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Thoughts At Sea Aboard The Queen Mary 2, Part I

Location: 48 degrees, 02.12 minutes North, 043 degrees, 42.08 minutes East, or 1,421 nautical miles ENE of New York.

The Queen Mary 2 is currently plowing its way through a massive fog bank a thousand miles thick, sounding the foghorn every two minutes. Visibility is less than 100 yards, and the waves are a rough 12 feet high. The captain has closed the outside decks for fear of losing a passenger overboard. The weather has disrupted our satellite link, and our Internet is down. So here I write.

One hour out of New York, and a passenger suffered a heart attack. So the captain turned the ship around and headed back to the harbor, where the New Jersey search and rescue sent out a launch to pick up the unfortunate man and his spouse. That meant we could pass under the Verrazano Bridge three times, on each occasion deftly clearing the span by a mere ten feet. Talk about inauspicious beginnings.

The ship is truly gigantic. You must allow 20 minutes to get anywhere, 5 minutes to walk there and 15 minutes to get lost. When launched a decade ago, it was the largest cruise ship every built at 148,900 tons, nearly double the size of the now decommissioned Queen Elizabeth II. It whisks up to 3,000 passengers and 1,325 crew across the seas in the utmost luxury at a steady 21.5 knots. You could water ski behind this leviathan of a vessel, if only the crew permitted it.

As a 40 year guest of Cunard and the highest paying customer on the ship, I managed to bag the Sandringham Suite, possible the most luxurious publicly available oceangoing accommodation ever created. The 2,200 square foot, two floor, two bedroom, three bathroom, Q1 class apartment on decks nine and ten includes a formal dining room, kitchen, his and her closets, a small gym, and 1,000 square feet of rear facing teak deck.

All of this was a bargain for $56,000, or about the same as renting the presidential suite at the San Francisco Ritz for a week at $10,000 a night, except at the end you wake up in England five pounds heavier. Not that I noticed, though. By the afternoon, the two complimentary bottles of Dom Perignon Champagne were already headed for the recycling bin.

The suite came staffed with two full time butlers, Peter and Henry, who were an endless font of fascinating information about the ship. During one unfortunate cruise, eight senior citizens passed away. The morgue held only six, so the extra two were stashed in the meat locker for the duration of the voyage.

I asked if the Cunard they ever performed burials at sea in these circumstances. They said they used to. But a few years back an elderly billionaire "Mr. Smith" checked into a deluxe Q1 cabin with a hot young "Mrs. Smith", and then promptly expired. The grieving widow requested he be buried mid-Atlantic with the traditional yard of sail and a cannonball. When the ship docked at Southampton, the much older real "Mrs. Smith" appeared to claim the body, and sued the company when informed of his current disposition. So, no more burials at sea.

Yes, the ship did hit a whale once, which stuck to the bulbous bow. When it landed in Portugal, Cunard was fined for commercial fishing without a license. The unlucky cetacean's skeleton is now in a Lisbon maritime museum. Apparently this company gets sued a lot.

Of course, the memory of the sinking of the Titanic is ever present. There is a history display down on deck 2 and you can even have your photo taken in front of a backdrop of the grand staircase of the ill fated ship. When we passed 10,000 feet over the wreck at 48 degrees, 38.50 minutes North, 50 degrees, 00.11 minutes West one day out of New York, the Queen Mary 2 let out three long blasts of its horn in memory of the lost. Cunard took over the Titanic's White Star Line during the Great Depression and is therefore the inheritor of this legacy.

Peter is now at the door with my dinner, so I will continue on another post.