by Woody Swain

Ocean Liner Museum members had a “once-in-a-millennium” opportunity this last Fourth of July to observe Operation Sail 2000, hosted by New York City, from the decks of the giant QE2. Along with members of the Steamship Historical Society of America, and booked by Pisa Brothers and the always- terrific Pauline Power, your Museum was able to secure cabins on board the Queen. She was totally booked for a four-day “Maritime Enthusiasts Cruise New York Tall Ship Celebration.” This definitely was not going to be a “throw-some-weenies-on-a-grill” Fourth. This was billed as the largest of all four OpSails, first begun in 1976 by that lover of ships, Mr. Frank Braynard, who we are proud to have as an Honorary Trustee of OLM. On this voyage we would sail, under Captain Paul Wright, from Manhattan’s Pier 92 on July 1st, spend almost two days at sea--destination “nowhere”--and then return to New York Harbor late on the 3d to watch the Tall Ships sail in on the Fourth of July. That evening there would be a grand finale of fireworks over lower Manhattan. Wednesday, we’d disembark and, if you were lucky like me, you’d hop a taxi and be in midtown just in time for work (Hmmm... this is a good thing?). Indeed the cruise went off exactly as promised with excellent weather, until a humid, hazy Fourth.

On board were lots of OLM members and trustees. It was fun to see old friends and meet new ones. Seeing Cornelia Mueller wearing all her buttons, I knew we were set for a joyful cruise. After a delay embarking, we sailed out of New York toward the Verazzanno under a beautiful blue but hot afternoon, drinking flutes of Champagne to the reggae beat of the ship’s band, The Vibz.

I had made myself promise I’d stay out of QE2’s Ocean Bookshop...

Cruise Hostess Maureen Ryan called out sights along New York’s skyline as we headed down towards the Narrows. Once we passed under the bridge, we were all inside, taking snapshots of ourselves looking ridiculous at our appointed mustering stations, managing our lifebelts during the vital but always- inconvenient Passenger Emergency Drill. That evening, we settled in and explored our respective dining rooms. Gregg and I were glad to discover the Keatings and Douglass Campbell in the Princess Grill, along with the Benjamins. AliceAnne and Dick Brunn, all the way from Waco, Texas, had joined Dick’s parents, Ruth and Dick senior, along with Dick’s brother John, for a big family reunion.

The next few days were beautiful as we headed toward what we learned would be our destination-- somewhere east of the Chesapeake. Dolphins, whales sea turtles, and a giant sunfish (check that one out at your local aquarium) played with us as we sailed. Speaking of sea denizens, someone we know on board sighted a submarine breaking the ocean’s surface, only to disappear moments later. The bridge denied it, however.

I happened to notice, but only through the glass of the bookshop, mind you, that James Steele’s brilliant coffee table book Queen Mary was for sale. Beckoning, in a very luscious, shiny shrink wrap...

Among the highlights of the voyage were two maritime lectures given in the ship’s theatre. The first, was by OLM member and maritime enthusiast David Vietor, who presented “New York is a Tall Ship.” Using slides and an Acorn-produced documentary film, he discussed how the then-new concept of regularly scheduling ships on a fixed timetable across the Atlantic to the Battery of New York, along with completion of the Erie Canal, would give that city a toehold in international commerce. On Sunday, maritime writer and our own Ted Scull, spoke on “QE2– Not the Last Transatlantic Liner.” Growing up as a New York youth and fascinated by liners, Ted shared what are now rare archival color slides he personally shot of the old Queens and other liners while crossing the Atlantic in the late 50’s and 60’s. They were truly beautiful. I always view color photographs of old liners, as opposed to the black-and-whites one usually sees, with mixed emotion. After all, they are simply color snapshots leading us to believe these things still exist somewhere on that water out there. But then you realize the truth––the subjects of these shots are no longer with us. They’ve all been impolitely scrapped, wrecked and sold as junk. You study the photo again for some clue that perhaps this is not the case. Perhaps that is why there are organizations like ours, partly to “commiserate,” yet also to delight in our knowledge that we know these leviathans have their place in history. Old train and plane buffs can still see, photograph and occasionally ride in that which continually fascinates them. Ocean liner people don’t get that. The closest we come, I feel, is with these color photographs. They are like a talisman. The Queen Mary however, remains to awe, Ted reminded us, as she does when you’re miles away, spotting her red funnels on the horizon in Long Beach.

The onboard Members Only Cocktail Party the OLM gave for our 1999 30th Anniversary Cruise on QE2 was so popular, we repeated it this year. So, on Sunday afternoon at 5:30 we assembled in the Yacht Club at the after end of Upper Deck.

