AS THE first light of dawn seeped across the early morning sky over the Solent the stage was set for a memorable celebration which only Southampton delivers with such style and confidence.
This was a day which rightly took its place in the rich heritage of the city’s maritime history, a day that would be recalled in the decades to come.
One by one three of the world’s most famous ships made their way slowly up S o u t h a m p t o n Water, their huge shapes, at first, picked out and defined by hundreds of twinkling lights, while high over their decks towering funnels were brightly illuminated by floodlights.
Over the centuries the port of Southampton has witnessed many remarkable events but no matter how many great ships and countless seafarers have played their parts in the story of the city noone watching yesterday’s unfolding tableau could have failed but be impressed as these great, modern-day leviathans stamped their presence on the waterfront.
High up on the ships’ bridges Cunard officers, together with local Southampton pilots, issued orders and controlled a complex series of manoeuvres as the vessels delicately made their moves, sometimes just 30 metres apart.
It was indeed a rare sight to see all three of the Cunard “Queens” together, and Southampton is now the only place anywhere around the globe to have hosted this trio of vessels on three separate occasions.
First came the elegant, Queen Elizabeth, followed closely by her sister-ship, Queen Victoria, and as these two vessels took up their positions off the Eastern Docks the vast, imposing shape of Queen Mary 2 eased slowly by as the vessels’ mighty whistles sounded a booming salute with their version of “Happy Birthday”.
It was on May 9, 2004, a decade ago, that QM2, which earlier in January of that year had been officially named by the Queen in Southampton, took on the role of Cunard’s flagship.
Cheers and shouts of congratulations went back and forth between the three ships, flashlights from countless cameras peppered the scene, and crew members on all three ships waved greetings to one another as passengers crammed the decks of the vessels, everyone keen to be a part of the anniversary celebrations.
With a further series of blasts from her whistles, including a particularly deep throated salute from one which was once attached to the middle funnel of the original liner, Queen Mary, the Cunard flagship made its way to the Ocean Terminal to await the arrival of the Duke of Edinburgh.
In the meantime Queen Victoria sailed to the City Terminal in the Western Docks and Queen Elizabeth moved into her final position in the Eastern Docks.
Thousands of people made their way to the waterfront to see the Cunard fleet in port together, while on the dockside there was non-stop preparations for the ships’ next voyages.
QM2, on the final leg of her annual world cruise, was due to begin a special anniversary crossing to New York, while Queen Elizabeth was heading to Hamburg, Germany for a two-week long refit, and Queen Victoria departed on a 14-day cruise to the Baltic.