On Wednesday, 27th May 1936, passengers steadily embarked and their luggage was carefully checked and then taken aboard Cunard’s new flagship, Queen Mary. The final preparations for departure were made: five boat trains were needed to bring passengers from London. Fares ranged from £102 return for Cabin Class to £33.10s.0d for Third Class. During the day 18 special excursion trains had brought thousands of spectators to Southampton.
At 4.33pm, watched by up to 250,000 sightseers, and dressed overall for the occasion, Queen Mary slowly backed out from Ocean Dock. As she headed slowly down Southampton Water, thousands more lined the banks, and a fleet of small boats surrounded her. By 6.30pm she reached the Channel. Next stop was Cherbourg, arriving at 8.47pm. Early next morning she was ready for her first crossing, leaving at 1.39am (BST). On her first trip she carried 1,805 passengers, served by 1,101 crew (although precise figures vary), plus two stowaways and £2·5 million of gold.
The average speed officially logged by Queen Mary on her maiden crossing was 29·133 knots: she passed the Ambrose Channel light ship just after 9.00am local time on Monday 1st June, 4 days 5 hours 46 minutes from Bishop Rock. Not yet quite enough to beat Normandie, but well above her designed service speed of 28·5 knots.