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|Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady
The QE2's Final Visit to Malta
18th November 2008
Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady describes our viewing of the QE2 in Malta on 18 November 2008. Firstly we saw her from the Upper Barracca Gardens, then from a Harbour Air seaplane, and finally from a Captain Morgan Harbour Cruise before watching her depart until only the funnel was left. The lyrics of the song of the same name come to mind as we watched: Thanks for the times that you've given me, the memories are all in my mind, and now that we've come to the end of our rainbow,there's something I must say out loud, You're once, twice, three times a lady, and I love you.... What else is there to say.
This page covers our last sight of the QE2 as an ocean liner when she called at Valletta, the capital of Malta, on her final journey from her home port of Southampton to Dubai via the Suez Canal. In Dubai she will suffer an ignominious end to a noble career by being converted into a floating hotel, her engines ripped out and the famous funnel potentially removed and replaced by a luxury penthouse. We will report on what has happened if we ever visit her on a cruise through Dubai.
When it was announced in 2007 that the final journey to Dubai would carry passengers our travel agent tried to make a booking for us but unfortunately the complete voyage was sold out in just over 30 minutes. We were 'wait listed' but were not hopeful of getting a cabin, and as time passed we wondered whether we would want to make the emotional journey. As staff on board who we met on the gangway at Valletta said - it was unreal because each day continued with the normal routines and then there were a lot of Kleenex moments.
The QE2 departed Southampton on 11 November, having received a special visit from HRH The Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, being showered with a million red poppies at 1100, and with a flypast by a Harrier reminding everyone of when QE2 was sent to action in the Falklands War. The town of Southampton arranged a special celebration, including a spectacular evening firework display. The subsequent itinerary for the QE2 from Southampton to Dubai involved passing through Valletta on 18 November.
|Tuesday, 11 November||Southampton||1700|
|Wednesday, 12 November||Cruising the Atlantic Ocean|
|Thursday, 13 November||Lisbon, Portugal||0800||1700|
|Friday, 14 November||Gibraltar||0900||1700|
|Saturday, 15 November||Cruising the Mediterranean Sea|
|Sunday, 16 November||Rome (from Civitavecchia), Italy||0700||2200|
|Monday, 17 November||Naples, Italy||0700||1900|
|Tuesday, 18 November||Valletta, Malta||0900||1800|
|Wednesday, 19 November||Cruising the Mediterranean Sea|
|Thursday, 20 November||Alexandria (for Cairo/Giza), Egypt||0700||2000|
|Friday, 21 November||Cruising the Mediterranean Sea|
|Saturday, 22 November||Transit the Suez Canal|
|Sunday, 23 November||Cruising the Arabian Sea|
|Monday, 24 November||Cruising the Arabian Sea|
|Tuesday, 25 November||Cruising the Arabian Sea|
|Wednesday, 26 November||Cruising the Arabian Sea|
|Thursday, 27 November||Dubai, UAE||0700|
We chose our holiday timing so that we departed the UK after she had left Southampton, so we could see the celebrations there, and we returned home when she reached Dubai. Our two week holiday for two people at the 4* Selmun Palace Hotel, with scheduled flights from Birmingham and car hire, cost £1300. This contrasts with the price of the QE2 final cruise to Dubai, where Mauretania grade 2-berth cabins were priced from £4729 to £5549 per person, with our normal M4 costing £4889. (These prices are from Cunard Voyages March 2008 - April 2009 and are higher than the initial prices published in 2007.) Of course, price is not the only factor for comparison, and we have always enjoyed all our cruises with Cunard. We like the Selmun Palace too.
The QE2 is very special. We had been on board during her maiden visit to Malta on 29 October 1998 with Captain Hasell just before his retirement and that was a memorable occasion. The welcome had surpassed anything we could imagine with thousands of Maltese people lining the battlements and gardens of Valletta to welcome her, many if not most waving union jacks. It seemed appropriate for our last sighting to be at the same place.
This would be her seventh visit to Malta, and in the past QE2 had to abort her call twice due to inclement weather. We knew that there was a risk in November that she would not be able to get in, so we were delighted when we looked out of our balcony at the ocean and it was calm. After an early breakfast, not much more than coffee, we drove along the coastal dual carriageway towards Valletta. We had already explored Valletta over the previous weekend and had identified a large suitable underground car park, which only cost €1.20 if we were there before 0830. We knew that QE2 would be moored exactly at 0900 because Captain Ian McNaught is always on time. This meant that we needed to be in position with our video and cameras as she entered the harbour. We estimated that meant 0815 at the latest to be in position in Valletta, and we left the hotel just after 0700.
The main road from Selmun to Valletta runs along the coast and in the distance we saw a large ship with one distinctive funnel on the horizon. We knew that only the QE2 was due in Grand Harbour today. Getting out a pair of binoculars we quickly confirmed that she was indeed there, and we presumed was waiting for her pilot. We needed to speed up and drive like the Maltese - driving in Valletta is rather like driving in Italy except they all drive on the left side of the road. We were also approaching Valletta in the morning rush hour; we had been warned that many offices open at 0800. Not only were the slip roads congested, but once we joined the road into Valletta it all became very slow. We wondered if we would be too late, but then it got better and we parked.
