Solar Panel Innovations

We live in a fast moving world.  Fast both in development and motion.  And traditionally we have powered all this with fossil fuels.  We have long known that this energy supply will come to a natural end and now global warming and climate changes have accelerated to a point where we must act much more quickly to avoid further, costly environmental damage.

A sea change in finding alternative solutions for this has been the rapid recent development of electric power.  Although some of this is generated by traditional fossil fuel sources a growing amount is being powered by cleaner and greener options such as wind, wave and solar power.

For transportation to embrace this power source there is a reliance on batteries, from early developments in heavy lead acid technology, through modern Lithium Ion versions which provide greater storage and even new ideas still on drawing boards and in the test tubes of many industrial chemical institutions.

Presently getting the electric power to the transport medium is a bit of a faff.  High power electrical charging networks have only recently been planned and built also recharging batteries takes either massive amounts of time or massive amounts of power along with super cooled refrigeration mechanics.  This is because fast charging generates huge amounts of heat as a by-product which can seriously damage or impair the equipment of the charging process.

For this reason a good compromise is solar powered battery recharge.  Often readily available this is generally a fairly low powered constant supply, providing the daylight is present.

However, providing sufficient electric output for a high powered transport device such as a car is currently almost impossible to achieve other than for extremely lightweight prototype concepts.  This is why no attempt is made to cover the roofs or panels of fully electric vehicles with solar panels and why all these vehicles are creeping quietly around the country looking for a fixed high amp electric charge point which they can sidle up to.

And providing sufficient panels for more energy intensive vehicles such as trucks, lorries, boats or even massive ships is even less likely.

Unless you are an ideas man like me and can see a way to beat this problem.  And I present here a number of innovative concepts that may assist.

Solar Powered Cars

Let’s start with cars.

A couple of extremely light weight, prototype, hyper mileage, single seat, pram wheeled, ultra low drag vehicles with a streamlined plastic covering have been produced.  These concepts were built to prove solar power concepts or challenge for self invented high mileage travel records, usually carried out in perfect solar producing conditions.

However, as discussed above our standard, fully equipped five seater electric cars need too much power storage and are used far too often in too many differing conditions to benefit from a charge source via just a few square metres of solar panel on their roof, even if you did add in the bonnet and side doors.  There is just no more space to mount the panels.

This is why they are charged from a static point, either a mains public charger, from a parked charging space at home or something similar at a destination.  This system works fine, providing the owner remembers to plug the car in to the mains and isn’t going on an extended journey.  If such an undertaking is attempted a time consuming electrical fuel stop or two would be needed to be factored in.

So, the problem is the square meterage available of solar panels.  So why not just tow a solar panel array?  The increased surface area may just keep a car going for the number of miles needed for a longer trip.  Imagine a trailer being towed behind the car, stretching back as far as an articulated lorry, quietly sucking up solar rays and sending the charge back into the cars battery via an attached coiled wire.

This is obviously all well and good on main, open, multiple lane roads and shouldn’t be too much of an issue but that’s not the only place cars need to go.  On smaller, twistier, single carriageway roads, local suburban areas and cities a long trailer may be unruly and difficult to handle by the average driver so further innovation is required.

In these instances it is clear that the trailed array of panels needs to be shortened.  So why not have an unfurling array?  A twin axle trolley which automatically stretches out and also retracts to suit the road conditions.

The arrays will either have to be flexible enough to retract into a large roll or perhaps be designed to stack over and under each other in order to suit the trailer wheelbase length.

Maybe the ultimate version of this system would be a roll out trailer actually incorporated into the boot or within the rear bumper area of the car, which automatically deploys, dropping out and extending dependant on road suitability.  Neat and tucked away for parking in congested cities and adjustable enough to suck up some sunshine dependant on the situation.  With the advantage that the most effect will occur on longer runs on main roads, which is the weak point of electric propulsion systems.

Is it possible that this idea is so innovative and indeed needed that current, existing cars may be modified to remove the oily, noisy fossil fuel sucking engine with an electric powered transmission system and fitted out with an inboard, deployable towed power station?

Another associated thought may be that a future roadside recovery vehicle would be equipped with a trailer load of deployable, pre-charged, arrays ready to hitch to cars that have inadvertently run out of sun juice and are stranded on the edge of the carriageways?  ‘Eh, eh’, I hear you mutter.

But enough of cars for now, what about other means of vehicular transport?

Vans, Trucks and Lorries

A similar system could be adopted for vans and trucks.  But with these larger vehicles there is additional unused roof space for fixed panels and more space for incorporating a slide out additional array.  Already many vans and lorries incorporate rear mounted equipment such as fold out load lifting platforms and even especially designed slimline forklift trucks.

For larger lorries already incorporating articulated designs an additional fixed or roll out trailer would be too unwieldy however their roof space is even more generous in the first place so should be utilised.

And in the case of the many articulated lorries which are just independent truck and trailer models with the cab owner hitching up the trailers of others the two parties would need to work to a commonly agreed system to ensure compatibility.  Which makes me think that maybe the universal container design needs remodelling to incorporate solar arrays?  And to avoid having to bolt on ill fitting solar panels to the corrugated roofs why not ‘paint’ a solar panel direct onto the corrugations?  Surely this must be possible using laser etching?

But what if we consider other means of transportation?


The idea of roof mounted solar panels on trains is not required on much of the already electrified network.  However the rail network system certainly lends itself to miles of fixed solar panel arrays alongside or between the rails for use of the rail network or to feed other non-rail infrastructure, homes and businesses nearby.

