Ask the QE2 Captain - Ronald Warwick
The QE2's Captain, Commodore Ronald Warwick, answers questions posed by members of TheQE2Story Forum.
In 2011, Maritime Author Chris Frame arranged for Commodore Ronald Warwick to answer questions posted by members of TheQE2Story's discussion forum. Read on to hear what he had to say!
I am keen to know more about what it was like for you to be back aboard QE2 as Captain in Dubai. How long were you aboard at that time? At what stage did it become clear to you that the redevelopment plans for QE2 had gone off course? What was the atmosphere like aboard QE2 during this time?
I spent a substantial period of my career with Cunard appointed to the QE2 serving on board at various times in all ranks from the position of Second Officer through to Master. My period in command, although not continuous, spanned a record thirteen years. As a result, I have a strong affinity for the ship and although I had been happily retired for a couple of years, I was very pleased to be offered the job of taking over the QE2 on behalf of the new owners when the vessel arrived in Dubai. I accepted the position in October 2008 and at that time there was a possibility that the ship would go on from Dubai to Singapore in January 2009 to commence conversion work. The new Chief Engineer sailed with the ship from Southampton and several more Deck and Engineer Officers joined in Alexandra for familiarization.
The first indication that the redevelopment plan was changing came shortly after arrival in Dubai when the arrangements to remove all the heritage items from the ship were put on hold. The plan had been to land them for safe storage and to this end custom made packing cases and specialist packers were waiting on the dock when the ship arrived. A few days later, the packers left so we put the packing cases on board and stowed them in one of the shell door recesses on Five Deck. An expert model maker associated the National Maritime Museum remained on board and carried out some restoration work on the Mauretania and Russia models.
I was not party to any decisions regarding the future of the vessel but by the end of December it became apparent that nothing was going to happen as some of the Engineer Officers were paid off. I disembarked in mid January and the ship was left in the charge of a ship manager contracted by V-Ships Leisure Inc., Monte Carlo.
I really enjoyed my time on board and would have happily stayed longer. After setting up all the safety and security procedures and familiarizing the new crew we set about cleaning the ship. To do this we employed four additional staff from
Egypt. This team cleaned every single area on the ship from top to bottom. Because of baggage restrictions many of the the Cunard crew left quite a few personal items in their cabins including about several thousand foreign coins. All these things were set aside and donated to the Mission to Seafarers. In the crew cabins and work areas we found quite a few pieces of Cunard china which were also donated to the Mission. By the time I left, the interior of the ship was in immaculate condition and anyone coming on board would think she was ready to sail on another voyage.
With a good multi national crew of only 39 souls it was very peaceful and I spent my spare time methodically visiting every part of the liner from the top of the funnel down to the end of the tail shaft.
Question 2, Isabelle Prondzynski from Ireland, whom you met in the year 2000 on her very first QE2 voyage, up to the Norwegian fjords, would like to ask you this :
Your wife Kim was on board with you during that voyage, and we had the pleasure of a relaxed chat with both of you for a while. Did you manage to travel more often with your wife onboard than most QE2 captains did? Were you able to separate your working hours from your family hours and live a private life on board QE2?
I think it would be reasonable to say that Kim clocked up more sea-time on the QE2 than any of the other Captain’s wives. Her presence on board was a great asset to me as she was always happy to host passengers if I got called away or was confined to the Bridge in fog. Kim really enjoyed the ship and sometimes I would not see her all day.
Question 3, Isabelle adds a further question :
What age were you when you first set foot on the QE2, and what are your abiding memories of that day?
I first stepped aboard the QE2 on the 19th January 1970, when she anchored in Kingston Harbour, Jamaica. At the time I was serving as Chief Officer of the cargo ship Jamaica Planter. As my father was in command of the QE2 it was not difficult for me to get a pass to visit him. It was the first modern ship I had ever been on and I was totally in awe of what I saw. The Bridge embraced all the latest technology of the likes I had only read about in technical journals. I was so impressed with everything about the QE2 that I thought if you had to go to sea this was the ship to sail on. At this point it became my ambition to join Cunard Line with the hope and goal of being in command one day. I joined the Cunard Line on the 1st April 1970.
Question 4, Rosie Claxton from England thanks you for this great opportunity and would like to ask :
Could you please tell us - purely from a mariner's / maritime perspective - what were the very best moments / times that you remember as QE2's Master?
