Queen Elizabeth 2, Pacific Princess, Queen Victoria & Queen Mary 2
The 22nd April 2008 would go down in history in Southampton.  It was the day we thought would never happen - all three Cunard Queens would be in their HOME!  This had already taken place in a dark, cold and wet New York on the 13th January after QE2 and QV arrived after the tandem crossing from Southampton which heralded the beginning of the world cruises.  I wish Americans would acknowledge they begin here and not there.  Anyway the original press release back on the 31st August 2006 stated the New York meeting would be the "First Ever Meeting Of Three Queens".  Nowhere did it ever say only meeting, which somewhere down the line it became misinterpreted as being.  I suppose it didn't help Carol Marlow's statements about the meeting sort of implied that, even though she was talking about being historical for New York and have the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop so would be a unique event there as they aren't scheduled to be there together again.  Once the QE2's 27th April cruise was announced on the 20th August 2007, halving her planned refit length, there was always a possibility it could also happen here.  Would they really send her to Bremerhaven for six days or do a wet dock like the forthcoming Aurora one?  I wrote about it on my blog four days after the cruise was announced and wondered then if it was their way of having them together.  Months passed and still no information about what she was doing between the 18th-27th until finally, on the 20th March 2008, seven months after the new cruise was announced, Keith Hamilton of the Southern Daily Echo wrote a piece confirming what I'd thought all these months - she was staying put!!!!  The official Cunard press release was issued on the 26th.  They also had her back at her true age instead of the wrong one like last year.  The only thing was they were claiming her official entry into service was the 22nd so it would be her 39th birthday.  Everyone knows the official entry is on record as the 2nd May 1969, which they'll probably have it back to by the time she leaves the fleet.  It also claimed the refit decision was recent, clearly to try and make out this was a last-minute job after misleading people over the New York one as much as they had with Lizzie's true age by having 1967-2007 on everything last year.  There is no doubt if Lizzie hadn't been sold this wouldn't have happened here this year.  She was only scheduled to be with QV once which was the 6th January for the beginning of the world cruises.  So it was with mixed emotions I looked forward to this event.  Overjoyed it was happening in Southampton, where it should have first since it's their port of registry, but sad it only was because of Lizzie leaving.

The big day was here.  
Lizzie was already here waiting, having returned from her world cruise on the 18th and moved to 105 after Ventura sailed.  I was up at 3.30am to see the other three arrive.  The 30,277grt Pacific Princess led the way, having almost completed her first world cruise which began in Fort Lauderdale on the 10th January.  Originally entering service in 1999 as R Three, she was laid up from 2001-2002 when Princess took her a and her sister R Four (Tahitian Princess) on as a charter until buying them in 2004.  She was due for 5am, docking in 106 behind Lizzie.  How lucky were they?  Queen Victoria was next, due for 5.45am, and docking in 101.  Finally Mary sailed towards 38/9 for 7am.  The plans, according to the VTS Notice To Mariners were Mary would be starboard, Lizzie and QV port.  Lizzie would have to be turned around then.  Mary would cast off at 5pm and manoeuvre between them.  Pacific Princess would then sail at 5.30pm.  After photo opportunities, Mary would set sail at 5.55pm with QV five minutes later.  It also said all small craft should remain clear of the main channel between Dock Head and the Upper Swinging Ground from 5-6pm and there would be no large ship
movements between those times.   We had heard they would all blast off together.  How exciting would that be?  And loud!  Wow!  
Lizzie was listed to be turned between 12-1pm so we headed over on the 11.20am ferry to Mayflower Park to watch the gorgeous one.  Unusually we passed further away than normal but security at the port was upped for this event.
Mayflower Park was fairly crowded.  The weather became really warm which was lovely.  I'd already taken my jacket off and was wearing my QE2 1969 History In The Making T-Shirt.  Many people thought I either worked for Cunard or on ships.  I noticed the side of QV was a little discoloured and was peeved Whitonia was blocking the view of the beautiful one.  Bad enough the beautiful one was blocking the view of the Princess!  Spectators had come from various parts of the country, ship fans and fairweathers, who wanted to witness history.  You could forgive them this time.  As we waited I overheard someone tell his son they had to get rid of Lizzie because she's small.  If he thought she was small I wonder what his opinion was when he saw the Princess?
