Many people believe the age of the luxury transatlantic liner is long gone, killed off by cheap air travel. But though it is over 30 years since the QE2 eased down the slipway, and the brand name of its builder has passed through a succession of owners, the ship has remained the star of the Cunard line, whose Queens – Mary, Elizabeth and the QE2 – have plied the north Atlantic route for over 60 years.
So much so that Cunard’s latest owner, Carnival Corporation, believes the time is ripe for a revival of the transatlantic cruise. Carnival is the largest operator of cruises in the world, and the company is responsible more than any other for expanding the cruise market over the past five years.
President Pamela Conover believes that many people ‘yearn for the leisurely, graceful travel offered by transatlantic liners, prepared to pay just a little more to get there with panache’. And Carnival is investing $800m (£566m) in the QM2, a vessel destined to join the QE2 on the Atlantic run.
For the money Cunard will take delivery (scheduled for December 2003), of the largest and most technically advanced ocean liner ever constructed, at 1,132ft long with a beam of 135ft and a superstructure of 17 decks. Innovations include a state-of-the-art bridge, and the ship will also use outboard propulsion pads, providing greater manoeuvrability. But unlike its illustrious predecessors, the latest Queen will be built not in the UK, but France (see sidebar).
The appearance of QM2 will be similar to that of QE2: it will have a white superstructure stepped back from a raked bow, a traditional open foredeck, black hull and single funnel in red with black bands.
It will be capable of carrying 2,620 passengers and 1,254 crew, with 1,310 state rooms, three-quarters of them with private balconies. There will be more than 90 suites, including six penthouses with private butler and concierge service, and five 1,650sq ft duplex apartments with private gymnasia. There will be five swimming pools, domed public rooms, bars, restaurants, conference and multi-media facilities that have occupied the thoughts of UK-based architects SMC Design – a subsidiary of the Swedish ship designer Tillberg.
Monolith in the making
Where the QM2 differs from the QE2 is in its design: over the past 32 years marine engineering has changed a great deal. This ship will produce enough power to light a city the size of Southampton, and its construction will consume 52,000 tonnes of steel, more than 500 million litres of paint and 25,000m2 of carpet.
The 150,000gt vessel represents a massive construction undertaking, notable as much for its complexity as for its scale. Liner construction entails a vessel thick enough and strong enough to endure transatlantic operations, with the Marine Institute conducting model testing on simulated conditions of up to Force 11.
Accordingly, the sleek hull requires longitudinal strengthening and, with 40 per cent more spent on steel alone than is the case for a standard cruise vessel, this has led Lloyd’s Register of Shipping to extend a record 40-year life expectancy to the hull.To drive the ship, Carnival has specified the latest commercially available propulsion system. Capable of 30 knots, QM2 will be the fastest commercial liner built since the QE2.
The smaller QE2 is powered by nine MAN nine-cylinder medium-speed turbo-charged diesel engines, fitted in 1986 to replace the troublesome turbines. The QM2 will be powered by two gas turbines and four diesel electric engines with a combined output of 118MW, and in propulsion pods.
The gas turbine engines, from GE Marine Engines, are its LM2500+ aero-derivative, so far the only gas turbine in a commercial marine application. The LM2500+ units, which offer 40,500 shaft horsepower apiece, work in a combined diesel and gas configuration with the four diesel engines.
The diesels will have the latest common-rail fuel-injection technology, producing no visible smoke. They are WÃ¤rtsilÃ¤ 16V46 EnviroEngines, producing a maximum continuous output of 16,800kW at 514rpm.
The need to develop environmentally friendly engines for cruise vessels has become pressing in recent years, particularly as cruise destinations have started to take in such fragile ecological zones as Alaska. development of the EnviroEngine has been partly financed by Carnival as part of its wider operations. The fuel-injection process is electronically controlled to keep injection pressures high at all speeds and achieve clean combustion.
The engines drive four Mermaid podded propulsors of 21.5MW each, to be supplied by partners Alstom and Rolls-Royce Kamewa. These units, which essentially transfer part of the propulsive sub-assembly, including generators, to outboard pods, have become a feature of the cruise market over the past three years, with owners attracted by the possibility of using the space saved aboard for extra revenue-generating cabins.
The use of pods also eliminates the need for the long horizontal drive shafts that can generate vibration and noise inside the hull. But whereas two steerable pods have been specified for a number of cruise ships and tankers, the QM2 will be the first ship to feature four pods, two forward fixed units and two aft steerable units. These will allow the ship to turn on her own axis.
A contract for four Brown Brothers stabilisers is a further inkling of the distance travelled by ship designers over the past 30 years. Though these stabilisers are the same brand as on the QE2, the QM2 order calls for four units each with a fin area of 15.63m2 compared to the QE2’s 6.5m2.
The latest technology is evident too in the control and management systems of the ship. The new waste water treatment system from French chemicals company Rhodia will be capable of filtering and cleansing the waste generated by 4,000 passengers. It uses a system built on coagulants and flocculants, transforming it into near-drinkable water to be recycled through the central heating and laundry systems.
