree Fahrenheit temperatures.

An examination of trans Atlantic passenger load factors, however, seriously questioned the economic viability of such a design.  During 1957, for instance, the ratio of set-to-air traffic had been 50:50, while eight years later, in 1965, only 14 out of every 100 passengers actually crossed by sea.  Unable, therefore, to justify the size and expense of the original version, a scaled-down design, designated the Q4, had been announced on October 19, 1961.  Featuring a reduced, 55,000-ton gross weight, the ship, small enough to negotiate all existing waterways, inclusive of the Panama and Suez Canals, and versatile enough to assume the dual role of Atlantic liner and cruise ship, had been intended as a floating resort, a destination in and of itself, thus introducing a new concept of sea travel.  The contract, awarded to John Brown and Company of Clydebank because of low construction cost and early delivery date, had been signed on December 30, 1964.

Its keel had first been laid the following year, on July 2, in the same berth which had incubated the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth and the ship, named the Queen Elizabeth 2, or QE2, had been launched on September 20, 1967.  Because of the fate which had befallen its predecessors—namely, the sublimation of the Queen Mary into a hotel and a museum and the purchase of the France and the United States by Norwegian Cruise Line for operation as cruise ships—it had been then considered the last great transatlantic ocean liner to have been built.

Producing 50,000 hp less than the Queen Elizabeth it replaced and operating off of two versus four propellers, the QE2 nevertheless reached 29.5-knot speeds on its initial trails off the Scottish coast.

The 12-decked, 70,327-ton ship, constructed of 1 1/8-inch-thick steel and sporting a single funnel, stretched 963 feet in length and had been delivered to Cunard on April 20, 1969 at a 29 million pound cost.  Inaugurated into scheduled, passenger-carrying service the following month, on May 2, between Southampton and New York with an intermediate port-of-call in Le Havre, the third of the eventual quartet of Queens completed its crossing in four days, 16 hours, 35 minutes at a 28.02-knot average speed, carrying 1,400 passengers.

Although the type enjoyed 17 years of successful service, its steam turbine engines, which had essentially been the same type to have powered the original Britannia of 1840, had burned some 200 tons of fuel per day and had become increasingly cost- and maintenance-intensive.  Operating its last transatlantic crossing from New York on October 20, 1986, it was withdrawn from service for conversion to diesel engine technology.

A 180 million pound contract, signed with Lloyd Werft of Bremerhaven, Germany, entailed conversion of all public rooms, passenger cabins, and crew accommodations, and installation of nine 9-cylinder, MAN-B&W medium-speed, 220-ton diesel engines producing 10,625 kW or 14,242 hp of power at 400 revolutions per minute, four of which were installed in the forward engine room and five of which were installed in the aft engine room on anti-vibration mountings.  Propulsion motors, each weighing 295 tons and producing 44 mw of power at 144 rpms, were connected, by 250-foot-long shafts, to two 22-foot, variable-pitch, five-bladed, outward-turning, 19-foot-diameter, 42-ton propellers which were controllable either from the bridge or from the engine room.  Two four-bladed, variable-pitch, 6.55-foot-diameter bow thrusters, installed 18 feet apart in self-contained tunnels which passed laterally through the hull 18 feet below the water line, were driven by a 1,000-hp electric motor and recessed behind hydraulically-operated, hydrodynamic doors at idle power.  Four 12-foot-long, 70-square-foot in area, aft-extending, hydraulically-operated stabilizers were stored behind dual-side hull recesses, while steering was accomplished with a single, 75-ton, semi-balanced rudder.

The Queen Elizabeth 2, requiring 179 days for the conversion, had been re-delivered to Cunard on April 25, 1987 and continues to ply the world’s oceans 36 years after it had first entered service, replaced on the transatlantic route only by the ship in which I presently sailed.

Indeed, the present Queen Mary 2 had been the culmination of maritime technical development which had commenced with the wooden-hulled sailing packets of the 19th century.  These had later incorporated wooden paddle-wheeled, reciprocating steam engines.  Iron, replacing wood as the primary hull construction material, had permitted increased strengths of considerable proportions, thereby paving the way to larger designs with higher gross weights and an increasing number of decks.  Higher length-to-width ratios, coupled with propeller propulsion, reduced water resistance and enhanced steam speeds, while compound steam engines, dual screws, and steel construction material pinnacled ocean steamship technology in 1895.  Turbine engines, computer-aided design, global positioning systems, azipods, and gas turbines all combined into a single design which could be collectively classified ship, transportation means, machine, edifice, and floating metropolis with interior appointments so opulent and facility offerings so extensive that any connection with the sea had been completely severed in a pleasant disorientation the moment one boarded the vessel.

