Here Comes the Queen Mary II

photo: la brasaerrade du liamone

Far from the sea, a bistro with mountain specialties.

And Not a Moment Too Soon

Paris:- Sunday, 12. March 2000:- The best news of the week was the announcement of the construction of a passenger liner, the Queen Mary II. The shipworks 'Chantiers Navals de l'Atlantique' at Saint-Nazaire got the $700 million job.

A lot of the news concerned the shipyard that lost the bid, the Harland & Wolff company in Belfast. This yard is famous for having built the 'unsinkable Titanic, but was in no way responsible for the way that ship was run into an iceberg.

Chantiers Navals has come back from the brink of bankruptcy in 1997, when it was warning that layoffs of 1400 would be necessary. At the moment, Chantiers Navals has 13 solid orders for cruise liners plus a couple of frigates for the Moroccan navy.

How this plays out in Paris is very strange. One hears nothing for years, then suddenly on TV-news there is anphoto: etam, samaritaine item about some French shipyard delivering the biggest, newest, most fandangled, new cruise ship to some obscure shipping line named something like 'Carnival.'

It turns out that this 'Carnival' owns the Cunard Line, whose last new ship - the Queen Elizabeth II - was built 30 years ago.

Belfast's Harland & Wolff last liner was the Canberra, which hit the water nearly 40 years ago. This yard, which is owned by Norway's Fred Olsen Energy ASA, has been building a lot of vessels for offshore oil work.

However, the news is not about one shipyard outbidding another - it is about the idea that cruise operator Carnival has ordered a trans-ocean liner for its Cunard subsidiary.

The Queen Mary

The original Queen Mary, launched in Clydeside in Scotland in 1934, has been acting as a floating hotel in Long Beach, California. The report says it was 'retired' from service in 1967.

This may be so, but I crossed the Atlantic from Southampton to New York aboard it in November of 1964. At the time I was told the crossing was one of the last the ship would make. It is possible the Queen Mary was used for another few years elsewhere, before ending up tied to a wharf in Long Beach.

That it is still used as a hotel, says something about how it was when it was a beautiful and functioning trans-Atlantic racer, as it still was when it was 30 years old.

The public spaces were not only large, but they were extensively decorated in the sort of prolo-art deco style of the late '20's and early '30's, and everything was tip-top and shiny, even in 1964. The grand stairways were carpeted from top to bottom and from edge to edge.

Down in the depths of third class, things were a bit more functional. Thephoto: portal palais brongniart hallways just inside the outer cabins declined from bow to centre and rose again towards the stern, and curved at the same time - so the ends were invisible.

On my crossing, after leaving Southampton around noon, the ship ran into a north Atlantic winter storm about an hour before midnight. I was dancing in first class at the time and couldn't figure out why I couldn't stand up. The band slid off the bandstand.

And that was pretty much the last I saw of the other 1300 passengers. At breakfast the following morning, I had a table for eight to myself, and two waiters. A couple of other diners were about 50 metres away in a dining room that could seat about 500.

Have you even had a four-page breakfast menu with two waiters to handle the order? Have you ever been the only customer in the 250-seat veranda bar near the ship's bow, with two bartenders who could mix three different kinds of martinis - for two-bits a pop?

This ship-wide bar had a sort of mezzanine, with its highest level right by the windows in the front of the superstructure. I sat for hours watching the bow disappear beneath four-story high waves, ones that often hit the windows like a huge sea-green car-wash.

The crew ran the 80,000-ton ship through the storm like a speedboat on its own railway,photo: sans issue, dead end because it had to get to New York on time and get back, on time. It was a liner, not a cruiser.

So this is what the Chantiers Navals is going to have to 'top.' Cunard has ordered a ship just slightly shorter than the Empire Sate building is high, with marble staircases, a theatre, a room for a crew of 1400 and only 1310 cabins, some with ceilings 4.5 metres high.

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