As dawn's first light broke over Southampton Water they arrived, one by one, in a regal procession signalling the start of an unforgettable day as the city
sent loyal greetings to the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee.
It was be one of those remarkable events, which only Southampton, with its historic waterfront, long maritime heritage and unrivalled, shipping expertise, can stage, and stages so well.
Never before had these three ships of the Cunard fleet gathered together in Southampton on the
same day, not only to acknowledge the Queen's jubilee on behalf of the British Merchant Marine but also to salute the city which has been the company's traditional home port for so long.
As the Royal rendezvous of Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth took place there was a loud,
early morning alarm call for Southampton and the surrounding area as the vessels sounded their whistles sending out a barrage of blasts.
The only disappointment of the day was the cancellation of the aerobatic display by the RAF's Red Arrows, which were forced to stay on the ground by bad weather conditions over Southampton Water,
although later in the evening a glittering firework display cascaded over the ships as they prepared to set sail again.
But the nine Red Arrows pilots did join a host of celebrities on board Queen Elizabeth for the dramatic fireworks display last night.
Also on board were television presenters Michael Buerk, Jenny Bond and Esther Rantzen.
First to make her dramatic entrance into Southampton Water yesterday was the Cunard flagship, Queen Mary 2, and appropriately, for an official Royal Mail Ship, she made a “special delivery'' of
a100 foot long banner emblazoned with the message: “Congratulations Ma'am''.
By the time QM2 was off Fawley scores of yachts, passenger ferries, tugs and leisure craft had formed an armada of boats which escorted the 151,000 ton vessel
into the docks.
Next was Queen Victoria, followed by her sister-ship, Queen Elizabeth, and together the two vessels came bow-to-bow alongside the Western Docks.
Meanwhile QM2, with Abba's hit song “Dancing Queen'' playing over her public address system, was turning near the container terminal before retracing her course back down Southampton Water to meet
up with other two Cunarders with a fanfare from the powerful whistles of all three ships as passengers and crew lined the decks waving Union Jacks.
As QM2 drew alongside Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth she slowed, almost to a standstill, to allow the Cunard trio to be closer together than they had ever been seen before.
On either side of Southampton Water, at Hythe, Marchwood, Town Quay and Mayflower Park, thousands of people lined every vantage point to watch the unique occasion.
So many people came to Southampton to see the Cunard “Queens'' together , that all hotel rooms, in and around the city, had been fully booked for months, while operators of pleasure craft, taking
sightseers around the docks to see the ships, reported the busiest day so far this year.
Later in another first, all three masters of the ships met on the quayside, in the shadow of Queen Elizabeth, at the City Cruise Terminal, representing a total of 120 years of sea-going experience.
Commodore Christopher Rynd, in command of Queen Elizabeth, and Cunard's senior master, said: “The early morning arrival of the three ships was a spectacular sight, not just for all the people on
the shore but also for our passengers and crew members.
“It is a rare opportunity for the whole Cunard fleet to be in Southampton on the same day and it was made extra special as we were able to pay tribute to the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee.''
For Captain Kevin Oprey, who comes from a long line of Southampton seafarers, and is now in command of QM2, it was a memorable occasion as he grew up close to the port, and as a boy spent most of
his time sailing on the Solent and watching the liners as they arrived and departed at the
Cunard has always enjoyed a close association with the Queen as during her reign she officially named, the former legendary liner, Queen Elizabeth 2 in the 1960s, and then, in more recent years,
visiting Southampton to perform the same ceremony for QM2 in January, 2004, and Queen Elizabeth in October, 2010.
Although this was an historic day for the port and Cunard, it was business as usual for the crew of the three ships as they prepared
the vessels for more than 13,000 passengers to embark and disembark while hundreds of tons of food and stores were also taken on board the three Queens.
QM2 departed for a short five night cruise, Queen Victoria set a course for the Baltic, and Queen Elizabeth was beginning a cruise around the Mediterranean.
The only other time three Cunarders were in Southampton together on the same day was on April 22, 2008 when QM2 and Queen Victoria joined Queen Elizabeth 2 in the port.