FALSE STARTS AND BROKEN HEARTS- TITANIC II, QE2, AND A WHOLE SUPPORTING CAST (UPDATED)

It has been a long goodbye for the classics

It has been a long goodbye for the classics

So 2013 chugs wearily towards it’s end, and the shipping fraternity has suffered a series of shocks, losses and complete non starters perhaps without parallel in living memory. It has, indeed, been both emotional and farcical by turns.

At the upper strata of heartbreaking farce is the seemingly endless, hopelessly unfunny circus that continues to surround the QE2. Hopes were raised for an October departure for a Chinese shipyard, and subsequent conversion into a 300 room hotel. There was even talk of a three month tour, a kind of ‘greatest hits’ voyage around the Far East, to showcase the ship’s legendary charm and alleged, newly ‘enhanced’ elegance.

Of course, none of this has transpired, Today, QE2 remains, slowly suffocating in her Dubai sarcophagus, surrounded by silence and with almost all of her lights switched off. Whatever faint credibility her current owners might once have had has now disappeared as completely as Atlantic fog. People are just so weary of lies, half truths and fatuous bluster that any future pronouncements will simply be greeted with a mixture of apathy and scorn.

Losses aplenty have manifested themselves, too, as the first generation of purpose built cruise ships begins to succumb to a lethal cocktail of age, apathy and sheer indifference on the part of most everyone, save for the owners of those ever hungry scrapyards. The grim procession to the block has already claimed Pacific Princess, Song Of Norway, Cunard Adventurer, and even the 1984 built Fairsky. And, with no word on the stance or condition of Ocean Countess since the fire that partly ravaged her at Chalkis on November 30th, we might yet be looking at another victim coming early in the new year. And, sadly, this list of the lost is by no means exhaustive.

Still marking time

Still marking time

We were also treated to the sobering sight of the partially salvaged Costa Concordia, as her sad, shabby carcass came back onto something of an even keel. Meanwhile, the equally sad, shabby carcass of her former Captain, Francesco Schettino, continues to be butchered in a parallel exercise by an Italian court of inquiry.

People continue to watch with a kind of vaguely uneasy hope all the goings on surrounding the SS. United States, where all concerned are hoping fervently for some Prince Charming to come to the rescue of this legendary ship. Unlike QE2, there is no questioning the sincerity or dogged determination of those fighting so hard to save the ship, and it is to be hoped that their efforts prevail in 2014.

All of which is a million miles away from the ghastly charade called Titanic II. Delayed more often than a First Capital Connect train, it was supposed- yet again- to have a definitive launch date set this December. But since the fickle ambitions of the brilliantine swathed, bon vivant Clive Palmer became gradually more attuned towards Australian politics over the previous summer, the prospect of his much touted ‘ship of schemes’ ever seeing the light of day has vanished as completely as his famously once bruited zeppelin project. Feel free to insert your own jokes regarding hot air and/or serially self obsessed windbags.

So, you will be seemingly deprived forever of the chance to move, with all of your luggage, between each of three classes every two days. Nor will you be able to pose for tasteful ‘Jack and Rose’ style shots on the prow, even as you sail over the gravesite of the real thing. Oh well, it’s all back to the Queen Mary 2, then.

On the other hand, it also neatly deprives Celine Dion of any excuse to get back into a recording studio somewhere.

I suppose every cloud has a silver lining.

AUGUST 19TH 2014 UPDATE

The brilliantined buffoon that is Clive Palmer has just had an extraordinary national meltdown on world wide television. On the subject of China- where he was supposedly going to have his Titanic II built, Palmer has fumed that ‘They shoot their own people; they are mongrels, they have no rule of law, and they want to take over this country.. . (Australia).’

Phew. While it is good that Clive has noticed all of this, it is just a shame that none of it seemed to register with him while he was attempting to get them to build his ‘ship of schemes’.

Amazing how quickly grapes can go truly sour these days, no?

I guess we can also call time on that guard of honour from the Chinese navy as well?

Thanks and goodbye, Clive; it’s been emulsional.

OOH LA LA! SEE PARIS BY ZEPPELIN…

Thought you'd seen the last  of airships? Think again...

