Ask the QE2 Captain - Robin Woodall
The QE2's Captain, Robin Woodall, answers questions posed by members of TheQE2Story Forum.
In August/September 2009, Robin Woodall, aided by his son Richard, kindly agreed to answer a selection of questions from our forum members. We would all like to take this opportunity to thank them both for their time in what has been a most interesting exercise.
Answer - There are three proudest moments for me in QE2 :-
- Being appointed Captain of that Great Ship.
- As Captain, taking her into Liverpool, the ancestral home of the Cunard Line, for the first time.
- The honour of being Captain, and host, when HM the Queen visited the ship at Spithead, and sailed with us up to Southampton.
Question 2, from "Andrew W" - "If you could have changed one thing in the design of QE2 what would it be and why ?
Answer - It would have been to have more
powerful Bow Thrusters, and twin rudders.
Question 3, from Isabelle What was the most difficult decision you had to take in your capacity as Master of the QE2?
Answer - There have been many But one would be having to cancel a port during a cruise.
Question 4, from "Jem" (Jeremy) - Were you ever allowed to fully open her engines? Is so, what speed did she achieve?
Answer - I have fully opened up all her engines, and exceeded 30 knots. Certainly on two occasions that I recollect.
Question 5, from "Twynkle" (Rosie) - Please would it be possible for you to say something about the time / event that you found the most challenging during your time as Master of QE2?
Answer - The Most challenging time/event for me was hitting the rocks off Marhas Vineyard. A very unhappy event.
Question 6, also from "Twynkle" (Rosie) - And whilst on the subject of being challenged - it would be really interesting to know what you would like to happen to QE2 in the future.
Answer - I would have been happier to have seen her scrapped, which would have been the final end to a great ship. Not as she is now, just wandering around, not really wanted.
Question 7, from "RMS Queen Elizabeth 2" (Shaun) - QE2 has had loads of Famous guests over the years, which celebrities on board did you meet whilst you were Captain, and which were your favourite?
Answer - By the time I took command very few celebrities were travelling, most were flying. The few I did meet were mostly very pleasant. One of the most interesting was Tom Clancy, the author.
Question 8, from Rob Lightbody - Did you ever travel as a passenger on board? And, if so, were you able to keep your mind off what was happening "upstairs and downstairs" and just relax?
Answer - Yes I have travelled several times as a passenger since my retirement, and always enjoyed my self. I never interfered with the operating of the ship, unless asked for my opinion.
Question 9, also from Rob Lightbody - Given the choice, would you prefer open bridge wings like QE2 has, or enclosed ones like the newer ships? Obviously for practicalities sake the enclosed ones make more sense, but isn't "something" lost? Don't you feel cut off from the action?
Answer - I would prefer the open bridge wings, where you can go and "Sniff the Wind", and get a better feeling as to what the ship is doing.
Question 10, from "jdl" (John) - How would QE2 compare to other cruise vessels that you served on - no doubt she had her challenges, but did her 'soul/character' make up for this?
Answer - QE2 had the best soul/character of any cruise ship I sailed on. People often asked me what made the 'good feeling' of the ship, and the answer is the people in it, and QE2 got that feeling as the years went by.
Question 11, also from Rob Lightbody - You took over command not longer after the Queen had enjoyed the world’s first ever steam to diesel-electric conversion and the biggest refit ever undertaken of a liner. How did she seem? Old? New? Had things settled down? Was everybody relieved that it had been a success? She must have seemed to have a long, long life ahead of her at that point.
Answer - After the machinery conversion QE2 was still the same ship, but with a far more flexible and reliable power plant. (After the bugs had been ironed out, which took a while.) The bigger funnel, and new Penthouses made her more difficult to manoeuvre in strong winds. But over all she was a better ship, and indeed had a long life ahead of her.
Question 12, from "Highlander0108" (Ken M) - Was the observation "porthole" in the hull above the props, installed to monitor the Grimm Wheels, still there and available to view during your time onboard?
Answer - I think the 'Port Hole' was still there when I was there, but I never used it.
Question 13, also from "Highlander0108" (Ken M) - Re: the grounding off Martha's Vineyard - I heard that the damage ran quite a distance along the bottom of the ship. Are there any photos of the actual damage to the ship taken while in dry-dock in Boston for the temporary repairs?
Answer - Damage at Marthas Vineyard. It ran just under half the ships length from the bow. There are photographs, but I do not have any.
Question 14, from "mrkpnh" (Malcolm K) - "What were the biggest changes to affect passengers and/or crew during your time onboard?"
Answer - The biggest changes to effect passengers and crew was the change of crew from NUS to non union. It improved the quality of work considerably.
Question 15, from Isabelle - QE2 (and the newer Cunard ships) seem to visit the same ports again and again. There are parts of the world where QE2 never landed (as far as I know), such as Greenland, the Faroes, any West African countries, much of the West coast of Latin America, etc. Why did she not vary her routes a bit more?
Answer - The ports visited is very much determined by the suitability of the port for the ship to safely call there, both operationally, and politically. Also do passengers like the port. Whilst I was there we visited ports in West Africa and the West Coast of Latin America.
Question 16, from "Ancoaster78" (Andy) - Certain things were apparently changed by different captains – e..g the teak handrails and the crest under the bridge. How much freedom to do such things does a Captain have, where is the 'divide' between 'head office' and a Captain in such matters? And, what other changes/improvements have QE2 Captains made to the ship, and did you make any?
Answer - The Captain has limited discretion as to what changes he can make to the ship, but they must be for the better. An example is the Jack Staff, and the Ensign Staff. I had new ones made, to make them longer, and I had Queens Crowns made to fit on the top of them. They were still there when the ship was sold. The crest under the bridge came from one of the small ships when they were sold, and Captain Warwick had it placed on the Stem Head, but it got damaged there, so was moved to the position under the bridge.
Question 17, from Isabelle - Was there ever a time when you were required to be at a social occasion with the passengers and you felt that you should really have been on the Bridge (or in the Engine Room, etc.) instead? Was there a time where you made an excuse that you had been called to the bridge when talking to a passenger. (we probably should not insist on an answer to that one !)
Answer - The Captain's position would always be on the bridge during difficult navigation conditions, and this would take precedence over any social functions, where the Staff Captain would stand in for him at the function. I never used the excuse to get away from a passenger.
Thanks to Michael Gallagher for the use of the photos in this feature.