Right to the Bitter End!


Good Day to all readers, or as I used to say on board Cunard’s Queen Victoria or Queen Mary 2 at my daily Noon speech;

“Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Captain Peter Philpott speaking from the Navigating Bridge and I do hope you all enjoying this wonderful day at sea! As is our tradition at Cunard, we have just sounded the ship’s whistle and rung the ship’s bell in the Grand Lobby and that signified the exact time of Noon on the ship’s clocks”.

I then proceeded to give the guests an update our both navigational position and how our sea passage was going and also (which they all seemed to love) exactly how many nautical miles we had travelled since Noon on the previous day! This was so popular that on some ships I’ve even known an informal sweepstake to be held amongst the guests as to exactly how many miles we had travelled in the preceding 24 hours!

I’d then finish off the Noon speech, which was broadcast over the ship’s public address system throughout the ship (except for inside guest staterooms so as not to disturb anyone resting) with an interesting or amusing anecdote which also used to go down very well. I used to love doing all this, as it’s very important to keep contact with all your guests and indeed to keep them all well informed of our progress. Basically, the fact is that they simply like to hear the Captain’s voice – I suppose it’s very reassuring apart from anything else.

In fact when I was passing around the ship, guests used to tell me how much they looked forward to my stories each day at Noon! I used to tell them that I was very pleased that at least one out of the 2500 guests had actually been listening to me!

Many of these anecdotes had to do with the amazing number of everyday sayings or expressions that we all use to this day which actually originated from nautical language but now are just metaphorical and the original nautical meanings are now forgotten. I’ll give you a couple of nice examples;

One of my personal favorites is the expression “right to the bitter end” meaning that you will continue doing something to the bitter end, especially something difficult or unpleasant and you are emphasizing that you will continue doing it until it is completely finished.

Well this has a very nautical origin indeed, as on a ship the “bitter end” is the very inner end of the anchor cable where it is attached to a strong point in the chain locker which houses the entire length of the anchor cable itself. When anchoring a ship, the Captain would never pay out all of the available cable, instead saving some more length to pay out if necessary, should the weather take a turn for the worse and the wind increase in strength. Paying out more anchor cable onto the sea bed would enable it to hold the ship in position more strongly in the bad weather, but it would have to be very bad weather indeed to force the Captain to pay it all out “right to the bitter end”….! Fascinating!

We also use the expression “to know the ropes” to this very day, which we use to mean we understand how to do something. It originally came from the days of sailing ships, when each ship may well have had several miles of rope and rigging attached to the various masts and sails and each one naturally designed to do it’s own specific job. It took a lot of training and experience for the seafarers of the day to learn what each one was for and when he did he was said “to know the ropes”.

I have many more of these sayings about which I can explain the origins and maybe I’ll include one or two in each weekly column.

As I write, I see from Cunard’s website that our youngest ship, Queen Elizabeth is about to go into a scheduled refit in France. These planned refits which also involve dry-docking the ship, happen around every three to five years and only take around two to four weeks depending on the amount of work scheduled. This is quite amazing in itself when you consider that outside those periods the ships are in service with guests on board every single day of the year.

During this current Queen Elizabeth refit, all staterooms and suites will be enhanced to match the luxurious standard of Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2. The Royal Arcade will be redesigned to provide a contemporary, immersive retail experience and according to Cunard an exciting new wellness and beauty offering will launch on board. The ship will emerge from her 16 day refit in Brest, France refreshed and ready for her exciting 2019 itineraries.

Stay safe and well,

Peter Philpott
Queen Mary 2.