Thought you’d seen the last of airships? Think again…

As Australian billionaire Clive Palmer continues to fudge, fumble and bluster about his hugely hyped Titanic II project, something equally fantastical has actually been quietly blooming to fruition.

Imagine cruising through the skies above the magnificent cityscape of Paris. Through huge, floor to ceiling windows, matchless views of the winding River Seine. and the great landmarks such as Sacre Coeur and the Elysee Palace unfold like a series of stunning drum rolls.

Picture yourself slowly circling the top of the stupendous Eiffel Tower, seeing the monument in a way that even Gustave Eiffel never envisaged. You carry on over the fabled streets of Montmartre and the Champs Elysees. Sometimes, you might even loft gently above the vast, fabled opulence of Versailles for a bird’s eye view of the old hunting grounds of Louis XIV

If this sounds slightly reminiscent of being awake in a slowly moving dream, then that is understandable. But this dream is very real. For, after several decades of half hearted attempts at resurrection, the passenger carrying zeppelin is finally back.

Airship Paris has already built and commissioned its first, passenger carrying airship. a tourist vehicle carrying twelve passengers and a crew of two. The idea is to fly passengers over and above the Paris skyline, and at prices that are almost sky high themselves.

A standard, one hour flight will cost around 450 euros, with a longer, ninety minute ‘Royal’ tour on offer at 650 euros. Not cheap for sure, but certainly exceptional. And, in terms of memories, truly priceless.

Company president, Eric Lopez, dreams of a day when a fleet of perhaps fifteen airships, carrying around three hundred passengers, will be able to flit gracefully across the skyline of the French capital. And, if the scheme is successful, the possibility for future expansion of the service to other cities is almost limitless.

The first new airship is some two hundred and forty five feet in length, cruises at a height of around nine hundred feet, and has a maximum speed of about seventy-eight miles an hour. Power is provided by three engines; one on either side, and a third at the rear.

Flights depart from and return to a small airport in the suburb of Pontoise, some twenty-six kilometres north west of Paris itself.

The craft is filled with helium, the inflammable gas that would have prevented the cataclysmic destruction of the Hindenburg back in 1937. Roosevelt had declined to supply the gas to Hitler, because it also had the potential for war usage back in those last, tense years of peace. That problem no longer exists.

A crew of two will pilot up to twelve passengers, accommodated in a traditional gondola slung under the gas bag. Large, plexi-glass windows afford for superlative views; passengers are allowed to either stand or sit, and there is plenty of room to move about the cabin without any kind of crowding.

This sounds like a fantastic premise to me; seeing the sweep, stance and the staggering architectural exclamation marks of one of the most graceful cities on the planet, from a surreal, slowly moving cocoon of comfort and style.  if there is a more stylish way of touring and exploring than this, then I for one have yet to hear of it.

And- if you really want to ramp up on the style, luxe and nostalgia, then why not combine a flight with a journey to or from Paris on the legendary Venice Simplon Orient Express?

Airship Paris, Bon Voyage!

TA-TA TO TITANIC II, TOO… (Updated)

Like the Mauretania seen here, Palmer's Titanic II project is sailing off into history...

Like the Mauretania seen here, Palmer’s Titanic II project is sailing off into history…

As certain commentators are now picking up on the fact that Clive Palmer’s fantasy creation of building a replica Titanic might not be about to come to fruition after all, I thought it timely to reshare this post.

At the time, this piece- originally written in July, 2013- was ridiculed and sniped at by certain people.

All I can say is- oops….

 

Well, it looks like sayonara to the fondly imagined sailing sensation that would have been Titanic II.

Antipodean multi- millionaire Clive Palmer promised that his much hyped ship of schemes would have her launch date formally announced in June. The more observant among us will have noted that June has gone, together with any vague possibility that this ghastly circus has any kind of chance of ever seeing life.

To be honest, I have always had mixed feelings about the entire scheme. Like imagining Justin Bieber going over a cliff. In my new Rolls Royce Corniche. As a lover of beautiful ships, who would not want to see that most stunning of silhouettes once again gracing the ocean? It has after all an ageless beauty and undeniable majesty. And I know that if she had ever been built, then I would have certainly had to see her. That makes me a bit of a hypocrite, to be sure. I don’t deny that for a moment.

