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Entries about boating

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.

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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.

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Luderitz from anchorage in the early morning

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

Time for monotony

With the humdrum tasks out of the way (waiting at ports at odd hours, changing ships, calling at odd Spanish islands: that sort of thing) it was done to the normal job of sitting on a boat at sea. I never go out of my way to come up with a routine, but at sea It just seems to kind of happen.

Though the food is all inclusive, it is not actually all that amazing. Whilst i'm sure that the fancy sit down/dress up food is pretty good – on the couple of occasions that I went, it was good, no doubt – the buffet stuff (which, as somebody with no dress up clothes who has to eat, spent many hours at) is more hit and miss. The eggs at breakfast seem average at best, the bacon has been cold, crispy and streaky, and sausages tend to be a single very small one: Omelettes have also been less than impressive, and the coffee, as previously mentioned, has been absolutely atrocious.

As such, i've tended to generally ignore breakfast. I'll lounge around and go for an early lunch at 11.30 or so: a toastie/sandwich for brunch, followed a couple of hours later by lunch, often from the Asian buffet. An odd if slightly intriguing issue is that all the food portions are quite small. For an all inclusive ship, generally used by (mostly fat, if watching them disembark at Barcelona is in any way typical) Americans, the portions are tiny. Which means pretty much every mealtime, I end up eating two meals. That makes me sound like a fat b*stard, but i've been eating less than normal even with two meals at every meal.

During the afternoon, i wander the ship, stopping every now and again to talk to somebody or watch something, or find a spot to sit and read or work: sunbathing or sitting on the sun deck rapidly became unattractive due to the nature of the cruise – Though it can have it's moments, being surrounded by lots of old, fat, naked German people is not always highest on my list of priorities. I'll have a fajita as a late afternoon snack, sometimes with a few beers. Dinner will either be booked and taken with some South African-Portuguese i've become friends with, or casually in the lido. I'll then generally watch a film or DVD from the ships library before wandering out for the evening. Though there is lots of laid on entertainment, a large chunk of it is obviously orientated to an elderly German audience (and some of the names are/were big in German entertainment) and I have generally foregone it. I'll instead sit in the casino, talking to the ever rotating staff – mostly Eastern European or Filipino – with some others, or wandering into the Sports bar (which has no sports) or Piano bar (where there is, at least, a Piano and player). At the end of the evening, when the Germans are in bed or occupied elsewhere, i'll go on deck – favourite spot is the stern on Deck 3 – and watch the night slide by. Stars in the sky, whispy clouds and relatively cool temperature can make it great.

I've now also got used to the other passengers, and their composition. When I was young, I used to occasionally read or watch of tragedies, which listed nationalities of those on board – a plane, for example would crash killing 100, of whom 80 might be from one country, and 15 from 1 or 2 others, leaving 4 or 5 oddballs from often unlikely and far away parts of the world. As a 10-12year old, I would always have a strange morbid wonder why these sole nationals were there, and what their story was. Now, if, such a tragedy would occur (and obviously if you are reading this, it hasn't, because it wouldn't have been uploaded), I would be the oddball. Out of the 1920 capacity, there are barely passengers 800 on board. Of those, roughly 70 are not German, and as far as I am aware virtually all of whom are South Africans. According to the cruise director, anyway, I am the only Brit. I also lower the average age of the passengers substantially. Of the 800, I would conservatively guess that 750 are at least old enough to be my parents, and probably 730 or so, grandparents. 4 younger German girls i'd come across in Barcelona left at Tenerife, leaving me in the youngest 10 passengers on board.

Basically, there are 4 children with their parents (one of the kids, Fabio, and his parents are ¾ of the aforementioned Portuguese-South African group), 2 German lads who have won a competition to the World Cup, and another ethnically Portuguese guy, Jose, plus myself, and a large German guy with his blonde accomplice who look exactly like you imagine a blinged up drugs baron and his porn star partner would look. Everybody else is significantly older.

Thus I now get a week at sea, with a load of old-age naked sun-bathing foreigners for company. What could be better?

