Queen Mary 2 and Wirral's obsession with big ships
IF THE people of Wirral love one thing, it's ships.
Big ones, little ones, ones that took part in the American Civil War, ones that were built here, ones that are getting sold off and should be saved, you name it - if it floats, people in Wirral want to get involved.
It's for this reason that visits like the Queen Mary 2 create a special buzz.
I had the freezing task yesterday of standing on Egremont Prom, notebook in hand, to watch the behemoth complete a strangely graceful 180 degree turn, much to the delight of the assembled maritime fans.
Three Pensby ladies were typical of the people I spoke to, rather than go for a nice, and importantly warm, coffee, they had wrapped up to take a look at the Cunard classic, drawn by a mania that in my experience hits people of this parish harder than others.
Maybe it's something to do with Cammell Laird? Perhaps it could be the strange pensinsular sensation that three sides of your stamping ground is brine?
Having reported across Merseyside I can say with conviction that nothing gets a Wirralian going like a rudder and a hull. It was summed up by one of my Pensby ladies - Shirley Duffy, who at six weeks old was on board the Mauretania, doubtless linked to her dad's job at Cammell Laird.
She said: "For people here the visit of a ship like this really means something, it's the kind of thing we should be seeing on the Mersey.
"It's almost in people's blood, I like the countryside but when it comes down to it I couldn't live far from the sea."
And you can't argue with that. For me though, the arrival of a legendary ship does give me that strange excitement that only a Birkenhead-born chap can know. Professionally however, my heart sinks faster than an anchor.
Why? Here's a secret of journalism.
It is extremely difficult to write about shipping and get it right. There is a reason people spend years at sea. There is a reason why naval officers go to college and study very hard. There is a reason why virtually every part of a boat has a form and function unique to itself.
Ships are bloody complicated.
Please don't mistake me for a lazy journalist, I promise hand on heart that when it comes to writing about the sea I sweat, I pore over previous stories, I consult the peope in the know and generally do my damndest to avoid that oh so inevitable phone call that points out some confusion or maritime mess up.
It's a sea-based minefield and most journalists know it.
If it's not the gross tonnage as opposed to the weight its the rank of the officers, or the displacement, or the flangial co-axial that connects the bilge pump to the flagpole.
Combine this with the maritime traditions of the Wirral and the whole situation is made even more perilous by the fact that there are hundreds and hundreds of readers who are vastly knowledgeable on the subject.
How can my afternoon of research match the decades of experience of a merchant sailor settling down with his Daily Post, Echo or Wirral News?
Well, the effort is everything and it will continue. Here's to the next big visitor down the Mersey, HMS Illustrious.
The people of Wirral will definitely make it welcome.
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