''The most vivid experience I had,'' said Captain Peter Jackson of his tour of duty as master of the Queen Elizabeth 2 during her Falklands mission, ''was navigating this ship in the South Atlantic in dense fog amid hundreds of icebergs. It was pitch dark,'' he said, ''but I knew they were there.
''The next day, when visibility improved, I saw a few. One was 300 feet high and a half-mile long - that means that there's 2,000 feet below the water.''
The QE2 had just arrived in New York, after a frenetic 60 days of refitting, repainting, and redecorating in Southampton, England. One debarking passenger declared that the trip had been a kind of ''maiden voyage for everybody,'' and the ship's arrival had that feel about it. A small but enthusiastic crowd cheered, and tartaned bagpipers skirled on the pier; helicopters had hovered overhead as three tugs nudged the ship, so immense that she dwarfed everything about her, into her berth.
The ship gleamed in the New York sunshine in her unfamiliar new coat of pale-gray paint, brightened by orange at the waterline and on the traditional Cunard orange-red funnel. From a maintenance point of view, at least, the new color did not seem a success; small traces of rust could already be seen after one trip across the Atlantic.
Captain Jackson emphasized that he is delighted to be back in his role of master of a pleasure vessel. But, if hard pressed, he can tell a tale of the Falklands that will surely shiver the timbers of passengers at the captain's table for years to come.
''There were two Argentine submarines that were around, and this was one of our biggest problems,'' he said. ''So we had the ship (communications) blocked out at night. It was heavily overcast with dense fog; that destroyed any reconnaissance.''
Captain Jackson is a rather short, stocky, silver-haired man, sunburnt, blue-eyed, clad in blinding ship's-captain white. He also seems judicious, patient, and genial. But his voice hardened slightly when he referred to the Argentine seizure of the Falklands as an ''act of piracy.''
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