Grabbing our union flags and our video and cameras we rushed into the Upper Barracca Gardens, just as the QE2 came through the breakwater, escorted by three tugs with their water cannons. Unfortunately everyone expected her to arrive at 0900 so there were very few people around. This meant that we had no problems getting a good position for taking our pictures.
The old Saluting Battery occupies one of the most strategic positions in Valletta, from where complete command of the Grand Harbour can be achieved. It stands on the lower part of the St Peter and St Paul's Bastion, at the foot of the Upper Barracca gardens, just beneath us. We looked down on their eight cannons and noticed there were three chaps standing ready to fire the guns, and a serious photographer. QE2's arrival in Grand Harbour was marked by a gun salute, to which she responded by sounding her whistle. Everyone cheered when they heard the whistle.
Then it was necessary to turn the QE2 around, so that she faced outwards. This can be a difficult manouevre if there is a lot of wind, and Queen Victoria managed to hit the concrete wall on one of her early visits. In the local newspaper, The Times, on 19 November it was reported that the Cunard Line agents were looking forward to bringing over Queen Mary after studies had shown she could manouevre in Grand Harbour. We presume they meant Queen Mary 2 and we will watch for that visit in her schedules.
Once the QE2 was settled and made fast we descended towards the waterfront, hoping to see staff or passengers we knew. The Malta Post Office were selling a special postage stamp issue 'Maritime Cruise Liners' which was issued on 18 November 2008 and comprised four stamps : MSC Musica €0.63, MS Voyager of the Seas €1.16, MS Westerdam €1.40 and RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 €3.00. The staff were busy putting the four stamps onto the First Day Cover envelope and then promptly stamping the envelope with the date. We paid €6.74 and were well pleased with our souvenir. Looking up we noticed the 39 foot magnificent paying-off pennant was flying, one foot for every year of her sailing life.
At 1200 we had a booking with Harbour Air on their sightseeing flight over Malta and Gozo. The Harbour Air DeHavilland Single Otter aircraft is equipped with floats and wheels, making it a very versatile aircraft. It could take 14 passengers although there were only 6 of us on our trip. She was moored just behind the QE2, and part of the logic for taking the flight had been to get a good view as the aircraft took off and landed alongside. As we were members of the New Zealand Catalina Group Pete talked his way into the seat beside the Pilot. The weather was good with excellent visibility, although the forecast for the rest of the day was not good and no more flights were scheduled. As we walked back along the waterfront the rains started.
Our holiday, booked through BelleAir which is part of the Air Malta Group, included a free Captain Morgan Harbour Cruise, which is normally 1.5 hours and costs €15.75. The rain stopped and so we set off on foot across Valletta and caught the ferry to Sliema in Marsamxett Harbour where the harbour cruises started. There were places on the next trip which departed at 1445, and this gave us just enough time to go for coffee and cakes at the Malta Union Club, one of the many Clubs which has reciprocal arrangements with the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London. We found that the harbour cruise was in a small boat, much the same size as is used as a ferry between Sliema and Valletta, but that did not worry us. There was also a chop on the water, which increased as time passed. We knew that their detailed commentary would unfold the history of Valletta and the Three Cities connected with two Great Sieges of 1565 and 1942, as well as all the other places of interest including the historical forts, battlements and creeks which could only be admired from the sea. We did indeed cruise into every creek, beginning with the areas around Manoel Island and Floriana before going outside the shelter of Sliema and rounding Fort St Elmo to enter the Grand Harbour. The captain had to read the waves carefully, and even then some of the other passengers did not enjoy the pitching and rolling although it probably never exceeded 15 degrees. However when inside the safety of the Grand Harbour we had a good exploration of the different places, going past Valletta with a good close-up view of the QE2, before exploring Marsa Creek, passing the dry docks including Dock 6 where the cruise ship MSC Opera was undergoing work, and viewing the Three Cities of Senglea, Cospicua and Vittoriosa. There was an excellent view of the QE2 from there, although it was a pity there was bunkering taking place.
Our return to Sliema was still bouncy and we looked with surprise at a smaller harbour cruise trip which passed us going from Sliema into Grand Harbour. There were people sitting on the open deck at the front, which seemed unwise given the conditions. Maybe they had waterproof cameras. As we approached Sliema we wondered why the ferry to Valletta was not running. We soon found out why! Our boat was unable to get into its moorings - it involved going in backwards and dropping a pedestrian ramp from the boat to the shore. The surge on the water was too violent and the attempt was abandoned. This left the problem of what to do with the boat, and how to disembark the passengers. A second attempt was made further inside the shelter of the harbour, and we managed to be in the first group to disembark. We had good flat shoes and watched the motion of the approaching water carefully before going down the ramp which at its peak was rising about two feet above the harbour wall. It took a long time before everyone got off safely. We hoped the conditions were not going to deteriorate so much that QE2 would be unable to leave.
With no ferries running we had to catch one of the classic vintage Leyland local buses to get back to Valletta. A bus ticket was only €0.47 whereas the ferry had cost €0.93. Neither are very expensive compared with London prices.
QE2 was due to depart at 1800 and we wandered around the main streets until it was time to wave her GoodBye. Sunset was at 1653, so by 1800 it was well dark. Only a few dozen people were out to see her depart. There were no cheers, just a stunned and empty silence. It started raining.
She will never pass this way again. And the noise of her whistle will not be heard any more.