This is rather a difficult question to answer because there have been so many memorable moments. However, one of the best has to be the day of my first command in 1990. I took over the command from Captain Robin Woodall in Cherbourg and sailed the ship to Southampton. As we entered the Solent the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh boarded from the Royal Yacht Britannia. After touring the ship, the Queen came to the Bridge to witness my first docking. Other memorable occasions were when my father sailed with me as a passenger, encountering a 90 foot wave in the north Atlantic and being on board to sail the QE2 into the Millennium. In 2001, I had the pleasure of performing the marriage ceremony of my daughter.
Question 5, Myles Devin from Scotland sends you this question :
As Master of QE2, how did you feel the very first time you stood on the bridge, knowing that you were literally in your father’s footsteps? What do you think he would have thought of it? It must have been privately a very moving moment. And what were your thoughts walking down the gangway in Dubai for the last time ?
The ambition to take command was a goal I set myself when I joined the QE2 as a Junior Officer for the first time on 6th April 1970 when she arrived in Southampton from New York. Over the years leading up to this time there had been changes of ownership and numerous changes of senior management each with there own ideas as how the company should be operated. Many of the ideas were good but along with them often came times of doubt as to whether Cunard would survive the commercial pressures of the passenger shipping industry. Often before reaching command it was a question of keeping ones fingers crossed in the hope the ship would be still with us when the time came. To my good fortune, my luck was in and as we know, the QE2 continued her remarkable career for many more years. So achieving command was a culmination of professional ambition and the personal hope that I could keep the QE2 in “the family” as a gesture of thanks for the support and encouragement I received from my father over the years. My father was a man of few words but the fact that he sailed with me as a passenger when I was in command meant that I had done alright in his eyes.
Leaving the QE2 in Dubai was disappointing in that I had hoped to have stayed with her for a least a few more months. However, I did not feel to sad because I was leaving her shipshape and in good hands. Even though the economic climate has curtailed the plans the owners have for her, my belief is that they will come to fruition in due course. I most certainly hope to be there when she is open to visitors once again.
Question 6, Lynda Bradford, also from Scotland, would like to ask this :
You have had a long sea going career in which you have been involved in many memorable and historical events. Is there one particular event that stands out for you, either on the QE2 or another ship?
As mentioned above, there have been many. In 1971, I was a Second Officer when the QE2 was subjected to a bomb scare. Disposal experts where flown out to the ship in mid Atlantic and I assisted Captain Woodall in the lifeboat that was launched to pick them up when they parachuted into a rather turbulent sea. Sadly, this event signaled the introduction of the ridged security procedures now in place on all ships. The following year I sailed on a charter cruise to Israel. The QE2 was steeped in security measures including the presence of secret service armed guards. At the time, we did not know that President Sadat of Egypt had been instrumental in encouraging an Arab leader not to torpedo the liner! Probably the most significant historical event I was part of is when I sailed as Chief Officer on QE2 nearly thirty years ago when she was requisition for the Falkland Campaign.
Question 7, Lynda adds:
Knowing that your father also had a successful sea going career, is there a tradition of sea captains in your family?
As far as I have been able to establish, my father was the first seagoing captain. My elder brother spent a career at sea and commanded a numerous variety of cargo ships before he retired. My younger brother, two uncles and grandfather were seafarers. I shouldn’t forget my mother - she was a beautician serving on the Carinthia before the war and this is where she met my father who was the Third Officer. My son, Sam, did not take up the sea as a profession but has always had strong interest in it and sailed with me on many occasions. His book about Cunard shipwrecks is due to be published early next year. See: www.cunardshipwrecks.com
Question 8, Ron Champness from Australia recalls sailing with you and adds a question :
On 3 May 1997 my wife and I sailed from Southampton to New York on the inaugural 6-day crossing (previously these were 5-day crossings). You were the Captain, and we understood that you were about to retire within about 12 months’ time. My understanding of the reason for the 6-day crossings was that there would be fewer problems with crowded embarkation and disembarkation procedures at each end and that there would be a reduced speed requirement, making the journey more cost-efficient. Are you able to confirm these reasons please?
