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Teresa Machan experiences the ceremonial launch of the new Regal Princess cruise ship in Italy.
“May the Most High, whose name be blessed in the world without end, be nearby the people of all ranks belonging to Carnival Cruise Lines and Fincantieri who, solemnly today, celebrate the launching of Regal Princess, the new and wonderful record-size cruise ship.”
The padre’s benediction is complete. A splash (two, of holy water), a crack (the familiar thwack of glass on steel) and a hoot (a minute’s ceremonial trumpeting from the ship’s funnel) and hull number 6224, aka Regal Princess, is ‘floated out’ at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone.
In this mini ‘city’ of 4,000 employees, located a couple of hours from Venice, the traditional benediction or blessing of a multi-million pound hull is an almost regal affair. Indeed, it warrants its own Order of Service. Rai Caluori, vice president of fleet operations for Princess Cruises thanks the padre for ensuring good weather. The day before snow and a biting bora nera that had whipped through the yard like cut glass had threatened the ceremony. March 26 had dawned clear with the weakest of suns.
Alongside the yard’s padre on the red-carpeted podium stood the madrina, or godmother, whose job it was the weald the axe that set the champagne bottle in motion. The flow of water into the building dock launches Regal Princess into her final construction stage – from here the 141,000 gross-ton ship will be floated out to the yard’s wet dock.
Regal Princess is the second of a new prototype design for Princess brand. The first, Royal Princess, sits across the dock just weeks away from her Southampton launch. Just seven months ago the skeletal form that looms large began life as a few strips of steel laid out like fat strips of liquorice on the ground. There’s still 14 months to go before Regal Princess finds her sea legs proper but the symbolism of a fresh batch of steel, a nave da crociera bambino in waiting, is not lost on the Carnival Corp bigwigs, Fincantieri executives nor the hundreds of hard-hatted shipbuilders gathered in hushed reverence.
I rush to the dockside naively expecting water to gush in, only to be told by one of the workers that the ship will not float today. It will take eight hours for the sea to buoy the hull. Divers will be sent down to make sure it is clear of its pedestals. The worker alongside me is Alberto Danielli, whose title, ‘responsabile metodi’ clumsily translates as chief of method office, or production engineer. Regal is in the vanguard, he says, and the largest ever built by Fincantieri.
Three thousand five hundred tons of steel is processed here each month but “Each ship brings new challenges and, for us, a history,” he says. “The floating is a special experience as it’s the first point of ‘arrival’ for us after several months.”
“So, this really is like a person for you?” I say, waving my hand at the behemoth.
Even as the words leave my mouth I recognise my faux pas.
“It is not a person,” says Alberto. “She is a lady.”