Atlantic Crossing on QE-2

September 16 to 22, 2001

The Seaport Hotel in Boston, the venue of the Netsuke Convention #13, was most accommodating. Because they were fully booked on Sunday night, my friends had to check out. I however could stay in my suite as long as needed and therefore I invited them to join me in the Executive Lounge for cocktails and a huge bowl of sumptuous shrimps with a delicious dip. The QE2 was seriously delayed on account of another early morning bomb scare at the Black Falcon Pier where she was supposed to dock at 7 AM. Boarding was to begin at 2 PM but after many phone calls, we were taken there by van at 9 PM but then got the baggage and checking-in procedure behind us in very little time. After the WTC attack, many hotels in London were known to have sharply increased their rates; not so the Seaport Hotel. They actually reduced the rate to a mere $99/night as their contribution to our plight! Really nice people! On the other hand, we saw operators increasing gas prices to $5 a gallon instead of about $1.50.
Whilst we were having a drink at the hotel bar around noon on Sunday, I was introduced to the QE2 Captain’s wife who had come to Boston from their US home where she had spent some time. I do not know for sure but think I got an upgrade to a larger cabin on 4-Deck thanks to her, also a bottle of Champagne was waiting in a cooler in my cabin.

We were informed during the booking process that passengers were expected to wear formal clothing (tuxedo) for the planned 4 formal dinners; gentlemen were to wear black tie or at the very least a dark suit. When I told them I had no such items with me at this informally set up netsuke convention, the Travel agent informed me that this was no problem as the ship had plenty of rental tuxedos up to size 60. Of course, I got a shock the next morning when the largest tuxedo carried on board was size 50 (it was a tight fit) but their largest shirt being a 47, it could not even be buttoned for want of 2 inches. Bloody Agents: they just wanted to make sales and not give a damn at all about what was really available on this ship. I went straight to the Purser’s Office telling them of my problem and they reluctantly agreed that I could wear my dark sports jacket with dark blue pants for the formal dinners. A remark had been made on my personal record that this poor bastard could not afford proper dress and an exception had been made for him to wear what he could afford and so he did not have to eat with the pets. But it was nevertheless very embarrassing to be one of the very few improperly attired people in the shipï’s main dining room, and I could not possibly have accepted an invitation to dine at the luxurious Queen’s Grill at dinnertime. I met the Captain and his wife during the official cocktail party on Tuesday, and briefly ‘mentionedï’ the shortcoming/embarrassment; it resulted in a lot of excuses and another bottle of champagne in the cabin.I nevertheless did make it into the Queen’s Grill once, for lunch. I had met an American couple, whom I joined for a game of Scrabble. By the way I won the game despite the warning of the Sicilian born husband who said he was a bad loser. It was like being at Girardet’s, or Mosimann’s, every dish was prepared from scratch and served impeccably. Orchids on all the tables, greenery in the large windows. Real luxury, which however comes at a great price, see further down. The weather was good, the sea calm, and we had smooth sailing all the way. Nobody got seasick. Only on one day were the steps from the Boat deck up to the Sun deck were because of really very high winds, on all other days joggers (and striders like myself) could take the long route around the ship: 5 round trips came to 2.2 km.The Satellite TV no longer worked after leaving the US land area though we were still in US waters but the phone lines at $12.50 a minute did very well indeed throughout the crossing. Internet time is 95 cents a minute but you rapidly use up 30 minutes worth of airtime as I quickly found out early the first morning. The QE2’s own email system is faster and thus cheaper but not one message was received by any of those to whom I had sent messages. So far, no reply from the owners. So in the end, I had to use a proxy server and use either webbox or hotmail online, which is the expensive solution. Actually, they never bother to answer, and I guess I should not sail with such an old-fashioned organization again. Before departing to board the QE2, my doctor called me from his Mediterranean vacation saying that my idea of returning home via a cruise might be fine for a number of reasons but could also be most damaging to my health. I therefore promised to behave and eat sparingly, with some exercises. Thus, on the first day I think I did all right: I only had 2 croissants and half a grapefruit for breakfast. The frozen ones from Hiestand are better; the espresso however was good. For lunch, there was a mini portion of a small shrimp and crabmeat salad, followed by pork shoulder, cabbage and new potatoes, with a gravy and applesauce. For dessert, I had Apple tart a la mode. I strode three times around the ship on the Boat deck in the morning and two in the afternoon, and must have taken at least another 500 steps going up and down soft-carpeted staircases inside the many decks of the ship. I continued with this regime for the duration of the crossing, with the main meal coming at the second sitting in the Mauretania Restaurant. Starter, soup, main dish of fish, veal, beef or chicken, a little cheese and a dessert followed by espresso. Portions were all smallish and once I reordered 2 lamb chops as the first 2 were really very small and not enough (others at the table had 3 or 4 slices to start with). We also had an excellent wine steward, Richard. For lunch, we had mostly water or a glass of white; for dinner, the 5 of us would have 3 bottles, mostly 1 white and 2 red. The white was exclusively a Pouilly Fuissé1998, and as reds we went from fine Burgundies to equally fine Bordeaux. Prices were quite reasonable at about $35 plus service. If ever I go on a cruise again (perhaps on the new QM2 scheduled for launching in 2003), then I will know how to choose my cabin and when to do this to obtain the best value. One should eat in a Grill, not the huge restaurants where the bulk of the passengers dine in 2 sittings of some 500+. Certainly, if you can afford the price for a large cabin or even a suite, you will be dining in the Queen�s Grill but there are others like the Princess or the Britannia Grill. A suite for the 6-day crossing’s some $25K, per person! A 105-day cruise on the QE2 in the one of the top suites is $375K per person. For this price, probably even the drinks and wines are included. My cabin on deck 4 gave me the right to dine in the smaller, more intimate Caronia restaurant but I preferred to stay with my friends and made arrangements to be with them in the Mauretania restaurant.

