A Travellerspoint blog


And on.

Life seemed to go surprisingly quickly onboard, though I couldn't say why. I had expected a slow pace of life and the journey to drag on, but it actually seemed to go faster than pretty much every other long sea voyage I have been on. And to be fair, it was fast. I'm used to 14-16knot average speeds. The ms Westerdam on the other hand, was whacking along at an average of almost 23knots, which is somewhat rapid for a large vessel. Add in a 20knot headwind which slowed us a bit, and it all contributed to a very brisk chilly breeze on deck for most of the last week or so.
The Equator was crossed one morning at 3am, and King Neptune made his traditional appearance the following afternoon. It was the ships first crossing, and first for the vast majority of crew and passengers. The crossing the line ceremony was performed, but was fairly tame. Only staff members (who had volunteered) were allowed to take part, and the watching German passengers were almost more bemused than anything else. Being an American owned ship, I later discovered that they are so scared of being sued that they never allow non-crew to take part, and even the crew all have to sign several waivers first. I think it quite sad that a centuries old tradition is now constrained by the threat of legal action.

Part of the crossing the line ceremony

Only a few days later, and we started to see one or two birds, a few dolphins and then the occasional ship. And just like that, we arrived at Luderitz in Namibia. I was looking forward to a few hours ashore and potential to maybe even catch up briefly with some acquaintances, but the cruises now near-legendary poor organisation and planning kicked in again. We were in anchorage by 6:30am, and they expected the ship to be cleared by the authorities and disembarkation to begin by 7. But this is Africa. And a very small, remote town in Africa without regular international arrivals to boot. I knew there was no way in hell that the authorities would be out to the ship so early, but it was obvious that the crew/etc hadn't realised this. They seemed surprised that nobody came out until 8:30, and the ship was not cleared before 9. But by then, time was short and all shore leave was cancelled. Almost 400 passengers disembarked – many of whom were being bused directly to Windhoek (A good 10hours or so by bus) to fly home that evening, and several of whom did not even previously realise that the ship continued to Cape Town. And were thus understandably annoyed to have missed out on visiting.

A few hours of looking at Namibia later, we laid anchor, and slowly left the anchorage for the blast down to South Africa and our last night onboard.

Luderitz from anchorage in the early morning

Posted by Gelli 06:31 Archived in Namibia Tagged boating Comments (0)

Walvisbaai. Again

Walvisbaai was covered in a surprising grey layer of mist, and it had rained a bit during the night. It was also, if not cold, then much chillier than expected and on my previous visits. My grand plans for shore, inevitably, came to nothing. Most estimates had us coming into the dock around 5-6am the following morning, which would have been perfect. Instead, we were in early (a good thing in most terms) at 23:45, a particularly useless time for me. I have been to Walvisbaai a couple of times, and that prior experience tells me that midnight on a Sunday is not necessarily the best time to visit. With the possible exception of a 24hour garage, a bar or two, and maybe a brothel, everything would be shut and the streets empty.

It's 1am, we are in Walvisbaai and I am about to go to sleep whilst many of these containers get loaded

And so I went to sleep, amongst the rattle, noise, shouting and lights that accompany any port stop. I was up early the following morning to watch the loading and inquire as to it's progress. The Chief told me around 6, that we were due to sail at 9, and that pretty much, was that. Regardless of when we would actually sail, and both of us expected that it would be later, the captain would not be able to allow me leave to go ashore due to lack of time and formalities: the ship sure as heck would not wait for me if the cargo was complete and I was not back onboard.

Loading continues in the morning

And so I had to scrub my shore ideas. Instead of going ashore, I just watched for a few hours as the containers were loaded and the harbour crew buggered about. It was, indeed, a later departure than expected, and by the time we left, our projected 8hours alongside had taken 12, and we had been in sight of Walvisbaai for over 48hours. This delay may affect our schedule, but it might not. There is a lot of water, weather, wind and current to pass before we reach Vigo, and lots of opportunity to catch up time, or, indeed, be further delayed.

But finally, and happily, we are not back at sea and have nothing but open water ahead of us for the next 10days or so. I can't wait.

Posted by Gelli 14:38 Archived in Namibia Tagged boating Comments (1)


Being a cargo ship means that things are not always as smooth as on a passenger boat or a cruise liner. We had made good time to Walvisbaai, and were in anchorage outside by midday on the 3rd day. The trouble was, so were many others. At one point i could count 18ships at anchorage, with more arriving every few hours, and all awaiting clearance to dock at the quay.

On arrival, we were number 7 or 8 in the queue, even though at least a couple of the ships ahead of us had not yet arrived. As is the way with port authorities, we were just told to wait and listen out. Rumours and guestimates abounded. And so we waited 33hours without any information except what we could ascertain with our own eyes before being given clearance to proceed (several hours earlier than most guesses). It was almost another 3 hours – just before midnight on day 4 - before we were finally berthed in Walvisbaai. A cruise ship that had arrived earlier went straight in without even pausing outside.