If only Palmer had planned to call her Olympic, and limit her to a maximum of around seven hundred first class passengers, then the scheme might have had far more credibility and, indeed, support from the maritime community.It would have given her a passenger ratio on the order of deluxe lines such as Regent.  But the idea of a 2400 passenger theme park, replete with extra deck, welded hull and. of course a casino….. that was too much.

Then there was the whole tacky idea of allowing literally thousands of visitors aboard at every port- and the US Customs would really have got on board with THAT one- as well as allowing passengers to re create that ‘Jack and Rose’ pose on the bow, even as the ship sailed over the grave site of the real thing. The whole project lurched rapidly from quite intriguing to horribly banal in truly short order.

To be fair, Palmer played the part of ringmaster with admirable panache; holding court for the world’s press at the Ritz, and ‘bringing on board’ a whole host of Titanic related ‘names’ as ‘consultants’, without ever elaborating on exactly what they were supposedly being consulted about. In the final analysis, he proved great at laying dinner plates in glitzy venues, and not so great at laying keel plates in a Chinese shipyard. The emperor truly had no clothes.

Bonfire of the vanities; Palmer's Zeppelin project was all hot air, too.

Bonfire of the vanities; Palmer’s Zeppelin project was all hot air, too.

So, adios Titanic II, and bon voyage as you sail off to join Palmer’s fondly bruited Zeppelin project in the realms of failed, fantastical recreations. It promised to revive luxury service and cuisine in the air but yes, it too didn’t even rise to the level of pie in the sky.

Thanks, Clive. It’s been emulsional.

Might be emotional, but I don’t really think so.

TITANIC II- SOME ELEVATED CONCERNS- UPDATED

The original Titanic; doomed opulence on the ocean, 1912- style

The original Titanic; doomed opulence on the ocean, 1912- style

As many of you will be aware, the oft delayed, eagerly awaited announcement for the keel laying date of Titanic II will be revealed this month, we have been told. With two thirds of June almost gone, the sense of anticipation has been sharpened to almost knife edge.

Clive Palmer has promised a ship that is around 96 per cent accurate; albeit with a welded hull, inboard lifeboats (and plenty of them) as well as one extra deck. All of this is by now out in the public domain.

But I’ve been thinking more about the interior structure lately. To be precise, the passenger mobility aspect of the ship. Bear with me.

The original Titanic had four lifts. That’s right- four. Of these, three were the exclusive preserve of the 750 first class passengers. The fourth lift was a welcome, novel addition for the benefit of second class. The third class passengers- by far the bulk of the ship’s complement- had no lift access at all.

Given that Palmer has pledged to keep the numbers, class system and structural integrity of the original ship, the modern voyagers aboard Titanic II will be stuck with that same quartet of lifts. And, as Mister Palmer intends for his passengers to spend two days experiencing each of the three classes on each six day crossing, the logistics of moving both them, and of course all their luggage, begin to look like a very badly orchestrated Monty Python sketch. Repeated three times a week, in case you missed the first show.

Of course, the obvious solution seems simple enough; just add more lifts. But that involves cutting lift shafts right through the entire, nine deck structure of the ship. Lift shafts where none ever existed before. Or intended to be either, for that matter.

Any ocean liner- even the biggest- is a trade off as regards space in every section, from cabin size to kitchen square footage. Massive compromise in this respect is as unavoidable as that iceberg back in 1912.

More lifts means plowing wholesale through deck after deck; obliterating original cabins, and cutting through corridors on every deck; perhaps even cutting through public rooms. It certainly means creating vestibules where none ever existed before. That creates backup in terms of passenger flow; it makes the original form and function of many public spaces impractical and, more to the point, downright uncomfortable.

That end result means a TItanic II that will be a butchered, truncated mish mash inside. It makes even the fanciful figure of ’96 per cent accurate’ a joke.

So, Palmer here inherits a true maritime catch-22 situation, albeit one of this own making.  He wants to create a ship that replicates the original of 1912 as faithfully as possible, and sell it to a society that cherishes the modern creature comforts of 2013.

You could, in theory, create a corridor for the third class passengers to use the single, second class lift. But again, that means cutting away at the original interior. And one lift for the use of around 1500 passengers? Really?

And what about disabled access? How will that work in and across all three classes? My guess is not very well at all.

