One of the many ships that interested me is the QE2, I was in primary school when she entered service and literally grew up and saw her as she matured into the legend she is now. My first physical encounter with her was in March 1986 when I was on holiday in Durban. I had timed this to coincide with her call on her world cruise and it was my first really serious foray into ship photography.
I was not able to see her arrival though, and my first glimpse of her was only when she was already berthed alongside what was then the Ocean terminal on T Jetty. I have to admit that she took my breath away, and that situation has not changed in all the years. At the time I had a newly bought 35mm SLR with a 50mm lens and I really went crazy photographing her. However, looking back I should have taken more pics! What I did find interesting was that her funnel casing, which I had always known to be white, had been painted in the red/black striped Cunard colours. This was also her last world cruise as a steamship and that funnel was to be changed to the larger version she still carries to this day.
Later that day I did a harbour cruise on the Sarie Marais and I was able to photograph her from the harbour side, unfortunately these images did not really do her justice, but it did show off her sheer size.
Many years later I was given a slide of this occasion by Trevor Jones. It is one of my favourite QE2 shots ever.
I watched her sailing the next morning from South Beach, again I regret not making an effort to get to the North Pier for closer images.
My next encounter with her was more of a fluke than anything else; as it happened during the first Gulf War in 1991 when Canberra and her were diverted from their world cruise and ended up coming around South Africa, instead of going through Suez. A group of us from the Transvaal Branch of the World Ship Society went down to see her, we had no fixed visitors permission and were hoping that something could be organised when we got there. We were fortunate to photograph her arrival from the decks of the Avalon (Former RMS St Helena), and it was ironic that two Falklands veterans were in port on the same day.
Unfortunately security was tight and no matter how hard we tried we were just not able to swing a visit to her. However I was able to take a photograph from roughly the same point as my 1986 image.
And the day just did not get better when one of our party was able to wangle a visit on board. He nearly ended up having to walk back to Johannesburg! We spent the rest of the day desultorily hanging around the Ocean Terminal until it was time for her to leave, and we headed across to Avalon once again for our final photographs.
And, while her sailing was beautiful the weather had turned ugly and photography was not great. We then christened her “the Other Ship” and turned our attention to trying to get on board Canberra which was due the next weekend. (We had no luck there either, but that’s another story for another day)
QE2 was scheduled to return in March of 1994, and this time around we were better prepared. Once again there was a voyage offering from Durban to Walvis Bay but it was beyond my price range. Financially I could not afford it, but the fact that one of my friends was sailing on this voyage meant we were now assured of visitors permits. We headed down to Durban for her early arrival and we were able to swing a trip out to her on the pilot boat, which was always a lot of fun. The pilot boat skipper obliged us by approaching her on her port side and going around the back to drop the pilot off on the starboard side.
The weather was glorious, with the sun gleaming on her familiar shape. QE2 was always very recognisable, and as on all other occasions she brought Durban to a standstill when she entered the port. We were dropped off at T Jetty and were able to watch her berth at “N” shed.
We had no accommodation organised for this trip, instead we had planned on returning back to Johannesburg that same night, and having been awake the whole night we were really bushed. When the time came for our visit we trouped on board and the previous non-visit to the ship in 1991 was forgotten. We walked the ship flat, although frustrated by the shops that were all closed we took comfort in the fact that one of our party would be on board to buy us some goodies. It was also one of the rare occasions where I had a photograph taken of myself on board ship, and for once I am sad that it was such a lousy photo.
When the time came to disembark we did so with sadness because we still had the 5 hour trip back home to make and it was starting to get dark. It was a really dangerous trip back home and it did not help to think about our companion sitting down on board QE2 and enjoying his voyage.
She called in South Africa many times after this, but never again did they offer the Durban/Walvis segment and so I was never able to sail on her. The news of her withdrawal from service was terrible news, coming as it did so shortly after the withdrawal of Canberra.
Her world cruise of 2008 was her last, and I happened to be in Hong Kong at the time when she was there. Unfortunately she was berthed up in the container berths and I could not get to see her, even though we did catch a train out to that area in an effort to find her. As we headed to the airport for our flight I spotted her, and have 8 seconds of her on video, sadly interspersed by the voice of one of the our party which ruined that last glimpse of one of the worlds truly great ships.
It is one of the many regrets I have when I think about the QE2.
The QE2 ended up being sold and languishing in Dubai, with grandiose schemes in place to transform her into a centre piece of the hedonistic culture prevalent in that city. However, the global economic crisis scuppered those plans, and there was even talk of her coming to Cape Town to become a hotel ship. Nothing happened, and at the time of writing this there are once again rumours of her imminent scrapping. Realistically she needs to be preserved, but whether the interest or money exists to do this is doubtful. Ships do not make successful transitions to shore based establishments. The future of QE2 is grim.
Many years ago there was documentary called “Superliners, End of an Era” and it was partly shot on board QE2, it painted a grim picture of a ship that was struggling to find her niche, in fact at that point she was seemingly in trouble already. Her early years were very difficult with engine problems and with the demise of the transatlantic liner. In my opinion QE2 became a legend when she found her niche. Her Falklands service just made her even more of a legend.
I hope that she can once again finds a new life. To see this ship getting broken up would be tragic. It is much more than she deserves. Long may she grace us with her presence.
Update: The QE2 eventually opened as a hotel in Dubai but in a more subdued version than was originally planned. Many changes were made to her, amongst the most visible being the removal of her lifeboats. By all accounts they have made a great job of it and her popularity as a destination is growing. Many of those who visit are former passengers or crew members. Unfortunately due to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic the ship was closed, with a tentative re-opening date of 21 September 2020.