Thanks in part to the Queen Mary's paper-thin walls, Bill Prince is forced to take part in a couple's anniversary celebration.

Ahhh, the life of a yacht designer. Some of you probably think it’s all glamorous. You imagine us choppering from the top of the Burj Al Arab hotel to the bow of some superyacht for lunch. Or cruising to the Ocean Reef Club with a client for a private air show. Or maybe drinking with friends at a table with the America’s Cup as the centerpiece.

While these things have all happened to yours truly, the reality is that when I’m not in the office, my adventures have more in common with those of a traveling salesman than an international man of mystery. Rarely does reality stare me harder in the face than it did on one particular trip to California, to check on the construction of Black Diamond, a custom 70-knot sport yacht we were designing.

I needed to stay in the vicinity of downtown Long Beach for two days, so thinking it would be fun, I decided to book a stateroom aboard the Queen Mary, the famous ocean liner which, for 15 years, held the coveted Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing.

But now, alas, she’s moored in the mud in Long Beach harbor, living out her golden years as a charming hotel and museum. It also served as the place where I spent the worst night of travel ever.

It was February, 2015. I checked in and got settled. Dinner at Sir Winston’s on the sports deck was excellent, and afterward I began walking the ship’s decks with hundreds of other jovial guests. Remarkably, this was to be the evening that the modern Queen Elizabeth cruise ship was arriving to moor next to the Queen Mary for the first time in history. Bubbly on deck for the masses! Fireworks! After these serendipitous festivities, I found my way to the observation bar on the promenade for a nightcap and some live jazz.

Sounds like it’s going okay, right?

By 11 p.m. I had retired to my cabin. Sleeping quarters on the ship are nearly unchanged from the original design, down to the seemingly 1-inch-thin solid wood partitions that only superficially insulate the sound from one stateroom to the next. How do I know this? Because it’s through the walls that I got to know Barb and Ryan, the couple celebrating their anniversary in the cabin next door, all too well.

Illustration: Brett Affrunti

Illustration: Brett Affrunti

At approximately 2345 hours, Barb and Ryan returned noisily to their cabin, suddenly realizing they had left their anniversary cards on the bar ... somewhere. By 0100, after a one-sided attempt at consecrating their vows anew, Ryan pivoted off the bed and landed on the cabin sole with a heavy thud while Barb began vomiting in the tub, alternately wailing “Ryyyy-unnn. Ryyyyyyy-unnn! Ryy-un” in a manner eerily reminiscent of the sound of the ship’s own horn bellowing in a fog of drunkenness. “It’s in my hair ... It’s in my hairrrr.

Minutes of silence would follow, painfully broken by more vomiting and “Ryyy-unn.” The pattern held as I debated getting dressed and demanding a new cabin. It should come as no surprise that I enjoyed exactly zero minutes of sleep that night.

No wonder the guy in the Holiday Inn Express ad seems so smug in the morning. His bed is surrounded by insulated walls.

So I did what any sleep-deprived naval architect would do aboard a classic ship at 0500. I found a way to sneak into the engine room, a multi-deck affair not open to the public at any hour, much less this one. It was easier to sneak in at five than to sneak out at seven. But the time away from Ryan and the foghorn was well worth it.

Will I ever board the Queen Mary again? Yes, for lunch.

My advice to those of you who might want to enjoy the positive attributes of sleeping aboard the Queen Mary is to book three rooms. Sleep in the middle cabin and use the others as sound buffers on the slim chance that Barb and Ryan are still married and decide to “celebrate” another anniversary.

Now, how do I get to Ocean Reef from here?

This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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