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Ask The QE2 Captain - Bill Cooper

Captain Bill Cooper was Captain of the QE2 in Dubai from 2009 until the end of 2012.  He kindly agreed to answer questions posed by members of TheQE2Story Forum.

We also spoke to Scott Clegg, Project Manager during this time, his questions and answers are at the end.

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popularIn late 2013, Captain Bill Cooper, kindly agreed to answer a selection of questions from our forum members about his time on board QE2 in Dubai.

QE2 Captain Bill Cooper

We would all like to thank him for his time in what has been a most interesting exercise.


Question One

Peter Mugridge asks… The handover from your crew to the present lot was at ridiculously short notice, but did you and the crew have any suspicions that something was about to happen and if so, how long before the handover was made did they have these suspicions?  What made you suspect something was up?


QE2 V-Ships Crew leave the ship, December 21st 2012

At the beginning of December, we started to get some idea that we were being relieved, but nothing official.  It was all to do with company internal politics, but we understood it would be towards the end of January.  I had a first class working relationship with Scott Clegg, the vessels manager from the owners side, and all "non secret" happenings were passed both ways on a daily basis.  To be honest I had 36 hours to prepare wages, all the documents for the crew, generally check everything was in order and talk to all of the crew.

Question Two

Myles Devin who travelled many times aboard and loved the ship asks….
When did you first realise that QE2 was to be your next command?


I was advised in May of 2009 that I may be going.

Had you ever travelled on the ship or seen her before?

No I never travelled on the ship before, although I had of course seen her in previous years.

When you took your first steps onboard, was QE2 how you imagined her to be?

 I suppose she was rather as expected, to be honest she appeared to be "very well worn" on my first inspection.

And if l dare ask, what’s your thoughts on what should happen to QE2.....

I would have liked, and still to this day would like, that the ship stayed in Dubai and they carried out the basic repairs required to operate her as a focal center for Dubai. This was suggested but for whatever reason it was turned down.
The takeover by the Dry Dock was a surprise to all. I feel you can see the results in the delay and upkeep of the vessel over the last year.  I am not a financial genius, but to me V-Ships quoted approx 22million to remove the asbestos, re-pipe the ships plumbing, fit updated internal communications etc etc,this in Dubai would have given 300 refurbished cabins, they'd use deck 5 as offices for outside businesses.
Judging by the requests and phone calls that I received asking for weddings etc, there was a lot of interest, and no expense would be too high. most quoted etc,good marketing which would have been in place she would be a money maker,somewhere and nothing to do with me this management came along ( who I know personally) nuff said .....and took over.

Thanks for allowing us to ask these questions and for looking after QE2 on your watch...

 

Question Three

Jeff Taylor asks…  I'd be curious to know what your "marching orders" were in terms of maintaining and/or improving the ship during your time in charge.  Did the owners encourage any efforts at preserving or maintaining the ship, or did they "penny pinch" or second guess your recommendations or actions.

I was given a free hand by the owners and V-Ships as long as we stayed within budget. The management changed from the shore side of things when Nakheel handed the ship over to Istithimar and Mr Scott Clegg took over as ships manager for the owners.  Never once was a request turned down, hence the ship was kept as clean and presentable as when fully crewed by Cunard.


QE2 - 19th December 2012

Finally, were you privy to any discussions or deliberations about her future?  Obviously to the extent you are comfortable answering.  Thanks.

My own idea would be as stated in my previous answer to Myles.  Who wants an old ship with a glitzzy interior?? she will not be the QE2, something I feel is wrong in the thoughts of  the new operators....just my opinion....for what it is worth.


Question Four

Alan Snelson, who was the photographer on board in the 80s, asks…  Hello Captain Cooper, When QE2 moved in to dry dock Jan 2013 do you know if she was using any of her own engines or was she moved entirely by tugs?

No she was towed.

Also what is the extent of work required to make her ready to sail under her own power and was any work being undertaken towards that end?

When we were put in warm layup in 2009 after South Africa fell through, we were told the ship would never move again under her own power and would be converted in Dubai. Whatever you can think of will need doing - asbestos removal, pipework, electronics, service electronics, main engines, propulsion units, steel work in cabins under the bathtubs, widen decks replaced after metal repair underneath etc etc.the list goes on and on...

 

Question Five

Lynda Bradford, from Clydebank and who helps run the website asks…  Thank-you Captain Cooper for looking after QE2 while you were in charge of the ship and many thanks for agreeing to answer our questions.
What was your reaction when you were asked to be Captain of the QE2 to take her to South Africa?

I was very pleased, it suited my plans and I thought what a nice way to retire, leaving the QE2.

At what point did you realise that your name would go down in history as a result of being part of QE2's story.  Given that the plans to take her to South Africa fell through can you tell us a bit about your working life onboard the most famous ship in the world when she was in warm lay up.

QE2 Chief Steward in Dubai Mr. Ronald GelmoLife was good, I had my crew who all had an interest in the old lady, they were proud to be there. As we had such a good working relationship with the owners, life was steady and interesting, Not exactly hard work but never the less we were all kept busy.
We still carried out inspections, fire drills, safety maintainence and general upkeep of the ship both inside and outside. My Chief Steward, Mr Ronal Gelmo, was paranoid about interior cleanliness with only a crew of 8 in his department!!!! We had on average 40 crew in total.......

