‘Queens’ and Concorde-British empire’s NY comeback

By Richard Pyle

NEW YORK – The way British history was on the move in New York harbor on Thursday, one might think the empire itself was staging a comeback – if only for a day.

Two Cunard ocean liners docked in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and a British Airways supersonic jetliner was – well, not flying, but riding a barge – to New Jersey.

It was all terribly coincidental.

On the same day the soon-to-be-retired liner Queen Elizabeth 2 steamed through the Verrazano narrows for the 1,420th time in a 41-year career, the already-retired Concorde began a roundabout return to its Hudson River pier at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

The sleek white aircraft was loaded onto a barge at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, where it has spent the last year in storage while the famed World War II flattop underwent an extensive renovation. The barge then went across the harbor to Jersey City, where it was to wait until Monday for the final leg of the return trip to Pier 86.

According to spokesman Jody Fisher, that schedule was dictated by two factors – a yearly high tide allowing the barge to get close enough to shore for the aircraft to be hoisted aboard, and what he called “cruise ships in the area” that somehow ruled out its being brought immediately to the Hudson river site.

As the only cruise ship anywhere nearby was the QE2, there was a certain irony in that. But in view of other recent difficulties, caution was the order of the day.

Who could forget how the Intrepid, which survived five kamikaze attacks in the Pacific war, got famously stuck in the mud, or the Concorde, which set the speed record for crossing the Atlantic and had its needle-nose bent by a backing-up truck?

Or even that the QE2, back in the 1990s, weathered a 95-foot wave during an Atlantic hurricane, yet ran ignominiously aground off New England?

While the Concorde, sporting what Fisher said was an “undetectable” nose repair job, was moved to temporary safe haven in New Jersey, plans went ahead for the ceremonial departure of the QE2 and its sister ship, the Queen Mary 2, which was also in town – having docked overnight at its regular berth at the Brooklyn cruise port.

The two Cunarders, with their trademark red-and-black funnels, rendezvoused at the Statue of Liberty – the cruise-ship version of the big clock at Grand Central Terminal. After playing a duet with their horns that echoed across the harbor, they schlepped out together for the Sceptered Isle and points beyond.

It would be the 806th Atlantic crossing for the QE2, which in four decades logged nearly 6 million miles at sea. Next month, the 70,000-ton liner, seriously outmoded by newer and bigger cruise ships, goes into retirement as a floating “luxury hotel, retail and entertainment destination” in Dubai, the fast-growing resort center in the Persian Gulf.

In this second career it follows in the wake of the first Queen Mary, which was similarly retired in 1967 and converted into a waterside hotel at Long Beach, Calif.

The QM2, at 151,000 tons more than twice the size of the dowager QE2, along with the one-year-old Queen Victoria and yet another Queen Elizabeth now destined for completion in 2010, will sail on.