On a fine and sunny day in Sydney we joined about 800 others in boarding Queen Mary 2, replacing another 800 who had gone ashore.
Remembering how efficiently Sydney’s Overseas Terminal (OPT) had handled the passengers the building was built for in 1961, it was interesting to watch how the present ad hoc system worked.
The fine weather allowed those boarding to mill around on the Quay concourse, there being now no inside waiting area and the people who handled the baggage and dispatched us to various work areas were friendly, efficient and keen to get on with the job. We had been told that we would be processed from 1500. By 1430 we were aboard and settled in our cabin (known as a ‘stateroom’).
As someone who had both worked at the ‘old’ OPT and used it as a passenger, I felt disgusted at the political vandalism of this fine and effective service building. None of the various restaurants seemed to be in use – their spaces were empty but if it had been raining there would have been many very irritated new passengers because these spaces are not now for passengers at the Overseas Passenger Terminal.
Our voyage was to include Melbourne, Port Adelaide and Fremantle. We were to find that authorities in these ports had made great efforts to provide far better facilities for passengers than has Sydney – once Australia’s premier port.
QM2 pulled out at midnight and, once again, I was able to enjoy Port Jackson on a clear night. With many years of working around the port the view was familiar but never before from so high above the water!
QM2 made a good passage down the NSW coast averaging 20 knots and entered Port Phillip heading into 40 knots of NW wind as we steamed towards Melbourne’s magnificent Station Pier.
Station Pier is similar to but bigger than Sydney’s Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf. It has been refitted to handle cruise ships – the Woolloomooloo wharf having been turned into glitzy apartments.
Captain Kevin Oprey, his bridge team and the port Pilots needed two large tugs to help as QM2 had to do a 180 degree swing to back into the western side of the terminal. We are told that the new propulsion methods of modern liners were invented to allow the ships to berth without the costs of hiring tugs but QM2 used tugs for each movement while we aboard – and they were needed.
Our Melbourne plans were to leave Station Pier at about 1800 after about 12 hours alongside.
At about dusk an announcement was made that the wind was too strong for us to get away from the terminal and that the channel, with a width of about 140m was too narrow for the great ship to hold a steady course so we’d leave at 0600 next day.
Captain Oprey pointed out that, unlike the majority of cruise ships, QM2 had the power to increase her normal cruising speed of about 20 knots, sufficiently to arrive off Port Adelaide close to her original ETA.
And so it was. Our cabin TV monitor informed us that, at various times our ship was making 25 knots and I recalled that I’d read she’d made over 29 knots on her trials – almost as fast as the original Queen Mary (now a relic in Los Angeles).
QM2 is promoted as ‘the greatest liner in the world’. This is based on the fact that she has the speed and the seaworthiness to handle conditions that dedicated cruise ships couldn’t handle.
Each year she runs a season of cross Atlantic scheduled line voyages, promoted as re-creating the great line voyages of the past. For the rest of the year she does world cruises as a cruise ship. Unusually these days, she is a two-class ship and the Andrews were surprised by the extensive areas, usually almost deserted, that were signposted for ‘Queen class’ guests only.
Getting into Port Adelaide in almost dead calm was fascinating. The towering ship was required to reverse direction in the swinging basin with the aid of two tugs, and both of us reckoned that anything much longer than QM2 might just not have room enough.
The port’s overseas terminal was built in the same era as was that of Sydney and Fremantle. In the late 1950s the great liners Canberra and Oriana were building for the UK-Australia run and port facilities were prepared for them. In Port Adelaide the whole of the terminal is used for the benefit of and handling of passengers – but there was no-one selling newspapers!
Late in the afternoon two tugs helped us clear the port and away we went. Out through Investigator Strait, past Kangaroo Island, and into the Great Australian Bight.
Sea speed 20 knots heading west with the Bight quieter than I can remember, from many crossings, many years back. As we neared Cape Leeuwin the westerlies awoke and the seas arose and QM2 rolled to a maximum of perhaps 4-5 degrees with appropriate pitching. Here we experienced that flat aft hull ‘slapping’ often commented on by regular modern cruise ship passengers. It is caused because ships propelled by Azipod drives have a different aft underwater shape than do conventional ships.
The winds reached 40-plus knots and most of QM2’s external decks were closed off except right aft and along both side of Deck 7.
The announcement was made that port officers had decreed Fremantle closed to shipping and that our 0600 ETA was cancelled.
There were many irritated passengers. They’d booked tours and some of the more naïve had booked connecting flights.
QM2 stooged off the coast keeping well clear of Gage Roads – the Outer Harbour of Fremantle – until wind speeds had fallen to about 25 knots. At this point with most of the Fremantle-departing passengers having packed and left their cabins, Captain Oprey announced that we’d been allowed to make our entrance. Two tugs stood by, two pilots came aboard (one for the stern) and we lined up for North and South Moles. Graeme Tinghey, ashore, was photographing the action and his digital camera timed the sequence.
At about 1305 we lined up for the entry moles, wind on the starboard beam and easing, but not enough. At 1309 the bridge team called it off. QM2 wheeled to port and accelerated clear of the North Mole and headed for Rottnest Island. The Captain announced the wind had not eased enough as yet but he expected us to be cleared soon. And so we were.
The second try began about 1328.
By 1347 we were inside the groynes and committed. Two tugs Falcon and Eagle were holding us straight and on line and the shore crowd was massing.
At about 1355 QM2 was positioned across the harbour at 90 degrees to the shore. She was swinging 180 degrees. The port is 420m across at this point and the ship is 345m. As the Master pointed out we had about 25m clear at either end. At one stage tug Eagle was across the stern with the gap decreasing. A few minutes later Eagle backed out smartly and the gap closed to about 15m.
At 1358 camera-time, QM2 was nearing her berth and it was time for the Hotel Staff to get on with their routine.
With a water draft of less than 11m and an air draft of more than 50m, QM2 is NOT the tallest cruise ship in the world. But, she is enormous and has a mighty ‘sail’ area.
Based on my limited experience of such ships I foresee a continued role for big and powerful tugs. It is inevitable there will be some more well-publicised cruise ship problems to come at places where a lack of tugs, unpleasant weather and commercial demands will combine to place a ‘block of floating flats’ in danger.
At about 1402 QM2 was safely alongside and the lines were being doubled. Command crew, tugs and pilots had done a great job and it won’t be the last time.