Three Cunard Queens Event: Noel Beckett

Southampton, 10 August 2018

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Photo: Courtesy of Ryde Church webcam

Southampton is the home port of all Carnival UK ships, including the three Cunard Queens. Occasionally (who knows whether it is planned or just lucky?), they visit Southampton on the same day. In August 2018, the Red Arrows were conducting a display for the culmination of Cowes Week, which the Carnival PR team identified as a photo opportunity.

As well as being First Class Unrestricted Southampton Pilots, six of us are additionally retained as Carnival Specialist Pilots. A Marine Plan and Risk Assessment was produced by the Carnival Nautical Operations Department. The Harbour Master and Pilots then met representatives from Carnival UK to discuss this, where we were able to give input from our experience of the ships and events like this. We were also mentioned in the RA for the mitigating role provided by experienced Carnival specialist 1 st Class Pilots.

On the day, Queen Elizabeth (pilot Noel Becket) left first, followed by Queen Mary 2 (pilot Barry Sadler) and Queen Victoria (pilot Phil Edwards). The weather, as is traditional for Carnival events like this in Southampton, was awful, with strong winds and rain. We had to be clear of the Cowes area by a specific time, as this was then being closed due to restricted airspace for the Red Arrows over Cowes. We were in close contact with the Red Arrows Flying Display Director and so were aware that they found the conditions acceptable.

The area that had been designated for the three vessels to meet was in open water, to the east of Ryde Middle Bank, between Ryde and North Sturbridge. This area is wide and deep enough to accommodate all three vessels in an arrow formation and the vessels had sufficient room to manoeuvre out of danger if necessary.

Once Queen Elizabeth, the vessel at the head of the convoy, was clear of the Brambles Bank, we proceeded to north of the Ryde Middle Bank and then slowly headed towards the eastern end of this Bank. Queen Mary 2 went to the south of the Ryde Middle Bank and took up the lead position in the formation, once in open water between the Ryde and North Sturbridge. Queen Victoria followed Queen Mary 2 to the south of Ryde Middle Bank and took up position in the arrow formation leaving Queen Mary 2 on her port side. It was anticipated that the gap between the vessels, when in the chevron formation, would be about 100 metres. But this exact distance between the vessels was not sensible in the prevailing conditions.

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The above picture from the Queen Elizabeth’s radar shows the aimed-for positions and the actual positions at the time of the flypast. It will be noted in all pictures that this was fine for photographic purposes!

The three Queens are all highly manoeuvrable (podded) ships. In Southampton, the pilots use PPUs, which enable us to virtually embark on other ships where the pilot is using their PPU. This shows the bow and stern speeds and vectors, as well as forward (or astern) motion.

Thus, on the Queen Elizabeth, once in our planned position (having had more time as the lead ship!), I was  able to see on my PPU that the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria were being conned diagonally towards their designated positions, battling against tide, time and weather.

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Just as we took up position, the last of a weather front passed, leaving us briefly with a rainbow and then clear skies. Exactly on the planned time, the Red Arrows headed towards us. Being concerned with navigating these large ships in close proximity, we were unable to watch this ourselves, but friends and family in Cowes and on Portsdown Hill, above Portsmouth, were sending us texts (how very 21st Century!) with updates of what they could see.

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As the Red Arrows departed the area, Queen Victoria took the lead as they were on a high speed run to the Baltic, followed more leisurely by Queen Mary 2 on her way to New York and then Queen Elizabeth.


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