The shape and technology of ship hulls- from freighters to cruise ships- advances and changes to meet the needs of modern demands. Recreating a century old hull design and expecting it to be adapted to modern tastes strikes me as a fanciful, fatuous daydream.

This isn’t 1912. Palmer can either create a working, potentially viable transatlantic tribute that doffs its cap to its heritage, or he can conjure a real, live 1912 theme park that is woefully impractical, verging on farcical. He can’t have both.

And, thus far, there’s actually no real sign of him doing either.

Update: As of today- Thursday, July 4th- there has still been no announcement of any definite launch date for the Titanic II project, despite Clive Palmer’s promise that this would be forthcoming in June.

DEUTSCHLAND- 21ST CENTURY TIME TRAVEL

ImageClive Palmer is a man with a mission. The ebullient antipodean has made headlines with his decision to gift the world his Titanic II project. He intends her to be a faithful as possible recreation, encapsulating all the glamour, opulence and style of turn of the 20th century ocean liner travel. There’s just one small fly circling above the brilliantine.

It’s already been done…

ImageAnd here is the proof. Her name is Deutschland. Internally, she’s an almost perfect tribute to such famous, pre-WW1 flyers as the Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse and the legendary Kronprinz Wilhelm. Small, highly styled and wonderfully anachronistic, Deutschland is possibly the most under rated passenger ship afloat today anywhere.

ImageShe was conceived by the late Peter Deilmann to be a tribute to that hallowed age of German ocean liners. But the ship herself is strictly first class, with just over 500 passengers carried in small but supremely comfortable cabins that echo the sumptuous, magnificent spread of public rooms on board.

Deutschland is wonderfully dramatic. Vast chandeliers hold sway above a sea of rich, thick red carpeting in the gold accented Kaisersaal ballroom. There are exquisite stained glass ceilings and deep leather sofas that look as if they were lifted intact from the Adlon or the Ritz. Potted palms are dotted around the public areas like random exclamation marks.

ImageGold cherubs and gilded balustrades predominate, while huge, cake rich paintings of ancient sailing ships and ocean liners loom above formal seating groups. Banks of floor to ceiling windows flood this wonderful little ship with light; this helps her to feel elegant, even coquettish. More Louis Quinze than stolid Prussian matriach.

ImageThe food and service is simply amazing. A 20.000 ton ship that boasts four separate dining venues- all included in the fare- is quite something. And where else would you expect to find boar and ostrich on the menu, if not here? The pleasures of the table are one of the main forms of entertainment aboard Deutschland.

ImageThe ship is a perfect, compact little jewel. Her outer decks are immaculate; lined with rows of teak steamer chairs, each one with its own, embroidered dark blue mattress. Lines of them are as perfectly presented as a parade of the Prussian Guard. She is without doubt one of the most immaculate ships that I have ever sailed on. or, for that matter, ever will.

It should go without saying that this is a ship with a genteel kind of patina; a wondrous, subtle vibe that puts the emphasis on enjoying the ship herself for what she is. If you can’t live without bingo, rock climbing walls or fur and feather floor shows, then Deutschland is definitely not for you.

ImageBut if you appreciate cool, classy jazz, wonderful food and service, and a level of charm, style and panache that simply cannot be fabricated (C.Palmer, I’m talking to you), then it may very well be that your ship has, indeed, come in. I wish this stunning, spirited little gem of a ship many more years of happy sailing.ImageImageImage

TITANIC: DRAGGED UP FOR AIR?

CNV00004Like a Celine Dion mega mix, Clive Palmer’s Olympian attempt to revive the most notorious name in maritime history goes on and on. Yesterday marked the first in a series of events designed to unveil the supposed genesis of his controversial Titanic II project, now slated for a debut in the fall of 2016.

The bare bones of a strategy have been sketched out. Titanic II will be built in a Chinese shipyard. Although complying to every modern safety standard (where have I heard that before?) the new ship will be ’98 per cent’ faithful in recreating the original, fabled opulence of the ill fated juggernaut.

This is no mean feat. For starters, the hull will be welded, rather than held together by the three million rivets hammered into the original Titanic. There will be azipods to power and steer the ship, and an extra deck complete with helicopter pad. The historically astute will be relieved to learn that there will be more than enough lifeboats for everyone. Good thinking. Because the first lifeboat drill held aboard Titanic II will without doubt be the best attended in maritime history.

