Ask The QE2 Captain - Ian McNaught

The QE2's last ever Captain, Ian McNaught, answers questions posed by members of TheQE2Story Forum.

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popularIn August/September 2010, Captain Ian McNaught, aided by his wife Sue, kindly agreed to answer a selection of questions from our forum members.

We would all like to take this opportunity to thank them both for their time in what has been a most interesting exercise.

Question One

Lynda Bradford, originally from Clydebank, would like to ask you “what were your feelings the first time you took command of the QE2?”

The first time you stand on the bridge wing as Master, is a time of great emotion, it is the culmination of many years of training, and for me was a boyhood ambition realised, so you are very proud but I have to honest, quite nervous at the same time, all of a sudden you are the one, and everybody is looking at you.

Photo © John Little

Question Two

Isabelle Prondzynski, who you took on numerous cruises since 2000 would like you to mention just two things that made QE2 special to you, over other ships you have worked on.

There are many things that made QE2 special,  firstly I suppose is the ship itself, she was unique and in her time a huge leap forward from the older QE and QM, and she was a ship that stood the test of time and evolved over the years, a great symbol of all the was great about Britain in the swinging sixties.  

The other thing that made her special is easy, it was the crew, this was a very special group of people who were tremendously loyal to the ship and all that she stood for, many crew members worked there for over twenty or thirty years, there were still some there at the end who had been there on day one, and I feel that generation of people who made the sea their life’s career is disappearing now, the younger population we have on cruise ships these days are much more transient, and only work on ships for a few years before going back ashore, so those very special people who looked after you in the restaurants, cabins and bars are beginning to disappear now as they retire, and the style of service and attitude to service is much changed these days.

It is the crew who made this very unique ship very special, it is they who give a ship it’s heart and soul.

Photo courtesy of and © Cunard

Question Three

Andrew Warrington who used to live in Manchester, England but now lives in Indianapolis would like to ask

 (1) What was the last thing you did before leaving QE2 in Nov 2008 ?

My wife and I left the ship at four in the morning to catch an early flight home from Dubai, and as I stood at the top of the gangway in five deck forward cruise doors, I just touched the hull and said thank you, and then we went down the gangway, climbed into the taxi and went off without looking back.

(2) What went through your mind when QE2 touched bottom in Southampton Water as she came up the river for the last time ?

As myself, the Pilot and Staff Captain handled the situation, I suppose one of my thoughts was “Why this day of all days”, I knew most of the UK press was waiting to welcome us home, along with a lot of the public coming out to see us in, and of course we had a Royal visit that day, but  you just have to be professional and get on with the job in hand.

Photo of QE2's last arrival
in Southampton© John Little

Question Four

Scott Ebersold in New York City asks

(1) if you could choose a future for QE2, what would it be? 

I suppose an ideal retirement for QE2 would have been to be able to come home to the  Clyde and be converted into a hotel, museum and conference centre and end her days in the place of her birth.  There she would have stood as a reminder and a symbol for what made the river famous as a great centre for shipbuilding  over many generations.

(2) What is your fondest memory from your time as her master?

There are many memories, but one of my best days was of course when HM the Queen came to visit in June 2007, I was very proud that day to represent the ship and be able to escort HM around and introduce so many of the crew to her, and I feel she really enjoyed her visit.   Talking to HM over lunch she has a great affinity for ships and the sea, who cannot  forget the day that Britannia retired and I feel sure she had much sympathy for us as QE2 was coming towards the end of her working life.

Picture © and courtesy of Cunard

Question Five

Ann & Etta Uttley of Arran, Scotland say “yooo hooo – guess who!"  They would like to ask you two questions

(1) In the unlikely event that QE2 returned to service, if asked, would you become master again?

I do not think she could ever come back into service, and the longer she lies in Dubai the further away that prospect must be.  Even if she did come back out to sea, she would not be the QE2 we all knew and loved, as much of that is down to people, and without the crew and passengers she would not be the same, so no I would not go back.  What we knew and loved has gone.  