Notwithstanding the above, much of the network is not yet electrified and to convert it may be very expensive and require a lot of disruptive construction often in remote and environmentally sensitive areas.  In these cases adopting roof panel mounted arrays on the long trains could be a good option and the towing of multiple, long, linked additional arrays is certainly a feasible thought.

And why isn’t wind power harnessed as the trains pass by?  If you are unfortunate enough to be close to a passing high speed train you would feel the rush of wind created.  Put up vertical fans near to the edge of the train which would spin up when a train passes and convert this mechanical energy back into electrical energy to help power the network points, lights and other infrastructure.

Canal Boats

Canals have some similarity to the rail networks.  Some of the bends may be a little tighter but it is still essentially a system that suits elongated design.  And much like the rail system many miles of it are very open to daylight.

Already many canal boats, usually those that house live aboard residents, take advantage of a few solar panels along with the necessary electronic systems and batteries to power their onboard electrical needs.  However, their roofs are often too congested with guy ropes, poles, brightly decorated watering cans and other useless ephemera to be fully equipped with major arrays.

This is because few canal craft rely on full electric propulsion.  Most instead rely on fossil fuel powered engines.  But if one considers that these engines are usually very low powered they could simply be replaced with a similar power output electric system.

It is doubtful that with current technology that a single boat, even one that extends a full 72 feet in length, would be able to site enough panels on its own roof, even if we utilise my earlier idea of spray painted arrays.  So instead, why not tow an additional hull packed with a full set of solar arrays?

I would add a couple of other extras onto this big fuel cell to make the system more easily manageable down the cut.  I would add a small seating area at the rear and a deployable electric outboard type motor, powered from the array, to make the craft individually controllable when needed.  This would be required when the towed power source is detached from the main boat in order to pass through the standard locks on the canal system.

Finally why not incorporate onboard the hull array a mechanical or electrically automated pivoting system to steer the individual array panels towards any light source to increase efficiency of the system?

The ideas are just flowing out now so let’s scale this up.

River Boats and Ocean Yachts

Already there are fully electric powered catamarans on the market taking full advantage of their generous roof and deck spaces being covered with solar panels which feed battery systems and electric propulsion.  At present their power is limited compared to other more powerful, faster boats and yachts but they can apparently sail continuously in the right conditions at a modest cruising speed.

The trouble with non catamaran design is the lack of roof and deck space.  Plus many yachts are designed with open flybridge cockpits and many, many more are already built already incorporating big, heavy, fuel sucking engines.  So I need to find a solution for these craft as well.

The natural energy source can be the same as the model suggested for the canal boats.  Towed solar panel arrays, powering an onboard battery storage, electric propulsion motor system.

Yes, I can hear you already picking up on a couple of key points.  Calm down I have already thought of these and have them covered.

Firstly, yes some modifications have to be made to the original watercraft.  The current diesel or petrol engines will need replacing with electric units.  But these will be much more compact and whilst being fitted likely to incorporate updated innovation such as steerable pod propulsion to increase low speed manoeuvring around the harbours and marinas.

The balance of the boat design caused by the reduction in engine weight from big heavy fossil fuel engines and gearboxes with huge fuel storage tanks to more compact electrical motors can be offset by judicious positioning of the necessary battery and charging equipment.

Alternatively just build new boats with design incorporated, electric motors and battery storage systems.

But, you exclaim, what about having to tow a massive solar panel array craft behind us whilst trying to pose around the Mediterranean beaches and tearing about in pointless but addictive high speed turns?  My answer is don’t.  The power source doesn’t have to go everywhere with you.  Just tow it to a convenient bit of empty sea, anchor it from tidal movements, disconnect and go off to have some fun whilst it sucks up some sun, only to return at the end of play to recharge from your own self sufficient ‘fuel’ station.

And if you wish to harness even more power why not incorporate some wave energy technology into your floating power station as well?  I’ll explain how when we really scale this up.

Ocean Going Ships

You may think that this article has developed from my ideas on road vehicles, adapting some of these basic ideas onto small water craft and now I’m going all in in an attempt to exaggerate and scale up a basic concept.  In truth it was the energy efficient powering of ocean going liners that made me come up with these ideas in the first place.

I have been on a few cruise trips, including ocean crossings on some magnificent vessels and enjoy it too much to want to give it up for the sake of the environment.  But I have a conscience and want my actions to impact the world in which I live in the most sustainable way.  I heard that cruise ships have an enormously disproportionate effect on natural resources and they are getting ever more popular so I wanted to come up with a solution to save the industry.  I know, it’s all me, me, me.

But how do you electrify a huge cruise ship without if being tethered to a large cable attached to shore?  The answer lies in utilising wave and solar power whilst out and about.  And much like smaller boats and craft the onboard surface area is not sufficient to meet the needs of the many decks of energy hungry occupants below.

I therefore envisaged an idea that the vast surface area of a massive solar array could be towed behind to power the ship, all fitted out with steerable panels to zero in on the source of light power.  Overall size and space taken up need not be a consideration due to the environment in which these vessels operate.  Why not tow massive panel sets over a mile in length?  If size requires it to be unhooked and anchored temporarily whilst the ship puts into ports then shore power can be used whilst the ship is there.

Yes, the towed power source will need some battery storage for harvesting power whilst unhooked, it would be best served with independent motors for manoeuvring and probably incorporate a small manned onboard control tower [and lifeboat for emergency], particularly if it is a mile long!

Finally add in some wave energy harnessing technology as well into this power station, possibly by articulation of sections of the craft and hey, I may just have had an idea that could help save the industry and our planet.  And more importantly, my future cruise desires.

And finally, as a call back to the section above entitled Vans, Trucks and Lorries, remember my idea that all standardised containers incorporate solar panels.  These adapted containers can all be linked whilst transported on massive container ships to provide more self sufficiency and even more planet saving.  I’m starting to wonder whether I could actually be saving the equivalent of two planets by now.

