Letter From Britain
By Charles King
The Queen of the seas as a £45-a-week floating holiday camp? It seems a startling idea at first glance. But that is one of the plans under consideration for the giant Cunarder Queen Mary, one of the most beautiful ships afloat and holder of the Atlantic Blue Ribbon in her early years of New York-Southampton service.
She is twenty-six years old, a delicate age for a maritime lady, and her owners are giving her only another five years of profitable life in her trans-Atlantic role.
Then the choice for the 81,000-ton beauty is the scrap heap--or what offers?
Cunard chairman Sir John Brocklebank has his own ideas about her future, and they don't include the wreckers' torches.
"I hate the thought of selling the Mary for scrap," he confessed in an emotional moment. "She is more than a ship--she is a way of life that is worth preserving."
His own plan--still to be worked out in detail--is to sink her, in forty feet of warm Caribbean water, as a permanent, wave-lapped luxury hotel, connected to some island home by a giant flood-lit causeway.
"There are many practical difficulties, but engineers assure me that these can be overcome. I should not change the outline of the liner one bit. I should like to preserve the masts, crow's nests and funnels."
He added: "This is not simply a sentimental idea for turning the Queen Mary into a monument. The commercial possibilities also appeal to me. One of the public rooms could be turned into a top-class casino."
The brightly-painted mistress of the seas would bring a little over $3,000,000 as scrap -- "and where would you get a magnificent hotel accommodating 2,000 people for that price?"
Other ideas are being kicked around by the Cunard management, who must make up their minds on the Queen's replacement within the next 12 months.
One is the plan of British travel entrepreneur Max Wilson to charter her on a five-year contract for cheap tropical cruises, similar to those he plans for the CPR Empress of Britain.
But Cunard, unlike the CPR management, is dubious.
It has provided him with facts and figures about her operation, and of Cunarders in Canadian service as well. "Some pretty insuperable difficulties" stand in the way of the deal.
One is that the Mary, built for fast Atlantic crossings (her record is between four and five days), cannot go for more than six days without fresh water supplies. Therefore the proposal to use her for voyages to Japan is "pretty fanciful."
British holiday camp king Billy Butlin has put still another idea forward--and has backed his proposal with hard cash: $3,000,000.
It's for the outright purchase of the lady for conversion into a floating holiday camp off England's south coast.
"I don't think the old liner should go abroad," said Mr. Butlin of Sir John's Caribbean plan. He thinks Devon would be a better place for her.
But again, Cunard is undecided. "As the Queen Mary has at least another five years in service there is plenty of time to consider any offers," said a company spokesman.
What concerns the famous shipping firm more at this point is the necessity of early decisions on her successor.
The scheme under study is to build a new ship of about 55,000 tons--two-thirds the size of the aging lady--at a cost of about $60,000,000. She would have a speed of thirty knots, with aluminium superstructure to keep her weight down. Space would be provided for 1,850 passengers.
"We must hasten slowly," cautions Sir John, "because we are building not for five or ten years ahead, but fifteen or twenty.
"We believe there is a future on the North Atlantic for a superliner class of ship, providing she combines a high carrying capacity in the summer season to reap the density of traffic offering, with flexibility to operate profitably as a cruising ship in her own right during the winter months."
This, at the Queen Mary's age, is more than the operators can hope to expect of her.
- Edmonton Journal, January 17, 1963