EVEN the wettest summer on record could not spoil Southampton’s special day.
It was quite simply an amazing sight which unfolded on Southampton Water, the like of which had never been seen in the city before.
Over the decades, Southampton’s waterfront has witnessed many memorable and historic occasions, but it will be a long time before anyone who saw the spectacle of more than half a million tons of shipping lined up together, all on the same day, will forget the date Tuesday, July 3, 2012.
Billed as the Grand Event, it took two years to organise this one-off celebration to mark the 175th anniversary of P&O Cruises, and it certainly was on a grand scale.
For Carnival UK, the parent company of P&O Cruises and Cunard, which staged a meeting of its three Queen ships in Southampton last month, the occasion was the culmination of a series of events which showcased some of the most famous cruise ships in the world as a thank you to the city and people of Southampton.
Bad weather dogged both the Cunard and P&O Cruises celebrations forcing cancellations of some elements of the planned events, but Carnival UK, who would not reveal the total bill for both events, put on a brave face.
P&O Cruises’ managing director, Carol Marlow, said: “Everyone has worked so hard to make the Grand Event a success and of course we are honoured to have the Princess Royal with us on such a prestigious day.
“This celebration of 175 years of heritage will go down as one of the great days in British maritime history.’’ Before first light broke over Southampton, the ships Adonia, Arcadia, Aurora, Azura, Oceana, Oriana, and Ventura began arriving to take up their positions in both the Eastern and Western Docks.
One by one the vessels eased alongside their individual berths and mooring ropes were made secure until the stage was set for a day of celebrations.
The thousands of sightseers who crammed into Mayflower Park throughout the day had the most impressive view, with the gleaming white hulls and distinctive buff coloured funnels of the ships stretching away up Southampton Water.
Later the Princess Royal, who officially named Aurora and Oceana in Southampton, arrived for a VIP reception on board Oriana, where she met celebrity chefs Marco Pierre White and Atul Kochhar, together with wine expert Olly Smith, who all oversee restaurants and bars on P&O Cruises’ ships.
Former prima-ballerina and Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell was also welcomed on board Azura, the ship she named in 2010.
As departure time approached passengers on all seven ships crowded the decks and enjoyed a “Sail Away’’ party, which included a team of chefs barbecuing a total of 1,750 whole lobsters, while a 175th birthday toast saw the corks popping on 2,600 bottles of champagne.
On the ships’ bridges, seven captains gave the order to cast off the mooring ropes and the maritime pageant began. A blizzard of “flutterfetti’’ and streamers cascaded over the ships’ rails while a fusillade of pyrotechnics saluted each vessel as they passed the Eastern Docks.
As the ships formed up and made their way down Southampton Water, the Princess Royal boarded the Trinity House vessel Patricia, which was escorted by the Royal Navy’s newest Type 45 destroyer, HMS Dragon, out into the Solent.
The fleet was reviewed by the Princess Royal who took the salute as the seven ships went their separate ways, heading for the Mediterranean, the Baltic, Scandinavia and the Canary Islands.
Thousands lined the waterfront to see the ships, with Hythe Pier and the nearby marina packed solid with people.