My QE2 Story - Isabelle Prondzynski
Updated on November 10th, 2009 by Rob Lightbody
Unlike many other QE2 fans, my coming to the QE2 was entirely by accident. I grew up in the midlands of Ireland, the daughter of German parents, neither of whom had the slightest maritime connection. All we knew was the occasional car ferry or passenger ferry to travel between Ireland and Germany, or between the German mainland and its islands. We did rather like the islands, so we did take the occasional ferry.
Besides, growing up in Ireland, I had an inbuilt suspicion of all things British. For me, “British built” meant that I was unlikely to take an interest in this ship. Moreover, the Queen Elizabeth 2, about which I occasionally read in the newspapers, had the distinct disadvantage of even being called after the British monarch (was she perhaps the Queen’s own ship?), so there was not the slightest chance that I would want to know more about it (I was also a late convert to the idea that ships are female...). And that was that.
In 1995, my father fell seriously ill and, after many months in hospital, came home but needed ongoing nursing. After two years of nursing, my mother remembered that she had been promised a sea voyage for her school leaving certificate, and that because of the war, she had never been able to take it. A sea voyage sounded relaxing to her, and she decided that this would be a rest, if Pia and I could take over nursing duties for a couple of weeks.
This plan coincided with the publication of an advertisement in the Irish Times, announcing the maiden call of QE2 to Dún Laoghaire in July 1998, and offering special fares to passengers from Ireland embarking for a voyage to Iceland and Norway. My mother decided to book, and Pia and I offered to take over the nursing duties for the duration of the voyage.
It turned out very different. Our father died in March 1998, and our mother began to recover from the extremely stressful three years she had just been through. The plan to sail on QE2 was going to be part of that recovery, and on 21st July, she became one of the minority of passengers who first set foot on QE2 from a tender! She had a wonderful time on board, kept us up to date with faxes, and wrote up her diary, full of highly perceptive observations about the ship and how it worked. She still reminisces about her Caronia cabin, which may well have been her favourite of them all. This was the voyage where QE2 encountered an iceberg while the film “Titanic” was being played in the theatre!
Once on QE2, already a big fan. She had to take another voyage, and this time, I was to come too. In the year 2000, our cruise started in Southampton, and we were allocated what must have been the most elegant cabins we ever had, 2153 and 2154, my mother’s being particularly memorable for the draft produced by the ventilation system.
Photos here, and many more to be scanned
Ours was a cruise up to Norway, along the fjords, visiting some ports my mother had already seen, as well as some which were new to her. For me, the whole experience was entirely new, and I soaked up all the information about QE2 which my mother had garnered on her previous trip. I am glad that this gave me the chance to meet Captain Ron Warwick, whose legendary personality I was at that stage aware of.
Another two years passed, and we wanted to go to sea again! This time, Pia too was to be involved. We decided to share a 2004 World Cruise segment -- I joining our mother from Bangkok to Mumbai, and Pia from Mumbai to Durban. Apart from having our beautiful home with us in so many different places, we were also seated at the Chief Engineer’s table in the Caronia Restaurant, and enjoyed asking many questions about the ship. Apparently the Chief Engineers dined at our table more frequently than they would normally have done, as they enjoyed our table. Ever since then, we have been invited to the Chief Engineer’s drinks, something which began on that particular cruise.
It was a strange feeling, standing in the port of Mumbai, watching QE2 sail away, with our mother and Pia waving from the Boat Deck for a long while, and then just seeing QE2, all lit up, gradually disappearing into the darkness, just a fleck of light. Little did I know then that, only four years later, I would be watching her disappear in the very same way on the Clyde, as we said our final farewells to her.
There will be photos of this voyage too, but they will need to be scanned first.
The sailing bug had now bitten us, and we decided not to wait for two years again. The next voyage, in 2005, was, however, not on QE2 but on Caronia, just a couple of months before she left the Cunard fleet and joined Saga -- another splendid cruise around the Baltic Sea, where we first met Captain Nick Bates. We were to meet him again the following year, 2006, as Master of the QE2, which prompted him to say “I think I have died and woken up in heaven!”. This was another Norway cruise, this time the three of us together for the first time, our mother with Pia and me.
In 2007, we had to cancel a Mediterranean cruise which we had so looked forward to, as our mother was not feeling well enough. This was the year when QE2’s sale to Dubai had been announced and, within days of that announcement, we had booked the replacement cruise -- the transatlantic “autumn colours” for September 2008.
Something else happened at this stage though. My digital photos, which had been uploaded to my Yahoo e-mail addresses, were moved to Flickr when Yahoo Photos closed. All of a sudden, I found my pictures in a totally new environment -- and an environment in which it was easy to interact with others.
Once the QE2 sale had been announced, I was desperately following QE2 by her bridgecam, and also Google searching for articles about her, particularly when she started her 40th anniversary Round Britain cruise. And what did I find at the top of the Google recommendations? Rob Lightbody’s photos on Flickr! These were so excellent, and included so many explanations about QE2’s history and background that, within weeks (or was it days?), I was exchanging messages with Rob.
Later that same year, we almost met in Zeebrugge, as Rob took a mini cruise on QE2 and I went with a friend to visit QE2 there. With the help of an old QE2 card, I was allowed inside the security cordon, and we could have met -- but Rob was nursing a very bad cold and only ventured out briefly.
I had never before considered a mini cruise, but this visit made me think again! So, I booked myself an extra voyage, also to Zeebrugge as well as Rotterdam, in July 2008, and was lucky enough to share a table with several Liners’Listers, some of whom have become good friends. The two days and three nights of the cruise were spent looking at the details of the ship, strolling round every alleyway armed with cameras and tripods, and meeting up regularly in the Lido, the Queen’s Room and the Chart Room for solid and liquid refreshments! I had cabin 5128, right beside the entrance to the Engine Room, and loved both the cabin and every other bit of the ship. Looking back on my days on QE2 now, I am particularly glad that I had these few days on Five Deck, which gave me a much more rounded view of the ship.
The final, “Autumn Colours” transatlantic of September 2008, which our mother, Pia and I did together again, was such a mix of emotions -- the joy of being on board again, always tinged with the knowledge that this would be the last time, that there would be no tomorrow. The storm and the waves of the westbound crossing, the dramatic entrance into New York, the sunny stillness of Bar Harbor, and the wonderful send-off from Quebec, all of these were highlights. As were chats with crew members whom we had got to know, passengers who felt the same way about QE2 as we did, and times of relaxation and leisure, just relishing the place and the atmosphere. It took me a whole year to upload the many pictures taken during this voyage!
Photos here :
When we finally disembarked in Southampton, I had one consolation left -- that of meeting QE2 again for her farewell on the Clyde, with Rob, his family and friends, on the Balmoral to see her in, to sail round her in Greenock, and to see her off again after the farewell fireworks display. I am so glad that I had that chance.
On the day QE2 was handed over to Dubai, I was in Lisbon, wandering lonely and cold around the port, staring at the place where she had been, only two weeks earlier...
So, I was glad when Rob started the QE2Story Forum, to help us to live with the loss, and to collect the memories which we each hold of this legend of the seas. She has changed my life in a big way, been a major factor in a whole decade of my existence -- and she will influence many more years of my life too...