You’re welcome.

Oh, and as for powering all the oil tankers chugging around the world.  No need, they will all become redundant.

Summary Of Ideas

Wow, what a lot to think about.  Just in case you have been overwhelmed by the number of innovative ideas in this one single article let me summarise them below.

  • Towed solar panel arrays for vehicles
  • Adjustable length towed arrays – Retractable roll out and stackable
  • Adjustable towed arrays stored within the rear of vehicles
  • Roadside recovery vehicles carrying spare, pre-charged roll out towed arrays
  • Redesign of the universal container system to incorporate solar panels, adaptable enough to be joined up to help power a container ship
  • Spray painted on solar panel arrays with laser etching
  • Fixed solar panels within or without the parallel rail lines to power electrified trains and infrastructure on electrified and non electrified routes
  • Harnessing wind created by high speed passing trains to power the network infrastructure
  • Floating, towed solar panel arrays for canal craft, boats and even big ships
  • Floating, towed solar panel arrays incorporating wave energy harnessing technology

Author: Vince Poynter

From the Ideas section of the web site Version 5.284 dated 15 Jan 2020 [First Publication]

These are conceptual ideas, untested and made without engineering calculations.  For instance I have no idea how many more miles a towed array would make to an electrically propelled vehicle or craft.  I do however surmise that it would be more with than without

I have not overly emphasised the additional components of solar panel and battery systems.  I do understand that there would be other components such as solar charge controllers, inverters, wiring and isolation to consider.  I also understand that all these things would add both weight and cost and be needed to be incorporated in either the vehicle or towed array or both.  An unaccompanied, towed array left to soak up some sun whilst drifting quietly at sea would do no good to its owner when it returns if an onboard battery etc is not included

At the time of publication I had not fact checked whether any of the ideas listed above have already been produced, developed, patented or are in the process of development.  All I claim is that I have not come across them naturally.  If you know of such innovation already out there let me know and I’ll amend and credit accordingly

I place these concepts into the wild as I feel it wrong to keep them to myself and I also hope to inspire others and generate interesting discussion

As ever, my many ideas are never commercially exploited nor formally patented by me but I would like to see them used.  I presume if you are the sort who takes up the ideas of others and passes them off as your own you would not be the sort who credits the original inventor or chucks them a bit of financial thanks.  If however you are not such a dreadful monster my name is shown above.  Find me, thank me, credit me, reward me.  You’ll feel a much better human

These innovations have not been fully developed, tested, proven via prototype, safety tested, manufactured or fully engineered and are just conceptual ideas therefore the author cannot accept any liability for loss or damage in the testing, use or manufacture of any of these conceptual ideas

My 2005 Top Ten Vehicles

21st Century Travelling

Maybe you were transported here by a strange new time machine, or even from another computer.  Any how you came you are welcome to read why I have chosen the next ten vehicles as my favourite of all time.

It is an eclectic mix of transport that I have either used or lusted after with envy.

Cyclists will note that I have not included a bicycle in the list.  After all cycle technology is now futuristic and sexy so I could forgive a lack of motorised power.  However I refuse to forgive saddle technology until I can actually ride a bicycle further than ten metres.

Of course, when compiling a list like this the rejected ones are nearly as interesting.

For instance you may wonder how I could have a list like this and not include a Ferrari.  Easy really, there’s none there.  A few may qualify on the grounds of looking fantastic but underneath is just a lightweight Fiat.  I’m not fooled, nor are many of the owners.  Check out the Owner’s Documents on any used Ferrari and you will be surprised to see so many names.  The hype doesn’t live up to the reality.  Great red though but this isn’t a favourite list of colours.

Keeping on the subject of cars, in the past I’ve swooned over the fantastically brutish Aston Martin Vantage and may still get one yet but how could I include a car that if a generous benefactor offered me a swap for any Aston from any time I’d really have no second thoughts about choosing the brand new, phenomally quick and beautiful DB9.

Some of the DB9’s details are cheaper than a crate of canaries although I’ve never been one to turn down a beauty because of a few small imperfections.  Mole on Demi Moore?  So what.

Another plus would be: “Blonde, James Blonde”. What a great introduction.

As you will be able to tell generally I’m not into classic vehicles.  I’d rather own a modern Bentley Arnarge than a 4½ litre supercharged model from the 1920s.  Unless I can sell it of course.  Plus, impressive that the 4½ litre Bentley behemoth is the most attractive classic car has to be the Jaguar SS100.  But still not as good as a couple of dozen modern vehicles.

I love bikes, it’s in my genes, whether I currently have a bike or not.  It’s all to do with the lack of a cycle when I was young and the freedom that my first moped rides brought me.  So I need to include bikes in this ultimate vehicles list and the Ducati 900 Monster was one of the first that I thought of. The reason why this strange naked retro was considered is that it re-vitalised my interest in bikes in the nineteen nineties.

I hadn’t had a bike for a while and the squared-off eighties styling never persuaded me to renew my interest.  The Monster 900 was a breath of fresh air.  It seemed so stylish and raw with an exposed engine and trellis frame it made me want two wheels again.  Thinking back, I can’t think why I brought a Yamaha Diversion 900 instead.

Oh yes. Italian electrics, Ducati clutches and a saving of about two grand.  And when you are able to make a choice based on such trivial reasons the original option doesn’t really deserve to be in a top ten.

And second best is why I cannot include a First Class dining experience aboard a ferry.  As you can tell from other entries I do like being spoilt.  So many cannot handle an obsequious waiter or fawning Maitre-d but I’m willing to be waited on hand and foot.  It’s not a case of being better than those who serve but the fact that it makes a pleasant change.  I’ll happily have a beer with the waiter afterwards.

