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Queen Mary 2 sails by Queen VictoriaSydney has recently played host to a spectacular maritime event which drew large crowds to the shores of its iconic harbour. On 12 March 2015, Australia’s largest city welcomed Cunard flagship Queen Mary 2 (151,400gt), which spent the day in the company of fleet mate Queen Victoria (90,000gt).

The rendezvous is the fourth such ‘meeting of the Queens’ in Sydney; and the first time that QM2 and Queen Victoria have crossed paths in Australia.

It also signalled the official commencement of Cunard’s 175th Anniversary Celebrations, with an event hosted at the iconic Sydney Opera House. Here, a collection of current and historic Cunard photographs were unveiled to a large crowd; including passengers from the two liners as well as Cunard officials and Sydney-based passers-by.

The rendezvous in Sydney commenced what is set to be a gala year in the company’s history; with other 175th anniversary events including a meeting of the Queens in Southampton, a commemorative voyage in honour of Lusitania and the three Queens visiting Liverpool. It ends with QM2’s recreation of Britannia’s maiden voyage in July.

Australian Wartime Connection:
Cunard’s long connection with Australia, in particular Sydney, made it fitting for the line to launch their 175th anniversary celebrations in the port. The Cunard name rose to fame in Australia as a result of the two world wars, during which requisitioned Cunard liners transported ANZAC servicemen to the war zone.

During World War I, requisitioned Cunard liners including Aquitania and Mauretania, operated as both troop ships and hospital ships. Cunard liners, in their roles as hospital ships, saved many injured Australians from the battlefields of Gallipoli. In this act, the liners instantly became known in Australia and Cunard became a respected name.

During World War II, Cunard’s Queen Mary was transformed into a troop carrier at the Cockatoo Dry Dock in Sydney. The 81,237gt ship, which had previously been laid up in New York, underwent a radical transformation that saw her art deco interiors replaced with a high-density trooping configuration. This refit, the largest such conversion undertaken by the Australian dockyard, was completed in a record time of just two weeks; allowing over 5,000 troops to embark the ship just days after works were completed. Queen Mary was joined by Aquitania and Mauretania off the Australian coast, and sailed on trooping duties with her fleet mates to the Middle East.

The Cunard troop ships were later joined down-under by the newly launched flagship Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth had undergone a refit in Singapore creating what was at the time the world’s largest troop transport. Once operating as a troop ship, the 83,673gt liner made a historic rendezvous with Queen Mary near ‘The Heads’ in 1941; photographs of which were included in the collection unveiled on 12 March.

The presence of the Cunard Queens in Australia during World War II ended when the United States entered the conflict, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour. As a result, the large Cunard ships were moved onto the transatlantic trooping service.

However, an unbreakable connection had been forged between the people of Sydney and the great Cunarders that remains strong to this day.

Peaceful Pleasure Cruises:
Cunard’s Australian connection is certainly not limited to wartime service. When the line pioneered World Cruising in 1922, their liner Laconia called at Sydney as part of her voyage. This started a tradition of Cunard visits to the port during what has become annual world cruises.

Laconia’s call at Sydney brought eager world travellers to Australia as well as offering a lucky few of those living in the island continent the opportunity to join the ship mid-journey for the trip back to Great Britain.

During the 1950s, the iconic Caronia visited Sydney as part of her global cruise schedule. Nicknamed the ‘Green Goddess’ due to her unique colour scheme, Caronia’s calls attracted a great deal of attention and generally involved overnighting in the city, allowing the ship’s 930 passengers to explore sights such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Rocks and Manly Beach.

Meeting of the Queens:
Over the years, QE2 became a much loved presence in Sydney. Throughout her 40 year career, the ship visited the city 25 times; each time bringing with her thousands of passengers, and hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy.

Perhaps the most memorable visit for the ship occurred on 20 February 2007. Earlier that morning, QM2 had made her maiden arrival to Sydney. The arrival attracted large crowds to witness the 151,400gt liner manoeuvre around Fort Dennison before berthing at Woolloomooloo Naval Base.

Crowds grew during the day as curious Sydneysiders made their way to the harbour to catch a glimpse of the largest passenger ship to ever visit Australia. By the time the QE2 arrived in the early evening, an estimated 1 million people had gathered. Slowly, the much loved Cunarder made her way towards the Overseas Passenger Terminal, passing QM2 amid whistle blows and cheers from the watching crowd.

Queen Victoria One Seven Five:
With a long established history of historic Sydney calls, it was no surprise that Cunard’s 175th anniversary included the city on the schedule. With all three Queens on their world cruises, Australia paid host to the liners throughout March 2015.

Queen Elizabeth’s 3 March call paid tribute to Cunard’s connection with the ANZAC’s. A large “100” sign was created using poppies. Passengers, crew and locals were invited to play tribute to fallen servicemen by placing a poppy on the large sign. Hoisted aboard the ship before she departed, it will be delivered to Gallipoli on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the disastrous landing.

QM2 and Queen Victoria met in the harbour on 12 March, the smaller Cunarder having overnighted at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. At around 3:30am under the command of Commodore Rynd, Queen Victoria slipped her moorings and made the short journey to Athol Buoy just off Fort Dennison.

At the same time, QM2 made her way through Sydney Heads and sailed towards the Overseas Passenger Terminal, rendezvousing with her younger sister. Throughout the day, crowds gathered to view the liners. The Overseas Passenger Terminal is located next to the Sydney Ferry Hub at Circular Quay, resulting in high interest from commuters and holiday makers.

Queen Victoria was the subject of great interest for visitors travelling on the Manly Ferry. During her time at Athol Buoy, passengers were ferried ashore by tender. Three of Queen Victoria’s tenders were supported by several of QM2’s large multi storey tender boats to speed up the process. Ashore at the Sydney Opera House, senior officers from both liners joined Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry and photographer James Morgan for the unveiling of One Seven Five. A photographic exhibition, the display consisted of 68 images depicting 175 years of Cunard history. Two spaces were notably absent – having been saved for two very special photos taken that day during the 2015 Royal Rendezvous.

Launching the exhibition, Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia said the Cunard fleet continued to turn heads the world over. “These images are just as arresting as the ships themselves, conveying all the grandeur and beauty which has captured the imagination of generations of cruise passengers over 175 years.”

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - May 2015 Issue
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