Queen Elizabeth’s celebration

Cunard have cracked the embarkation procedures. Within an hour of leaving home, we were in our cabin and all our luggage arrived within 30 minutes. We had been checked in, photos taken, passes issued and greeted by the bell boys as we entered the main lobby.

This cruise is a celebration of 50 years since the launch of QE2 on 20 September 1967. We are looking forward to meeting up with Commodore Ron Warwick (a former QE2 Captain, the first Captain of Queen Mary 2 and son of Bil Warwick, the first QE2 Captain) and his lovely wife Kim and also Captain Ian McNaught and his lovely wife. Ian was the last Captain of QE2. They are giving presentations about QE2 during the trip and there are to be a number of gatherings for QE2 fanatics (and there are plenty of them) and former members of the crew of QE2.

To put it all into context, you will recall that my late father, Captain George Smith, was the first Staff Captain of QE2 and the second Captain of that classic and much loved ocean liner.

Linda is yet again house sitting for us. I fear that because of time pressures I have not left the house as clean and as tidy as Linda leaves it for us. She has to be the champion house sitter of all time.

Kim is with us again on the ship, helping to look after Jane, and we are all looking forward to an unusual adventure this time.

Some of you will know that the 3 of us are leaving the ship for 4 days in the middle of the cruise to attend Katie Holt’s wedding. She is marrying my blog guru and advisor. I had booked the cruise long before the wedding invitation arrived.

On Thursday 14 September we leave the ship in Messina, Sicily, take a taxi to Catania airport, fly to Rome, change planes and fly to Pisa (all of which should prove interesting with Jane in a wheelchair) pick up a hire car and take photos of all the scratches and dents. Then drive to the Hotel Milano, some 20 minutes north of Lucca. We then have 3 days of wedding celebrations after which, on Monday the 18th, it’s back into the hire car for the 3+ hour drive north to Venice. More photos of the paintwork on the hire car and then a taxi to the port where QE should be waiting for us.

In an attempt to avoid being ripped off by the car hire outfit I have ensured that MasterCard have reduced the credit limit dramatically on an old credit card that I rarely use. There have been so many scare stories in the press in recent weeks about scams by Italian car hire firms that I wanted to reduce the amount they can extract from the card to a figure that’s so small that I won’t get agitated about it.

Louise and Red and grandsons Ethan and Charlie,  and Mike and his fiancée Gretchen will all be at the wedding so our family will have one of those rare get togethers.

We have now seen the schedule for the QE2 presentations and celebrations. Luckily none of them happen while we are off the ship, because those days are all port days.

Today it has been fairly bumpy but the sun has come out in the late afternoon. It is windy and the decks are still very clear. The sun worshippers have decided to stay inside.


At sea on QE

This was the view from our cabin as we were about to leave Southampton. A miserable rainy day.

Friday at sea. It alternated between sunny spells and rough Bay of Biscay lumpy seas. I bumped into Commodore Ron Warwick and his wife Kim. They were with Maureen Ryan who has been with Cunard since she was in her late teens. Initially she worked as a telephonist, then as a purser and eventually as a social hostess. She spent the whole of her working life at sea with Cunard She gave a hilarious presentation today in the Royal Court Theatre with some wonderful anecdotes.

The first lecture of the QE2 50th anniversary series was given by Chris Frame, a Maritime Historian and author of the latest QE2 book. He spoke about Cunard’s history and traced the development of Cunard from Sir Samuel Cunard’s first ship, Britannia onwards. A brilliant speaker who will feature again a number of times before this cruise ends.



You will all know the history of Cadiz and won’t need me to repeat it. Jane and I have been here before, so if you need any more lectures on the topic, you could look back in my blogs and you will find an earlier report on Cadiz. But the problem reported back to me this morning from the UK is that earlier blogs draw an error message, so don’t try that for a day or two.

My blog guru, Sam is marrying niece Katie on Saturday north of Lucca. It’s our niece he’s marrying – not his niece. So I’m sure he won’t have time to look at this blog problem for quite some time.

