IT IS more than 40 years ago that Canberra, one of the most revolutionary ships of her time, left Southampton on her maiden voyage.

In June 1961 crowds gathered along the waterfront to wish bon voyage to the P&O ship that was later to be always known as the Great White Whale.

Hailed as the "ship of the century'' when she emerged from the Belfast yard of Harland & Wolff, Canberra was the biggest liner to be built in Great Britain since Cunard's Queen Elizabeth.

Apart from her size, 44,807 tons, so many novel and original ideas were incorporated in her design. Of particular interest was the fact that the engines were aft, allowing much greater scope in the design and layout of public rooms, and far more deck space.

As a new ship she was good looking, with the bridge and superstructure stepped and streamlined and twin funnels of an unusual design well aft.

Canberra was launched by Dame Pattie Menzies, wife of the Australian Prime Minister, on March 16, 1960 and the ship arrived in Southampton for the first time in the May of the following year.

During her early days she had more than her share of teething troubles, principally with boilers and condensers, and an engine room mishap, resulting in a fire, in 1963 meant that she had to cut short a voyage to Australia and return to Belfast for repairs.

After that Canberra settled down, first on the Australian route and later as a permanent cruise liner. The highlight of her programme was a world cruise from January to April each year.

Canberra's finest hour came when she was called up for national service as a troopship during the 1982 Falkland Islands conflict when servicemen and women christened her the Great White Whale.

Finally old age caught up with Canberra and in 1997 she was withdrawn from service and sent to be scrapped but she did not give up without a fight as the ship became firmly stuck on a sandbar just off the breaker's yard at Gaddani Beach, Pakistan.