A First Class dining experience on board a ferry, such as the cross channel version is a thoroughly pleasant way of passing the time.  But two reasons keep it off the top ten.  Firstly, the QE2 is infinitely better and secondly the QE2 doesn’t end up in France!

My final rejection is an oxymoron.  No, not the Ford 2-litre Oxymoron, but a genuine oxymoron from an age where such a beast could exist.  A cute war-plane.

Nowadays war planes are stunning, agile weapons of mass destruction but back in the 1920s at the dawn of flight the planes were not overly effective.  However, one stands out above the others, including the Red Baron’s exciting Fokker Tri-plane.

The Sopwith Camel first came into my life as a child.  If you were born a male in the late fifties or early sixties you would be familiar with Airfix kits.  Plastic self-build models that filled many a wet weekday after school.  They are still available but this tactile hobby, along with most other hands-on experiences, have become side-lined by the ubiquitous electronic games.  This is a shame as building a model is a very satisfying skill and I still fondly remember the first one I built – a Sopwith Camel.

This little bi-plane had all the ingredients of a favoured vehicle.  The styling was right with the curved leading edge to the wings, dual forward gun synchronised with the propeller and rounded tail plane.  A cute war plane, such an oxymoron.

So, onto the actual vehicles making my top-ten.

1969 Cooper F1 car

Photograpgh of a slightly tatty yellow and white Cooper racing car with steering operated from a leaning driver and a high rear wing
My toy racing car.  The wing on this model was set too high in this version, based on a late season entry.  So it now looks rubbish

Formula 1 racing has always held a certain appeal.  The fast cars, obscene money and glamorous locations keep the sport in my mind even if the last few years Schmedious results have kept it off my TV.  So it is natural that I should include a car from this pinnacle of motor sports.

I suppose it is a symptom of age that despite the obvious appeal of modern cars there is an era of racing that seems more glorious and it dates around the time I first got an interest in the sport.  I have chosen the Cooper F1 from the 1969 season as it was this car that, to me, epitomises open wheel racing.

The rear tyres look properly wide, the engine is exposed and the newly added wings were just right.  I like the front spoiler jutting from the actual nose and the rear spoiler was better looking mounted low on the engine.

I’ve never driven one, nor am I likely to as the price of classic F1 racers nearly match their modern counterparts but I can dream.

Aerial Atom

A black Ariel Atom stood in front of a red Jaguar XJ8
An Ariel Atom with my Jaguar XJ8 in the background.  I might need to take a moment

My next choice is not so far away from the car above and is probably chosen because of the similarities.  But instead of a having to be Ray Parlour’s wife to afford a classic F1 motor this blatant facsimile costs a more reasonable £30-40k.  Still a lot of money for a weekend car with no panels but well comparable with its natural opposition.

I love the Atom’s Meccano build and raw energy and can personally testify to its ability to deliver the goods that the look promises.  Short on comfort but very long on desire, the Atom deserves its place in this illustrious crowd.

Bentley Arnarge

Nearly as quick as the Aston but with seats like a Business Class jet and the torque to match.  I have never experienced power like the Bentley Arnarge delivers and in back to back tests with its bigger brother the Continental it wins on every count, including saving £100k.  The Continental may have the classic looks but I’m sure I can find an Arnarge to beat it.

The best car in the world.  Full stop.

Note that a full appraisal of my time with a Bentley Arnage will eventually be posted on this website


My first aeronautical choice is probably in the list of everyone who has ever seen the Concorde.  Breathtakingly beautiful, stunningly quick and well out of the reach of the hoi-poli.  Marvellous.

The only problems are it’s cramped interior and that it has disappeared from our skies.

Worth every bit of pollution.

In the top ten? No doubt at all.


A Far Eastern Airlines branded metal polished Douglas DC-3 hanging in the Smithsonian Museum
A Douglas DC-3 hanging in the Smithsonian Museum

The second most beautiful plane in the world [see above] hails from the time just before the second world war but its lines are just so perfect.  I love the fat fuselage, strong wing arrangements, classic twin prop design and sturdy tail.

Still operating in many places around the world today the McDonnell Douglas DC-3, known as a Dakota in the UK, is living proof that if it looks right then it probably is right.

I’ve yet to catch a flight in one of these beauties but guess that the reality doesn’t quite live up to the glamour.  Particularly as I’ll probably be in South America when I get a go in one.

Eurostar Best Class

I’m not much of a train buff.  For many years I rarely travelled on one thinking they were too expensive and inconvenient.  Also, with 8 miles between my home and the nearest station, thanks to Beecham’s cuts in the 60s, I never had cause to use them.

Not that I had no contact, my wife spent most of her career with a railway company and we took advantage of the odd subsidised trip.

Things have changed recently though as I now work mainly in London and the train is the only viable option.  I estimate that I have travelled over one hundred and fifty thousand miles sat on a train.  This experience, in all its sordid glory is why a trip on the Eurostar in the best carriages is such a delight.

I have travelled three times in First Class and on every occasion I have thought it most pleasant.  The large seats, at seat service and quiet comfort is reminiscent of travel tales of old.

Just don’t think that the modern version of First Class is the same.  For some peculiar reason, probably to do with the French translation, Business Class is the new premier travelling style and ‘mere’ First Class is a poor relation.

Now, how do I say ‘contravenes the Trade’s Description Act’ in French?

Honda CBX Moto Martin

A brown Moto Martin CBX motorbike
A Moto Martin CBX.  In brown.  Brilliant

The first bike in my top ten list is a hybrid vehicle and I’m not talking dual fuel.