So to help just a little with the history, Cadiz is the oldest inhabited town in the western world, with 3000 years of history. It is said that by 1770 as a result of peaceful trading with the American Colonies, Cadiz was wealthier than London. But 30 years later along came Horatio Nelson who bombarded the city and five years later Nelson defeated Villeneuve’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.

We were advised to turn right out of the docks and walk round the town on an anti clockwise circuit. That worked really well and Kim manoeuvred us from park to park (both the ladies are keen gardeners and wanted to see the wide variety of trees and plants). As we walked the sea was always on our right.
While they studied the plants, I found a photo shoot. A beautiful young woman was surrounded by photographers, beauticians and dressers.  I volunteered to help, but in the end I had to get to the back of the queue and take a photo.

As we walked further we found parts of Cadiz that we had seen in a taxi last time. Old forts and castles. Plenty of men fishing from the ramparts and then, as we reached the half way point on our circuit of what is in effect an island, we found the towns beach. The tide was out but the sun was shining and it was hot. And plenty of locals were enjoying an early afternoon siesta on the beach.

We then turned inwards, away from the beach, past the cathedral and headed back towards the ship. After crossing a couple of beautiful squares we could see the ship in the distance. Kim had read the map beautifully.

As we neared the port, in a lovely narrow street of shops we met Captain Ian Macnaught and his wife Susan. Ian was the 31st Captain of the QE 2 and was one of. the youngest. He was also the last Captain of QE2.

Jane and I met him first when he invited us to sit at his table. In those days an invitation to sit at the Captain’s table meant that you sat at his table for every meal.” Why would I want to sit with the staff” say all those people who don’t get invited! We were only invited because my father had been No 2 on the list of QE2 Captains.

That cruise was to to the Norwegian Fiords. Often another officer would sit at the table in place of the Captain and when I asked Ian why that was, he told me that he had to be on the bridge most of the time negotiating the narrow fiords, because he didn’t want to be the first Captain to run QE2 aground!

We also sailed on QE2 with Ian on the final voyage to Dubai. On that 18 day voyage through the Med and Suez Canal the ship was packed with QE2 fanatics. It was sold out on line in 36 minutes. 


Sea day one in the Med

Professor Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz was due to give her second lecture today. Her first presentation dealt with the Outer Space Treaty and was an introduction and overview of Space Law. She delivered it on Day One of the cruise. That morning I was very tired. I had spent the previous week getting everything sorted for the trip. As a result I have to admit that I nodded off a number of times during the talk. Luckily I don’t think she noticed – the lighting makes it difficult to see the audience from the stage in the Royal Court Theatre!The fact that she was an expert in the Law of Space reminded me that a good friend of mine in my university days had eventually become an authority in that subject. His name was and is Sa’id Mosteshar and although I read Law, he did not. I think he read Physics. I may not have all my facts right but I think he then gained a Masters in Statistics. I then heard that he had qualified as a Chartered Accountant but had decided the Law was for him and qualified as a barrister in the U.K. By this time our lives had gone in different directions but I know that he joined the California Bar and at one stage specialised in the Law of Space.

So today being refreshed and awake, I approached Professor Gabrynowicz as she was about to be introduced to the audience before her second talk. Did she know my old chum Sa’id? Oh yes she said. He is a very good friend of mine. I know him well. He has a very important position in London.

I have looked him up. Sa’id is Director of the London Institute of Space Policy and Law and the Professor of International Space Law.

Today’s presentation was on The Law of the International Space Station. It was excellent and generated a large number of questions from the audience. I will have to persuade Sa’id that there is another career awaiting him aboard Cunard ships.

I’m not sure if I have mentioned the people on board who we have met on Cunard Queens before. Apart from the Cunard “royalty” Commodore Ron  and Kim Warwick and  Captain Ian and Susan McNaught, there is the, now retired, Federal Judge Tom and Kathy Whelan. Tom was appointed as a Californian Federal Judge by President Bill Clinton. He had started his legal career as a District Attorney in San Diego.

Pamela Zirkle and her mother Peggy are on board. We have sailed with them many times. There are some ladies who we have sat with at dinner in the past. Anne, who apparently decided to leave her husband at home, Vivian who lives in Poole and others who recognise Jane and come to talk to her.

