175 years of Cunard

On Thursday evening Cunard hosted an event at the Southampton Art Galłery to launch the celebration of Cunard’s 175 years. The impressive exhibition of photographs and posters is worth a visit. The Mayor of Southampton spoke about the contribution that Cunard has made to the port and to the city and Angus Śtruthers responded on behalf of Cunard.
Today, Sunday 3 May 2015, the 3 Queens return from their respective World voyages and this afternoon the 3 ships will leave the port together. The parade will be led by the flagship Queen Mary 2 followed by Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. They should form up at 1630 and be at Dock Head by 1720 reaching Calshot just before 1800.
Queen Mary 2 will head off to New York, while Queen Elizabeth sails to Hamburg and Queen Victoria to Guernsey.
Your blogger will be on Southampton Water this afternoon and will report later on the sailaway procession.


The 3 Queens leave Southampton

.,We screamed across Southampton Water today at speeds in excess of 40 knots. No, not aboard one of the Queens, but on David Saph’s massive RIB.

David bought Landfall from us in 2013. We boarded his 8 metre RIB near Shamrock Quay at 1500 and motored past St Mary’s, the home of Southampton Football Club and past Ocean Village. 
As we had some 40 minutes before the Queens began to leave their berths, we raced down Southampton Water towards Calshot. At the mouth of the Hamble River, we reduced speed to 6 knots and motored almost to the RSYC before returning to Southampton Water. Then a high speed dash back to Dock Head.
None of us had travelled so fast at sea before (apart from David at the helm). It was extraordinary.
Anthem of the Seas, the latest massive Royal Caribbean cruise ship, left the scene first.

She has been in and out of the port over the last 2 weeks. It was clear that she realised that she was an unwelcome guest today. Then Fred Olsen’s Balmoral scuttled away to leave the stage for the Cunarders.

Queen Elizabeth was berthed at the QEII terminal and she pulled out first.

Queen Victoria was on her own at the Mayflower Terminal and after Queen Mary 2 started to leave Ocean Terminal, QV was moving to join her sisters. QM2 moved to port and sailed past QE and the sailaway down Southampton Water began. QV joined the procession, bringing up the rear.

Earlier at a lunch on board Queen Mary 2 the Captains of the 3 Queens posed for photos. Commodore Christopher Rynd, Captain Inger Klein Thorhauge and Captain Chris Wells.

It was a great day. Many thanks to David Saph for making it possible.

Follow up to Sunday’s Queen Convoy

ICaptain David Saph had two photographers aboard his unnamed RIB. Your blogger and one Cark Maunsell.

Cark has Dropboxed his photos to me and I have added some of them here.

They indicate to me that either (a) he has a better camera than me or, (b) that he is a better photographer than me.

When I arrived home I explained to my dear wife Jane that we had been screaming up and down Southampton Water, and slamming into the waves at speeds in excess of 50 mph. She listened dutifully and then asked me why we had not been invited to lunch on Queen Mary 2. While I had been away, her younger brother Nigel had dropped in.
There we were, rushing up and down Southampton Water, getting soaked when Captain David executed wheelies and handbrake turns round the buoys. We dreamt of burgers or KFC’s (and ended up with Costa coffees) while Nigel and Christine were having lunch on QM2 with the Master of the ship and the CEO of Carnival, amongst the great and the good. Is there no justice!
Here are Nigel and Christine before they boarded QM2 and a piece of their cake!

The news is that Jane and I join Queen Elizabeth next Monday for the 16 night voyage to The Baltic including an overnight in St Petersburg. And our return takes us to Kirkwall in the Orkneys and then to Liverpool for yet another reunion of the 3 Queens. All part of the 175 celebrations. Linda is again house sitting for us.

So much for the polls!

Not much sleep last night. Amazing how the exit poll painted a very accurate picture of the likely end result (70 seats still to be declared as I write). All that talk of coalitions by the pollsters showed how inaccurate they can be. Not surprised to see the Lib Dems doing so badly after turning on their coalition partners. Will David Miliband be flying back from the US to take over from his brother?!

We are in the middle of the packing process before boarding Queen Elizabeth on Monday for a Baltic cruise. We take in Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallinn, St Petersburg overnight, Warnemunde, Kirkwall in Orkney and Liverpool on Monday 25 May for further 175 year celebrations with the other 2 Queens. Then one day to get round Lands End and back to Southampton.


The Baltic and Tribute to Liverpool

That’s what the cruise is called and we are on our way. Bright and early start with no mishaps apart from the missing jacket. Everything done. House left clean and tidy (by my standards) for Linda, our house sitter. I even remembered where the Hoover was kept and how to use it. I remember getting the jacket off the hanger, but just as we were about to leave, the jacket had gone. The conclusion reached by the others was that I must have packed it. Searched everywhere, no joy. Linda will no doubt spot it as soon as she arrives.