Technological advancement, however, had not been arrested with maritime design, but had perpetuated throughout all other transportation forms: the transatlantic crossing, for instance, had required six days by sea, but only six hours by subsonic air and three by supersonic air.  Speed had been proportionally increased, time had been reduced, and the earth had, in the process, been artificially shrunk.  But civility had also been lost…

Only hours remained in which to enjoy it before the Port of New York loomed ahead.

The last dinner at sea, served in the Britannia Restaurant, had included Pinot Grigio white wine; smoked trout mousse, waldorff salad, and chive crème fraiche; roasted tomato soup with basil cream; roasted Vermont turkey, whipped root vegetables, and Madeira cranberry reduction; hazelnut amaretto pudding with sauce anglaise; and coffee.

Angled toward the ship from the forward, starboard side lay the lighted path, like a cracked glass threshold, across the ocean surface from the unobstructed, cylindrical sun, which had commenced its dusk-preemptive descent toward the western horizon, a path, perhaps, to night, the Port of New York, and the crossing’s termination—a sunset symbolic to the end of transatlantic liner passage which could now only be singularly relived aboard the Queen Mary 2.  Settling toward the horizon, it emitted a pronounced orange glow and rendered the sea a reflective, icy-blue mirror.  A slowly lumbering cargo ship, aged with rust, lurked off the right side, its speed an appalling attempt at dominance over that of the balcony-lined leviathan.  The sun itself, a burning orange ball, dripped behind the Atlantic’s perimeter, leaving only an orange and chartreuse aftermath of energy.

Except for the arcing white smoke plume emanating rrom the charcoal and red funnel, no cloud condensation marred the night sky, its intense, velvet black pierced by periodic star glitter.

At midnight, the Queen Mary 2 passed south of Montauk Point, Long Island. 

Day Seven 

Entering New York Harbor off of Ambrose Light at 0330, the still-slumbering giant sailed under the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge one hour, 15 minutes later, pursuing a 006-degree heading at a lumbering, 9.3-knot cruise speed.  First light, tinged with orange, appeared behind the jewel-glittering superstructures of Manhattan off the starboard side.  At 0540, now maintaining a 33-degree heading, the ship skated over the blue sheet of reflective Hudson River glass at 3.6 knots, passing the needle-thin point of the Empire State Building.

Commencing its laborious starboard turn by means of its rotating azipods, the behemoth moved into its Pier 88 berth facing a 118-degree heading, casting its post-dawn mooring lines at a 40-degree, 45.982’ north latitude and 073-degree, 59.917’ west longitude coordinate parallel to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum and its satellite barge paradoxically sporting the Concorde, registered G-BOAD, in British Airways livery, which, as the ultimate transatlantic crossing means, had represented the pinnacle of commercial aeronautical development begun with the subsonic, pure-jet airliners which had preceded it.  They had been the singular reason for transoceanic sea travel’s demise.  The cost-to-speed ratio had proven too high for Concorde and it, like the original Queen Mary, had been withdrawn from service and reduced to a museum exhibit.  But the Queen Mary’s next-generation successor, the Queen Mary 2, had been alive, in active transatlantic service, and in high demand, leaving one to wonder if the ship had somehow not replaced the aircraft in an ultimate historical cycle.  The Queen Mary 2 would depart in the evening on its eastbound crossing with fare-paying passengers.  The Concorde would remain stationary, as an exhibit.

My journey had been both a physical and historical one, encompassing distance and time, forward motion and backward values, a time warp entry in to the Golden Age of transatlantic ocean liner travel replete with opulence, sophistication, elegance, and civility, an historical recapture, and hence re-experience, of early-era values and an examination, perhaps in vain, of the reason for their demise.

Although speed had reduced crossing times, facilitating increased activity and accomplishment, its perceived value increase could only be equated with monetary value, resulting in gains of earthly possessions, but compromises of the soul, the intrinsic, unearthly entity behind every body.  This compromise had been the pivot point between a human being and a human doing.  Seemingly ratios of the two, the soul and the body have wrestled with each other since the first human walked on the planet, forgoing spiritual fulfillments for bodily pleasures, in an inherent conflict between the worlds to which they belong—Heaven and earth.  The more one immersed himself in the latter, the more he lost the former.  So completely had entire societies attempted to do so, such as the Holy Roman Empire, that they had completely fallen, losing the very source which had created them.

Walking down the gangplank, I turned and looked at the giant ocean liner which had carried me 3,082 nautical miles across the Atlantic.  Perhaps I will cross again someday, I thought…

Follow us