The legendary Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 on the Hudson River in New York City, October 16, 2008, as she departs for the final time.

07 February, 2012

The Blue Peter Connection

Stephen Payne recently spoke to students at the Webb Institute, a noted Naval Architecture school I had once considered attending, about the design of the Queen Mary 2.  Below is a link to the video published by the school on YouTube.  It is a facinating recollection of the design process and Stephen's passion for ocean liners from an early age.  

Blue Peter is a name with little meaning to those on this side of the Atlantic or at least to me anyway. What is it? Sounds like it could be a bird. Maybe it’s some sort of exotic drink? I’ll take a Blue Peter….Or perhaps it’s some sort of medical condition afflicting only men. None of the above. It’s actually a children’s TV show from the UK and quite a famous one at that. It has the distinction of being longest running children's TV show in the world, having debuted way back in 1958!  Despite this, I had absolutely no clue what it was, even as Captain Ian McNaught mentioned it to my son Ryan during an impromptu conversation we had with him on the pier head in Newcastle back in October of 2008.

In probably my most memorable conversation we had with QE2's final Master, Captain McNaught rather skillfully wove into the conversation he was having with my son on the fate of QE2, a story about QM2's designer, Stephen Payne and Blue Peter as mentioned in the above video. Without mincing words, my son had told Captain McNaught that he was a bit mad at Cunard while at the same time very sad to see the ship being retired, especially since she was the last great liner of the UK. He had only got to sail on her once and like his father, could not get his head around the fact that this piece of maritime history and cultural icon was being lost to the UK. History was indeed repeating itself again as all this was sounding eerily similar to the retirement of Queen Mary back in the 1960’s.

 Ryan, unwittingly in the process of letting the captain know how he truly felt, gave me a sense of pride in that he was finally regurgitating all the things I had previously been telling him. But, I was also cringing as he was letting it all hang out, so to speak, and I did not know where this was all going. Was he going to spout off some of my thoughts about the crazy plans we were hearing at the time about removing the funnel or the fact that I really had no desire to go see her in Dubai, of all places? Please stay clear of how I felt about a piece of UK maritime heritage lost to an Arab country.  This conversation could have gotten a bit ugly and embarrassing.

Our trip around the UK was QE2’s final farewell lap and everywhere we went, her significance to the people and culture of the UK was readily apparent. People came out in droves to see the ship in every port. We had already been to Greenock, then on to Clydebank, and we had just sadly seen all that was left of her once proud her birthplace at the Titan Crane. Ryan had heard it all from me before and for the past week, had been bombarded with all these facts and the grim reality that the end was near was setting in. He even saw his dad getting a bit choked up at the “funeral service” at Liverpool Cathedral. Now, it was apparent that all of this had been absorbed. I don’t even need to call it brainwashing since he saw it all for himself. Ryan really did get the significance of the ship now. Especially now that the cruise was about to end, he was letting the Captain know his true feelings as only a nine year old could. Captain McNaught, though, handled this situation masterfully, and would turn things around and leave him with words of inspiration.

As any good company man would do, McNaught convincingly offered up the Cunard marketing spin that QE2’s time had come and she was going to be off to a much needed retirement. You know, that “do not fret, she was going off to a nice warm climate for her retirement, to be well cared for by her new owners” mantra that was also given out when they retired the previous Queens. He went on to point out that there’s her replacement, the Queen Mary 2, the world’s only remaining liner, for us to continue enjoying along with the newer ships, including the newly announced Queen Elizabeth. “So while it is sad, enjoy her while you can as there will never be another like her.” Those last words are particularly true. While Queen Mary 2 is a true liner, she was NOT proudly built in the UK on the Clyde.

In retrospect, I’m guessing that McNaught probably has said this response so many times before that it had become second nature and that he might even actually have convinced himself it was true. Now, I was listening intently since Ryan knew all about these two other ships from me and the company I had kept onboard. I think he also knew what ship McNaught would be captaining next, but Ryan asked him anyway, perhaps hoping to hear that he would eventually command Queen Mary 2, a fitting assignment both of us thought to command the current Cunard Flagship. We were also biased since our next cruise with Cunard was most likely going to be on Queen Mary 2. With a somewhat subdued voice, we were informed he would be sharing command of the Queen Victoria as his next assignment, but he went on to tell us a bit about his take on newest Cunarder in typical McNaught fashion.

Comparisons, McNaught style followed. In his discussion, pointing out just how special QE2 was, he dropped this gem. He was moving on, from the oldest to the newest of the Cunard fleet, going from the fastest to the slowest and then the piece de resistance, from the most beautiful to……and then he stopped. You fill in the blank. Clearly, his love for the ship was shining through. These last few cruises and all the retirement events were getting the best of him and it was obvious that this was going to be a difficult transition to his new assignment. (Since he’s not with Cunard or even at sea anymore, I don’t think I’ll be getting him in any trouble now mentioning this.)

After expressing to Ryan how lucky he had been to have experienced the ship, he went to commend him on his interest in ships and to inquire what career he was interested in possibly pursuing, pointing out that he obviously was interested in the sea and ships. Ryan mentioned he wanted to design another liner, as beautiful as QE2.  I think it was then that he mentioned that his son was following in his footsteps and inquired what I did. I mentioned that I was an Architect, but had also studied Naval Architecture and that was one reason why the ship was so dear to my heart as well. Now, I knew who Stephen Payne was, but Ryan was not quite up to speed on Queen Mary 2 facts (yet). McNaught then mentions to Ryan that a young boy had written in to a TV show and told them that he was going to design the next great liner to succeed QE2, which at the time, everyone said was going to be the LAST liner built. The boy was Stephen Payne and he followed his dream as he went on, remarkably, to design Queen Mary 2, to replace QE2, inferring to Ryan that he should pursue his dreams and never put any limitations on them.

After seeing Stephen Payne’s detailed explanation of the Blue Peter letter coming full circle, so nicely explained in the video, I am only further in awe of this remarkable achievement in fulfillment of his dream. This remarkable tale also further reinforces just how special QM2 is; taking me back to another special moment I had onboard QM2 last January. It was a sea day and I was standing in the photo gallery looking at a video playing on one of the monitors showing the ship’s christening by QEII. 

I was half paying attention to the video, while my main focus was the impressive wave action going on right outside the windows.  Moving along at a leisurely 22-23 knots through seas, with the ships bow pushing aside massive quantities of ocean, with the ever so slight ship movement was truly impressive.  There was the familiar creaking,  yet subdued from what we had come accustomed to on QE2, and the rush of water as the windows displayed the blue green sea.  With camera in hand, I was shooting out of the windows between the racks of photos for sail, despite the sign saying photography was prohibited.  I was shooting the sea, not the overpriced photos, and others were doing the same.  I was hoping to catch a big wave and the washer machine effect, but the seas were just not cooperating.  I could have stayed parked in this window seat for the remainder of the day.  It was then when it truly hit home that I was onboard a ship worthy of the title of Flagship and replacement for QE2.

It's been over three years now since my last QE2 cruise and over a year has past since our first Queen Mary 2 cruise, yet watching the Stephen Payne video brought back such vivid memories instantly.  Thank you Stephen Payne for fulfilling your dream and creating a worthy successor to QE2.  I hope to be around to see her replacement in thirty two odd years, or even more dreamily, when another true sistership built someday. Will Ryan go further in pursuit of a career in Naval Architecture? That remains to be seen.  If only I can get him away from his Xbox 360 and other distractions a 13 year old faces.

1 comment:

  1. Ken,
    That is sentimental and powerful!
    I enjoyed reading it!
    All the best to you and your son!

    Ken MacLean