 

Question Six

Rod Fair, a former chief engineer on board, asks – Captain Cooper, first of all, THANKS!  What is your history?

My history starts in 1962 when I joined Alfred Holt of Liverpool" Blue Funnel" from there I joined Furness Withy as 3mate, not long after this I noted that to become a Master you had to be 55 and on a ship where the Captain either retired or died, so I moved about and ended up with my first command at the age of 32.

After the SA trip fell through, did you ever do the "what if" thing? Imagine what it would be like to take "The greatest ship in the world" to another port.  Good luck and fair winds in your retirement

Everyone had ideas for the ship and what should be done , do tours,open a Starbucks,open for meals only,you name it and someone has suggested it.  I am just totally surprised at the route now being taken!
 

Question Seven

Rosie Claxton asks… QE2 was looking so good when we saw her in 2011.  Firstly - a great big thank-you to you and your Crew, Captain Cooper.  When she tried to escape (when her mooring line snapped on 28th January 2011!), on discovering this - whereabouts where you?  And what on earth must you have felt, thought and done?  Please, are able to tell us something about the packing and stowage of all her pictures, heritage collection, tapestries, and statues etc? Do you think these, and other things like Queen Mary's piano and things from your Captain's quarters and the Wardroom etc have all been packed up well enough to survive the heat intact?All good wishes.Rosie.

Related Link : QE2's Lines part in a sandstorm

I was in my cabin.... the Second mate called me and said we had very heavy winds so I went on to the bridge just as all the stern lines parted, we has one spring left forward, the wind came up like a brick wall,it did not build up .... just hit us.....as I had no engines I had to just try and relax and wait for us to clear the berth and anchor!!!

We had a British navy ship about 100 meters ahead and if I anchored too soon and then the wind direction changed, we would have ended up making contact and I am sure Her Majesty would not appreciate that for either ship.
Luckily for me, a strong tug was handy and the port pilot came and assisted.  By the time we returned to the berth, our agent had arranged new mooring lines, all within lets say 30 minutes.  I did make a call to VShips to advise my Manager, he has a sense of humour and texted me "Bill please confirm you completed you pre departure check list!!!" no damage, just an experience,!!


Question Eight

MG Mike asks…  Hello Captain Cooper, firstly many thanks to you and your crew for the excellent care you provided QE2.I wondered what it was like for you during your early period on board QE2, how difficult was it to learn all her systems and procedures given that all of the crew were fairly new to the ship?  We have heard that QE2 was a "one off" from an engineering perspective, as a Captain did you find her a difficult ship to learn?

To be honest the only time I moved the controls was when we came out of the dry dock back to the berth before we were due to go to South Africa. I would have loved to have been able to build up full pitch on 9 main engines!!!!! I was lucky as I had Jeff Jeffries ex Cunard onboard for a few months to show us the odds and ends.


Question Nine

Alex ‘MrT’ asks…  I too would like to add my gratitude to Captain Cooper and his team for looking after the ship while it was under his command.My question is, did they test the propellers in the run-up to the aborted South Africa trip, and how close were they to sailing before the voyage was cancelled.Many thanks and all the best for your retirement...Alex

We were ready, yes. Propulsion was operational, we had all certificates ready with Lloyds and only had to carry out a full crew boat and fire drill as we had been taking extra new crew onboard ... we were that close!!!!

QE2 in Warm Lay-up in Dubai, April 25th 2011


Question Ten

Chris Frame, Author of The QE2 Story book amongst others, asks… I'd like to add my thanks.  When did you first see QE2 (first time ever) and what was your impression then?

I can't remember it was so long ago!  I thought she was the most beautiful ship I have ever seen, and I still say she is the most beautiful ship ever built.  

How did it feel to step aboard as her Captain, and did she live up to your original impressions?

A strange feeling as the ship was so quiet....she lived up to my expectations and I was always proud to be her Master.

QE2 - 19th December 2012


Question Eleven

Pete Cain asks…  I'd like to add my tribute to you & your staff for looking after QE2 whilst she was yours, thank you.
In your opinion, having seen her close up ,how long could she have remained at sea strutting her stuff?, I know folk on this forum say that Cunard looked after her till the end but, all those failures we're witness to, tell a different story don't you think?

Ooops better not answer that one.  ha ha ha ( not long).


Question Twelve

A question from "Jimmy" via email to me to the “Chris Cunard” website: Captain, please tell us what it was like aboard a nearly empty QE2. Was it at all eerie?  And from Janet via the same website… "Thank you for looking after QE2! How tempted where you to blow her whistle? What was the first time? What was it like to create that amazing sound?"

No, just very very quiet, with just 40 crew including watchkeepers it did not leave many to make a noise.

QE2 in Warm Lay-up in Dubai, April 26th 2011


Question Thirteen

And finally, Rob Lightbody asks.., Bill.  You gave me one of the most memorable 3 days of my life, and I can’t thank you enough.  I will always have very fond memories of you, your lovely family, and your crew, and the ‘sleeping’ but still very beautiful QE2.  I was very, very surprised by how I felt being back aboard.  She was in safe hands.  Thank you.

