On Tuesday, all seven of P&O’s ships will assemble in Southampton for a day of celebration to mark the company’s 175th anniversary. It’s the biggest gathering of ships in years, and it will culminate in a Royal send-off for more than 15,000 passengers setting out on extra special cruise holidays.
Many of them have been living in a state of anticipation since snapping up places on their favourite ships months ago when the event was first announced.
Princess Anne, who has named two of the ships – Aurora in 2000 and Oceana in 2003 – will be visiting a third, Oriana, to take afternoon tea with all seven captains before she takes up position on the Trinity House vessel Patricia to review the P&O fleet as the ships enter The Solent.
Also taking part on the day’s proceedings will be prima ballerina Darcey Bussell, recently announced as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, and who was godmother to the fleet’s newest ship, Azura, in 2010.
The other vessels involved are Adonia, Arcadia, and Ventura. They will all be watched by thousands of spectators along the shore, and escorted by a flotilla of hundreds of pleasure boats as they steam down Southampton Water. There will be fireworks to mark each departure, and the Red Arrows will perform as the ships file out into The Solent.
Full details of the schedules for the day are contained in a Notice to Mariners issued by the Port of Southampton. I have used it to prepare this quick Q&A:
Q: When are the ships arriving?
A: Scheduled berthing times are between 04:00 and 06:30
Q: Where will the ships be berthed?
A: Oceana and Adonia are at the Queen Elizabeth II terminal in the Eastern Docks. Azura will be at the Ocean Terminal. Oriana and Aurora share the facilities of City Terminal. Arcadia will be at the “Fruit Terminal” which is the site earmarked for the development of a fifth cruise terminal. Ventura will be at Mayflower Terminal.
Q: How will the terminal facilities cope with 15,000 passengers disembarking and a further 15,000 passengers starting their holidays?
A: They can’t. Temporary facilities for those arriving and departing on Adonia and Aurora will be provided at Hampshire Cricket Club’s Rose Bowl (recently re-named the Ageas Bowl). Passengers will be transported to and from the port by coach.
Q: Is there a big party on shore during the day to mark the event?
A: Unlike the Cunard Three Queens day, which included a festival in Mayflower Park, there are no events planned – partly because Southampton’s roads and transport services will be at full stretch coping with the arriving and departing passengers.
Q: When will the ships be leaving?
A: Adonia will slip her berth at 5.15 pm and proceed to the Upper Swinging Ground (near the container port). She will turn round to proceed east, and each of her sister ships will join the procession as she passes. The order of departure will be: Adonia, Ventura, Arcadia, Aurora, Oriana, Azura, Oceana. A short firework display will take place as each ship passes a barge at Moorhead Buoy. The first will be at 6.30, and each will last about two minutes.
Q: Then what happens?
A: The flotilla will proceed through Southampton Water in single file and on approaching the Ryde Middle Buoy will split into two columns. Adonia, Arcadia , Oriana and Oceana will pass north of Ryde Middle Bank and Charlie Anchorage; Ventura, Aurora and Azura will pass to the south.
Q: What’s so significant about Charlie Anchorage?
A: That’s where Princess Anne will be, on board Trinity House vessel Patricia, to review the fleet.
Q: Run through the timing again:
A: Adonia will leave her berth at 5.15, and will be leaving Dock Head at the front of the procession at 6.25. She will be passing Calshot at 7.20, West Bramble at 7.35, and at Charlie Anchorage at 8.05. No Man’s Land Fort will be passed at 8.20, and the Nab Tower by 8.40. Bringing up the rear, Oceana should slip her berth at 6.55 and be passing Dock Head at 7.00. Calshot will be reached at 7.50, West Bramble by 8.05, Charlie Anchorage 8.23. She will be passing Nab Tower at 9.10.
Q: I thought you said there would be a display by the Red Arrows:
A: There will be, weather permitting. It should take place between 7.20 and 7.45, on a north-east to south-west line over the Branble Bank at the entrance to The Solent. The display for Cunard had to be cancelled because of low cloud.
Q: What happens if container ships or tankers get in the way? And won’t there be lots of small boats to view what’s going on? Could the P&O flotilla be delayed?
A: No other large ship movements will be permitted in the main channel between Dock Head and the Upper Swinging Ground between 5.00 pm and 7.30, and inbound from The Nab between 3.30 and 9.0 pm. Regular cross-Channel ferry services using Portsmouth will be diverted. Owners of small craft will have to keep outside a 50 metre exclusion zone from the berthed ships, and must keep clear of the main channel while the flotilla passes through.
Q: Where’s the best place to watch all this happening?
A: If I were viewing the events from shore I would head for Calshot Spit or one of the car parks on the coast at Lee on Solent. Or choose your own spot from the map below (click for a larger version). As it happens, I’ll be on the quayside with BBC Breakfast TV in the morning as the ships arrive, and later in the day I will be on board the Solent Cat, so I hope to have lots of pictures to show you the next day.