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Rest in peace

Queen Elizabeth II: A life well-travelled – Her Majesty at sea

Queen Elizabeth II, who sadly passed away aged 96 on September 8, 2022, enjoyed a great deal of travel during her long life and had a strong connection with cruising.

Queen Elizabeth II was the best-traveled monarch the UK has ever known. She covered at least 1,032,513 miles and visited 117 different countries during her 70-year reign.

Her Majesty not only traveled on numerous cruise ships as both a princess and a monarch but also played a key role at ceremonies for major liners.

Here we take a look back at some of her early days at sea as well as her part in welcoming some of the ships we all know and love today into service.

Elizabeth took her first overseas trip in 1946, sailing as a princess with her father King George VI, her mother Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and her sister Princess Margaret to South Africa.

A series of images taken onboard the HMS Vanguard show a lesser-seen fun side to the royal as she played games with a group of male sailors and Princess Margaret.

One of the black and white photographs shows her holding hands with the men as they stand in a large circle on the deck while another shows her being grabbed by one of the sailors who put his arms around her.

A third shot shows Princess Elizabeth laughing as she dashed around the deck seemingly trying to avoid being caught by men in the game.

The Royal Family also had their own vessel, the now-decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia (above) – and sailing on it brought the late Queen much happiness; she once described it as the “one place where I can truly relax”.

During 44 years in royal service, Britannia sailed the equivalent of once round the world for each year, calling at over 600 ports in 135 countries.

Interestingly, despite the many exotic locations the royals visited, cruising Britain brought the most pleasure. This interest was sparked in 1955 when the royals undertook a summer cruise on the Royal Yacht Britannia to Scotland via the west coast of Britain.

“The cruise was such a success that it quickly established the template for the next four decades,” wrote author Robert Hardman in his book Queen of the World.

“The Royal family adored cruising the west coast of Britain. The main thing was being able to go anywhere on a whim and go ashore with a minimum fuss.”

Hardman also shared insight into the late Duke of Edinburgh’s vacation passions, writing: “Prince Philip, meanwhile, would relish the prospect of setting up on his barbecue in the unlikeliest spots – and cooking anything that took his fancy.

“‘He’d lead ashore with all the barbecue kit and the Queen would come later with the salad supplies and all the side dishes,’ says Sir Robert Woodard [a former Commander of the Royal Yacht Britannia].”

Woodard recalled: “He’s a brilliant and very innovative cook. If you produced any strange animals out of the sea he’d prepare and cook it. You shouldn’t be surprised if you ate an octopus.”

Hardman’s book also revealed that there tended to be an easy-going mood on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

“On board, informality would go a long way – but it had its limits,” the author wrote. “John Gorton, former Prime Minister of Australia, later recalled one beach barbecue with the family during a 1970 tour of Australia, when the royal party decided it was time for a swim.

“‘Princess Anne was thrown in and then Prince Philip,’ Gorton said. “‘I was sitting next to Her Majesty and I was just about to throw her in but I looked at her and something about the way she looked told me that perhaps I shouldn’t. In the end, the Queen was the only one who stayed dry.’”

In the seventies the Queen sailed on the Royal Yacht Britannia on an enjoyable tour of the smaller islands of the South Pacific. Camaraderie was relished, crew became well-used to the royal passengers and rituals and routines were established.

The Queen proved to be sociable and even had a Hawaiian shirt for curry nights! Hardman’s book Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II shares a fascinating insight.

Ron Allison, Queen Elizabeth II’s press secretary, told the writer: “The South Pacific was always the long one. The royal party would have lunch and dinner together. The Queen could have said, ‘I’m tired, and have had dinner alone, but she didn’t. Officers from the wardroom would join you. During those off-days, you’d muck about and play games on deck and it was lovely.”

Cruise ship entertainment was also far from what it is now with robotic bartenders, west-end style shows and waterslides.

Hardman explained: “There might be deck tennis for the Royal Household and the occasional quiz night involving the whole ship, from the crew in the engine room to the Queen herself.

“Sunday nights would be a ‘curry night’, with mandatory Hawaiian-style shirts (even the monarch had one). Some nights, the dining room would be rearranged for a film evening, with the choice of film left to the Queen’s equerry (the only caveat being ‘not too many writhing sheets’).

“A highlight of the week would be the concert party or ‘Sod’s Opera’, in which most members of the royal party and the crew would be expected to play a part.

“The diplomat Sir Roger du Boulay had vivid memories of one Pacific cruise in the mid-seventies when he found the Queen helping her equerry to dress up as a Polynesian beauty: ‘I remember seeing the Queen kneeling on the floor. He was stripped to the waist and she was fitting a brassiere on to him.”

Amid these fun-filled travels, the Queen carried out a great many more serious duties. One key role she had was christening cruise ships for both Cunard and P&O Cruises.

She launched Cunard cruise liner Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1967 (around 30,000 people lined the streets of Clydebank, Scotland to see the ceremony) and Cunard vessel, Queen Mary 2, in January 2004. At the time the ship was the largest ocean liner in the world (this title currently goes to Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas).

Queen Elizabeth II also christened Cunard ship Queen Elizabeth in October 2010.

As for her involvement with P&O Cruises, the late Queen christened Oriana at a ceremony on April 6, 1995, and then the Royal-class Britannia in 2015. The monarch was godmother to the vessel and activated the traditional champagne hitting the hull at a ceremony in Southampton.

Sailawaze extends its deepest condolences to the Royal Family at this sad time following the passing of the Queen and thanks Her Majesty for her years of service. May she rest in peace.

Published 09.09.22