The Last Great Cruise of the R.M.S. Queen Mary
The Queen Mary lay in the Western docks in Southampton. Captain John Treasure Jones anxiously awaited the appointed time that he would sail his beautiful ship from England for the very last time. This also would be his last voyage before retiring from the sea and he knew it would be one of the most challenging of his career.
As it was in 1936 for the Maiden Voyage, the Royal Marine Band was on hand to play the ship away. Passengers were crowding the decks, and streamers were everywhere. At 9:42 a.m. the port propeller started turning, and ropes holding the ship to Great Britain were quickly hoisted inboard. Ships of all shapes and sizes blew whistle salutes to the departing monarch. Captain Jones replied to each of them with three blasts from his mighty one ton Tyfon sirens. It was a fantastic send off! Surely this was the end of an era.
The Queen Mary would face gale force winds in the Bay of Biscay, and many were sea-sick as the great ship pitched and rolled on the rough seas. It was becoming evident to Captain Jones that the drag from the two dormant propellers was shaving a knot off her speed, thus causing problems arriving in the ports on schedule.
He would miss the tide for the arrival in Lisbon so speed was further reduced as to catch the next one. It didn't set well with some of the passengers that time in ports would have to be shortened to compensate for the slower speeds, but it was a necessary step.
Passengers were treated to many colorful retail displays once ashore in Lisbon. It was here that the ship picked up one of her last two stowaways. Stacey Miller had been backpacking through Europe when in a Lisbon waterfront bar; he heard that the Queen was sailing for California the next day. So he decided to hitch a ride home!
At dawn the Queen Mary was eased alongside the concrete seawall at Las Palmas. It would be only a brief stop where the ship was refueled and watered in preparation for the first long haul of the cruise - seven days at sea and 3,544 nautical miles to Rio. Many passengers took the opportunity to buy light clothing here in anticipation of the warm weather of the tropics. Others found the only liquor store open (it was Sunday) to stock up on cheap duty-free alcohol to save a little money. As the liner sailed closer to the equator, the hotter conditions on board got. Thousands of tons of high-tensile steel was holding the heat in like an oven.
The Queen Mary arrived in Rio de Janeiro's magnificent harbor on the afternoon of November 12th where she would lay in resplendent glory for the next three days. Passengers marveled at the beautiful harbor. Sight-seeing was never more popular than in this famous Brazilian city.
On the fourth day after sailing south from Rio, the excitement was building with everyone as the ship was getting closer to Cape Horn.
Sunday, November 20th at exactly 3:01 p.m. the ship's whistle sounded a great blast signifying the R.M.S. Queen Mary was abreast the treacherous Cape Horn! However on this day the weather was moderate and passengers enjoyed the spectacle from deck. Dutch Miller, a Long Beach Lifeguard instructor, plunged into the C Deck pool and quickly swam a lap so that he could say that he had swam around the Horn!
Upon arrival in Valparaiso, the Queen Mary had been at sea eight straight days since leaving Brazil. Passengers were looking forward to seeing the Pacific side of South America and stretching their legs. It was 6:00 p.m. November 24th when the Queen Mary heaved up the anchor for departure. Like every other port but Rio, a huge send off was accorded the liner. Ships from Germany, the Netherlands, and Japan started a deafening plethora of vibrato noise. The cruiser, Captain Black, fired an extra boiler for one long heroic blast.
The stop in Callao, Peru would be only be 36 hours, but the locals went all out in laying out their wares for Queen Marians to view. Business was brisk too, and a lot of llama and alpaca fur items were purchased by passengers. Laurence Stroud, the ship's sanitary officer, would spend the rest of the trip fumigating them for lice! Sailing north in the cool comfort of the Humboldt Current, the ship was a pleasant place to be. On to Panama!
It was warm on the afternoon of December 1st, as Captain Jones stood on his navigation bridge with the Balboa Pilot keenly observing the arrival of his ship. Their course would take them directly beneath the Thatcher Ferry bridge spanning the Pan American Highway. The foremast reaches 237 feet above the keel of the Queen Mary, and it looked as if surely the mast would strike the bridge. One lady squealed, "She’s not going to make it!" At this people began to take cover. She made it with four feet to spare and a tremendous cheer went up from the crowd onboard the ship and on the Thatcher Ferry bridge.
The Queen Mary was only in Panama over night as she had to sail on the next tide to arrive in Acapulco on time. A local band played a rousing rendition of "California here I come" as she got underway. Only one last port to go...
The Queen Mary dropped her anchor a mile off shore of Acapulco's sun drenched golden beaches. Many of the locals were out in small boats for a closer look at this stateliest of ships. The many modern high-rise hotels offered passengers air conditioned comfort and a cool place to eat and drink. Quite a few VIP's from Los Angeles were joining here for the final few days of the voyage.
Sailing from Acapulco was uneventful. Passengers were ready to get home but emotional at the thought of the end of the Queen Mary’s ocean-going days. Then on December 8th, the last day at sea, off the coast of Baja California to everyone’s delight and surprise, a brand new sleek Douglas DC-9 flew low over the Queen dropping thousands of red, white, and blue carnations. Thus repeating what veteran pilot Captain Eddie Rickenbacker had done in a DC-2 in 1936 as the ship approached New York on her maiden voyage.
In the cool of the morning of December 9, 1967 the Queen Mary was steaming serenely past San Diego. Most of her passengers were up and about in spite of the late night before. Some had even stayed up all night partying.
Not long after dawn boats of all shapes and sizes started coming out from every inlet along the coast and following in the ship's wake. The armada grew so large that the Coast Guard was brought in to shepherd them along. The U.S. Navy even sent the state of the art nuclear powered cruiser U.S.S. Long Beach to join the parade. By the time the Queen was close to Long Beach, there were an estimated 5000 small craft welcoming her home!
Finally and majestically the R.M.S. Queen Mary would enter Long Beach Harbor. Just before noon she was made fast to Pier E. At 12:16 p.m. Captain Jones rang "finish with engines" for the last time.
This magnificent liner now has been in Southern California longer than she was at sea. She has hosted some 50 million guests, and more than 12,000 weddings have been performed on board. She has become to Southern Californians what the Eifel Tower is to Parisians, what Big Ben is to Londoners and what the Statue of Liberty is to New Yorkers.
Long may the Queen Mary reign as the crown jewel of Long Beach and an icon to all Southern Californians!
Long Live the Queen!