A re­gal pas­sage across the At­lantic

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - IAN THOM­SON

By the end of my At­lantic cross­ing to New York, a new well­be­ing seemed to ra­di­ate from me. Lulled by the mo­tion and mur­mur­ings of the rock­ing sea, I slept like a baby. I was never bored. QM2, Cu­nard Line’s flag­ship, has ev­ery­thing from a ball­room, plan­e­tar­ium and li­brary to an art-deco Ti­tanic- style din­ing hall. Pas­sen­gers do not want for any­thing … there’s even a mor­tu­ary.

The last time I shipped out to New York was in 1961, from Southamp­ton, when I was a baby. We stayed in New York for more than a year while my fa­ther worked for a Wall Street in­vest­ment bank. Dur­ing our home­ward jour­ney on Cu­nard’s Queen El­iz­a­beth — 83,000 tonnes of staunchly riv­eted Glas­gow steel — I won the Best Dressed Baby com­pe­ti­tion as the Ro­man sea god Nep­tune, com­plete with a tin­foil tri­dent.

Get­ting to and from New York was half the fun. Queen El­iz­a­beth — “Lizzie” to Cu­narders — rep­re­sented all the beauty and glam­our of ocean travel. The QM2 — the largest and most ma­jes­tic liner in ex­is­tence to­day — is mod­elled nos­tal­gi­cally on Lizzie. She is the last ship of any na­tion­al­ity to pro­vide a reg­u­lar pas­sen­ger ser­vice to New York. The days fol­lowed a lan­guorous rou­tine.

Af­ter cock­tails in the Com­modore Club, be­low the ship’s bridge, I took din­ner at the Princess Grill, and then went be­low deck to the ball­room to watch glam­orous Amanda from Som­er­set waltz with Ukraine-born in­struc­tor Volodymyr, a mas­ter of the un­in­ten­tional dou­ble-en­ten­dre. (“Gen­tle­men! The lady slides out only when you move for­ward!”)

The av­er­age pas­sen­ger age was over 60. An abun­dance of wheel­chairs, walk­ing frames and mo­bil­ity scoot­ers clut­tered the decks. (“Hip, hip, hip re­place­ment!” the joke went.) At our port of call in Bos­ton, as part of Cu­nard’s 175th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions on this spe­cial 10-day cross­ing, I at­tended a birth­day party on Deck 9 aft. As we stood on the ve­randa with cham­pagne glasses raised, a plea­sure cruise ad­ver­tis­ing Ja­maican “Wingz an’ ting” hove to. The deck was fairly bounc­ing with sexy mu­sic. A woman, naked save for a brief V of black lace, was gy­rat­ing with a man on top of a gi­ant speaker.

Cu­nard prides it­self on its for­mal black-tie and cock­tail dress evenings. Suit­ably at­tired, I dined in the Princess Grill on duck con­somme and fil­let of Dover sole. We were now five days out from New York in a southerly di­rec­tion; the wreck of the Ti­tanic lay silent and sub­ma­rine at a point three nau­ti­cal miles north. Deck 10 seemed en­tirely white with moon­light. A man and a woman in evening fin­ery stood gaz­ing down at the ship’s back­wash from the rear of the ship. They kissed — a mo­ment of mag­i­cal en­counter as the liner passed over the Ti­tanic’s fi­nal rest­ing place.

Pas­sen­gers were up at first light in their dress­ing gowns to see Man­hat­tan and that great en­trance way to hope and op­por­tu­nity, the Statue of Lib­erty. By 5am, it was light enough to make out the mighty Ver­razanoNar­rows Bridge, and the foghorns of QM2 boomed mourn­fully as we scraped un­der it. Next day, Cu­nard put on a cock­tail party in Bat­tery Park as we watched QM2 turn home­ward to Southamp­ton. It had been a cross­ing to re­mem­ber; al­ready, I could feel the sad­ness of farewell.

Ed­i­tor’s note: QM2 sailed from Liver­pool on July 4, the same date as Cu­nard Line’s first ship, Bri­tan­nia, crossed to Hal­i­fax, Nova Sco­tia, Sir Sa­muel Cu­nard’s birth­place, in 1840. QM2 then headed south to Bos­ton and on to New York. Each port dur­ing the 10-day voy­age staged cel­e­bra­tions to mark the ship­ping line’s 175th an­niver­sary. • cu­nard­line.com.au

THE SPEC­TA­TOR

QM2 leaves New York

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