The Power of the Queen Mary 2
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Heavy swells rocked Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 back and forth on this, our second-last morning on our Transatlantic Crossing. And if I hadn’t indulged in so much Veuve Cliquot yesterday, I might have enjoyed finally experiencing some “motion on the ocean.” As it was however, I made my way down to Sir Samuel’s for a restorative latte.
While I was dressing this morning, the most wonderfully amazing thing happened – well, if you’re a ship geek like I am. My balcony stateroom is on the starboard side of Deck 11, almost directly below the funnel casing on Deck 12. With swells slamming into our starboard side and more current to fight, we obviously needed to pour on a little more speed than the relatively sedate 17.5 knots we’ve been doing for most of this voyage.
Most cruise ships have diesel (or diesel-electric) engines mounted deep within the bowels of the ship. These engines provide power for the ship’s hotel (electrical, air conditioning, etc) and marine (propulsion, navigation) systems. Queen Mary 2 is no exception; she has four medium-speed Wartsila 16V46 engines mounted deep within her hull, below the waterline. But she also has two additional engines: General Electric LM2500+ gas turbines spinning at 3,600 revolutions per minute. These are mounted directly beneath the funnel on Deck 12, in specialised acoustic enclosures. Gas turbines are notoriously oxygen-hungry, so their location within the funnel allows them to get the air they need without requiring complicated duct work that would have cut into the ship’s interior spaces should they have been fitted down on the lowest deck.
The LM2500+ is derived from G.E.’s CF6 turbofan engine. All you need to know about that is if you’ve ever flown certain models of the Airbus A300, 330, or Boeing’s 747, chances are likely your aircraft was powered by a derivative of the original CF6.
So! Given that, when I was dressing, I hear this low, harmonic hum. It literally sounds like an aircraft engine spooling up – which, of course, is what it is. The gas turbines are being brought online to provide additional power to the ship. While the sound is low enough that it wouldn’t disturb your sleep, it is definitely noticeable. I, for one, loved it. Your mileage may vary, though.
Basically, with all her generators brought online, Queen Mary 2 could power the entire city of Southampton, England.
It’s just one of many distinctions that makes Queen Mary 2 unique. She is not a cruise ship; she is an ocean liner – and that’s not just a title bestowed upon her in name only.
Crossing the Atlantic can be a dangerous business. Rogue waves have been known to rear up over hundreds of feet. In 1966, the Italian Line’s Michelangelo was badly damaged when a rogue wave broke over the bow. It crushed the ship’s entire forward superstructure, killing two passengers and flooding the navigation bridge with water.
Regular cruise ships can make the transatlantic crossing once or twice per year without a problem, and many do as they reposition to and from Europe in the spring and fall. But to do repeated, sustained transatlantic crossings – and adhere to a set published schedule – you need a ship that has been specially designed to the task.
To that end, Queen Mary 2 has to have more power than the average cruise ship. She also needs a more streamlined form factor; those sculpted breakwaters on her bow aren’t just for show. They’re meant to deflect any heavy seas that the ship might encounter before she actually does. Even her bridge screen – or entire forward superstructure – is swept back in such a way as to allow seas to pass harmlessly to the port and starboard sides of the ship before they ever reach the Promenade Deck and the lifesaving equipment.
Designer Stephen Payne had to convince Carnival management of this fact when the order for Queen Mary 2 was first placed. It’s not that Carnival management didn’t know what they were doing; far from it. But their experience was in cruise ships meant for sailing the relatively sedate Caribbean Sea, or Alaska’s Inside Passage. Crossing the Atlantic roughly 20 times per year requires more robustness.
And yet, onboard Queen Mary 2 today, passengers are largely oblivious to this fact. As they should be. To them, Queen Mary 2 is a cruise ship. A spectacular one, no doubt, but a cruise ship. To me, that’s the symbol of successful design. When I was working in film as an editor, I was always taught that good editing should be felt and not seen. If you see a cut in a film – the point in which the view changes to a different camera angle – you’re seeing bad editing. But if it all happens subconsciously, then that’s good editing, simply because you’re unaware of it.
To me, good maritime design – interior and technical – should have that same rule applied. If it all works as one cohesive package, the designers have done a good job. If it’s disjointed and obvious – then that’s a problem.
Today however was the most spectacular of all days on this Crossing. It was the final night of the Cunard Proms, featuring the National Symphony Orchestra. There was also the Royal Ascot Ball held in the Queen’s Lounge, which I regrettably didn’t stay up for. And movies. And live music. And Dancing. And on and on!
But this last night of performances by the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Anthony Inglis was the best thing I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship, full-stop. And I’ve seen some really excellent shows on several ships, most notably on MSC Cruises, where nearly every night produced a standing ovation.
Tonight, after Inglis involved the audience in several numbers that included Pomp & Circumstance, The Mikado, Rule Britannia and Jerusalem – the latter of which was sung by the 100-strong choir made up of my fellow guests – the National Symphony Orchestra received a standing ovation. People waved Union Jack flags that they’d been handed on the way in. The ovation didn’t end. The applause didn’t end. And Inglis and the NSO played one, last tune for us.
Many people wept as the NSO played stronger and even better than before. The choir sang. Guests sang. That all of this took place far from land, on this small microcosm of society we call the RMS Queen Mary 2, was nothing short of amazing.
It was one of those moments that you’re very aware will likely never be repeated in your lifetime. I’m certain I’ll take more cruises; I’m not so certain there will ever be another evening at sea that was quite so special as this.
Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow with the final day of our Westbound Transatlantic Crossing aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.