In the late seventies Honda produced the stunning CBX with its fantastic transverse six cylinder engine.  Wider than a Cockney car salesman with a penchant for iced buns this behemoth was a dream machine.

Except two problems.  One, was the name.  Now Honda is a make to be respected for its engineering excellence and reliability but much like my Miele washing machine I don’t exactly look at the product with love.  The other problem with the CBX was the handling – the stock Japanese flexi-frames could never harness the engine outputs at the time.

Moto Martin, a small French custom builder came to the rescue by taking the engine and putting it in a stylish trick frame mounted with swoopy body parts with twin-headlamps.  All par for the course today but 30 years ago this was enough to make me tear out the advert and hang it on my wall.  Praise indeed.

Jaguar XJ

I own one.

Need I say more?

Note that a full appraisal of my Jaguar XJ8 4.0 will eventually be posted on this website


Who wouldn’t be impressed with one of the traditional Queens of the sea?

I have travelled the Atlantic on the QE2 and can confirm it is all that you would expect, then more.  One trip and I’m a confirmed cruise fan.  A tall order for the QM2 replacement to beat.

For more details about my experience on this most magnificent of vehicles see my separate story.  And be prepared to be jealous.

Note that a full appraisal of my time onboard the QE2 has already been posted on this website [8 Dec 2017]

Vincent Black Shadow

The author squatting down next to an immaculate Vincent Black Shadow motorbike
The two Vincents.  Vince and a Vincent Rapide.  The rarer Black Shadow was similar but faster with a black enamelled engine casing

Last, but not least, this list would be incomplete without the vehicle I was actually named after.  My father told me this, whilst saying I should have been grateful that he didn’t like Francis Barnetts.

Although this bike now looks a little quirky I am actually quite proud to be named after such a phenomenal bike from the nineteen fiftes, with a great reputation amongst those that know such things.

If only I could afford one now.  Think multiple grands.  And then some.

Fantastic name though.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the petrolhead section of the website dated 23 Jan 2018
First Published: Version 1.03 in Feb 2005 and reproduced here in full, unedited
The images all taken by the author, except the one he is in.  Obvs

QE2 – Properly Crossing The Atlantic

A long story of a transatlantic cruise on board the magnificent Queen Elizabeth 2

In some ways I felt a bit of a fraud.

It was only exceptional circumstances that led me to be able to savour the delights of crossing the Atlantic the ‘proper way’. Sure I could afford it if I really wanted to, provided a few other luxuries were forsaken. And I had previously figured that one day I may part with the thousands needed to make the trip. But I would probably be a lot older. Much like the other guests queued in the bleak warehouse that Cunard seemed fit to welcome their clients onto the most sought after ship in the cruise business.

The few tri-colour balloons did nothing to enhance the surroundings and the shabby makeshift desks which processed us out of America seemed cheap and tatty. It was the last I would see of cheap and tatty for the next six days.

I had an opportunity to live on board the magnificent Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner for a week at a fraction of the normal cost and snapped at the chance with immense enthusiasm.

I would travel the four thousand miles from New York to her home town of Southampton living the millionaire dream

It was close to the first anniversary of September 11th so the 1,791 spaces were only occupied by about 1,600 guests. I studied these travelling companions as I stood patiently in the line awaiting my chance to be photographed for the on-board ID card. I thought I had come to the wrong place, convinced I had accidentally stumbled on a SAGA holiday outing. The average age, as confirmed later, was 65. Some of them were lying.

The waiting photographer hurriedly set up each couple and took his shot. Standing next to an endorsed rubber ring with the backdrop of the warehouse and the next impatient passengers I instantly vowed not to purchase that picture and slipped quickly on board.

When boarding, at a proper terminal that is, one enters the ship in the room they appropriately call amidships. It’s like a hotel lobby without the ceiling height, a circular arrangement of comfy looking sofas surrounded by hand painted murals depicting the major events of Cunard’s illustrious past. A small sign prompted me to play hunt the cabin. A task that I am sure some of the American guests were still carrying out on the fifth day.

The cabin search took me to three deck. To the uninitiated this is the highest row of portholes on the black bit. To the initiated this meant dining in the ‘Caronia’ restaurant.

Although initially opting for nearly the cheapest of cabins I had already been upgraded twice, firstly out of the ‘Mauritania’, then, on boarding I received a pleasant surprise that I was up another deck.

The brochure suggested that cabin 3113 should be hosting a ‘Princess Grille’ passenger but I was still allocated the ‘Caronia’. I wasn’t about to complain. My few hundred pounds had secured me in a cabin some would pay ten times the amount for. And anyway, the standard tipping rate was higher in the ‘Grilles’.

The restaurants on board are the first introduction to the quaint class divisions which the QE2 still proudly hangs on to.

The basic cabins and lower decks eat in the ‘Mauritania’. Not that this is a problem. The ‘Mauritania’ resembles a five star restaurant and all guests eat the same food anyway. The other restaurants and grilles only provide fancier plates, presentation and fawning.

Photograph of the author and his wife sat in the Caronia restaurantDining in the Caronia restaurant

The next ‘class up’ eats in the ‘Caronia’ and as an occupant for a week I can declare that I wouldn’t mind if I never ate better in my entire life.

For those on the higher decks, the ones with white painted exterior walls, the ‘Britannia’, ‘Princess’ and ‘Queens’ Grilles await.

Entrance to the esteemed ‘Queens Grille’ is subtly through the ‘Queens Grille Lounge’, discouraging the general hoy-poli from gracing the presence of on-board rock stars, captains of industry and those rich bastards secretly treating their lovers to a week or two of luxurious shagging.