QM2 will also feature the latest water mist fire-protection system for engine-room spaces from Marioff.
The integrated bridge design from Kelvin Hughes will be more sophisticated than that on any other ship. The firm has employed not only flat-panel displays in its new system, but also a completely independent control unit. The design dispenses with the traditional T-bridge, allowing operators to move freely between displays and controls.
With a ship of such grandeur and technical sophistication, Cunard no doubt hopes the QM2’s maiden voyage will be an event on the scale of that of previous Queens, with crowds of thousands turning out to see her depart.
Though the contract for building a liner bearing the Cunard brand name may have been placed with a French yard, the QM2 will fly the British ensign and will be commanded by British officers. If Carnival’s marketing people have got their figures right, a British Queen will reign on the North Atlantic route for years to come.
Sidebar: Queen Mary I: the halcyon days of transatlantic cruising
The original Queen Mary was one of the most successful liners in the halcyon days of the North Atlantic route.
Cunard began planning to replace its existing large liners, the Mauretania, Aquitania and Berengaria, in 1926. John Brown of Clydebank, Scotland, was selected as builder in 1930 and Queen Mary’s first keel plate was laid in December that year.
The liner was not launched for nearly four years. Construction was held up because of an inability to secure bank loans during the depression, and the hull stood 80 per cent finished for 28 months.
After a further 18 months in which boilers, engines and superstructure were installed, in 1936 the ship left the John Brown shipyard for Southampton, where it was to be handed over to Cunard, conducting preliminary speed trials on the way.
Queen Mary’s maiden voyage from Southampton to New York began on 27 May 1936 and took five days and five hours. Over the next 30 years it was to cross the Atlantic hundreds of times.
On its sixth trip the Queen Mary won the Blue Riband for the fastest North Atlantic crossing from rival Normandie. Normandie reclaimed the honour the following year, but in 1938 the Queen Mary won it back decisively, this time holding it until 1952.In 1940 the luxury liner was converted to a troop ship, with accommodation increased from 2,140 to 5,500. But on several occasions during the war years the ship carried over 15,000 troops plus 900 crew.
Following its return to Cunard in 1945 the liner’s first voyages after the war carried thousands of war brides to the US and Canada.
Cunard put the Queen Mary up for sale in 1966, and its 515th and final voyage, in December 1967, took the ship to Long Beach, California, where it remains as a visitor attraction and hotel.
Sidebar: Chantiers de l’Atlantique: a shipbuilding triumph
Cunard’s choice of the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard to build QM2 is a story of many ironies.
The first of these is that the last major success of this French yard was construction of the original Queen Mary’s arch rival, the Normandie. For many years the two ships competed for the Blue Riband for fastest crossing of the Atlantic, with the award passing from one to the other.
French kiss of life
Another irony is that John Brown, the Clyde shipyard that built the illustrious three Queens (Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and QE2), had been French owned in the 1990s. But it was closed by its owners, Bouygues Offshore-UiE, in early 1999 and sold for housing redevelopment last year.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that until recently French shipbuilding had appeared to be heading the same way as that in the UK (which at the end of the last century witnessed the collapse of Cammell Laird, the renewed threat of the closure of Harland & Wolf and the closure of John Brown).
In the mid-1990s Chantiers de l’Atlantique was on its knees. Bedevilled by arcane working practices and institutionalised inefficiency, as well as under-investment in technology, the yard came within weeks of closure.
Five years later the Alstom subsidiary has become one of Europe’s busiest yards, with a series of cruise ship orders and some military work. It now has a backlog of orders, including eight large cruise ships and several naval vessels, and in January the yard announced a first contract for liquefied natural gas carriers for several years.
The rise of Chantiers has been heavily aided by regional government assistance, and was supported by the French group’s full exploitation of EU subsidies(until the end of 2000) of up to nine per cent of the contract value.
But the story of the past five years at Nante St Nazaire is also one of continuous development in production terms.
The QM2 deal is simply the Alstrom’s yard’s latest use of its CAP21 Project, devised by chairman Patrick Boissier in 1998. CAP21 has changed the shipyard’s relationship with its principal suppliers by involving them in projects at the design stage and has created a network of sub-suppliers, hired on a project basis.
Today the yard operates along factory lines, to ensure that five cruise vessels can be turned out a year – the type of volume that makes shipbuilding profitable. Production costs have come down by 40 per cent over the past four years, through a combination of rationalised production, subcontracting and economies of scale. Chantiers has installed mechanised techniques where possible, including one for composite ceiling production.
In a break with the past the yard operates a flexible three-shift system, with clean-up operations being phased in towards the end of the main shifts. Within the yard construction has become an assembly-line operation, with ships built in blocks and as much as possible of the interior work done away from the vessel itself. Cabins, for example, are prefabricated by subcontractors in the yard’s own production facility at a rate of 25 per week.