I only have one question to ask you.  What on earth did you think when this crazy Scotsman from an enthusiast’s website flew all the way to Dubai just to be aboard QE2 once more?

Related Link - Rob on board QE2 in Dubai

Rob it was great to have you visit, HONESTLY......Your visit stopped most of the ridiculous statements I had been reading about the ship.... We had a great time.... I was proud to show you the ship, as were all of the crew.... plus you are a canny lad!!!!!!!


During the course of Captain Cooper's time at the helm, the project manager representing the owners was Mr. Scott Clegg.  He also agreed to answer some questions from us...

From Isabelle.  Thank you, Scott, for allowing us some insight into your no doubt fascinating time as QE2 Project manager.
Could you give us some idea of your work, balanced presumably between economic considerations for QE2 and the political environment in which you were based?

Over the course of time the job changed.

When I started on the project in April 2008 the focus was really on preparing to take ownership of the ship, the commercial aspects around transfer of ownership, the arrival event and the planned shutdown and project start. In addition to this there was working on the concept design for the re-launch for which there were in excess of 10 different specialist consultants involved, all spread around the world. Whilst everybody can debate the scope of the project and the much talked about potential redesign options it was very exciting to be part of such an iconic project. I know a lot of people have strong opinions about what should or should not have been saved / upgraded / ripped out but I can safely say that even after Version 16 (that’s how many versions we did) of the proposed new design the ship would still have been unmistakably QE2.

When the project was put on hold at the beginning of 2009, the focus shifted to getting QE2 ready to sail to Cape Town for the World Cup. Whilst the “ship” element was primarily handled by V. Ships including the drydocking and survey work, the project team were heavily involved in trying to finalise the various aspects of having the ship in Cape Town for a year. An interesting fact is that the Cape Town project was cancelled the day before we were due on sea trials. So as you can imagine we were all a little disappointed not to take her out!

Following the Cape Town project we spent a lot of time looking at many different options. Over the course of time we must have looked at somewhere between 15 and 20 different potential solutions ranging from approaches from third parties for joint ventures to opening “as-is” in Dubai. Some of the more interesting potential solutions included providing aid to the islands of Haiti and Japan.
As with every potential solution it always came down to what was economically viable. Whilst something may look good as an idea and the softer benefits such as positive PR and heritage protection looked good, it came down to a simple question of would it make more / lose less than keeping her in warm layup?

In the latter years the ship related component of my job changed into “keeper of the purse strings” so I had the enviable job of justifying the budget to the Board and ensuring that we kept QE2 looking as good and as safe as we could within the financial constraints we had. Our focus was to keep QE2 looking good and operating safely for any potential investors and / or projects. In a very challenging environment Captain Cooper and the crew did an absolutely fantastic job of keeping her looking presentable and operating safely on a very tight budget.

Were you ever aware of scrapping being a serious option for QE2?

As with everything it came down to economics. It would be naïve of me to say it wasn’t considered but everybody was in agreement that scrapping was the absolute final option once every other avenue had been exhausted. I think we were all acutely aware of the significant negative publicity that scrapping the ship would create.

We did a lot of financial analysis on a “drop dead” date when we would have to make that difficult decision and thankfully it never came.

Was there a final determining factor that led to an end of your own work and the handover of QE2 to the Oceanic team?

There were a number of different determining factors but I think a mix of budgetary pressures and the Board’s desires to move forward with Oceanic proposal were the two main ones.  

From Rosie
 Thank you too, Scott. The Christmas Tree was wonderful! As QE2's 'resident', as well as Project Manager - we owe you much gratitude. Having got very used to asking questions, and very soon realising that there would, and could never be any answers - there was a big shock here one day, when you did! By the way - was it you who managed to get the webcam lens cleaned?! And might there be another that we can use now? Just one more question, please - do you know whether any of the items taken off QE2 soon after she arrived in Dubai actually went to be sold, and either directly, or indirectly went to help other seafarers? Hope so! Whatever you do in the future - all the very best, Rosie

If you are talking about the webcam that looks at Port Rashid from afar, that is a government managed webcam that just happened to look in that direction. It had nothing to do with us! So…I cant take credit for having it cleaned. As far as I know there are no other webcams that point in the general direction of the Drydocks World shipyard.

I think its worthwhile addressing up with mystery around the items that ended up in a skip and ultimately in the Mission to Seafarers. As part of the commercial agreement to take ownership of QE2 a number of items were excluded from the sale and purchase. A lot of these were operational items such as certain pieces of leased equipment, items owned by concessions, computers, paperwork, procedures and so on but others were “non fixed” items that had the Cunard logo on them e.g. crockery. Prior to the previous crew leaving the ship, a lot of bigger higher value items were put in crates ready to be picked up next time a Cunard ship came through Dubai but a lot of items were disposed of in skips as it simply was not economical for them to be boxed and shipped. However, that being said…over time we were able to find some items that were not disposed of and these were packed into ships stores.