Preparations increase for historic Queen Anne naming ceremony

James Smart on Queen Anne simulator

Preparations are under way for the spectacular naming ceremony for Cunard’s new vessel, Queen Anne, on the River Mersey next month.

The 113,000gt ship is more than 1,000ft long, almost 117ft wide and rises to 14 decks. She carries 3,000 guests and 1,245 crew and will visit Cunard’s spiritual home on June 3.

She was built at the Fincantieri Marghera shipard in Venice.

Shipping giant Cunard’s pioneering transatlantic service – and passenger shipping itself – was launched in Liverpool in 1840, where the iconic Cunard Building, now Liverpool City Council offices, forms the centrepiece of the Three Graces. The group relocated to its current HQ to Southampton in 1965.

Tens of thousands of spectators are expected to throng the waterside to witness the high profile event.

In command on the bridge will be Queen Anne’s Master, Captain Inger Thorhauge. But alongside will be Liverpool Marine Pilot James Smart who will ensure the liner’s safe passage.

Ports throughout the world, and the ships using them, rely on local pilots for their experience, expertise and knowledge of their waters to oversee arrivals, ship movements and moorings as well as departures.

Queen Anne is fitted with a sophisticated state of the art propulsion system which eases her manoeuvrability and handling in port.

Queen Anne departs Venice

For the past two months the Liverpool Pilot has been familiarising himself with Queen Anne’s characteristics on the pilots’ own hi tech simulator located at their riverside headquarters in Birkenhead.

James Smart said: “Cunard supplied the QA data package for us to load onto our simulator. It has given us a terrific opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the ship as we can expect her to be on the Mersey next month.

“Any maiden call is, by definition, a new challenge because it is the first time that vessel has been in the port. In the case of Queen Anne, everything is a little more intense because of the profile the new ship already has and the significance of her first arrival at Cunard’s spiritual home,” he added.

Beyond the banks of the Mersey a global audience will also be able to view highlights from the day.

James Smart said: “On the bridge, our concentration is 100% on the safe handling and movement of the ship, so the fact so many pairs of eyes are watching every move we make is immaterial. Planning for this day has been going on for nearly 18 months with constant liaison between ourselves, Port of Liverpool authorities, Cruise Liverpool and, of course Cunard’s own ops team and Captain Inger.”

He will board Queen Anne at Belfast, her port of call before Liverpool, and run through the meticulously planned schedule with Captain Inger and her bridge team.

“The plan is very detailed. It must be for such a large vessel, and getting on the simulator has been invaluable in terms of preparation. However, we’re working in a dynamic environment where prevailing conditions can change quickly and adapting to wind speed and direction, tidal range and air pressure is critical at every moment the ship is in port and under way.”

In addition to preparations on the local simulator, the pilot will join Captain Inger in a remote run through the Liverpool plan using one of the world’s most advanced ship simulators operated by Cunard’s parent company, Carnival, at the Centre for Simulator Maritime Training (CSMART) in the Netherlands.

The pilot has worked on the Mersey for 17 years and is no stranger to the intense scrutiny the ship will be under having been assigned to Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth for the Three Queens salute to Liverpool in 2015.

Then, more than one million people converged on both sides of the Mersey to see the fleet perform the spectacular ‘river dance’ manoeuvres in salute to Cunard’s 175th anniversary of its first sailing from Liverpool.

“We made maritime history that day for Liverpool, for Cunard and for the Liverpool Pilotage Service. It was an honour then and it will be an honour next month to bring Queen Anne ‘home’ for the first time to be officially named,” he said.

Cunard’s hosts for the momentous spectacle, which is scheduled to culminate at the Pier Head at 4pm, will be Busted musician, Matt Willis, and his TV presenter wife, Emma.