There were many lectures during the crossing, also shows, plays, magicians, etc. I attended all lectures by the Marine and Military historian, Dan Butler, on the subject of the Titanic (!), the Mauretania and Lusitania, the Warrior Queens. He has written many books on the subject, one entitled UNSINKABLE; he sold out all 300 copies he brought along. I learned a lot. For example: did you know that

– the California captained by Stanley Lord, was sitting 10 miles north of the Titanic? The ship had hove to for the night due to their watch having spotted many icebergs about. However, the Captain did not permit the radio operator to inform anyone of these sightings. A real bastard.

– his radio operator was asleep as Captain Lord had ordered him to shut down the radio equipment? Operators usually worked 12 hour shifts at the request of the boss). Today, there are different rules and he could not get away without blame with what he did then.

– his officers seeing the problems through binoculars after the Titanic had shot 8 white rockets (not mere flares) into the air, did not have the guts to awaken the captain because he was a known hypochondriac given to tantrums?

– Lord could be indicted neither in the US nor in UK as he claimed Captain’s licence?

– he had to resign and became captain of a guano (bird shit) freighter between Chile and the UK? Later, he was dismissed as no crew wanted to work for him.

– Stanley Lordï’s entire personality was as if he had taken after Captain Bligh of The Mutiny of the Bounty.

– a blue berg hit the Titanic? A blue iceberg is one that had overturned through melting with the smooth bottom part now sticking into the air. It is invisible for about 30 minutes when new ‘frostï’ will have developed on the surface and make it visible again.

– only 12 square feet (about 1.1 square meter) were ripped open lengthwise by the berg but it was sufficient to sink the unsinkable ship within 2 hours

– the Titanic had space for 1200 in their life boats, more than then legally required? There were however only 705 persons rescued, mostly women and children. Gallantry of the men?, with the women refusing to go into the boats without their husbands?, but I think many may just have refused to believe that the Titanic could sink! What a tragedy. In fact, there is also another reason: many of the lower class passengers could not reach the boat deck (where the life boats were kept) due to the iron bulkhead doors that separated the peasants from the upper classes, doors which could not be unlocked by design. This was an absolute requirement by the U.S. Immigration Service of the 19th Century.

– the iron separations between 1st/2nd class were introduced by Immigration authorities in the mid 19th century? Ships who did not have this in place were not permitted to unload their passengers. Also, the US Authorities medically checked only 3rd class passengers for TB and other contagious diseases and the Lines were forced to repatriate such carriers at their cost.

– Cunard Lines’ Carpathia, a third the size of the Titanic, and very slow at top speed of 14 knots, was 58 miles awa. By chance, their radio operator cranked up his radio again because he remembered some messages to the Titanic had not been dealt with. Then he heard the clear distress signal of the Titanic. He ran to inform his first officer who did not believe him, so he ran to awaken the captain. The latter gave immediate order to the following first officer to turn the ship around and also had him wake the spare crew and had them shovel coal into the furnaces so that his ship reached an unbelievable 17,5 knots. However, the 3 plus hours were too long to bring any help to the many Titanic passengers who could not survive more than 15 minutes in the below zero waters.

– the 2 warrior queens, the Queen Mary launched in 1936 and the Queen Elizabeth built in the same docks in 1939 but finished in 1940 in Sydney, were responsible for carrying nearly a million GIs under the command of US logistics wizard George Marshall to the UK from 1942 to 1944? They were ultimately the reason why the allies could attack on the Normandy Beaches. Any German U-boat or cruiser could not touch them, as they were just too fast for anything on the seas at that time. They carried each some 25-30000 troops per month in 2 crossings without ever being hit by torpedoes. I think none were ever fired at them. They were invulnerable at sea, and near shore on both sides, the respective Navies and Air Forces gave them excellent cover for any lurking U-boat (sub-marine).

I could go on and on, but I do not want to bore you. If you have an opportunity and the funds, I can only recommend that you take such a crossing or a shorter cruise on this justly famous ship. However, if you need to have internet access, better make sure that Cunard’s have at least upgraded to something that Hapag Lloyd already had in 2002.

The QE-2 in front of the pre 9-11-2001 skyline.

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