This morning we woke up in Southampton, having journeyed down from Durham by train last night. We were due to board the M/S Balmoral at berth 46, to sail in the wake, 100 years later, of the legendary ill-fated liner Titanic.
The Titanic set sail from Southampton on 10th April 1912, ultimately bound for New York. Interestingly, we are having to leave a full two days earlier than the Titanic did in order to be in the same place at the same time. This is because RMS Titanic was an ocean liner and not a cruise ship like the Balmoral. There are quite a few differences between the two: an ocean liner has a pointed keel and the steel is 25mm thick, unlike a cruise ship which is flat bottomed and is made of steel only 12mm thick. An ocean liner is sleek and built for speed and to withstand the battering of the North Atlantic in winter, whereas a cruise ship tends to be top-heavy and is designed for making short hops, from port to port, in shallower waters. Titanic was capable of doing about 28 knots whereas most cruise ships can only do about 18 or 19 knots flat out.
The only true ocean liner afloat these days is RMS Queen Mary 2. We were lucky enough to be passengers on the QM2’s maiden voyage in January 2004. There are lots of parallels between the Titanic and the Queen Mary 2. They were both the ships of superlatives in their respective times: longest, widest, tallest, largest, most expensive ocean liners ever built. They were both Royal Mail Ships. They both left Southampton on their maiden voyages to sail to the United States, although the QM2 was bound for Fort Lauderdale rather than New York.
But today, 100 years later, the 43,000 ton Balmoral is going to follow in the wake of the 46,000 Titanic and remember and pay tribute to the 1500 lost souls who died in what was, and still is, the worst maritime disaster ever.
This morning we walked into town and saw the memorial dedicated to Wallace Hartley and his heroic bandsmen. Everyone who knows the Titanic story has heard about the ship’s band who played lively tunes up on deck to try to keep up the spirits of the passengers as the ship foundered. They kept playing until the water was lapping around their ankles and finished with the hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee”. The memorial named all of the bandsmen and had the music notes for the first few bars of this hymn, as well as the words “They Died at Their Posts like Men.” It was really poignant.
Later on, at the Ocean Cruise terminal, we took our place in the queue to check in. Quite a lot of people had really got into the spirit of the thing and had dressed in the period costumes of the era; there were a lot of long dresses, big hats, bowler hats, toppers and frock coats. I have an evening dress, hat and long velvet gloves to wear later on in the voyage.
We enjoyed a couple of glasses of champagne before eventually boarding the Balmoral and making our way to cabin 4170, on the Coral Deck, where our suitcases were already waiting for us.
After unpacking and hanging up our clothes it was time to collect our lifejackets and proceed to our muster stations for life boat drill. This is something that they didn’t have on board Titanic because it clashed with the 1st Class passengers’ evening meal. How ironic… but then the whole of the Titanic story consists of many ironies and ‘what ifs’.
After life boat drill we went along to the stern of the ship to join the Balmoral‘s sailaway party. Straight away we spotted a couple of familiar faces; Hubert Greaves who used to play the steel drums on our Amazon cruise on the Braemar last year, also Ricky Jermy who was the cruise director on the Braemar. Braemar is one of Balmoral‘s sister ships in the Fred Olsen Cruise Line.
In fact, we have already been on the Balmoral once before, back in 2003, only she was called the Norwegian Crown then and was one of NCL’s fleet. The Balmoral was refitted in 2008 and we have to admit we don’t recognise anything from her Norwegian Crown days.
At 15.45 hours the Balmoral gave a blast of her foghorn and slowly moved away from the dock. We had started our voyage in the wake of the Titanic.