Passengers- 2400 of them- will have the opportunity to experience two days’ accommodation in each of three classes on scheduled, six day transatlantic crossings, with period costumes available in all three. And here’s where I have to ask…

How, exactly, are they going to accommodate the mass transfer of 2400 passengers (plus, presumably, all their luggage and personal effects) three times during a six day transatlantic crossing? The logistics alone are enough to bring on a nose bleed. They are going to need a purser’s staff way in excess of any other ship just to collate the paperwork. And just imagine those panelled corridors, hopelessly cluttered in mid ocean with a tidal wave of baffled, irate passengers, hopelessly overworked crew and cases. Then multiply that confusion by three….

The extra deck will allow Titanic Ii to incorporate a casino; a feature lacking on the original ship. Apparently, people over a ‘certain age’ will not be allowed in here. Wow. So if you are, indeed, of a certain age, you get to be treated like a second class human being, even if you happen to have booked one of those amazing parlour suites? Harsh.

Some unkind souls have expressed the opinion that the entire project is a few rivets short of being a watertight hull. At least the long delivery voyage from China to the UK will allow ample time for speed and handling trials. Weeks, in fact. A distinct improvement on the eight hours allocated to the same trials for the 1912 original. For reasons best known to himself, Mister Palmer has expressed a hope that the Chinese Navy will escort Titanic II from builder’s yard to Southampton berth. Still, perhaps better safe than sorry, I guess.

In similar vein, Palmer has also asked for the Royal Navy to escort the ship on her maiden crossing from Southampton to New York. If I were a passenger on that trip, I’d be very glad to see another ship within hailing distance at all times. Though I would also require proof that said ship (s) had fully functioning wireless sets. Well, you don’t want to tempt fate, do you? And that’s assuming we still have anything that can pass for a navy by 2016.

Most cruise lines are now charging for on board extras, such as bottled water and photography shoots. I wonder how Mister Palmer intends to boost revenue on board his newly wrought ship of schemes?

Perhaps there will be a special ‘Jack and Rose’ perch on the prow, where star struck passengers can adopt ‘that’ pose and have a souvenir photo taken? Or how about a photographic canvas backdrop of an iceberg, or maybe a half full lifeboat?

Maybe those period costumes will allow you to ‘dress up’ as one of those poor, peerless musicians who went down with the ship. Just lift that violin a little higher, sir, and- smile….

There are some who will doubtless find those last two paragraphs to be somewhat in poor taste. I understand that. But where is the good taste in dragging up the ghastly memory of this appalling disaster for air, and then turning it into some glorified theme park ride that crosses over the actual grave site of the real thing?

When all is said and done, Clive Palmer could have called this ship the Olympic, after the prototype of the two sister ships. Olympic was every bit as luxurious as the Titanic, had a sterling wartime career- including actually sinking a U-boat that tried to attack her- not to mention almost a quarter of a century of buoyant success as a passenger liner par excellence. Olympic was the first of the pair; she was the ship that truly ushered in the age of the modern, ultra luxury passenger steamer. If ever a ship was worthy of modern interpretation, she surely is.

But, of course, she never up ended in the North Atlantic on a freezing cold April night, killing two thirds of her passengers and crew in the process. Close, but no cigar.

Still, all of this might never come to pass. The Blue Star Line circus has proved adept at staging a number of media ‘events’ all around the world that have so far promised much, but delivered very little. Personally, I will believe in the reality of Titanic II when Blue Star get round to laying keel plates in a shipyard, instead of dinner plates garnished with nebulous, indigestible soundbites in a succession of swanky venues around the world.

In terms of size, the Titanic II will be a relative minnow in comparison to the gigantic floating theme parks carousing around tropical waters. She will not have all the mod cons such as balcony cabins, water slides, rock climbing walls, etc. Which is all well and fine, because- as the White Star Line could have told you- the biggest ships don’t always turn out to be the best from a passenger’s point of view. The whole point of Titanic II is to immerse you in the style and essence of a bygone experience. Let’s hope that’s the extent of any actual passenger immersion.