There were only 2 cruise ships in so the journey was easy with me in Martin’s taxi with all the luggage and Ian Gordon following, driving the Vauxhall with Jane aboard. 
A little subterfuge found us at the head of the check in queue and quickly sitting with Stewart and Elizabeth Wilson waiting for the signal to board. In our cabin by 12.05 pm must be another world record.
And this time it was not “who you know”, as it was when Annie Guy or Sandy Gravestock were on duty, but “what you know” – nipping past the awkward meeters and greeters when they were looking the other way. 
We first met Stewart and Elizabeth at the Captain’s table on the maiden voyage of Queen Victoria in December 2007. Stewart and I were sitting either side of a tall, attractive lady. I had established that she was the Captain’s wife, but Stewart did not know that and asked her if she liked cruising. She and I led him along for some time and he has never really forgotten or forgiven me for winding him up.
Stewart puts together wonderful stamp collections made up of stamps from around the world featuring Cunard ships. He is also a great Cunard historian and the narratives in the albums record a wide variety of facts about the ships and their careers. Stewart has donated a number of the albums to Cunard and each ship displays two of the albums in glass cases in their libraries. The librarians turn the pages each day.
During lunch on Monday, we bumped into John and Pat from Sheffield. We had dined with them on the Queen Victoria last year. They told us they had been on the segment of this years World voyage from San Francisco to Auckland and had met up with the Stafford twins and joined their table for some of the voyage.
The weather was wonderful as we set off, on time, down Southampton Water. Eight days ago I was travelling over the same stretch of water at some 40 knots. Queen Elizabeth peaked at about 15!
Daylight departures are rare for us. Here are one or two buildings and views. Does anyone know what they are? Answers in ‘Comments’ on the blog please. A fog kept rolling in and out but the sun shone as well.

It was very foggy here!

We sat with some Australians from Sydney at lunch. They told us that there were 460 Australians aboard. Apparently, last year a travel agent in Oz advertised a package which took in 5 days on QV, a night in the De Vere in Southampton, followed by this cruise on QE. Then on 25 May when this ship arrives back in Southampton they move across to Queen Mary 2 which takes them to New York. They then fly back to Sydney.


The approach to Oslo is stunning. After crossing the Skagerrak, we entered the Oslofjord, which at times is fairly narrow, but for the most part, tree lined. Wooden homes of all shapes, sizes and colours are dotted about amongst the trees. Some are holiday homes, but others are permanently occupied.

The journey along the fjord took us about three hours, but the sun had risen just before 5.00 am and it was a beautiful morning. We arrived on our berth on time at 10.00 am.
Jane and I first came to Oslo on the QE2 during the summer of 2004. We had had our first taste of cruising earlier that year when we had managed to get a cabin on the maiden voyage of Queen Mary 2. People were talking about the QE2 being pensioned off, as she was then nearly 40 years old, so we decided that we ought to take a cruise on her before that occurred. It was a Norwegian fjord cruise and Oslo was the first port of call. 
We came back again in December 2007 on the maiden voyage of Queen Victoria. That voyage was billed as a Christmas Markets Cruise. There was snow on the ground and it was freezing cold and the Chritmas market was less than impressive!  I think Cunard realised that winter cruises to this part of the world are not a great idea. But in the summer Oslo and the Baltic are wonderful places to visit.
We also came to Oslo on Queen Elizabeth on a Baltic cruise in 2011. The highlight was, of course, St Petersburg but close behind was a place in Northern Germany called Travemunde. I reported on that day on the We Are Cunard website.
I have also been reminded by Helen Barnes that we did a North Cape cruise two years ago and that involved a visit to Oslo.
Oslo is a great place, with a multitude of museums and palaces. This time we walked in an easterly direction initially and then drifted to the west in search of the Ibsen museum where Ibsen lived for the last 11 years of his life. We eventually found it close to the Royal Palace.

The Palace guards were happy to be photographed.

On Thursday we are in Copenhagen. Another great city.

Through the harbour and up to the quay. And there she stands waiting for me.

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen.

Friendly old girl of a town.
Let us clink and drink one down.
Salty old queen of the sea.
They were some of Danny Kaye’s lines all those years ago. 
And on Thursday we had to have a yet another look at The Little Mermaid sitting on her rock only a few hundred yards from the ship. She is still small, still little, but somehow she looked more mature and more serene than she was. That, despite being surrounded by a large group of Japanese tourists, all desperate to get selfies with her.

In fact we found that there were massive crowds wherever we went, and it was only after we returned to the ship that we found out that it was a public holiday – Ascension Day.
Copenhagen is beautiful. The architecture is stunning, whether the buildings are old or new, and the whole city is wonderfully clean and tidy.

Jane and I had a hop on/hop off day which proved very successful except for the fact that it was impossible for Jane to get down to the jetty to board the canal boat, for the canal tour included in our ticket (Don’t worry, I managed to get a refund!) and, no, I didn’t do the canal tour on my own!

