When, on Tuesday, November 11, 2008, the world-famous Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 eases herself away from the city's dockside for the last time, will the city also be wishing bon voyage to a tourism opportunity potentially millions of pounds?

For last 40 years QE2 and Southampton have been inextricably linked. The city's name itself has been carried to all corners of the globe on the ship's vast hull but now all this is about to sink without a trace.

Anger, disappointment and tears have all greeted the news of the £50m deal, which will see QE2 withdrawn from service and then retired to the sun, sand and palm trees of Dubai, where she will be part of the lavish Palm Jumeirah, the world's largest man-made island. There she will be turned into a luxury floating hotel, retail and entertainment complex.

Many people in Southampton have long dreamt of QE2 ending her seagoing days by being moored on the waterfront where she would become a symbol of the city's maritime heritage and a major tourist attraction.

A local consortium was formed and a number of international hotel chains and entertainment corporations were contacted with the view of becoming partners in this ambitious scheme which is now well and truly scuppered.

In reality there would have been enormous problems to overcome by keeping QE2 in Southampton but the plans' backers were confident that it would have been a success.

Consortium member Terry Yarwood had some harsh words for Cunard's parent company, Carnival Corporation.

He said: "I am very disappointed that Carnival didn't give us the opportunity of securing the future of QE2 in Southampton.

"I believe we could have found backers and raised a sum like £50m but it's just too late now. She is the last great liner to be built in Great Britain. She bears a royal name and this is an insult to our head of state. Shame on you Carnival."

Readers contacted the Daily Echo to ask why the city council had not tried to intervene in the sale so the ship could be kept in Southampton.

John Hannides, Southampton City Council's Cabinet member for leisure and culture, said: "It would be difficult to envisage a time when the council would have that sort of money to spend on a project such as this. The council would have to look at anything like this in the light of other calls on funding such as schools, roads and social services.

"I would say that, if in the future a similar situation did arise, then the council in its role of facilitator and catalyst would be pleased to play the role of bringing interested parties together to ensure the city's maritime links with liners remain."

Regular QE2 passenger, 76-year-old Sheila Clayton from Southampton, was in tears after hearing that QE2 had been sold.

"I'm still shaking after hearing the news that QE2 is going," said wheelchair user Mrs Clayton who has just completed her 21st voyage on the liner.

"I have been ill in the past and I firmly believe that it has been God and QE2 that has kept me going all these years. What am I going to do now? Doesn't loyalty count for anything with Cunard? It is so upsetting I don't suppose I shall sleep much tonight."

Ironically, the sale of QE2 comes as the liner prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary in September of her entry into service and at a time when the ship is enjoying record breaking bookings.

Another regular QE2 passenger, Rob Wall from Southampton, said: "This is another example of our British heritage being sold off to the highest bidder. I just can't believe she is going. QE2 is a one-off and is the essence of all maritime traditions not just in Southampton but for the country as a whole.

"I can remember coming home early to watch the television when she was launched by the Queen in 1967 and her arrival in Southampton for the first time in 1969.

"The new Queen Mary 2 just can't be compared to her. When she was in port together with QE2 I thought it was Beauty and the Beast. My next cruise will be the last on QE2 so I intend to savour every moment."

Former crew member Alan Sellar, who was a silver service waiter for 18 months on QE2 in 1987, is now urging Buckingham Palace to ask for the liner's name to be removed.

"I seriously think when the ship goes to Dubai she should no longer be called QE2," said Mr Sellar from Shirley, Southampton.

"Up to now it has been a proper and proud name but once it arrives in Dubai it should be painted out."

The ship that played a vital role in carrying troops to the South Atlantic during the 1982 Falklands War has become an icon of style, elegance and speed. She is now destined to be moored at a specially-built pier at the Palm Jumeirah development.

There were months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, including obtaining assurances QE2 would be preserved and properly maintained, before the deal was signed.

Carol Marlow, Cunard's president and managing director, said: "We are delighted that, when her legendary career as an ocean liner ends, there will continue to be a permanent home for her that will enable future generations to continue to experience fully both the ship and her history."

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman of Dubai World, the company that has bought the liner, said: "Dubai is a maritime nation and we understand the rich heritage of QE2. She will be coming to a home where she will be cherished."

It will be a dark winter's evening when QE2 heads down Southampton Water for the last time, the lights of her cabins and elegant public rooms twinkling in the gloom and her distinctive Cunard funnel brightly illuminated as she turns off Calshot and heads out into the Solent.

Not only will Southampton wish QE2 "God speed and a safe voyage'' for the last time, but her departure will signal - and in this case it is no cliché to say - an end of an era.

QE2 is unique. There never has been a ship like her before nor will there be in the future. She is the last link with the great golden age of transatlantic travel when the great Cunarders were considered THE only way to cross between Southampton and New York.

See our QE2 Gallery