All registered seafarers, of whatever rank, carry what is called a Discharge Book. This book is similar in appearance to a passport and chronologically records the name and date of every ship the crew member sailed on. My book shows that I was not on serving on QE2 in May 1997. However, I have kept a record of all the captain’s tours of duty on board since day one and from these I can see that Captain Roland Hasell was in command for the voyage you made.
The reason for extending the Atlantic cross to six day was, as you rightly say, to improve the general efficiency of the voyage. On the 5 day crossing the ship would invariable have to steam at full speed. If the weather was very bad we would have to slow down and then try and make the lost time up when the conditions improved. On occasions the weather would be so bad that the ship would arrive late (more so in Southampton because we lost five hours steaming time on the eastbound crossing) and this would effect the passengers onward travel arrangements as well as delaying the boat train. Delays would impact on the operation of the ship for things such as loading stores, taking on water and bunkering fuel. All these problems ended when we extended the crossing to 6 days and certainly in my time on board I cannot recall another delayed arrival at Southampton. Reducing the engine speed by just a few revolutions per minute would also reduce the fuel consumption so there was indeed a saving in the associated costs.
Question 9, Andrew Collier from England writes with his thanks to you and his question :
You are one of the more prominent QE2 personalities there have ever been. It would be interesting to know, from someone who has shown great pride in the great ship, whether there was something about the ship that you found difficult, or awkward, perhaps something that was not quite right.
If a Captain, who had never set foot on the liner before, took over command of the ship he would probably identify numerous features about the manoeuvrability that he would describe as awkward. However, this situation never occurred as all the captains were very experienced and had served in more junior positions before getting command. During their time they would have learned about the ships characteristics and how to best deal with them. For instance, judging when to put the engines into reverse when coming to a stop was quite a learning curve when the ship had her steam turbines. This situation was greatly improved with the introduction of the variable pitch propellers. One had to be very cautious about manoeuvring astern in shallow water - if she picked up to much speed a lot of power was required to stop her. Making an adequate lee for the launches in an anchorage port was not always easy. Although we had a stern anchor this was hardly used because the capstan motor was not powerful enough. I understand that a decision was made to instal the stern anchor while the ship was under construction so they had to fit it in as best they could.
Question 10, Scott Ebersold from the United States would like to know :
If you could decide QE2’s future, what would it be?
I was often asked this question before the QE2 went out of service and I was of the opinion that to lay her up in east Florida would have been the ideal place. I saw her
as a hotel, selection of restaurants, conference centre, maritime library, a passenger ship museum and a learning centre for students and youngsters. She would have remained under the ownership of the Carnival Corporation and become an ambassador to all the ships and companies the Corporation has owned. I also think Liverpool would be an ideal resting place for the ship encompassing all the aforementioned features with the added advantage of Cunard’s historical connections with the city.
Notwithstanding, I still thing the present owners will come good when the time is right.
Question 11, Shaun Davies from Britain is from the younger generation and writes this :
I am only 20 years of age and I just LOVE QE2, she has a very special place in my heart. When I watched the news of her farewell I was in buckets of tears. I have admired her since I was a child and I just love her. Have you met many young fans of QE2? Do you enjoy it when a child, teenager or young adult comes up to you and says they have a love and fondness for QE2?
Yes - most certainly. Judging by the number of train magazines available in Smiths we are lucky if we can get a youngster interested in ships and when we do we have to try and keep them in the corral. During my years with Cunard I regularly received letters from youngsters and was on board when the late Sir Jimmy Saville “fixed it” for a youngster to become a waiter, albeit in an oversized Britannia Restaurant jacket!
I also received a steady flow of artwork and one of those pictures from a 10 year old is featured on my sons website - www.qe2.org.uk
A 13 year old I met in Australia so so fascinated with the QE2 that he persuaded his parents to arrange another visit on our return to Sydney the following year. Now, a decade or so later, Chris Frame is churning out excellent books hot on the tails of Bill Miller.
Question 12, Shaun adds :
How would you feel if the plans to slice off her funnel, rip out her engines and change her profile ever do take place?