Among the guests were Pauline Power and her son Tristan, the Bernsteins, all The Brunns, Douglass Campbell, Sandy Crary, Stephen and Margaret Dvorak, Marina Euart, Judith Harper, Nancy Highet, David Hume, Marshall and Pegeen Keating. Stephen Loveless, Cornelia Mueller, Dawayne and Marlene Novak (all the way from Minneapolis), Bob and Phyllis Poda, Der and Leena Scutt, Tom and Sheree Troy (Sheree, with that incredible gold ocean liner charm bracelet!), Anna Glen Vietor, David Vietor, and Tim Yoder.

The Canadian Pacific Line has always fascinated me. Yup, there’s a definite gap in my knowledge of liners when it comes to the ol’ Canadian Pacific. Say…wasn’t there a book about them somewhere?

We arrived back in New York Harbor Monday afternoon and anchored in Upper New York Bay off Bay Ridge in Brooklyn. The scene before us was in stark contrast to the relative solitude we’d been exposed to for the past three days. Nearby was anchored the U.S. Navy cruiser Hue City as well as a huge flotilla of civilian craft that would only grow before the festivities ended. A quarter of a mile away was the carrier John F. Kennedy, where our Commander-in-Chief was scheduled to watch the proceedings. Everyone was excited with anticipation about the next day. Unfortunately, the weather decided to act like summer for the first time all season. Thunderstorms, squalls and haze were to be our companions for the next 36 hours.

Time to hit the bookstore...

After a great dinner and dancing, Gregg fell asleep to strobe lights bouncing off our cabin ceiling from the constant surveillance of police and Coast Guard boats circling our ship. I fell asleep with my new Queen Mary book…

Hey, we’re a wild and crazy couple.

THE BIG DAY. On the boat deck, passengers were up early “reserving” deck chairs with anything they could, stashing sweaters, paperbacks and even grandparents to get a front row seat for the scheduled 9 a.m. parade. Binoculars were brought out. New Elph Cameras were aimed. One overriding problem: “Should we watch from the port side or the starboard side?” passengers asked. “Well, she’s anchored with the tide, so it doesn’t matter,” armchair navigators, smugly ensconced in the deckchair they were convinced was on the right side, gleefully replied. Gregg and I flipped a coin, joined all the Brunns, Sandy Crary and hung out on the port side. Nearby, tottering at a drunken angle, was a bright orange Staten Island ferry teeming with passengers, jammed on one side, craning for a view.

If only it weren’t so hazy...

The Parade, to use my teenage son’s word, was “awesome.” The New York Times would later describe it as “One of the largest gatherings of seagoing vessels since Man...With more floating vessels than D-Day or the Spanish Armada.” There were 26 Class A tall ships (160 feet or longer) from 20 different countries. They were led on an 11-mile parade route by the white-hulled host ship, the Coast Guard’s Eagle (295’). I wondered what QE2 looked like from these ships as they passed by her. Suddenly, the entire parade was upstaged by a UFO hurtling toward Manhattan. Then, you realized what it was–only because you’ve seen them somewhere––on the news perhaps? – and you’re still speechless. A stealth bomber roared overhead and tipped its wings toward the JFK– its matte wings sucking up the sun’s glare. It seemed as if the entire ship parade stopped for just a tick, then resumed its procession once the sonic roar had died.

After a parade, what’s a Fourth without fireworks? That evening, we watched as 60,000 fireworks burst from 13 barges around the harbor. We were literally surrounded by a perfect synchronization of color–whether the fusillade was over the East or Hudson Rivers, the Battery or Brooklyn. Firework aficionados take note: Mr. Grucci’s newest invention is The Smiley Face.

When tugs sidled up to nudge us back into our pier the following morning, Gregg and I awoke to realize the Fourth would never be the same again. There was a little commotion as we berthed at the pier. Apparently, the mighty Queen bumped the Japanese Naval vessel Kashima. Lines were torn but there was only minor damage.

On my way back to my office and saying goodbye to Gregg, I thought of the pier incident and another one involving two other ships, with of course much different consequences 88 years ago … A pier in Southampton… The New York–the ship that almost hit Titanic. Hawsers were snapped. Lots of commotion. Says so in yet another new book about that doomed liner I picked up in the Ocean Bookshop. See?…Right here… Page 88. I hope I can get through this before this cab swings over to Madison…

Overwhelming editorial thanks to trustee Woody Swain for putting us on board QE2 so delightfully. Over the page, readers will find an assortment of Swain photographs taken during the Museum’s cocktail party aboard Cunard’s flagship. (Please see picture below...)


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