(2) Have you gathered a large personal collection of QE2 items throughout your time with her?

I have collected a few things over the years, one of the most special items is the final paying off pennant which we flew at departure from Southampton and on arrival  in Dubai, Carol Marlow presented this to me at the handing over ceremony in Dubai.  Another special item I have is a ticket to the launching of the ship, so I have these two special souvenirs to represent both the beginning and the end of her career.

Picture © Jennifer Wilson

Question Six

Matthew Hannigan from Perth Australia would like to ask you two questions

(1) How possible do you see Australia being the home of the QE2 having sailed her farewell voyage through our country and seeing the support of the community?

There have many rumours over recent months about QE2 going to Australia and South Africa, and I think that’s exactly what they were, so to be honest, I can only see her staying in Dubai for the foreseeable future.

(2) Which Australian port did you feel was the most emotional and atmospheric farewell to the QE2?

Australia has always been a great friend to QE2 and she has always been made welcome on her calls there. 

On our last call in Sydney, the pilot that brought us in was the son of the pilot who brought her in there on her first call some thirty years earlier.  When we left Sydney for the last time there were many people out to see us off, but somehow it was a quiet and sombre departure, almost as if people knew we would never be back, and when we cleared the Heads and reported in to Sydney harbour radio, they read us a very emotional and heartfelt goodbye message, which I will be honest, left us feeling very sad on the bridge as if we were leaving a loved one behind.

In complete contrast when we sailed out of Fremantle, that was an occasion of joy and celebration, and the breakwater was lined with cheering and noisy crowds and we were surrounded by many small craft that followed us out well beyond the channel into the open seas. Two very different farewells, but both poignant in their own ways.    

Question Seven

Andrew Collier from the South of England would like to thank you for taking part in our email interview!  He’d like to ask you two connected questions - as Captain of the ship, I'm sure you would have had access to all areas at all times.  

(1) Were there areas you never went, and which part of the ship did you find most exciting to visit?

In all those years on board I think I visited pretty much the whole ship, from the double bottom tanks to the top of the funnel,  but I suppose the best place for me was always the bridge, as captain that was my domain, what I was principally there for, and being in that bridge while you were in command always gave me that sense of belonging.  

(2) And did the feeling of excitement, as I’m sure you must have felt at least in the beginning, for exploring the ship ever wear off?

No the excitement never wore off, walking around that ship was always interesting, and there was always something new to learn, something that you had not seen before, or a story that you had never heard before, so you always came back a little richer for the experience.    

Question Eight

Mary Ellen Kelly in New York City would like to ask you if there is any real chance that a group can be formed (and enough money raised) to make a serious offer to buy QE2, bring her to Glasgow, and maintain her as an attraction there -- and, if there is, will you take an active part in such an effort?  Mary Ellen’s favourite cabin on QE2 was 1004 – she first had it in 1975, and the last time was in 2008!

As I said earlier it would be an ideal retirement home for her, but we have to face facts, and such a project would cost many millions of pounds, the figures that were spoken about for the Dubai project were huge, and to raise such money in these times would be extremely difficult I think, but if some entrepreneur would put up the money then I would gladly give my blessing and would love to be involved in some way.

Question Nine

Peter Mugridge, who you took around the Med In 2002, asks about the ‘Sprint & Drift’ technique.  He believes that in calm waters, the engines were worked hard for a while, and then not for a while, and then hard again – are you able to explain this technique and its use on QE2?

We never actually did  this, we always tried to be economic with the fuel, and that was one of the reasons that the diesel electric plant was chosen for the re-engine project in 86-87, as it allowed great flexibility in the power developed. 
We would always try and run at the speed required to get you to your destination on time, thus not running extra engines and burning extra fuel.  The fuel consumption curve was an exponential curve so the faster you went, the more steeply the curve would rise so costs would rise accordingly.  Going fast, then slow, then fast again was not really an economic option.    