You might like to note at this point how the company trades on it’s glorious past. The names of the old White Star Liners, which merged with Samuel Cunard’s own vessels are bandied about with great enthusiasm. ‘Mauritania’, ‘Britannia’ and ‘Caronia’ proudly adorn the restaurants and all around the ship you discover maritime heritage artifacts from the most famous liners ever to grace the Atlantic.

Although I couldn’t locate the Titanic bar (“Ice with that, sir?”).

Mind you the careful marketing of the past is unsurprising. Even the vessel proudly claims to be a Cunard when in reality it is now owned and operated by Carnival Corporation. I think they are wise to keep the name Cunard. More class. More style.

Things move surprisingly quickly on board. I expected a lot of hanging about and gentle moseying along the Hudson out of New York harbour. But the ship was built for speed and designed to cross the Atlantic in a shade over three and a half days. The six day trip taking the northerly route up the east coast of North America past the Coast of Maine and Newfoundland, before heading east to the UK was created to allow those on board more than a couple of days living it up but the docking and maneuvering was well rehearsed and efficient.

Typically the ship would berth in the early morning and set sail before sundown. Considering the enormous tally of items to do in this time, including cabin swapping, provision loading and static maintenance we should all hail those individuals who organise the turnaround. My guess is that they train with Ferrari’s Formula One wheel changing teams.

Mind you a cynic suggested that the daytime turnaround is due to the high cost of overnight berthing in New York or Southampton. Just pity the poor traveller who gets only six or seven hours to see New York. However, two to three is quite enough for Southampton.

Photograph of the author and his wife in bright orange lifejacketsOrange Wednesday

We were scheduled to leave at 16.15. Unfortunately, this was the time that Herr Capitain decided all the new passengers on board had to prove they could master their safety equipment and get to their muster stations.

I wanted to stand proudly at the head of the vessel and watch the magnificent splendor of New York’s skyline drift away but was stuck at the muster point wearing a hideous shade of orange and sniggering at the Americans who couldn’t work out how to get in a lifejacket. It only had one entrance as far as I could see.

At least they had found the muster station, some were still playing hunt the cabin.

And as a minor comfort the muster station for all cabins around 3113 was the pub.

It only took a couple of minutes to de-robe the orange lifesaver and return it to my room then hare up to the observation platform. I got a front row view. Don’t be impressed, I only had to beat a few pensioners. Some didn’t reach the front until we were in the Gulf of Maine.

Not that we were at the true front of the ship, or the bow to you hearty sea dogs. There was no imitating Kate Winslett in the film Titanic.

The front deck area was off limits to the passengers, crew only down there. Passengers had to slum it in the rear. On the teak covered multi-decks with the pool, hot tubs and no chance of a freak wave giving an impromptu shower. An interesting place to spot the well heeled Atlantic traveller. They are the ones sunbathing fully clad and wearing sunglasses.

I’m sure that by the end of the six days aboard I spotted quite a few pale faces with shiny brown noses.

The other, braver souls sat imperiously in the hot tubs. Quite impressive until their last minute dash to recover the towel and dry themselves before the Atlantic chill took it’s toll.

Then there were the swimmers. Hardy individuals moved to try to swim in a heaving lake of semi-warmed seawater. At least you have been warned. I thought it freshwater until my first and, I might add, only open mouthed dive.

I returned to 3113. My home for the next week. A pleasant room of similar quality to a 4 star hotel.

The cabin itself was quite long, if not wide, with twin portholes at one end. The main sleeping area was separated from the bathroom by a walk in wardrobe. I walked straight back out again and only went back to use the fridge or safe.

There was enough accommodation in the main wardrobes for my light travelling. If my wife was a normal woman and not a mannequin for Levi Strauss I’m sure we could have made more use of the third room. In any event, the beds were single but well sized and placed together, the linen crisp, fresh and white and the bathroom well stocked. Ben saw to that.

Ben was (and probably still is I would wager) a small, cheerful man ready to dive into my room whenever it was vacated. Not that this was a problem as he was the assigned cabin steward. Had he not have been I would have been less impressed with his eagerness to be there when I wasn’t.

He ensured that the bathroom was cleaned and restocked, the vacuuming done and the bed turned down at the right time. He even supplied champagne and strawberries on arrival, fresh fruit daily and left a small chocolate at night. Although I think everyone on board benefited from this and it wasn’t just my friendly deportment.

I introduced myself as Vince and he duly ignored that by referring to my surname for the rest of the journey. His strict training didn’t allow for such personal contact.

Such was Ben’s efficiency I wondered what else the private Butler’s did for the penthouse suites. I mused, perhaps they didn’t turn the bed down, instead accepting it into their hearts and cuddling it all night.

Ben even secured a mock credit card to allow me to operate the safe. A rather pointless design which needed a credit card to swipe it shut. As there was no cash transactions on board, apart from the casino, the best place to keep the credit card was inside the safe. I wish I had remembered to bring the Harrods card to waltz around with. Or even the Texaco fuel card.

The fridge was much simpler, needing only a short tug to get at the contents. Trouble is there were none. No mini bar drinks or bars of chocolate. Room service would have to cater for such urgent necessities, if you couldn’t wait the long thirty minutes to the next scheduled meal.

Photograph of a seafood buffet spread featuring a large lobsterNothing fishy going on here

Meals. Eating. That’s what transatlantic cruising is all about. And boy do they do this well. You have to be prepared to dress well to eat at dinner so judicious use of a tuxedo will be balanced with a smart suit, unless your great grandfather was clearly very wealthy in which case you need to buy a secondhand corduroy suit then sleep rough in it for a month beforehand, it seems.

