For Abu Dhabi’s local and expatriate residents, it was a moment crystallised in time.
On February 24, 1979, the Royal Yacht Britannia docked at Mina Zayed in the UAE’s capital with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the nation’s founding father, there to receive Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain on her first visit to the country that was only eight years old.
Also present was Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, then Ruler of Dubai and the other five Rulers of the UAE Supreme Council, as well as crowd of residents and British expatriates eager for glimpse of the monarch.
But the link between the UK and this land had been a long-standing one, from the days that these shores provided a regular stop for British merchant ships on their way to the East, to the British withdrawal from the region’s Trucial States before independence.
Fittingly then, considering the maritime connection, that the British monarch should dock aboard a yacht that she had commissioned in the year of her inauguration, 1953.
Upon being greeted by Sheikh Zayed and the gathered dignitaries, Queen Elizabeth was also presented with bouquet of flowers by two school girls, a sign of the royal fever that had swept through the British community in the UAE.
It remains one of the most historic and cherished visits to the country by any head of state, coming as it was less than eight years after the seven emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm Al Quwain had gained independence from Great Britain as the newly founded nation of the United Arab Emirates.
And forever imprinted in the public’s collective consciousness is the vision of the magnificent Royal Yacht Britannia making its way across the Arabian Gulf towards Abu Dhabi.
Stretching 126m and 37m heigh, weighing 5,769 GT, reaching a speed of up to 21.5 knots (39.8 km/h) and with capacity of 250 guests, the Royal Yach Britannia was built in the famous shipyards of John Brown & Co, which had also birthed the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary.
Upon its launch on April 16, 1953, the Queen pronounced: “I name this ship Britannia.”
I wish success to her and all who sail in her.
Britannia was the first Royal Yacht to be built with complete ocean-going capacity and on being decommissioned in 1997, it put full stop to a long line of boats – designed as royal residences to entertain world leaders and other guests – that goes back to the reign of Charles II in 1660.
“Looking back over forty-four years we can all reflect with pride and gratitude upon this great ship which has served the country, the Royal Navy and my family with such distinction.” the Queen said as the yacht found final berthing place at Ocean Terminal, Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland.
For those that stood excited at Mina Zayed all those years ago, just as for other all around the world that caught a glimpse of this historical marvel, the Royal Yacht Britannia may be gone, but never forgotten.