Voyage #434 westbound began at Southampton, QEII Terminal at 1900 hours, Thursday December 2nd, 1982. Arrival at Pier 90, Manhattan, was scheduled for 0700 on Tuesday, December 7th.
In command is Captain Peter Jackson, Staff Captain is Alex Hutcheson. Cruise director is Tim Castle.
This was my first trip on the QE2, and my first westbound transatlantic. The liner was still painted in the pebble grey, post Falklands colour scheme that many loathed, but I actually rather liked. I went out to see her in the ferry, Hotspur, on that bitterly cold day. At the bow, rust streaks were showing around the anchor hawsers. But I was still awed by my first sight of the fabled liner.
I had booked what was then known as a ‘student fare’- a share in a two berth, inner cabin- for around £220, a true bargain. However, with only 700 passengers booked for the westbound crossing, everybody was moved ‘upstairs’, and I found myself in cabin 3175- a very agreeable outside cabin astern on the starboard quarter. A big step up from what I had anticipated.
Booked into the Tables Of The World (as then was) Restaurant, I looked forward to my first Cunard meal with considerable relish. At the entrance to the dining room at that time was the statue of Britannia.
I remember being on deck as the quayside band serenaded us on our way with a series of Christmas carols on that bitterly cold night, a hugely emotional moment as the QE2 warped slowly out into the darkness. Part way down the river, we stopped briefly to retrieve two of the motor launches, which had been landed for some routine maintenance. With that, we were on our way; next stop, New York.
Well, that was the plan…..
First day at sea dawned grey and cold, but calm. I soon happily settled into the easy routine of a transatlantic liner bound west. Fell instantly in love with the wonderful library and the inner promenades that had wall to ceiling windows flanking the sea on both sides. My constant source of fascination would be the sight of the white flecked grey waves, boiling along the side of the QE2 as we surged westwards.
From here on in, the weather deteriorated violently once we cleared the coast of southern Ireland. For the better part of twenty four hours, the QE2 pitched so much at times that the propellers came clear of the water, causing the entire liner to cavitate. She would then roll slowly to port, then over to starboard, before beginning to pitch again. Under the circumstances, Captain Jackson had no realistic choice other than to slow the liner to a few knots and keep her bows to the wind. Though I did not realise it at the time, this would seriously compromise our schedule.
I was deeply, ridiculously proud of the fact that I was not seasick, or even queasy. What can I tell you? I was 23 years old, on my maiden transatlantic, and literally spending my nights dancing through the storm. That entire crossing- that stormy baptism of fire- was one long round of quality dining, reading and resting, dancing and savouring some fine vodka.
In those days, the Theatre Bar- now better known as the Golden Lion- was used as the disco. In that December of 1982, the big UK chart hits included Young Guns, the first ever single by some new band called Wham, the hilariously ironic cover of Rock The Boat by Forrest, and Best Years Of Our Lives by Modern Romance. Despite the weather- which abated only slightly as we continued on our course- the Theatre Bar was full every night until the wee hours on that crossing. They were truly magical nights.
The biggest news event was that of the execution in Texas of Charlie Brooks, the first ever victim of lethal injection. I can still remember shuddering with horror when I read of it.
My own attack of the horrors came when I learned that QE2 would now be docking in Boston rather than New York. We had lost so much time because of the adverse weather that there was no realistic alternative. Being booked to fly back from New York, I was more than a little alarmed.
I need not have worried. The valiant Cunard staff at reception revised my flight departure to a Boston one. And, while I did feel deprived of my eagerly anticipated arrival in Manhattan, I understood perfectly that the weather made such a thing unavoidable. That seemed to be more than some of the more demanding and excitable passengers on board- many of whom should have known better- could do. There were some shocking, completely pointless ‘diva strops’ in certain circles. Enough said.
Our arrival in Boston was finally accomplished in complete darkness. The sea had long since calmed, though it remained bitterly cold. We were cleared at around seven in the evening, a full twelve hours after we should have been docked in Manhattan.
My last view of QE2 was as I left her, floodlit and beautiful, as she sat alongside the Commonwealth Pier. I was on my way to Logan Airport for what turned out to be a blissfully uneventful British Airways flight back to Heathrow.
There were barely contained tears in my eyes at leaving her, and a lump in my throat big enough to play regulation football with. Over five and a half days, a unique bond had been formed between QE2 and her human cargo. In my case, it proved to be one that remains unbroken to this day.
Even standing on the pier at the conclusion of #434 westbound, I understood that I had fallen in love over five days. I found myself- like many others before and, indeed, since- in hopeless, totally illogical thrall to a ship that would, in due course, become part of the very backdrop of my life. It is safe to say that, after that first, momentous westbound crossing on QE2, my life was never the same again, and in a good way.
I owe the old girl a debt that I can never, ever, possibly repay. God speed QE2- may your endless voyage find calmer seas and kinder hands to guide you than those currently at your helm.