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Thursday, September 12, 2013

The RMS Queen Mary

Painters have long been inspired by great works of art in other media. Here, the medium is steel, glass, wood, and maritime history.
It's no great stretch to include within the realm of art, not just film, video, painting, drawing, and sculpture, but also the fine art of architecture. Though it may seem to some a bit more of a stretch, being a cruise addict, I'd also like to include within the category of architecture, the subcategory of naval architecture. I've seen, and even sailed upon, some of the greatest examples of naval architecture ever built--the S.S. Norway (formerly the S.S. France), the S.S. Constitution (both now deceased) as well as the massive, modern-day masterpiece of the shipbuilder's art, Royal Caribbean's M.S. Oasis of the Seas (more than twice the tonnage of the other two combined). However, well toward the top of my "bucket list" is the hope of someday touring what some might consider the greatest ocean liner to ever grace the seas--the original RMS Queen Mary.
The RMS Queen Mary today in Long Beach, California.
Visiting In the background is her modern-day namesake.
A cabin aboard the Queen Mary today gives a
hint of what a crossing might have been like
during the ship's transatlantic days.
Next spring, as we head out west to visit our son and his wife in the U.S. Air Force in Arizona, I'm hoping to make it all the way to the west coast. There, in Long Beach, California, is the final moorage of the Queen Mary, now a hotel, restaurant, and museum. Who knows, I might even talk my wife into spending a night on board ($103--$129 per night). The Queen Mary today is even more unique than when she was built during the early 1930s. Then, she was just one of a dozen or more passenger vessels plying the North Atlantic, ferrying travelers back and forth between Europe and the U.S. Today, she is the only surviving liner from that era still in prime condition and open to the public.

The Queen Mary, and her sister ship, the Queen Elizabeth (now scrapped, a victim of an onboard fire in 1973), were built in Clydebank, Scotland. The Queen Mary sailed on her maiden voyage in 1936 while the Queen Elizabeth was due to sail for the first time in 1940. But with the outbreak of war, that voyage had to be postponed. One might expect, being "sisters" that the two ships would be very much alike. That was not the case. They were, at best, similar. The Queen Elizabeth was slightly heavier and longer, having half as many boilers (12) than the Queen Mary, and thus, most noticeably, one less funnel. Also she carried roughly 150 more passengers than her running mate.

The "Gray Ghost" arrives in New York City, June 20, 1945,
bearing American GIs returning from the war.

A crossing on the "Gray Ghost" during
the war was not the "splendid respite" of a
voyage aboard "the Queen" in peace time.
Quite apart from the then cutting edge engineering and Art Deco design, one of the most interesting aspects of the Queen Mary was her now-legendary wartime service ferrying American troops to and from the war zone in Europe. The Queen Mary donned a light gray uniform to earn the nickname the "gray ghost" (having to do as much with her incredible speed of around 30 knots as her appearance). She also saw duty as a troop carrier between England and Australia. To say conditions on board during the war were Spartan would be like saying sardine cans are compact. Triple-tiered canvas bunks filled the spacious staterooms. Troops often protested, the overcrowding but to little avail. One thing they didn't protest was the food. Bob Hope, in entertaining troops on board, referred to it as "that chewy stuff they call meat" at a time when rationing was common in the U.S. and downright severe in England.

A peek at a first-class cabin aboard
the Queen Mary from the 1950s.
Though taken for granted today, the Queen Mary and her sister, Queen Elizabeth, were among the first ships to feature two indoor swimming pools (first class and cabin class). The British were then, and still are today, very class conscious when they set sail. There were beauty salons, libraries, and children's nurseries for all three classes, a music studio and lecture hall. Along with a three story (first class) dining room, the Queen Mary was the first liner to include a Jewish prayer room and a top deck Veranda Grill, the forerunner to such buffet style restaurants on board every cruise ship today.

The original Queen Mary and Cunard's current liner by the same name.
By comparison, the Oasis of the Seas is 50 feet longer, 20 feet wider, and more
than 100,000 tons heavier than today's Queen Mary.
Not surprisingly, naval architecture has change a lot in the past eighty years since the keel of the Queen Mary was laid in 1930. Besides being longer, taller, wider, heavier, and infinitely more opulent today than even the "luxury" vessels from Cunard's pre-war fleet of Queens, they are proportionally quite different. One might compare the Queen Mary's profile to that of a race car--long, low, and more or less sleek. By comparison, the Oasis of the Seas (bottom) has something of an "obese" profile, more Kate Smith than Patti Page. On board, there is no comparison. Though quite opulent for it time, passengers on board were still well aware of being on a ship at sea. On deck, the ambience could best be termed "maritime." By comparison, the Oasis of the Seas is often criticized as insulating passengers from the seagoing experience with its "shopping mall" environment. I'm sure there are other comparisons and contrasts involving naval architecture "now and then," but I'll wait until I've paid my respects to the Queen before highlighting them.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas--too big for a single photo, weighing in at 242,000 tons, 1,186 feet long, 154 feet wide, 16 decks, 5,400 passengers. When is big, too BIG?


  1. Hi, thank you very much for help. I am going to test that in the near future. Cheers

    Naval Architecture

  2. Valli P.--

    Have fun, maybe we'll see you there. We hope to be in L.A. around the first week in May, 2014. --Jim