The Cruise ship that went straight in, at the quayside, one of the most scenic docking areas on the cruise ship world tour...

Anchorage is one of the most frustrating times for most sailors and seamen. It involves – sometimes protracted (one seaman told me they had once spent 3.5weeks at Panama with no information and then another week once they had traversed the canal) – waits, generally with no information. You can see land, but can't do anything about it. You are also ready for the work of socking and then doing cargo movements: In our case, we had about 130 containers to load, and yet all you can do is sit and twiddle your thumbs.

And as a passenger, it can be even more frustrating: You know that you have no duties in port, and in normal situations can get off and go and explore for a few hours. I could see the sand dunes. I could see the town in the distance. And I had ideas of having a walk and stretching my legs, doing some bits of shopping for extra supplies and maybe finding an internet cafe for an hour or so and checking up on the world. But that mean't nothing. I just had to sit and wait like everybody else.

Sand dunes outside Walvisbaai, taken on our eventual departure. It would be over 10days before i saw any land again

Posted by Gelli 04:36 Archived in Namibia Tagged boating Comments (0)

Passing RMS

It was coming to the end of the my first full day at sea. Cape Town is now but a distant memory. I was just before 18:00 and I had just come up from dinner. I still had my coffee, and went for a look outside. Usually, I go out on the Starboard side on A Deck, but unaccountably, on this occasion I decided to go out on C deck, and to the Port side. For whatever reason, I had timed it absolutely perfectly: Barely 1.5km away, and just about to pass us heading south was the RMS St. Helena.

She is unmistakable in design and i realised immediately: If there were any doubts a quick trip to the bridge confirmed it. Probably the only ship in the world that I could recognize at distance and at sea without any hesitation, and the one ship that actually means anything for me. From my advanced height, I was amazed at just how small she looked – I have seen bigger fishing boats. She was also looked quite low in the water, but i kind of knew that it was partly an illusion, especially seeing her from an angle I never have before.

At 6pm, the bar would be open and they would be preparing for the first of the evenings dinner services. Dots of people were clearly seen on the outside deck, and I wondered who might be on it: Which of my friends, acquaintances and doubtless family members were leaving the island this time?

Though I can't really explain it, I was immensely happy – if a bit sad that I was not either on board her, or heading to the Island – to see her. It seemed to add a nice touch to the end of my trip, and as the call at Walvisbaai will also do adds to the closing of a circle for my time in Africa on this trip.

Barely 20minutes later, we had passed and the RMS was now just a small dot in the distance as she headed for Cape Town. The excitement (mine, not the crew's - for whom she was just another ship - or anybody on the RMS, for whom we were just a passing diversion) was over, and our mutual voyages continued into the increasing twilight.

The RMS St. Helena, en-route to Cape Town

Posted by Gelli 14:31 Archived in Namibia Tagged boating Comments (0)

Not the ideal ending

You always look back and think “what if”. You replay incidents over and over in your head. It is a natural human reaction, and I am especially prone to it. What if... If only... Why didn't I... But for me, the worst part is always that momentary instant (are all instants momentary? answers on a postcard, please) where you realise that there is nothing more you can do. That moment of resignation, failure and utter helplessness is always, for me, worse than the anger.

Most cities have their good and bad parts. Most places have their more dangerous spots. Many places all over the world should be avoided or at least taken in great care after dark. However for a group of 4 to be robbed at knife, and then gun-point (its amazing how a small gun suddenly raised and pointing at your chest pretty much ends your resistance), 400m from the hostel at 5.45pm in broad daylight on a busy city road in the middle of rush-hour Windhoek and with literally hundreds of witnesses not one of whom stopped to help, just isn't good. If it had been Detroit or Nairobi or Johannesburg, or in a dodgy part of town it might be a bit different, but a major thoroughfare in one of Africa's safest countries and cities? It really sours the whole experience.

Happily and luckily, all 4 of us are and were physically fine. The thieves 'booty' of one bag, one wallet, one passport, 2 cameras and 3mobile phones could also easily have been much worse as well. The passport was replaced at great expense but relative easy and Susse could fly home as scheduled. Credit cards and mobile phones were canceled without huge problem either. The police were also surprisingly efficient at taking the statements, and peoples insurance are now dealing with the rest of the problems. But the most annoying thing is the photos. It always is. Sh1t happens. I know that. The girls know (or, at least, have suddenly now realised) that. But just because you know it happens and the law of averages says that it will eventually happen to you as well really isn't of much comfort. Although I personally lost nothing it is of no real consolation. It was just a very sad way to end what had been a great time in Namibia.

Goodbye Namibia

Posted by Gelli 05:40 Archived in Namibia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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