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Stephen Payne OBE FREng - Queen Mary 2


Thanks to an inspiring and supportive physics teacher, Mr Justin Johnson, Stephen Payne went to Southampton University to study naval engineering. His degree was “mostly theoretical” he says. “Nothing about getting on a boat or a ship and seeing what happens when you turn the rudder.” So to get his hands on real ships Payne joined the University Royal Naval Unit. That gave him an understanding of what the Navy does, which was useful when they later asked him for advice on specifications for aircraft carriers.

A degree in ship science was Payne’s first step to becoming a naval architect. From then on his career was relatively plain sailing. Before long he was working for what became Carnival Corporate Shipbuilding, whose parent company, Carnival Corporation, now owns many of the world’s major cruise lines, including Cunard, the operator of QM2.

Payne was happy to build cruise ships. He explains that cruise ships exist to sail majestically, and in no hurry, around the world, stopping off at different ports for sightseeing and shopping opportunities. A liner, especially one that plies the Atlantic, exists to get people from one place to another, albeit in luxury. It has to be faster and capable of sailing through severe storms without being delayed or upsetting the crockery and the passengers.

The opportunity to build a genuine ocean-going liner came after Carnival bought Cunard from Kvaerner. Carnival’s senior management, knowing Payne’s interest in ocean liners, asked him to think about realising his ideas for a true liner. “I was given a blank sheet of paper and a pencil and told to get on with it.”


A cruise ship has a rounded bow that can accommodate as many passengers as possible. “If you look at the Queen Mary 2, the bow is like an arrow. It is designed to cut through the big Atlantic storms and bears no resemblance to a cruise ship bow.”

The need to maintain schedule also explains why the QM2 has plenty of reserve power. In good weather, the ship needs about a half to two thirds of its maximum power to do the scheduled six-day run across the Atlantic. “The rest is for when the going gets tough.”

Payne, now Chief Naval Architect with Carnival Corporate Shipbuilding and, among other high profile roles, President of The Royal Institution of Naval Architects, ascribes his chance to realise his ideas for a genuine liner down to a combination of Carnival’s purchase of Cunard and the blockbuster movie, THRUST CAPABILITY

Payne illustrates the sheer size of QM2 by describing the liner’s propulsion system. It consists of four huge ‘Mermaid pods’, made by Rolls-Royce/Alstom, that hang under the rear of the vessel. The pods – the largest and, at 21.5 MW each, the most powerful ever made – were a first for a liner. “Two are fixed – they just drive the ship forwards and backwards. Two of them, as well as driving the ship, can swivel on slip rings. That is how you can manoeuvre.”

All it takes to move the ship around is a hand on a joystick on the bridge. With the aid of computers, data from satellites and wind gauges, this controls the four pods and moves the ship in the direction the joystick is pointed.

Each Mermaid pod, as they are called, is “like a big outboard motor,” says Payne. When he says big, he means it. “Even though I have lived the dream throughout the building of the ship, it still amazes me that each one of those pods weighs 320tonnes, which is the weight of a fully loaded 747 jumbo jet on takeoff.”


Payne spent just two years working on QM2 before Cunard was ready to put out contracts. That was in November 2000. The vessel, built in two and a half years at a cost of £550 million, entered service in January 2004 (see FUTURE ENGINEERS

It will, though, need new generations of engineers to make it happen and Payne isn’t leaving the creation of those engineers to chance.

Since the launch of the QM2, Payne has become one of the often seen faces of modern engineering on television. This public visibility has brought home to him the fact that today’s youngsters can still face some of the same obstacles that nearly sank his own engineering ambitions. He did an initial year studying chemistry at university in 1982 after his school convinced him that there was no future in engineering. Thankfully he was rescued by Mr Johnson who assisted him switching to ship science and arranged an extra year’s grant which enabled him to change courses and study
at Southampton.

Stephen Payne’s postbag regularly includes letters from today’s youngsters who tell of teachers trying to put them off of careers in engineering. “One young woman was even told by her school to look for something more feminine to do!”

Upset by these tales, Payne started to use QM2 as a way of enthusing youngsters, with Cunard’s backing. The first event on the vessel led him to set up Future Engineers with Brian Ansell, a physics teacher who does not turn up his nose at the idea of engineering as a career option.

Payne is particularly keen to encourage young engineers into ship engineering. “I know that there is a need,” he insists. Perhaps one day a young engineer will emerge from the scheme and go on to make a nuclear-powered, ocean-going liner.

Stephen Payne sees naval architecture as underpinning the UK’s long-established shipbuilding and ship operation industry. The Future Engineers programme organises trips for youngsters aged 9 to 11 to go onboard the QM2 and visit other marine and aeronautical engineering venues. These he hopes will show that “Engineering offers a kaleidoscope of rewarding career opportunities across many disciplines” and will enthuse them as much as Blue Peter captured his imagination.

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