What I failed to tell you was that the weather was magnificent today. A calm sea, a clear blue sky and sunny with a gentle breeze. Perfect holiday weather.


Smithys tour to Tuscany

Thursday. Up early and off the ship by 8.30am to find the pre arranged taxi. First problem. Scores of taxis and drivers, all desperate for our business, but none of them our driver. Eventually found him outside the port. He didn’t have the right pass to get in!

Swift ride to Catania airport where we were rushed through to check in. Soon at the gate and the airport “assistance” people had Jane in her seat on the plane without any fuss. An hour later at Rome airport the whole operation worked like clockwork and we were soon seated in another plane for the flight to Pisa.

The next worry was the case. Would it have changed planes as quickly as we did? Success. 

The car hire was the usual squabble over insurance, scratches already on the car and fuel. They took a massive deposit so there will be a major argument when we drop the car off on Monday in Venice. 

It was an easy drive up to and round Lucca and then north to the Hotel Milano in Borge a Mozzano. We found the Fiddians, the Hooks and the Hoskins in the bar. They were about to eat so we joined them for supper. They had no choice! Next morning we drove to the Airbnb apartment that Louise and Red had taken for a week. Mike then arrived from Dubai via Bologna and Gretchen from Dubai via London (where she had been working for a few days) and Pisa.

With the grandchildren, Ethan and Charlie, the Smith family ate in the Restaurante Milano. It was a rare family gathering, but great fun.

The wedding was on Saturday – to be continued ………………..


Wedding Day at Villa Catureglio

Saturday 16 September 2017 – Sam and Katie’s wedding.

The big day had arrived. All the planning was to come to fruition today. Our immaculate planning was nothing compared with the planning required to put together an event like this in the hills of the Apuan Alps.

Red and I decided to check out the whereabouts of the Villa. From the main road and the village of Borge a Mozzano we drove up steep, narrow twisting roads and tracks. As we approached the Villa we could see it, but couldn’t reach it, because of numerous catering vehicles blocking the entrance. I then executed an immaculate twenty point turn on the edge of a precipice to get us out and back to the hotel.

It was a 4.00pm wedding on the lawn in front of the Villa’s chapel. The official who conducted the wedding dressed for the occasion. Jeans, jacket and open necked shirt! He spoke in Italian, but luckily the wedding planner translated for us. The bride Katie looked stunning.
Most of my photos were taken from behind, for which I apologise. As family, we were honoured with front row seats, but that meant that I was unable to roam with my camera.
As the weather had began to deteriorate, the wedding breakfast was moved inside. Brilliant speeches and plenty of them. The bride (yes the bride – how things have changed!), her father, the groom and the best man. A great evening.

The best incident was immediately after they had been pronounced man and wife. Katie half turned to the congregation and executed the best fist pump I have ever seen. Regrettably I failed to capture it on film.


The Pool and Pizza Party

We are still in Tuscany. It is Sunday and I am assembling the family troops and vehicles. Our cars had been left in the mountains at the wedding venue after the Saturday celebrations. Numerous gallons of excellent wine had been consumed and driving was out of the question on Saturday night. A shuttle service had been organised by our hotel so that we were returned safely.
The lunch time party was organised outside. Again too much beer and wine was on offer with wonderful fresh pizzas and salads being produced as we ate. So more shuttles were the order of the day.This was the groom the morning after, with Steve Hoskins.

Inside the building the children’s disco entertained them (and us). It was a ‘no children’ wedding but the family managed to get their children and grandchildren into Tuscany under cover. Some had to break cover to be bridesmaids. By Sunday they were all running free, but sadly the swimming pools were very cold, so theymade do with table tennis and dancing.

On Monday we had to be up early. We had to get to Venice in time to drop off the car, have all the arguments about alleged damage to the car, find the prearranged taxi and get to the port before Queen Elizabeth sailed. The unknowns were potential jams on the motorways and difficulties with the car hire company, but we covered the 340 kms in record time. The taxi man was difficult to find but we were on the ship by 2.00pm and believe that 100% of the deposit on the car will be returned.