I have often wondered where the rumours about cutting off the funnel came from. When the Carnival Corporation sold the ship there were quite a few stipulations written into the sale contract as to what could not be done to the the ship. One of them was that she could not be disfigured so I very much doubt if Carnival would have approved the lopping off of the funnel. As far as the engines are concerned, I do not see a problem with removing eight of the nine. The ship is not going anywhere under her own steam so the space could be used for other purposes. The one remaining engine could then become a feature similar to what has been done on the Queen Mary in California
Question 13, also from Shaun:
In Keeping Up Appearances, when Hyacinth Bucket missed QE2 at Southampton, she made a show of herself waving and shouting as the ship was leaving. Has this ever happened when you were Captain and some passengers were late?
I have left passengers (and crew) behind on several occasions but have never seen a display quite like Hyacinth’s. The film is great though - it was featured regularly on board and I have watched it dozens of times.
When I was serving on the Cunard Princess in Alaska we sailed on schedule from a port leaving about two dozen passengers whose tour had not returned on time. The passengers had gone on a tour by seaplanes to I arranged for them to land near the ship further down the fjord an hour or so later and we picked them up using the lifeboats.
Question 14, Mathieu Pontécaille from France writes as follows :
I had the pleasure of sailing on board the QE2 only once, but it was a dream come true, having been an ocean liner buff for as long as I can remember.. Regardless of time, era, country, is there any other great ocean liner that you would have liked to have been in command of, and why?
No, I was quite happy with the QE2. As far as I was concerned there was no other ship. I enjoyed every moment on board and had no desire to go elsewhere. However, in 1998, three years before I was due to retire things changed somewhat when I was asked to delay my retirement to take command of the Queen Mary 2. This was an offer I could not resist. To have had the opportunity to have been involved with a modern ship embracing all the latest maritime technology, the likes of which I had only read about, was a tremendous privilege.
Question 15, Matthieu adds :
There has been a lot of talk about her condition in recent years (cracks in the aluminium superstructure, bow thruster failures, etc.) -- do you think she could have sailed much longer?
I think the ship could have sailed on for a few more years. However, she would have had to have a considerable amount of money spent on her. The matter of the aluminium fractures was addressed many years ago but the bow thruster problems reduced manoeuvrability and incurred the the cost of using tugs. The ship would also have had to comply with safety regulations as they were introduced, all of which cost a lot of money. While it was sad to see her go, I think the timing was right and the sale price was very good. If she had carried on she would have become more and more jaded. While the QE2 aficionados could look beyond this it was a different matter for newcomers many of which may have experienced one of the more modern cruise ships.
Question 16, also from Matthieu:
Aesthetically speaking, which funnel / appearance do you prefer -- the sleek, streamlined original profile or the somewhat "bulkier" but oh-so-classy post 1987 look.
When the QE2 first came into service I was very happy with the appearance at the time. However, when the general profile of the ship started to change with the addition of the penthouses etc she began to look a bit thin on top. I think the present funnel went a long way to balance the profile and it carries the Cunard colours well.
Question 17, Jan Frame from Italy writes to ask you as follows :
We sailed with you many times and always found you and your wife Kim to be wonderful hosts at the various events held aboard. What was it like to leave QE2 and make the transition to QM2? I know the affection that you have for QE2, so it must have been hard to leave, despite your new role aboard the world's (then) largest ship.
As I mentioned in one of the previous questions, I was asked to take command of the QM2 in 1998 so I had quite a long time to get use to the idea. Although my appointment was kept secret until the keel laying ceremony, I was involved in some of the planning of the new ship. This was an exciting time for me, especially as I was going to be in command so I had plenty of time to get emotionally prepared for the transition. When I went down the gangway from the QE2 in Singapore for the last time I was wearing my evening uniform because I went straight to the World Cruise Dinner. By 2 am the following morning I was on my way to France so there was little time to to reflect on my departure as I was already thinking of the challenges that awaited me in Saint Nazaire.
Question 18, And finally, some of us are a bit curious. We have heard the story of a Captain (yourself?) who had brought an important visitor up to the bridge as QE2 sailed into a harbour. There was a lot of activity going on, with small boats out in plenty, and many people ready with their cameras. The guest looked around. "Looks like a big event is taking place here. I wonder what it is?"
"Well", said the Master, "QE2 is sailing in".
Is this just a beautiful maritime legend, or did it really happen?
Yes, this is basically a true story. The ‘guest’ was on the bridge with me when we arrived in Halifax. A few weeks previously he had also been on the bridge of a new ship making her maiden arrival at the same port and there was nobody to be seen.
Thanks to Cunard Line for the use of the photos in this feature.