At dawn seamen in itchy woolen jumpers dress her for a day in the sun. Nautical echolalia. The sequence of flags and pennants largely babble.
Decks hosed down. Drying off and temporarily derelict. Taut, ropes pluck time against the aft mast. A hot sun low warms the timbre. Ready for the pentameter of the pre-dinner perambulate.
That old bird did not go easy. Magnificently, Captain Mike Carr had her speakers blast the ancient Scottish pipers lament Flowers of the Forest over her abandoned decks. Draft trimmed to the angle of the shore at Gadani Beach and steaming almost full ahead they ran her up it. On account of her deep draft she beached too far out and cost the breakers a fortune to dismantle. It was to be three months but because of her solid Belfast construction (sic) it took them a year to scrap the brute.
In 1960 SS Canberra was the last ocean liner to leave the Harland & Wolff yard. First she ferried ten-pound-poms to Aus for the P and O. When the journey became the destination, she cruised. She was much much cherished. 'Swains still talk of the Pig n Whistle and passengers how they slept on deck when it was sweltering. She did indeed have truly beautiful lines. Look. And I have at least one old hand-drill and a timber plane here that undoubtedly helped fit her out. Seamus has a hammer he swears by to this day (he'll use no other) that yarn suggests he pinched off her. Perhaps a massive museum toCanberra might have been more fitting for this city?
Requisitioned as a troop ship in 1982, sombrely she repatriated POWs to Puerto Madryn then went home a heroine. As if they could love her any more. An extravagance to run but she ploughed on until 1997. On the 25th September she anchored off Cannes with Oriana to hand over the Golden Cockerel. An awful hammered silhouetted brass trophy it travels on the fastest vessel in the P&O fleet. There was a terrific party. All the way to Pakistan the crew played ping pong on passenger decks. The Indian boys tossed quoits and just seemed pleased nobody minded that they smoked. Captain Mike Carr moved them all into passenger staterooms and left the officers be. The pool stayed full and a water slide was fashioned from a laundry chute.
As Canberra hot-stepped for Gadani Beach in October 1997 the Star Princess arrived in Harland and Wolff and began fitting out as her replacement. Old hands on deck still claim it was the coldest refit in P&O history. Both my brothers worked with me on that job. This means at least a third generation of O'Hares got to work in the ship yard then. I went with her when she left for Southampton as Arcadia the week before Christmas.
In 2003 I interviewed Mike Carr a gent, in dry-dock in Germany for a DVD documentary. Alongside Oriana in the Bremmerhaven yard was the beautiful and tragic Norway awaiting her fate. (ex-SS France a boiler had exploded scalding eight crew to death. Laid up and controversial she was finally broken up in Alang in 2008) In the berth in front of us for her final refit was Cunard's QE2. The last three great Ocean Liners together. With much gravity he said sadly "We shall not see their like again" and I still stifle a short sob when I think of it. It's difficult to say why these old boats and all boats have such an effect on us.
Photographs: Canberra/Oriana Cannes 1997. I found the negatives at the back of a cupbaord on Oriana about six years later and requisitioned them. It seemed to me that someone who cared should take care of them.