Posted on Thursday, July 5, 2012 by Martin Cox
A TRUE BRITISH SUMMER CELEBRATION
By Peter Newall
This summer started with a drought being declared in parts of Southern England. However, hopes of constant barbeques and sun soaked beaches soon faded, especially after Prince Charles presented the BBC weather forecast in May. “Long may he rain (reign)” screamed the headlines and how right they were. During the wettest June on record, Britain was officially drenched!
Anything associated with the Royal family and water was also bound to be a wash out. The tens of thousands of spectators who lined the Thames for the spectacular Diamond Jubilee Thames River Pageant on June 3 were soaked to the skin whilst the Duke of Edinburgh ended up in hospital with a bladder infection. The Fleet Air Arm helicopter flypast was also cancelled.
Two days later, during Cunard’s Three Ship Diamond Jubilee tribute to the Queen, the heavens opened and spoiled what was a memorable event. The RAF Red Arrows display, the first over Southampton, was cancelled and all we saw were the flight crew who came aboard QUEEN ELIZABETH to sign autographs. The massive fireworks display, which started when the bows of QUEEN MARY 2, QUEEN VICTORIA and QUEEN ELIZABETH came together, was lost in the mists rising over the Solent with large bangs followed by flashes of light in the gloom.
With not-so-flaming June over, there was a sense of optimism for one of the major celebratory events in July. The P&O Cruises Grand Event at Southampton celebrated the formation 175 years ago of P&O with the arrival of the seven-ship P&O Cruises’ fleet on July 3. Later that day, they were due to sail in formation to be reviewed off Spithead (between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight) by Princess Anne. The Red Arrows were booked for not one but two flypasts.
For the planners at P&O, the processing of almost 30,000 embarking and disembarking passengers at a nearby cricket ground must have been a logistical nightmare. There was also the inevitable traffic chaos in Southampton, which was compounded by more heavy outbursts of rain. Once again, the Red Arrows display had to be cancelled. However, this did not dampen the spirits of the crowds who turned out to witness what was to be a unique and memorable occasion.
At 18:45, the ships blew their whistles as they started to depart. ADONIA, the smallest in the fleet, was the lead ship. She was followed by VENTURA, ARCADIA, AURORA, ORIANA, AZURA, and OCEANA. As each ship passed the entrance to the River Itchen, passengers were treated to a fireworks display.
P&O Cruises chartered Blue Funnel’s SOLENT CAT for the event and a select group of top agents and photographers were invited along to witness close hand the Fleet Review. We followed the fleet as it sailed along the Solent and past Calshot. Despite the gloomy weather and occasional squalls, it was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Around 19:00 we passed close to PATRICIA, the handsome 2,541gt flagship of Trinity House, the organisation granted a Royal Charter by Henry VIII in 1514 to look after the well-being of Britain’s seafarers. It takes care of Britain’s lighthouses, buoys and other navigational markers.
Princess Anne, who recently succeeded her father, the Duke of Edinburgh as the Master of the Corporation of Trinity House was joined aboard PATRICIA by a number of dignitaries, including Micky Arison, head of the Carnival Corporation.
PATRICIA was escorted by the Royal Navy’s newest Type 45 destroyer, HMS DRAGON, which was commissioned in April.
Around 19:10, ADONIA the first of the fleet passed PATRICIA. Her ensign was dipped and passengers lining the decks cheered as Princess Anne waved from the PATRICIA’s helicopter deck.
The rest of the fleet followed, alternating past PATRICIA’s port or starboard side. The last ships passed at approximately 19:35.
The sight of the fleet dispersing in various directions was extraordinary and brought to a close a truly fabulous event.
The following afternoon the sun mocked us and the evening was beautifully clear! Let us hope that the weather curse, which has beset these three water celebrations, does not spoil the Olympic sailing events at Portland in a few weeks’ time.
Many thanks to Michele Andjel, Head of Public Relations, P&O Cruises for the invitation to take part in this great and unique celebration.