The Only Way to Cross – Even if It’s Not
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Position as of this writing: 44° 1.2’ N, 43° 42.9’ W
Speed: 23.8 knots
Wind: Force 5 / Temperature: 17°C / Seas: Slight
There’s nothing quite like waking up to the sight of nothing but miles of ocean, stretching as far as the eye can see. Some people tell me they find that thought intimidating; I find it freeing.
Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 was specifically built for this purpose: to cross the Atlantic, regularly, between England and North America. Sure, she also offers more standard cruises at different times of the year but, by and large, the bulk of her sailing schedule are these Eastbound and Westbound Transatlantic crossings.
Cunard started crossing the Atlantic back in 1840, when founder Samuel Cunard – a Canadian from Halifax, Nova Scotia – debuted his wooden paddle steamer Britannia. She set sail from Liverpool on July 4, 1840, bound for Halifax and Boston. As the first of four sister-ships, she was intended to provide the first regularly-scheduled steamship service between England and the Americas.
In January of 1842, for better or worse, Charles Dickens crossed the Atlantic on Britannia, en-route to a tour of the United States. What he wrote probably wasn’t what the Cunard publicists of the time wanted to hear. Dickens likened his stateroom to an, “utterly impracticable, thoroughly hopeless, and profoundly preposterous box.” The dining salon was “a gigantic hearse with windows,” and dessert looked, “rather mouldy.” Dickens was a downer.
He was also violently seasick for much of the voyage and, despite the bitterness which taints every detail of his crossing, he nailed the overall vibe: crossing the Atlantic in 1840 was an unpleasant task, an ordeal meant to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Fast-forward sixty years, and things had changed immeasurably. Cunard’s Mauretania and Lusitania of 1906 and 1907, respectively, show just how far shipbuilding – and Cunard – had come. These two ships, noted for their lavish First Class interiors, had niceties like electric lighting, running hot and cold water (either sea or fresh), electric elevators, and two-storey dining rooms. First Class passengers were treated to ornate, elaborate public rooms that rivaled the best hotels on-shore, and even Third Class, or Steerage, passengers destined for a new life in America were treated to standards that were unknown to most at the time.
Cunard would also be thrust into the public consciousness in 1912 when the Carpathia, under the command of Captain Arthur Rostron, sped through the night to rescue survivors from the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Carpathia was a small ship that was never intended to have a top speed beyond 14 knots; Rostron and his crew pushed her past 17 knots that night.
Cunard would later go on to build some of the most legendary ocean liners of all time. Others, like CGT’s Normandie were more technologically advanced and architecturally impressive. But for some reason, even the most inland landlubber knows about the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, and her follow-up namesake, Queen Elizabeth 2.
Carnival Corporation & plc purchased controlling interest in Cunard in 1998. Mismanaged and lacking business acumen, Cunard’s previous management teams had ground the once-famous line into a shell of its former self. Prior to 1998, many expected that Cunard would die out the second that the Queen Elizabeth 2 – or QE2, as she was affectionately known – was retired; an event which loomed near on the horizon.
According to Daniel Allan Butler’s excellent book, The Age of Cunard, Carnival Corporation chairman Micky Arison purchased Cunard largely because the company was concerned about a competitor swooping them up. The brand was still valuable, but Arison knew that if Cunard was to be revived in a way that made proper business sense, a successor to QE2 would need to be built. And Carnival purchased Cunard precisely to build that ship, not the other way around.
That successor was Queen Mary 2. Announced in 1998 as “Project Queen Mary”, today she is the only true m
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