Goodbye QE2 (and thanks for the ride!)

The QE2 sailed back to her birthplace on the Clyde one last time today, before heading for retirement as a floating hotel in Dubai. This was quite a momentous event – almost as momentous as her 40th birthday celebrations last year, which we had also thought was her last visit to the Clyde. I still haven’t really determined if I got that wrong, or everyone else did. Nonetheless, it’s always good to see the QE2 again and to feel the pride (and poignancy) of knowing that such a splendid vessel is Clyde-built.

Thar she blows! (And so does the QE2)

Thar she blows! (And so does the QE2)

So today we decided to join in the festivities on the water, especially seeing that it was a fittingly beautiful, sunny day. Moments after spotting the QE2 with her escort, HMS Manchester, from our house as large dots on the horizon, we headed down to launch at Cluniter in Innellan. We knew that it wouldn’t be long before we were alongside both ships, although perhaps not in the strictest sense. A few things prevented us from getting up too close, including the exclusion zone in operation (had we known about it), but mostly the prospect of being mowed down by the behemoth vessels (and entourage of followers) with which we found ourselves sharing the Clyde.

Sure enough, the celebrity liner, her military bodyguard and flotilla of fans and paparazzi sailed grandly past, a couple of miles to our starboard, as we stuck to the quiet side of the river. We took photos and listened avidly to the greatly increased VHF radio traffic which served to heighten the sense of occasion. Helicopters, including the Royal Navy’s, flew directly above us – I’d like to think they found us interesting had seen us, but we resisted the temptation to wave lest an airman were to urgently descend on a rope to perform a rescue (things not to do …). Certainly, if we had planned on having an emergency, today would have been a good day to do it, being that there were any number of potential rescue vessels and aircraft in the vicinity.

QE2 and HMS Manchester (swell to follow)

QE2 and HMS Manchester (swell to follow)

As it became apparent that we couldn’t quite match the speed of the QE2 and her fleet, we dropped back to our usual more leisurely 3-4 knots, but soon discovered that the real fun was only just starting! Suddenly we became aware of a significant and increasing swell. It soon became quite reminiscent of our trip to Lewis as we bounced up and down on the wake generated by the QE2 and her fleet. Well, perhaps the swells weren’t quite as high as those experienced in Lewis, but we estimate a good metre’s worth and certainly enough to give our Nordkapps their first experience of something resembling “conditions”. What fun it was! Finally we had confirmation of the Nordkapps’ legendary solid handling of waves and neither of us felt at all uncomfortable or nervous. I would go as far as to say that I felt less anxious than when in my Capella, but of course time and a little experience could have helped a bit with that.

It was with disappointment that we determined that the swell had diminished by the time we approached Dunoon. Once again, the entertainment was provided by the radio traffic. I had been noting communication with the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and started to speculate that it was still to sail up-river, which could only mean one thing – more swell! Sadly, however, it came into view in the vicinity of the Tail o’ the Bank having anchored there stealthily outwith our awareness (perhaps sailing up yesterday when we could scarcely see across the river due to poor weather).

Beautiful Holy Loch

Beautiful Holy Loch

We cruised past Dunoon and on to Hunter’s Quay, paddling briskly past both ferry stops (never good places to linger). As we turned into the Holy Loch, we were once again reminded of the magnificent scenery right on our doorstep and we took a few moments there to fuel up on snacks for the return journey. Conditions were by now completely calm and, it must be said that, despite the sunshine, the scenery, the wildlife etc, we did feel a small sense of anti-climax in the knowledge that the excitement experienced on the outward journey would not be forthcoming on the return.

Still, it was good to turn our attention to the less temporary visitors and residents of the Clyde, being the birds and the seals. I spotted a few turnstones and stopped to watch them shuffle about the shore line whilst Alan was visited by a seal. There were all the usual cast and crew of eider ducks, cormorants, oystercatchers and gulls – all no doubt wondering what the fuss and noise were about.

The CalMac ferry’s hourly sailing appeared to have been delayed, so we paddled under Dunoon pier and around the linkspan to avoid the risk of being caught up in any sudden departures. A leisurely journey back to Innellan saw us home by 4 pm, having been on the water since 10 am. A little stiffness was noted as we clambered out of our kayaks and I have still to determine how this will translate when potentially making a speedy exit during a surf landing (yet to be experienced). I imagine a lot of flailing and cursing may be involved.

As I type this, the QE2 is due to make her final sail down the Clyde any minute now. I’m certain a little lump will come to the throat as we bid her farewell for the last time (this time) and say good bye to a grand Scottish lady. We will remember her fondly, not least because of the fun she provided 2 tiny kayaks sharing her waters on this special day.

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