Once all three tugs at arrived, two of them attaching, Lizzie was slowly pulled out just after 12.15pm and headed towards the turning circle.  A police boat came and went a couple of times.
As Lizzie passed the Princess she unexpectedly gave three long blasts and two short ones.  The Princess replied with the same.  A nice bonus and set the scene for what would happen five hours later.
Faith from our Yahoo group arrived, having caught an earlier ferry across from the Isle of Wight.  She is a huge Lizzie fan but likes the other two as well.
We said goodbye to Faith and the elderly lady we'd been chatting to while watching Lizzie turn and redock.  We also chatted shortly afterwards to a man from the Isle of Wight who had been on Lizzie's world cruise.  He mistakenly believed she was 41 until I explained things and showed him my T-shirt.  That came in very useful for putting people straight since I was showing solidarity with my fellow 1969 girl.  I may hate being as old as I am but proud to be just seven months younger than her.  If she'd still been around next year I'd have gone on her to celebrate my 40th as it would have been hers that year too.  The man was telling me about trouble with her starboard engine which they fixed outside Fort Lauderdale after the big send off a couple of weeks ago.  As we'd had that in December it made me wonder if that could be another possible reason she was dragged backwards from Los Angeles as she could have turned and not even scraped the container ship.  I mean, why wasn't she turned on arrival when it would have been so much simpler?  They could have kept all traffic out.  We were early as it was.  There is no way they would let engine maintenance slip the way they had dollar signs in their eyes at the way they were ripping people off for her final cruises even if the exterior went to wrack and ruin.
After an interesting chat with Les and his wife who had come from Essex, we headed off to Town Quay to bag a place before the crowds arrived.  Just four days earlier Lizzie had been in exactly the same position as Mary was, although more usual for Mary to dock that way than her elder sibling.  Even after four years, she is an impressive sight.  Many people agreed she was a natural successor to the Cunarders of the past, including Lizzie.  While a few liked Queen Victoria, most didn't, even those who had never seen her before.
It had become chilly despite the sun and it was also getting hazy just where all the action would be.  It's a shame the fence at the end is still there and they still haven't repaired it.  We met a couple who were from Selsey, heard it on the radio and decided to come even though they're only interested in cruising rather than ships and a bloke called John who was next to me and another Lizzie fan.  As we waited we saw a fire engine arrive and almost get stuck so one of the crew had to get out to help the driver move.  The things some people do for a peek!  There was also an ABP employee with a camera.
A couple of people had VHF radios and we overheard them say Mary was delayed due to still loading luggage.  The delay got later and later as the air at Town Quay became as blue as our fingers so in the end they decided to let the Princess leave early then Mary would move once she was clear around 5.20pm.  Everything was going awry.  At 5.03pm the Princess cast off and slowly began to move away from the dock.  Five minutes later she gave a couple of blasts before a plane drowned everything out so we don't know if Lizzie responded.  Grrr!
As the Princess neared Queen Victoria she gave one short and three long blasts.  QV replied with three long, one short and one very long.  Pacific did one long, QV two short, Pacfic two short and finally QV one short before the Princess carried on out of there.
As she passed Mary at 5.21pm she gave four long blasts.  Mary replied with three long and one short then they did a couple of shorts each.
Now some forty minutes late, Mary finally shifted that great big gorgeous bulk of hers, giving one long blast to let everyone know she was on the way.  We'd been listening the the radio belonging to the man who runs Shieldhall constantly for updates and no one aboard the bridges knew what they were doing now regarding the blasting.  There were also umpteen small craft which had headed up towards Western Docks to wait in the way.  According to someone else who had a radio they had dropped the recommended block.  I wondered if that was Carnival/Cunard's idea so the publicity shots would show them surrounded.  The helicopter which had been buzzing around for more than an hour went into overdrive with movement.  History was about to be made in the greatest port in the country!
