Too Big to Love

Lead Line — August 2004
By Richard Thiel

Too Big to Love
The QM2’s problem is one of bad proportions, and it’s shared by a few yachts.
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On a chilly evening last April a few thousand New Yorkers and I huddled along Manhattan’s West Side Highway promenade staring out at the Hudson River, waiting for a pair of queens. As the evening deepened, the New Yorkers characteristically grew restless, for as if asserting their royalty, the pair was late. But when the first finally hove into view, you could hear the collective gasp.

The Queen Mary 2 was quite a sight, dwarfing her Cunard sistership, the Queen Elizabeth 2, which followed her out of the harbor. Indeed, although “only” 160 feet shorter, the QE2 looked like the QM2’s tender, leaving little doubt that she is the tallest, widest, and, yes, longest ocean liner in the world. At 1,132 feet, she is only 117 feet shorter than the Empire State Building, and keel to funnel she’s just over 236 feet. With 17 decks, she draws nearly 33 feet and displaces 151,400 gross tons. Each of her three anchors weighs 23 tons, and her two whistles, which came off the original Queen Mary, are seven feet long. Yet despite such mass, she cruises at 30 knots. The QM2 is, pardon the expression, titanic.

Every way, that is, except aesthetically. As I watched her creep down the Hudson, escorted by a phalanx of New York City fire and ferry boats (and a Blackhawk helicopter), I knew this should have been a moment redolent of the time when great transoceanic liners like the Queen Mary, United States, and France routinely called on Manhattan and always departed to crowds and fanfare. Instead, with her too-big nameboards emblazoned by enough wattage to shame a Broadway marquis, the QM2 looked more like an over-illuminated car carrier. She bore little resemblance to those three erstwhile ladies of the sea—especially the United States—which were not just big, but also sleek, stylish, and gracefully proportioned. With sweeping sheerlines and aggressively canted multiple stacks, they were pleasing to the eye and the imagination.

The QM2’s problem is one of bad proportions, and, as you’ll see in the following pages, it’s a problem shared by a few of the world’s 100 largest yachts: too much volume in too little length. Marine architecture demands adherence to certain proportions for the sake of seaworthiness—but there are no rules that say a ship should look like—well, a ship. When it comes to yachts the result is vessels that, to use a commonly whispered analogy, look like floating wedding cakes. In the case of the QM2, it’s a shape whose only admirer is probably an accountant.

You could blame it on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which spans the entrance to New York Harbor. The QM2 had to clear it—she does, by just 13 feet at maximum high tide—so her single stack is short and fat, which, along with her high decks, makes her look like a floating shoebox.

Maybe it’s passé to believe boats should be beautiful. Maybe in a super-size-me world, all boats will eventually look like car carriers. After all, a box is the most space-efficient shape. Trouble is, no one ever fell in love with a box, even if it said Tiffany’s on the lid.

This article originally appeared in the July 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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