A True British Summer Celebration By Peter Newall

P&O Cruises celebrates 175 years of heritage in spectacular style with Royal fleet review at Southampton

By Peter Newall

Let the fun commence. Fireworks and OCEANA waiting to join the fleet. Photo © 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!

There was plenty of flag waving during this very British event. Photo © Peter Newall.

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.

Each ship flew a special “tracing our roots back 175 years” flag. Photo © Peter Newall.

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.

VENTURA and the other ships sailing in line astern formation. Photo © Peter Newall.

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.

An impressive sight. Five P&O ships in a single frame. Photo © Peter Newall.

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.

For a brief moment the veteran steamship SHIELDHALL led the fleet. Photo © Peter Newall.

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.

SOLENT CAT Somewhere among the crowded top deck of SOLENT CAT is me with a faceful of camera taking photographs of them. Courtesy P&O Cruises

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.

PATRICIA with the Royal Navy flag on her foremast and a large Trinity House flag on her stern. Photo © Peter Newall.

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 with senior Trinity House officers on PATRICIA’s helicopter deck. Photo © Peter Newall.

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.

HMS DRAGON with an elegant Sunseeker boat, built in Poole, Dorset. Photo © Peter Newall.

PATRICIA was escorted by the Royal Navy’s newest Type 45 destroyer, HMS DRAGON, which was commissioned in April.

From PATRICIA Princess Anne waved the departing fleet. Photo © Peter Newall.

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.

Three cheers all round as VENTURA passes PATRICIA. Photo © Peter Newall.

The rest of the fleet followed, alternating past PATRICIA’s port or starboard side. The last ships passed at approximately 19:35.

Now it is AURORA’s turn to dip her ensign. Photo © Peter Newall.

The sight of the fleet dispersing in various directions was extraordinary and brought to a close a truly fabulous event.

Photo © Peter Newall.


Heading off in different directions.
 Photo © Peter Newall.

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.

Peter Newall

Peter Newall

A well-known shipping writer, cruise journalist and cruise ship lecturer,
Peter Newall is a former British Airways executive who has, in the past 57
years, visited and travelled on many famous ships.  As well as numerous
articles he has written nine highly acclaimed books including the
definitive histories of Union-Castle, Orient and Cunard Line.  He also owns
the Newall Dunn Collection, the extensive collection of historic merchant
shipping images.
Peter Newall

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