The ship sailed at 5.30pm. It was raining but the views as we sailed down past the Grand Canal and St Marks Square were magnificent.


The archive

A number of readers have said they cannot get at the blog prior to the change to WordPress earlier this year. All the blogs before 2017 can be found at www.smithyscruiseblog.blogspot.com

Today is the day before QE2 day. We have had 3 great presentations today and I will report on them tomorrow.

And this chap appeared in Maureen Ryan’s talk!


Tuesday 19 September 2017

We have all adapted back to ship life amazingly quickly. It was as if we had never been away. Although we had missed a number of ports, when we boarded the ship again, we were told that there had been a hailstorm while the ship was in Split and that when the ship was in Dubrovnik, the City was incredibly busy as it was a Saturday. So we don’t feel so bad about missing ports!

This morning there were three presentations in the theatre. 

Chris Frame, the young Cunard historian and author, seems to get the 10.00am slot. Today he talked about the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth in the Thirties through to the Sixties. It was great for me because my father sailed on both those ships during the war and during my early years. The fact that he was assigned to those ships was the main reason for my parents move to Southampton when I was a year old. 

My fathers first command of one of the Queens was in 1966, when he briefly became Captain of the Queen Elizabeth. He was the last but one Captain of that ship. That was just before it was sold and he was assigned to the QE2.

Chris is a brilliant speaker and knows his subject better than anyone I know. Not only did he deal with the original Queens, but he also covered the rest of the Cunard fleet.

He was followed by Commodore Ron Warwick who took us through his career at sea from HMS Conway as a 16 year old through cargo vessels to Cunard and eventually to command of QE2. Of course he became the first Master of Queen Mary 2 and was appointed Commodore. His talk was brilliant and brought back many memories for me because his father and my father were the first team of Captains appointed to Queen Elizabeth 2.
Number 3 was Maureen Ryan, who worked for Cunard for most of her working life. She spoke about her time on QE2 and most of it was hilarious. In the early part of her presentation she showed a photo of a group and on the right of the picture was my father. I grabbed my camera and took some pictures while she was describing who was in it. They are not very clear. I saw her later and she promised to email a decent version to me.

A number of new photos have arrived of the wedding and the weekend in Italy.


QE2 Day – I name this ship – 50 years ago today

So the big day has arrived!

We have seen a number of presentations today including the Pathe News film of the launch of QE2 – twice. It’s very moving – although the ship didn’t move immediately – Her Majesty the Queen spoke the traditional words (although the name was a secret) ” I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second. God bless her and all who sail in her”. She pressed the button, the bottle hit the bow and for a moment nothing. The camera turned to the Queen again and to the shipyard MD alongside who looked somewhat concerned. The ship seemed to be stuck, but after a few more seconds, to much relief, she started to glide down the slipway and into the Clyde.

The historian/author Chris Frame spoke first leading us through the QE2’s nearly 40 year career as the most iconic ocean liner of all time. The launch, the faulty turbines, the bomb threat, the engine conversion, the Falklands, and the final voyage to Dubai (we were there!)

There followed a Q&A session with Commodore Warwick, Captain Ian Macnaught, Maureen Ryan and the present Captain Aseem Hashmi on stage, answering questions from the audience. It was very entertaining, but not too many secrets were revealed.

 On arriving back on the ship from Tuscany, there was an invitation from Captain Hasmi to sit at the Captains table for dinner on QE2 Day, Wednesday 20 September. There was a World Club cocktail party beforehand. Captain George Smith still exercises some influence! And Derek and Helen Barnes. They know what I mean!The Captain had arranged for Jane to sit on his right. She is always seated next to the Captain whenever we have such an invitation. It was a fun evening with friends Ron and Kim Warwick, Pam and Peggy Zirkle, and Maureen Ryan also guests of the Captain.

Captain Hashmi is a lovely man and a brilliant communicator. He trained first as an airline pilot with British Airways, on their 737 fleet but soon after completing his training, he and hundreds of others were grounded because of the economic downturn in the aviation industry. He decided to alter course to the booming maritime sector, switching from air to sea. He joined Cunard as a Deck Officer Cadet and rose through the ranks, his first promotion to Captain being in March 2013.