Question Ten

Rosie Claxton would like to thank you for your generous contributions during your many years of service on QE2, which made such a significant difference.  Her question for you is “If you had been given the opportunity to choose something special to keep, what might you have chosen?”

I think the silver model of QE2 by Asprey of London ,  that stood in the 2 deck rotunda,  would have looked very nice at home.

Photo courtesy of and © Rob Lightbody

Question Eleven

Alex Tarry from Suffolk would like to express many thanks for looking after his wife and himself on their several trips on board with you in command...including very memorably the final TA.  His question for you is "What was the fastest speed you every experienced from QE2 during your command?"

The quickest Trans-Atlantic crossing was in 1990 when she was coming back home from New York for Cunard’s 150th celebrations, she averaged 30.1 knots for that crossing. 

I think the fastest I ever remember doing was just less than 34 knots, and that was entering the Mediterranean going through the Straits of Gibraltar with a favourable current behind her.

When the new Oriana came in to service, P&O’s advertising included the fact that she was the fastest ship built for a British line in 25 years, well we waited months before we were both in Southampton together, and then it was time to prove a point. 
Oriana left first that evening and we followed down river quite some time later, but once clear of Nab Tower it was eight engines on and foot to the floor.,  We caught Oriana just before dinner that evening and passed her at around 28 knots flying the flag signal PM from our yard arm, which means ‘You should follow in my wake’.    

Question Twelve

Jeremy Chapple would like to ask you if you think In this day and age do you think the North Atlantic could sustain two Atlantic Liners?

Probably not. QE2 and now QM2 have run the North Atlantic successfully on their own for many years now, and I am sure if there was room for two ships out there, then they would have been out there straight away.  

Question Thirteen

Stephan from Germany says “The last westbound tandem crossing in October 2008  together with QM2 was really unforgettable. I will never forget the moment in NY, when Captain Ian McNaught stopped to shake my hands and to say Good Bye to me until next cruise while I was sitting on the ground near the theatre. My personal impression during my cruises was that Captain Ian McNaught was the best Captain for Cunard and for QE2. He would like to ask :-

(1) No question, you miss QE2 very much, because it was always your ship you wanted to be Captain on, since you were young. Does your new ship make feel you a little bit sad when thinking about your years on QE2?

My new ship, Seabourn Spirit, does not make feel sad at all, I am enjoying it very much indeed, we provide a very high level of service to our passengers, the crew passenger ratio here is virtually 1:1, so we enjoy a very special relationship with our passengers, and because we are a smaller ship I am visiting places now that would be impossible on larger ships. 

Image of Seabourn Spirit © "The Yachts of Seabourn"

I will always treasure the years I spent on QE2, yes I miss her and more importantly, the people, but she has finished service and we have to move on, but nobody can take those happy memories away from us.

(2) What about the danger of scrapping QE2? 

This will of course happen eventually, later rather than sooner I hope.  Let’s hope the financial situation in Dubai turns around soon and the conversion can be carried out,  and she can then have a long retirement in her new guise just like Queen Mary in Los Angeles.

(3) Would you like to see her in Dubai as she is just now, and walk around her inside?

I was in Dubai last year with Queen Victoria, and Seabourn Spirit will be visiting Dubai in November, and I have not visited and I think I would not go back on her until the conversion is complete.  It would be really interesting to see her with all the planned changes, but until then, I will remember her as she was.  

Question Fourteen

Linda Crooks, of Ontario in Canada would like to pass on the following message – “My late husband and I sailed on the QE2's Farewell to Bermuda cruise in May 2003 not long after you took command as master of QE2...... My husband was born in Sunderland and he enjoyed a nice chat with you about school days, etc. in Sunderland and area.....I was very sad to see you leave Cunard...
I just returned from a 20 day voyage to Norway and back on Queen Mary 2 with Capt. Nick Bates......what a wonderful voyage that was....Capt Nick is retiring at the end of this month.....I would dearly love to see you take command of Queen Mary 2.. QE2's true sister !!” and therefore her question is - If that chance came, would you consider it ?  

