March 7, 2012
Guest Blog: Chris Frame, Maritime Author and Guest Lecturer.
Travelling with co-author Rachelle Cross.
Our website: www.chriscunard.com
Queen Mary 2’s February 2012 maiden circumnavigation of Australia was a highly anticipated event in the Australian cruise calendar since it was announced in March 2010. In fact, so popular is QM2 in Australia, that all of the berths aboard were sold out almost as quickly as they went on sale!
Rachelle and I were fortunate to be aboard for this maiden journey around our home country. I was aboard as a guest speaker, speaking about the history of Cunard Line and the great transatlantic liners. We sailed from Brisbane to Fremantle, making maiden arrivals in the Whitsunday Islands, Yorkey’s Knob (Cairns) and Darwin, as well as a call in Bali, before returning to the now familiar port of Fremantle, where QM2 is much beloved, with crowds lining the banks of the harbour every time the ship visits.
Upon boarding in Brisbane, we were greeted by the familiar feel of QM2. We were, however, greeted by several new sights, including the vastly rebuilt and very popular Golden Lion Pub, as well as the refreshed Commodore Club, high atop the ship on Deck 9 and arguably the bar with the best view at sea!
The first day at sea and QM2 was making 18.5 knots up the coast of Queensland. Aboard, a specialist Great Barrier Reef pilot, who assisted Commodore Rynd and his team of Officers to safely navigate the 151,000 gross registered ton liner through this pristine marine environment.
11am, and my first lecture in Illuminations was about the early history of Cunard Line. From Sir Samuel’s early life through to the Mauretania and Lusitania’s war efforts the audience heard all of the ins and outs of how this historic line formed its strong foundations all those years ago.
That evening we were honoured to share dinner at Commodore and Mrs. Rynd’s table in the stunning Britannia Restaurant. The conversation was fascinating and largely revolved around Ocean Liners – the Commodore having served aboard many of the most iconic ships in recent memory, including the first Oriana from P&O-Orient Line, as well as Cunard’s legendary QE2.
Day two of the voyage saw us anchored off the idyllic Whitsunday Islands. The previous afternoon, the destination lecturer explained that the islands were so named because Captain Cook mistook the day he transited the passage for Sunday (when it was actually a Monday) – Therefore, the island should have been Whit-Monday! A tender service was offered for those going ashore.
After an overnight passage north, the ship dropped anchor off Yorkey’s Knob. Situated in the Barron River area of Cairns, this is the port area for the city, which is unable to host large ships due to its shallow lagoon. QM2’s tenders were assisted by two large catamarans which were very efficient at moving large groups of passengers ashore. Shuttle bus services brought us into the city centre, where we were able to explore the city, including the boardwalk, town centre and tourism districts, where ample Australiana shops were offering souvenirs. Rachelle and I had lunch at a local bistro before heading back to the ship on an afternoon shuttle. As the ship weighed anchor, we found a comfortable spot on QM2’s wrap-around teak wood boat deck to enjoy a cold drink and watch the activity of sail away.
En-route to Darwin and again at 11am Illuminations was the venue of my second lecture, this time about The White Star Line. Most people remember the White Star Line as “the owners of Titanic” – but their history is far lengthier and more fascinating, than just the Titanic story. In fact, White Star Line was one Cunard’s most fierce competitors, and during the 1930’s became a 40% stakeholder in the merged Cunard-White Star Line.
In Darwin, the ship was able to dock making accessing the city very easy. Darwin is delightful, with exceptionally friendly people who were very happy to welcome us to the Northern Territory. The shuttle bus service here was brilliant, with a fleet of small busses operating every few minutes between the ship and the city centre. Once in the city, we again explored the attractions, including Darwin’s parliament house, which has the interesting nickname of “The Wedding Cake”. The city was full of QM2 guests and the shop owners were very pleased with the amount of gifts and souvenirs being purchased!
As we sailed out of Darwin that evening, we passed the MV Discovery, which was once known as “The Love Boat” and previously operated for Cunard’s sister company, Princess Cruises. The ships exchanged whistle blasts as QM2 made her way out of the harbour and set sail forBali.
En route to Bali, my next lecture was at 3:30pm and the topic: Elizabeth & Mary – Cunard’s first iconic Queens. After this lecture I was happy to meet a number of people who had sailed aboard these great liners, some during World War II. The original Queens were war heroes, sailing with over 16,000 troops at a time during the conflict. They are fondly remembered by everyone who was associated with them.
Room service aboard the Cunarders is a real treat, with cooked-to-order meals available at any time of day. That evening, we decided to have a “night in” and ordered cheeseburgers and fries into our cabin. Watching a comedy movie on the in-room TV (all of which have now been replaced with larger flat-screens) with the food delivered hot and fresh is a real treat!
In Bali, the ship anchored and the tenders performed the short journey to the pier. Here, tours went to various attractions, including markets, temples and historic sites. The inclusion of Bali in the itinerary allowed the Australian guests the opportunity to enjoy duty-free shopping, and once at sea again, the Mayfair shops were overrun by eager Aussies. The prices aboard were superb, with Oakley Sunglasses for USD $150, and drinks (such as vodka and Rum) for $15 a bottle! It was almost all sold out by the time we approached the Western Australian Coast.
En route to Fremantle I gave two talks. The first was about QE2 and the years covering 1969-2008. This time period saw Cunard grow to manage 14 ships, river boats and hotels, before the company reorganised to concentrate specifically on the luxury market in the late 1990’s. In 1998, Carnival Corporation bought Cunard, and announced “Project Queen Mary” which resulted in QM2 entering service in 2003. The final lecture was titled “The Evolution of the Passenger Ship” and gave an overview of the changes that have occurred to passenger ships since Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Western.
The final days at sea were spent catching up with friends in the various bars and lounges aboard, watching other lecturers speak and making purchases at the shopping promenade. Many passengers were disembarking in Fremantle, so there were lots of people out and about, making the most of the final few days aboard QM2 before having to go “back to reality.” Line dancing, ice sculptures, string quartets, planetarium shows and an interview with the Commodore were just a few of the hundreds of events planned during the three day passage south.
Reality returned all too quickly and early on the morning of 28 February 2012 the ship arrived in Fremantle. A final breakfast in the Kings Court Restaurant preceded disembarkation into the newly refurbished Fremantle Passenger Terminal. The terminal was built during the golden age of the Ocean Liner and has hosted such famous names as Oriana, Canberra, Sagafjord and QE2. In fact, during Fremantle’s America’s Cup challenge in the early 1980’s, Cunard’s Vistafjord was moored at the terminal as a hotel ship! All three current Queens have visited the port, making Cunard a familiar sight in Western Australia.
That evening, we stood on the North Mole to watch QM2 depart, bound for Adelaide. She will continue on to Melbourne before returning to Sydney to end her iconic maiden circumnavigation. We look forward to being back aboard again soon!