Cunard’s 175th anniversary cruise: How the Yanks rebranded Rule Britannia

QM 2 at Liverpool at start of historic transatlantic crossing

QM 2 at Liverpool at start of historic transatlantic crossing

Last weekend  Margaret and I returned from a transatlantic cruise  on the Queen Mary 2 celebrating the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Cunard line. Most of it retraced the original route from Liverpool to Boston via Halifax, Nova Scotia with the addition of extra stops at Hamburg, Southampton and New York.

The voyage was epic with events at every port to celebrate the founding father Samuel Cunard and everything that is quintessentially British from serving cream teas to numerous renderings of Rule Britannia.. There were fireworks in two cities, a 21 gun salute, a Canadian warship joining a flotilla, a Red Arrows fly past in Liverpool and massed bands in every port.

This included a concert at Liverpool’s magnificent Anglican cathedral to celebrate the anniversary with Britain’s national treasure’s mixed with proud descendants of the Cunard family telling the story of the shipping line.

Concert at Liverpool Cathedral

Concert at Liverpool Cathedral

We had Carol Thatcher talking of the Mum’s sleepless nights in case the Argies sunk the QE II on its way to the Falklands; John, now Lord Prescott being surprisingly emollient about his former employer even though they kept him on their second league of liners because of his union activities as a bar steward. We had the former BBC’s Michael Buerk on the newsworthy side of the line and Jennie Bond, the BBC’s former Royal Correspondent on the Royals who used the Cunard liners.

The event ended with the cathedral being turned into the Last Night of the Proms with a union jack flag waving audience singing Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia. A bit OTT on the jingoistic side for us.

Fireworks  in Liverpool

Fireworks in Liverpool

But here’s the rub. As the voyage progressed it became clear that we were not celebrating some brilliant British  entrepreneur that had created these iconic ships. Samuel Cunard was the son of a Quaker German immigrant who fled his native land to avoid persecution.. His father settled in the US only to move to  Canada as one of the Empire loyalists who were defeated in the 1776 War of Independence..

His son bought up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, quickly became an entrepreneur running ferry services and mining operations. He spotted that steamships could replace sail and bid for the first British Royal Mail service between Liverpool and Halifax. He won the contract.It was an amazing success, because his ships were not prone to sink, and by providing a service to Boston as well made merchants rich in the US overnight.as both goods and mail reached their destinations. The grateful merchants gave him the ” Boston Cup ” as a present  in return.

He wouldn’t have necessarily approved of the present luxury liners – his Quaker upbringing led him to build ships that were austere and practical not  comfortable and luxurious. That came later.. You certainly couldn’t eat for 22 hours out of 24 every day on his ships as you can on Queen Mary 2..

Sunset in Halifax

Sunset in Halifax

We are also celebrating a line now run by an American company, Carnival, based in Florida with a sales office in Southampton and a ship not flying  the British flag but registered ( I suspect for tax reasons) under a flag of convenience in Bermuda.

And we are also buying nostalgia. They may in the past have carried monarchs, film stars and multi millionaires but you are not going to bump into Tom Cruise or Keira Knightly jogging on Deck 7 on the Queen Mary 2  or even Lord Ashcroft or Roman Abramovich in the dining room. They now have their own private jet or yacht..

Food:175th anniversary chocolate feast and ice scupltures

Food:175th anniversary chocolate feast and ice sculptures

Yet in a very clever sense Carnival has rebranded Britain to create an unique atmosphere.Even the Americans I talked to on the boat ( they are the second largest contingent) described sailing with Cunard “part of the British experience.”. For marketing Carnival deserve top marks, they rock you to sleep on an ocean of desire with sweet nostalgic dreams. Bon voyage!

Fireworks in Boston

Fireworks in Boston

 

Journey's End

Journey’s End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revealed: The Marie Celeste of the North Atlantic

View of the abandoned boat  passed by Queen Mary 2  on July 6 and left floundering in the North atlantic

View of the abandoned boat passed by Queen Mary 2 on July 6 and left floundering in the North Atlantic

My wife Margaret and I returned yesterday from a cruise across the Atlantic to New York on the Queen Mary 2 to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Cunard line. One of the most  haunting sights was not in the staged programme of celebrations  but this abandoned  boat 500m off the coast of Ireland.

The sight of the boat – almost in the path  of the transatlantic liner – brought the Queen Mary 2 to a halt. There was no response from it when the ship blew its foghorn. The captain employed infra-red cameras on the vessel for signs of life. But there was no one alive on board. No attempt was made to board the boat and after an unscheduled 20 minute halt the QM 2 went on its way leaving the boat to continue drifting in the Atlantic.

The captain reported he had informed HM Coastguard in Falmouth about the sighting of the boat and evidently it is being left to the coastguard in Cornwall – which must be over 800 miles away – to decide whether to do anything about it.

What was extraordinary about this incident is that this appears to be the second time this boat has been sighted in the Atlantic and no one is doing anything to investigate it.

One could not but wonder if this is new maritime policy to leave small boats to drift aimlessly  across the atlantic like a message in a bottle. And one could not help speculate about the story behind this particular Marie Celeste.

Was it as someone speculate a boat cut adrift from its moorings in Ireland or the United states that had just drifted out to sea? Was it abandoned in a storm and its crew drowned? Were there still dead bodies on the boat that showed no sign of life? Or was it  a bad fishing trip, a failed transatlantic crossing that ended in tragedy, a failed and,misguided attempt to seek asylum in Ireland?

Or as some wary passengers worried a plot by Al Qaeda or Islamic State to put an abandoned boat loaded with something nasty in the Atlantic shipping lanes?

We shall probably never know. The mystery like an old sailor’s tale remains to be solved.

Another view of the abandoned boat.

Another view of the abandoned boat.