'QM2' slips by on circumnavigation to mark Cook's voyage

It is probable very few people spotted Queen Mary 2 off the Otago coast shortly after daybreak last Friday morning.

Having left Akaroa the previous evening, the Cunarder was leisurely cruising past on a passage taking it south of Stewart Island before arriving at Fiordland on Saturday.

QM2, as it is dubbed, is currently on a round voyage, world cruise starting from Southampton. It left there on January 10, and returns on April 26.

On the New Zealand leg of this 106-day voyage, the ship is circumnavigating the country to mark Captain James Cook's voyage in HMS Endeavour more than 240 years ago.

Cook was the first European to give names to areas in this region. When off the coast of Otago on February 25, 1770, he observed two landmarks on the Otago Peninsula which he named after Admiral Sir Charles Saunders, Cape Saunders and Mount Charles.

A little further south he gave us Saddle Hill, then down the coast what was changed to Molyneux Harbour, being named after Endeavour's sailing master Robert Molineux.

The ship left Milford Sound later on Saturday, and is due in Sydney tomorrow. When it arrives there it will have travelled 31,761.96 nautical miles, or 40,498.33km since leaving Southampton.

Although it spends much of its time cruising, the ship continues the Cunard tradition of still operating and maintaining a passenger liner service across the North Atlantic between Southampton and New York, but not on such a regular frequency as in the past.

For that reason QM2 is of stronger construction with much more steel being used in the superstructure.

The ship had the distinction of being the first Cunarder, and their first Queen, to be ordered from a shipyard outside the United Kingdom. It was built in France by the Chantiers de Atlantique yard at St Nazaire. Completed in December, 2003, it is the oldest of the three ships in the Cunard fleet, with the Queen Victoria entering service in 2007 and Queen Elizabeth in 2010, both built in Italy.

Last Wednesday, Wellington turned on its charm when QM2 followed Celebrity Solstice into port. The latter vessel had arrived from Akaroa, where the Cunard vessel was headed.

Both vessels have now claimed records for Akaroa Harbour in recent weeks. On its first visit on December 16, Celebrity Solstice became the largest and longest visitor to the harbour at 121,878gt and 317.19m.

These figures have now been surpassed by the 148,258gt, 345.03m long Queen Mary 2, the largest and longest vessel of its type seen in New Zealand waters. It was last out this way two years ago and at the last minute had to be diverted from Lyttelton because of the February 22 earthquake.

The liner is also the largest unit in the Carnival group's fleet, some of whose Carnival Cruise Line vessels have been in the news of late.

First a fire in the engine room of Carnival Triumph, saw it drifting in the Gulf of Mexico without power and sanitation for four days before it was towed to Mobile, Alabama. The ship is now back in service.

Nine days ago Carnival Elation was towed into port because of steering problems, then three days later Carnival Dream was stranded at the island of St Maarten due to a generator problem. Since then, Carnival Legend has limped back to Tampa with an issue over one of its propulsion units.

It would not have been a pleasant trip for about 500 passengers on the 37,914gt 1987-built ferry Oscar Wilde on a voyage from Ireland last week.

Normally an overnight passage, it was 24 hours late arriving at Cherbourg last Wednesday because of rough seas.

After five attempts to berth the ship there was another four hours' delay, with passengers not able to disembark because the bow would not open. After the hydraulic problem was rectified passengers were greeted on shore by about half a metre of snow on the ground.

- Doug Wright

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