Somehow I do not think that will happen, Captain Bates retired at the end of August, and Captain Paul Wright will retire from QM2 at the end of this year, and I am sure a line of succession has already been planned from the pool of Masters within Carnival UK. 
As for me, I am looking forward to 2011, when I will be in the shipyard in Genoa for the final months of build for Seabourn Quest and bringing her in to service in June of that year.

Question Fifteen

Myles Devin from Elgin in the Scottish highlands would like to ask you How are you enjoying your new command and do you find it strange to be Master of a ship that can sail the world over and not be recognised in the same was as QE2 was?

I am really enjoying Seabourn Spirit, and do you know, sometimes being anonymous has it’s advantages.  Over this year there have been many ex QE2 passengers on this ship, and our Bosun is from QE2 as are several of the waiters, so I am in good company.    

Question Sixteen

Richard Coltman from London runs a very excellent QE2 website (and also helps run this one).  (click on virtual tour) He would like to know if you have seen his site, and in particular the very clever virtual tour that he put a huge amount of time, effort and skill into!  

There are many sites looking at QE2 and her history, and looking at them always brings back happy memories, so yes I enjoy this site very much, the photographs of the public areas are very good indeed, so thank you Richard for all your hard work.  

Question Seventeen

Two questions from Rob Lightbody in Glasgow

(1) When QE2 passed the Isle of Wight during her final departure from the UK, she was exceeding 30 knots.  Why was this?  It made my night at the time, through the tears – what a triumphant way for the old girl to leave with her head held high. It must have been unusual to be going so quickly so soon after departure?

We were in hurry to get away, the speed to the next port was very high and we had taken quite a while to get down Southampton Water that night.  When we used to do four day crossings, the speed required was always around 28.5 knots, so it was normal that once you had cleared Nab Tower, within the hour you would have gone from four engines on line to eight, and be screaming down the Channel at full speed.

(2) Can QE2 realistically be preserved in a way that will retain her historical integrity, and also be a commercial success?  For instance, I’m led to believe that her superstructure needs to be replaced in its entirety to ensure that she’ll survive in the decades to come

I am sure she can be preserved in a dignified way, with care and attention, and a lot of money I suppose, Dubai can have this icon that really presents to the public the proud history of the classic liners, and yet at the same time, provides the modern facilities that guests there will need to make her a viable proposition.

It will take an awful lot of planning to get it right, and I hope they do it properly, carefully and tastefully, and it is a success so that people can enjoy her for many years to come.  

Question Eighteen – the last one! 

Ken McLeod from Haddam, CT, USA, would like to know …

(1) Could QE2 could realistically return up the Clyde, beyond Greenock.  Could her draught be reduced enough by removing all possible fuel & ballast?  She did it in 68, could she do it again?  We all share the same dream – of QE2 returning to her fitting out berth in Clydebank – could it happen?  She would completely transform the area, whereas in Dubai she is completely ignored.

I do not think you could take her back up the river, Greenock is as far as you can go these days as there has been no real dredging further up.

Photo © Ken McLeod

(2) Were you tempted, during the final voyages, to run her flat out and did you have special instructions about what speed you could/couldn’t do?

On that final voyage we had the run from Alexandria to the Suez Canal with eight engines on line.  As always the tours were late back from the Pyramids, and to make the morning south bound convoy for the canal, you have to cross an entry line into Suez bay by a particular time in the morning to keep your place, so that night she performed as required and did the 29 knots we needed from her.  

(3) During the tandem crossing with QV, how many engines were running and how did the 2 ships fuel consumptions compare at this speed?  

During that crossing QE2 was running on four of her nine engines, and QV, bless her, was running at her maximum capacity, and that’s all I am going to say on that one !

Photo © Ken McLeod

Photo © John Little

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