Not having a tux didn’t prevent me from eating on the more formal nights as the dark suit blended well, but I’ll get one the next time I go. And you could wear pretty much what you wanted for breakfast and lunch. Although Ian Thorpe may have had to change out of his daywear.

The first meal of the day was breakfast. Served in your room or in your restaurant it was a grand affair.

Like all meals the finely dressed waiters personal to the few tables around you presented a leather bound menu. A touch pompous for two Weetabix and toast perhaps but suited to the five course selection you could have.

And the service wasn’t any less proper because of the time of day. The napkin was laid politely on your knees and one didn’t need more than a nod to accept the grinding of black pepper onto the meal. The waiters even knew not to offer it on the Cornflakes. Real class.

And the food was superb. The omelets were light and tasty, the mushrooms tasted organic (without the hideous manure twang) and the bacon was served thick and tender, unless the crispy old dried Canadian version was requested.

The only strange item was the oatmeal substitute which resembled wallpaper paste. To look at, that is. Funnily enough, I never tried hanging paper with it. Felt it wasn’t the time nor the place.

Breakfast usually finished around ten, if you started early at around eight thirty, so it was a long and arduous wait until lunch, at midday.

Again the leather clad menus were offered but this time there were about six courses, if you felt so inclined. The future shape of my stomach demanded I take just two so I generally opted for the starter or soup course followed by a main meal. I’m not that into puddings and cakes.

I paraphrase when describing the selections, the soup could typically be a coconut and lime consommé with a fruits of the sea filo pastry ball, or something like that. Well to be honest, nothing like that. If I were a sous chef I’d be well and truly sued. But the geniuses in the ample kitchens knew what they were doing and accordingly worked their magic to produce the some of the best food I have eaten.

Lunch typically finished around two so it was quite a wait until the evening dinner served from around six-forty-five. One might get peckish so the crew rallied around at four thirty to present afternoon tea. This, I liked. It’s the Englishman in me.

We all took our places in the ‘Queen’s Room’. She wasn’t present herself, only her bust, but she would not have felt uncomfortable.

We sat awaiting the stroke of four-thirty when all the waiters, dressed princely in their full whites, emerged brandishing silver salvers ready to take an order for tea or coffee. Immediately, following these were the next wave, offering finely crafted, crustless sandwiches. The final onslaught offered cakes and pastries. The enemy was defeated. We all sat about trying to digest the food in time to get dressed for dinner at seven.

Dinner was the most formal meal of the day. The head waiters would unveil the gold plaque announcing that Gentlemen must wear jackets. No mention was made of trousers but I didn’t push the point.

Photograph of the two waiters during a celebrationWaiters Anders (left) and Majic

Our two waiters, Majic, a charming and professional man from Gdansk, in Poland, near to where 1983 Nobel prize winning Lech Walesa famously toppled their government and Majic’s efficient assistant Anders, a polite and helpful Croatian, made a special effort to ensure our needs were well catered for.

The usual placing of napkins and pouring of iced water were carried out, one on the knees, the other into the sparkling crystal glass (most times the napkin was the one that went over the knees). Then the menus were offered, presenting another mouth watering feast to savour select and gobble up.

Do order the fish if you go. My wife did and Anders immediately offered to squeeze her lemon. At first I thought it may have been an unprofessional approach and prepared to hit him, but he pricked his fork into the lemon segment, used another to hook out all those irritating pips then with a dexterity which would have made a card shark gasp, gently squeezed the juice into a spoon. With two forks and a spoon, he carefully pressurised the segment into releasing its contents without squirting it all over the table. And he only had two hands. I felt like applauding.

Of course all this high-foluting doesn’t suit everybody all the time. If you want a quicker feed or can’t be arsed to change out of those baggy shorts for dinner you could always dine in the Lido.

This was the sixth restaurant and had that noisy tray clanging feel of a summer camp. It was too casual for my liking and the self service seemed far too manual. Our money was paying for the fancy restaurants so it was dumb to eat there.

But that didn’t put off many, it was always busy. I guess many of them were the Americans, having spent all morning trying to find the pool area they didn’t want to risk having to find their cabins again to change and then their restaurant. They might miss an important meal and at a rough guess I would say seventy percent were anorexic. That is, if you define anorexic as standing in front of a mirror and thinking you are fat.

I wasn’t a big fan of this place, except when they held the midnight feasts there.

The midnight feast was a semi-misnomer. True, it could be a feast, and fairly unwanted at that time of day. But starting at eleven-thirty was hardly midnight. I think the guests may have gotten too hungry if they left it until actually midnight.

Photograph of the author and his wife sat in front of three large ice carvingsIce carvings (Not the two in the seats)

But even if you were thinking of sleeping on anything other than your back you had to go just for the spectacle. I’m not mentioning the magnificent ice and butter carvings (not together, I add) nor the spread of fresh salmon, crab and lobster. Nor even the wide range of cakes, pasties, breads and chocolates. No, the sight of one hundred chubby, sequined clad ladies elbowing each other out of the way to reach that last strawberry. Well, they hadn’t eaten much I suspect.

Of course despite all this gastronomy there were a couple of hours free to wander the liner.

For the more adventurous it was advised that five laps around the decks equated to a mile. This route was charmingly called the jogging track, although really it was the only way around.

Not that many jogged. A quarter never ventured on deck, a quarter were frankly the wrong shape for such activity, a quarter too old and the rest were probably eating. The only jogging I saw all week was the races from the lounge to the Lido at eleven twenty-five.

The other problem was that the front section of the ship was off limits to anyone wishing to maintain some sort of hairstyle. Twenty six knot winds in the mid-Atlantic can be very strong. Expect to walk at an angle of about forty-five degrees.

Other deck sports included a golfing net. A pity really as I was expecting to fire a few out to sea, straight off the deck. I guess the environmentalists have had their say and fear the Atlantic is being undermined by small white balls.

