Tuesday 3rd July 2012 will go down as a milestone in maritime history, it was P & O Cruises’ The Grand Event, a celebration of the shipping line’s 175th anniversary. The seven ships that make-up P & O’s entire fleet of vessels, arrived in the early hours of Tuesday morning, one-by-one alongside Southampton’s Eastern and Western Docks. Here are a few quick facts about each of the ships:
- Adonia – The smallest vessel at 30,000 tonnes. Entered service with P & O in May 2011. It accommodates 826 passengers and named by Dame Shirley Bassey in Southampton. Captain = Julian Burgess.
- Ventura – Entered service in 2008, weighs 116,000 tonnes, can accommodate 3,100 passengers, has five swimming pools and named by Dame Helen Mirren in Southampton. Captain = Paul Brown.
- Arcadia - Entered service in April 2005, weighs 86,799 tonnes and named by Dame Kelly Holmes in Southampton. Captain = Ian Walters.
- Aurora – Entered service in April 2000, weighs 76,000 tonnes and named by the Princess Royal in Southampton. It has ten public decks and can carry 1,950 passengers. Captain = Neil Turnbull.
- Oriana – Entered service in April 1995, weighs 69,000 tonnes and named by the Queen in Southampton. It can carry 1,928 passengers. Captain = Trevor Lane.
- Azura – Entered service in April 2010, weighs 115,055 tonnes and named by ballerina Darcey Bussell. It has fourteen passenger decks and can accommodate 3,096 passengers. Captain = Keith Dowds.
- Oceana – Entered service in 2003, weighs 77,000 tonnes and named by the Princess Royal. Captain = Simon Terry.
Originally named The Peninsular Steam Navigation company, in 1837 the firm was awarded the contract delivering Royal Mail to the Iberian Peninsula. In 1840, the company changed its name to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P & O) and had its Royal Mail contract extended to the East. In 1918, P & O acquired the Orient Line and in 1974 the company brought Princess Cruises, an American firm, thus becoming P & O Princess Cruises. In 2003, P & O Princess Cruises merged with Carnival Corp and plc.
At 5.15pm, Tuesday the 3rd, a small but keen crowd of us gathered at Mayflower Park Southampton to witness the, never to be repeated, spectacle of all seven of the fleet’s vessels departing at the same time. In Mayflower Park, only five of the seven ships were visible, Azura and Oceana were berthed in the Eastern Docks. The dreadful weather did make photography pretty tricky but my trusty camera did not let me down. However, the free commemorative flags remained rolled-up in my bag. Juggling a brolly, camera AND flag would have been tricky given the violent gusts of wind and driving rain. The Red Arrows scheduled fly past was cancelled and firework displays were reduced to a few puffs of grey smoke barely visible through the blanket of grey drizzle. This was all a bit of shame, since the event had taken eighteen months to plan and clearly well-organised but of course no-one can predict the English weather. It reminded me of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant, when twelve members of the Royal College of Music Chamber Choir battled against the elements, demonstrating great British pluck, to perform Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia and the national anthem, despite being soaked to the skin and on the verge of hypothermia.
However, spirits were high among the few who braved the weather conditions in Mayflower Park. Enthusiastic passengers aboard the vessels were waving furiously whilst onboard music was pipped over each of the ships’ PA systems. I think I would have been in good spirits if had been aboard one of these fine ships, happy in the knowledge that within twenty-four hours I would be in the Mediterranean and away from the never-ending torrential rain currently plaguing the British Isles. I do hope the weather improves for the Olympics!
Finally, at 5.15pm, the Adonia slipped her moorings at Berth 40 and The Grand Event was underway.