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An era is almost at an end.

On June 18, 2007, Cunard Line (www.cunard.com) announced that it had sold the legendary Queen Elizabeth 2 to a state-owned firm in Dubai for $100 million. The handover comes in late November, following a series of valedictory voyages that this month saw the venerable liner calling for the last time on American ports that she's graced for nearly four decades.

After her arrival in Dubai on November 27, QE2 will be extensively restored and refurbished, and after emerging will open as a permanently docked luxury hotel, entertainment destination, and maritime museum at The Palm Jumeirah (www.palmjumeirah.ae), the world's largest manmade island.

The Victory Lap

On September 18, accompanied by a flotilla of local boaters and a traditional fireboat display, QE2 motored into Boston Harbor, where she was honored by a performance of the Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes & Drums and an 11-round Howitzer salute by the Massachusetts Army National Guard 1st Battalion 101st Field Artillery. Three days later, on September 22, she made her final call to Halifax, Nova Scotia, birthplace of Cunard Line founder Sir Samuel Cunard.

Finally, on October 16, QE2 sailed out of New York harbor for the final time, escorted by U.S. Coast Guard and FDNY fireboats and meeting her fleetmate Queen Mary 2 at the Statue of Liberty before departing in tandem for Southampton, England. Members of the FDNY's Emerald Society Pipes and Drums corps played "Auld Lang Syne" at the Battery Park Promenade near the southern tip of the city, where crowds of well-wishers had gathered to see the ships off.

New York has been QE2's western homeport since her maiden voyage in May 1969. In the nearly 40 intervening years, she's made 710 visits to the city, enough to qualify her as an honorary citizen, if not a landmark in her own right.

Earlier, Cunard Line president Carol Marlow had marked the occasion; "It is most fitting that QE2's farewell to America be celebrated in New York, the city Cunard has called our North America homeport since 1847. She will always be remembered as the best-loved ship in the world and we are delighted that she will be cherished by future generations of travelers at her new home in Dubai."

A Great Lady's Life Story

Queen Elizabeth 2 got her start in December 1958, when Cunard began contemplating a replacement for the old Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, by that time seen 22 and 18 years of service, respectively, serving as troopships in WWII and then gradually seeing their fortunes decline as air travel took over from ships in the postwar years. A grant of £18 million was secured from the British government for construction of a large replacement liner, but opposition based on declining transatlantic bookings eventually led the planned ship to be scaled down, with plans to operate it primarily as a cruise vessel.

The contract for what was then known as the "Q3" project was awared to John Brown & Co., which laid the keel of the new vessel on July 5, 1965. On September 20, 1967, the keel was launched by Queen Elizabeth II, though the vessel herself was named for the earlier Cunard Queen Elizabeth -- thus the Arabic "2," which distinguishes her from the actual royal personage with her roman number. QE2's maiden voyage set out from Southampton on May 2, 1969, bound for New York. Over the decade that followed she weathered the near-complete disintegration of the transatlantic trade, dividing her time between transatlantic sailings and warm-water cruising.

In 1982, with the outbreak of the Falklands War, the British government requisitioned QE2 for service as a troop transport -- part of the standard duty of Cunard vessels in wartime. A helicopter pad and upgraded communications were installed aboard, and on May 12 she sailed for South Georgia Island, carrying Britain's 5th Infantry brigade.

Following the short conflict, QE2 was returned to commercial service, and in 1986-87 was sent to the Lloyd-Werft Shipyard in Bremerhaven, Germany, to have her steam engines replaced with more efficient diesel engines. During this overhaul, the vessel's public rooms and passenger accommodations were also extensively refurbished -- a redesign that determined the look of the vessel until late 1996, when her interiors underwent an $18 million renovation at Southampton's A&P Shipyards. Further refits -- including a massive reworking following Carnival Corporation's purchase of Cunard in 1999 -- kept QE2 in fine condition, and in fact granted a classic ambience to her interiors that was not always present during the mod 1970.

Miles, Milestones, and Famous Faces

In her 39-year career, QE2 has logged more than 5.9 million nautical miles -- the equivalent of traveling to the moon and back 13 times -- and carried more than 2.5 million passengers. Some more facts:

  • QE2 has completed 24 full World Cruises, her first in 1975 and her last earlier this year.
  • She's the fastest merchant ship in operation today, designed specifically to maintain a strict transatlantic schedule no matter what weather she encounters.
  • She's the most famous ocean liner on the planet, recognized by millions.
  • Prince Charles was one of the ship's first passengers, sailing on her voyage from the Brown shipyard to Greenock, where her final fitting-out and sea trials took place.
  • In 1995, she withstood the direct, front-on impact of a 95-foot wave in the North Atlantic -- so high the officers on her bridge were looking straight out at water as it came at them.
  • She has hosted more celebrities than any other ship currently afloat, including Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Peter Sellers, Count Basie, Ringo Starr, Lynn Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Princess Diana, and the late King Hussein of Jordan.
  • Over the years, Cunard has spent more than ten times her initial building costs in upkeep and maintenance.
  • When she leaves the Cunard fleet next month, she'll be the line's longest-serving liner ever, surpassing the RMS Aquitania, which served for 35 years (1914-1949).

It's been a good run, and it's nice to know the old girl will be in good hands in Dubai, a seafaring city that appreciates great vessels. In 2010, Cunard will recycle at least part of QE2's name when it debuts the new Queen Elizabeth -- with no number at the end.