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Doc Vernon
18th June 2016, 03:23 AM
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Wed Jun 15th Cannes (France): Gorgeous, breezy, the absolute definition of seaside luxury. Grand hotels, exquisite shops, gourmet restaurants & charming bars, swaying palm trees and long stretches of stone, pebble & sandy beaches, the blue Mediterranean Sea beyond and the annual Cannes Film Festival. And of course, like spices to a fine recipe, fleets of Rolls Royces and luxury yachts and lots of the beautiful people are about. Was that my friend Sophia Loren and did she wave? Indeed, Cannes is one of the great resorts along the legendary French Riviera.



More birthday cake! Mark has arranged for a delightful if belated birthday lunch in a small restaurant in the back streets of Cannes: narrow passages, shuttered windows, the smell of garlic. Our menu is perfect: French Onion Soup, Steak Tartar (joyously, one of my top ten favorites) and with French fries & green salad, and then all finished-off with Lemon Meringue Pie topped with lighted candles. Every detail was pure charm: the chef, assistant chefs & servers gathered together at dessert to sing Happy Birthday! And yes, I blew out the candles and made another wish!



Memory lane: My very first visit to Cannes was back in the summer of 1973. We called here on a crossing to New York (from Naples and Genoa, and later stopping at Barcelona, Gibraltar & Lisbon) onboard the big Italian liner Raffaello. We tendered ashore as the ship itself was anchored, and in the silhouette of the late afternoon sun, offshore. A barge had come alongside the Raffaello and loaded a "mountain" of luggage into the liner along with a dozen or so big American cars and, as I seem to recall, one or two Rolls Royces. There was a fireworks display that evening and when the lights of the moored Raffaello were switched-off. Now, that long, slender ship was even more of a silhouette. We finally sailed off at midnight – and for me, the second part of a trans-Atlantic roundtrip that began with a crossing from New York to Le Havre on the legendary France. It was a special summer. But of course it was the great twilight for those long-standing Atlantic liner services – and I was very grateful to make voyages on two of the final French and Italian liners. It was the last goodbye to class-divided quarters, bullion at eleven, writing rooms and that determined, often electric sense of purpose given to those passenger liners. Like a great train trip, you had a sense of destination – you were going somewhere!



"I did not see the great ships," remembered Gareth. "But I saw the great shipping offices. For forty years, I worked in London but in marine insurance. Our offices were in the heart of the huge British shipping trade along Leadenhall Street. Some of those offices were like maritime temples – with great lobbies, gold-framed paintings, murals on the walls and those fantastic, large scale models. I especially remember the very grand P&O offices. And there were others like Cunard and Royal Mail and Union Castle. It was a great era that is now gone completely."



And speaking of British maritime history: It is 50 years ago since the Great British Maritime Strike of May-June 1966. Some 95% of the still vast British merchant fleet was idle for six weeks as 55,000 seamen went on strike. Whole fleets stopped. Alone, in Southampton, there were 5 Cunarders, 6 from Union Castle and 5 from P&O. Unique but sad sights. The British shipping trades never quite recovered. Within the next ten years, long-standing companies like Union Castle, Shaw Savill, Furness-Bermuda, New Zealand Shipping, Ellerman and Blue Star pulled out of the passenger ship business. Within another ten years, whole companies closed down and then vanished as well.



Day & night work: Like surgeons attending to an important patient, huge cranes – including several specially added ones – attend today to the Queen Mary 2 during the ship's current $100 million refit. Shipyard teams and crews work round-the-clock on the refit in the big graving dock at Hamburg's Blohm & Voss shipyard.



Here aboard the Queen Victoria in the western Mediterranean, many Cunard staff especially are quietly excited and wondering: What will be the QM2 be like when she emerges? And what will the changes be like? More cabins, redecorated public rooms, even extra kennels. Specifically, just last week, those twin glass elevators that shuttled between Decks 2, 3 and 7 were dismantled and removed. (This fine photo has just been forwarded to us by our good friend in Hamburg, Dr Konrad Rippmann.)