At that stage we had a coffee and a beer in a lovely square and watched the world go by. The sun shone and the tourists were happy. We returned to the Langelinie Promenade and hopped off the bus by the Queens Royal Yacht

and then strolled back along the promenade.

Back at the ship we found that the lady Captain Inger had departed on leave. Although she grew up in the Faroe Islands, she and her husband live in Denmark. The new master of the ship is Captain Alistair Clark and we hope to meet him this evening at his cocktail party.
This was the view as we left Copenhagen in the early evening.



Did I tell you about Saturday 16 May 2015? We were due to arrive at our berth in Stockholm at 9.00 am. At 6.45 am I heard the Captain’s voice. If broadcasts have to be made when people are asleep they are made into public areas but not into cabins. 

I opened the door to hear him say that we could not go into Stockholm and I think there was a reference to corporate regulations being breached. I had the impression that when the pilot came aboard he wanted the Captain to carry out a procedure or procedures that the Captain was not happy to do and that as a result we were told we could not go in. It seemed very strange.

An hour or so later the Captain broadcast again, but he didn’t really add anything to the information he gave earlier. So of course the passengers started speculating. It was too windy. There was a big argument between the pilot and the Captain. All sorts of theories, but nothing more from the Captain, which was a pity. I’m sure a fuller explanation would have been more satisfactory, and would have stopped the gossiping in the Guest laundrettes!
So we had a day at sea and we sailed on to Tallinn in Estonia where a berth was made available for us.

We arrived at about 6.00pm and some went ashore. We had been due to arrive here on Sunday morning, so we decided to wait until then before exploring Tallinn.

Missing a port causes enormous disruption. There are the passengers who demand compensation. There are numerous tours that have to be cancelled. Entertainers who are due to leave the ship are stuck aboard and new entertainers have to change travel plans to get themselves to a different port. And of course passengers who were due to meet friends are upset. These decisions cannot be taken lightly.

Tallinn, Estonia

OThey said there were cobblestones everywhere. That was four years ago and we did not explore Tallinn as comprehensively as we might have done.

This time we decided to make more of an effort. The plan was to take the shuttle bus which would drop us off in the centre and then we would either take a cab to the old town at the top of the steep hill or we would push up the hill, depending on the state of the cobbles!

We don’t take the electric wheelchair ashore usually, because of the problems with high kerbs, but also because buses and cabs with hoists or ramps are rarely available. So it is the folding wheelchair and no power!

It was a lovely day. Sunny but cold. Jane was wrapped up well.

The shuttle with a ramp soon arrived. There was very little Sunday morning traffic and we were soon at the Lower Town. 
It was between the 13th and 15th centuries, during Danish rule, that Talłinn was a renowned international and mercantile centre – a major member of the Hanseatic League. The merchants based themselves in the Lower Town. The Upper Town developed separately, ruled by German aristocrats.

We began to wend our way through the narrow cobbled streets, and found that comparatively easy, as pavements could usually be found on one side of the street and the hill was fairly gentle. We came across the Town Hall Square, which was lined with cafes and we settled down to excellent coffees before starting the more arduous climb to the Upper Town centered on Toompea Hill.
Again there was a flattish pavement and the steep part was probably no more than 100 meters long. Suddenly we were there and the Castle and Pikk Hermann Tower were magnificent.

Tallinn is sensational. The atmosphere in the Old Town was exciting and if you have not been here it is a must.
Next is St Petersburg for 2 days. We are looking forward to that.
My latest image of Queen Elizabeth!


St Petersburg, Russia

Some years ago, before our first visit to St Petersburg, friends from the US, Pam and Peggy Zirkle advised us to book a private guide. We did so and Mira Bogachkova was assigned to us by Insider Tours. She was brilliant. So I booked her again for this visit.

Alexandra of Insider Tours and I had agreed an itinerary earlier in the year, and we met Mira outside the Terminal building at 10.00 am on Monday. She had with her a black Mercedes and its driver whose name I never mastered. The Russians had let us in. You either had to have a Russian visa obtained before you left the UK or be on an organised tour.
We started with the Church on Spilled Blood?

Truly amazing with gold and more gold and murals everywhere. Vast ornate floor areas and hardly a chair to be seen. The congregation stand throughout the services.
From there we travelled at speed across the city to the Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral. At speed because that was the way the driver liked to travel. I couldn’t work out what the speed limits were but we were in heavy traffic and the roads were standard city roads. 40mph at most would have been the limit in London. We were being driven at 60mph or more at times.
The Peter and Paul Cathedral is to be found within the fortress.

It was time for a bite to eat. Mira took us to a small cafe. There was a problem with steps to get in and out. Mira quickly sorted that out. She found a young man and charmed him into helping me to lift Jane and her wheelchair up and down the steps.

Then it was back into the Merc and another race across to St Isaac’s Cathedral. Another vast, beautiful building.

And then it was back to the ship for an evening in port. Many went to the ballet, but there were no facilities for wheelchairs so we had to forget that option.