Another option is soft tennis or basketball. Equipment was supplied although I only saw one hoop. And it was far too high. Frankly, I’m not the right height for this game, being less than seven foot three. I did have a quick go at deck quoits though. Well you have to whilst on board, don’t you?

If you didn’t want to brave the bracing winds outside there was plenty to amuse inside.

The theatre was used for the guest speakers and ours included Elaine Stritch, of West End stage fame and a retired Concorde pilot giving an interesting, illustrated talk about flying the most beautiful of aircraft at twice the speed of sound. One American woman asked why it was that when she was on board she couldn’t hear the sonic boom. Mind you, on deck mid-Atlantic, I heard it pass overhead on one occasion.

The theatre also doubled as the cinema, where the latest releases were played using full surround sound equipment. It was like being at the movies. In a rocking chair.

But that’s the nature of being aboard. Even walking the aisles one tends to adopt the on-board swagger, moving along but gently veering from side to side. By the end of the trip you have learnt how to judge your own jaunt to nicely coordinate with the sway of the person approaching. At first there is just a lot of incompetent leaping from side to side at the last minute followed by the “Sorry. That’s OK” exchange.

If you feel up to it you are welcomed at one of the many on-board classes and talks. I noticed things ranging from computer lessons to needlework.

Card games were popular and everyone had a quick go at the on-board jigsaw. Pity all that was left was that complex bit of grass with all the bits looking just the same. I wondered how many people had actually stopped and checked a few pieces then trotted off muttering that they could have helped if only someone had not stolen that clear white piece in the middle of the thatched house.

A regular feature each morning was the art auction.

Conducted by two professional auctioneers who spent their evenings in the pub and got increasingly friendlier with the audience as the cruise went on.

Most sales were described as lithographs or serigraphs, often of a limited number with the artist’s hand signature. Many looked like they had been brought from Athena. Except you don’t find may hand signed Picassos in Athena.

Photograph of an Astahov oil painting featuring a surreal setting in bright colours set in an ornate gold coloured frameThe Astahov gets home safely

The auctions were light hearted and fair. There wasn’t many on board prepared to pay $25,000 for the Chagalls or Picassos but a few of us brought minor pieces. Personally, I invested in an Astahov original. Whoever he is. At least he made sure all the numbers were fully covered by the paint.

The auctioneer typically gave a detailed and loving three minute pitch on each piece. By the time they had finished I wondered why they were selling them at all and not adopting the work as one of the family.

All the frames were delightfully matched to the piece and glazing was included. The shipping prices were reasonable and they even offered to provide an independent valuation for insurance purposes. All one had to do was bid.

They would always start reasonably high, to see if they could feed the idea of spending a fortune. “What will someone offer for this fine Norman Rockwell?” they would ask. “$20,000”. Silence. “Ten?” they proposed tentatively. Still silence. Not even the faint sound of a nose scratch. “Five?”. The audience front row tended to look around at this point to see if others were awake. Or had left the room. Then a tentative finger would be raised.

The skilled auctioneer would pounce on this communication. “Is that a thousand to start me off?”. “A hundred.” would be the reply and after strenuouse effort the Rockwell would remain unsold.

Not that everything went unsold. Fairly brisk business was made when the pieces were punted around the one to three hundred dollar mark and the audience lapped up the original Disney cartoons. Even if the prices were a bit Goofy.

Not all of the daily activities were quite so sedantary.

I joined ‘Cruise Host’ Thomas on one of his historic talks. Thomas was an interesting, ebullient character who seemed to work hard all week. His enthusiasm was tested by the itinerary he kept.

I was never sure of his native country. At first I had assumed he was Scandinavian, the name suited and his strong accent seemed to fit. But then I saw he was holding elementary French speaking lessons on another day. On another he was listed as your German host Thomas, holding elementary German lessons. My wife had none of this and categorically said he was Spanish.

Whatever his background he knew a lot about Cunard and held a highly entertaining talk whilst whisking his crowd through the ship.

About thirty had gathered initially at the designated meeting point but I reckon only twenty-five made it to the first point of call in amidships to see him start the talk. He would enthuse about the humble beginnings of Samuel Cunard whilst colourfully reliving the past.

After a few minutes he would say that we should all turn round to see the next exhibit and when you did there he was again, continuing the fascinating story and highlighting all the interesting artifacts on board. This was to continue throughout the guided tour, so I did eventually wonder whether there was more than one Thomas anyway.

His tour took us through quite a few areas of the ship and as we went to each level the crowd size visibly diminished. Not that they were bored by the talk, you couldn’t be, it’s just that at their age, climbing and descending all those staircases takes its toll.

There were only seven of us at the end. And that included all the Thomases.

Thomas did recount a few stories of old including the Royal visits on board and the other famous passengers.

He also said that the passengers were known for trying to steal things from the liners of the past and in some cases actually tried to disembark with some furniture. Although I did not witness this spectacle some people did appear to be keeping to this tradition. How else could the missing white jigsaw piece be explained?

All in all I had a wonderful experience on board and although I have tweaked the nose of some of the traditions my overriding memories will be good and I will return.

The crew, ably led by the captain, did us all proud and I thank them all.

And just to put some icing on the cake, halfway across we had an announcement that the ship had passed her five millionth mile, so we all got a certificate. A piece of maritime memorabilia to remind us of the journey. It made me feel a proper transatlantic traveller.

No longer a fraud.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the web site version 5.034 dated 8 Dec 2017
First published: Version 1.00 in Oct 2003 and reproduced here in full, unedited
The images were added in the web site at Version 5.034 dated 8 Dec 2017