As Mary emerged around Town Quay three minutes later and loomed over us titchy people she gave one long, two short and one long blasts followed by that low humming of hers.  The event everyone had looked forward to all day and freezing for when the wind whipped up, be it at Town Quay, Mayflower Park, Hythe, Marchwood or on the water itself, had begun!
At 5.58pm it really all kicked off when Mary did a constant blast for thirty seconds.  I could make out QV but have no idea if Lizzie was also blasting as part of the three replies I heard during the it.  A pause then Mary did one very long.  QV gave three long and one short as she passed followed afterwards by Lizzie's three long.
At 6.03pm it was time for the Grande Dame to get a proper go as she gave three long and two short.  Mary echoed it before Lizzie finished with two short as Mary headed up towards the turning circle.
Because of them relaxing the restrictions what we didn't want to happen did - the Red Funnel ferry blocked our view!  I saw loads of passengers rush out to portside of the top deck to watch Mary turning.
We'd heard on the radio Mary would be stopping to pose for photos and this was the moment she would do it.  Mary was flashing Southampton to the world on her enormous round bum, Lizzie on her small one and QV on her flat Vista.  Such a shame visibility was so crap.  At 6.32pm round two of blastmania began!  Mary gave three long.   Lizzie three long and two short.  Mary two short and one long but Lizzie was determined to be the star giving one short, two long, three short and one long.  Mary one short.  Lizzie three long, two short and finally Mary one long and two short.  Phew that was exhausting!
At 6.37pm it was QV's turn.  Her horn, while clearly modelled on Mary's with it's two-tone and steam, has a bit of an odd sound.  She gave four long blasts as Mary passed her.  There was a muffled one we weren't sure came from QV or Mary but Mary definitely responded with three long.  QV did another three long, Mary the same before a pause and Mary did a really long one.  There were also three blasts from presumably a boat on the water and Mary replied with three back.
As Mary passed us again, the rousing sound of Land of Hope and Glory blasting from her tannoys and also flying the blue ensign which had something to do with new captain, Christopher Wells (who had been ours on Oriana) being in the navy.  As he is a man who can muster much enthusiasm from the passengers, I can only imagine the atmosphere he created onboard.  Meanwhile QV began to throw her ropes at 6.42.
QV edged out at 6.46pm, blasting three times eight minutes later.  I don't know whether Lizzie was meant to reply or not but she didn't.
As she neared us at Town Quay she gave 3 long blasts.  I couldn't help noticing as she passed a bit of a steam leak coming from the funnel.  Whether it's meant to happen, I don't know.  Perhaps someone was having a crafty smoke after such a long and exciting day.
So that was that.  A shame Queen Victoria is a Vista derivative.  Being with the other two showed her to be the slab-sided cruise ship she is.  If there weren't four already for Holland America (with Eurodam coming), Arcadia for P&O plus the Carnival ships the Vista comes from then she would be something to be excited about.  A pity too they didn't cover the pipes.  They look like upside down udders from close range and spikes from afar.  Unlike the other Cunarders of the past there is nothing elegant about her externally and that is the first thing people see.  Arcadia is still disliked by many for her looks but she's looking more attractive since QV came along.

Anyway a very long day but worth it.  The woman from Selsey said she could understand why people did this as a hobby because she'd had a great day and met so many nice people.  She was considering coming again on the 2nd May for
Independence of the Seas, Ventura and Queen Victoria.  We managed to catch the last ferry.  They stop them at 7.30pm Monday-Wednesday and this all ended around 7.10pm so close.  This meeting, while not the first, was more meaningful than New York.  When Mary the liner's not being Caribbean cruise ship during winter this has been her only regular home for four years.  It's been Lizzie's since 1969.  It will be QV's for the foreseeable future as well as the new Queen Elizabeth.  Lizzie and Mary are in together four more times this year, QV and Mary once.  It was a shame things didn't go as planned but I still wouldn't have missed witnessing it for anything even if it snowed on us.

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© Patricia Dempsey 22nd April 2008
Not to be reproduced without permission