Posted by Gelli 18:30 Tagged boating Comments (0)

Dogs. Or birds, depending on your idea

Two days later, and the Canary Isles loomed up out of the early morning mist. Santa Cruz de Tenerife loomed largest, which is probably a good thing as that was where the port we were due to call at was. On my trip to St. Helena we had originally been scheduled to call at Tenerife, but the plan had changed and we had had to be content with sailing past and watching the evening lights. And with Tenerife not really being on the way to many places by surface, I had never expected to ever visit. But stopping was a small bonus I was not going to complain about.

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Santa Cruz harbour information maps were seemingly of use only to Jesus, or those others able to walk on water...

With stunning inevitability, I had arrived in Spain on a public holiday (as per my last trip north, in Vigo), meaning that Santa Cruz was basically closed. The town was set up with dozens of stages and it looked like a great party was going to occur. Sadly, though, it would be after we departed. Which left me to wander around for a couple of hours: Santa Cruz is a fairly pretty looking town, but not somewhere that really jumped out at me as a must return. I suspect that for Tenerife and the Canaries in general, the place to be is out of the towns, and in the country, up in the mountains and national parks. And that was an option unavailable to me.

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Instead I spent some time sending and downloading emails and wandering through closed streets, before stocking up on some booze supplies which I hoped to smuggle aboard, and then sitting and watching the world with a bocadillo and real coffee (the free coffee on the ship is truly dreadful. It is gnats piss to beat all gnats) and then a beer before ambling back on board, showering and then an hour later watching as Tenerife slowly disappeared into the background: the end to a small diversion from the many days of sea, of which we now have 7.

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The MS Westerdam in Santa Cruz harbour

Posted by Gelli 09:28 Archived in Spain Tagged boating Comments (0)

Merin? Where the heck is Merin?!

After the constant supply of good news the previous evening, something had to give. I knew it, and the world knows it. And inevitably, it did. Around 1.30am Saturday morning, by now well out of range of the Canary Islands, news came through on the Sat-Com that we would be unable to call at Vigo.

This i discovered from the Captain over breakfast the following morning, and though disappointing it didn't really surprise me: Things had been going just a bit too smoothly. Something simply had to go wrong and I was well due for it. Apparently, from Monday, Vigo is on strike: whether it be the pilots, port authorities, dockers or somebody else was – and is - irrelevant to me, although I am praying that whoever it is do not extend their strike to other ports. Instead, he said, we would be calling at a port called Merin.

I've never heard of it.

Though I haven't spent much time in North West Spain – something i really want to rectify soon, as what I have seen is beautiful, unspoilt and friendly – my knowledge of the area is reasonable enough that I am at least aware of the major towns and ports, and not having any idea about Merin worried me for a bit. Whilst it didn't really matter from one sense – I would get off where the ship docked, regardless of name of the port – that corner of Spain is quite mountainous and public transport fairly sparse: I didn't want to end up in a tiny fishing port somewhere which would take me ages to get out of due to a lack of buses etc. Arriving in the wrong place at the wrong time would be easy for me to loose a day or two, just trying to get somewhere relevant. Though not excessive by any means, and still less than the average backpacker, I also have more stuff – and weight – than normal, as i have a pile of gifts, Christmas presents etc as well as my normal kit, and no inflatable animals to assist with any hitchhiking attempts.

Up on the bridge, i looked at the Finistere charts to discover that it wasn't necessarily all that bad. Merin is only a couple of minutes latitude further North than Vigo, and is close to somewhere that I do know, Pontevedra. This will change my plans and route slightly – I will probably have to get a bus to Pontevedra, followed by a train to either Vigo, or possibly Ourense, before i get onto my main route - which will delay me a few hours, but shouldn't be *that* bad and with admittedly a decent slice of luck, won't even affect the day of my arrival into London.

But that is still a long way off, and there is plenty of time and chance for things to change yet again.

Posted by Gelli 05:56 Archived in Spain Tagged boating Comments (0)

Hello land.

Eventually, inevitably, it slowly loomed out of the ocean. 'It' was Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Isles, and the first land I had seen in 10days. My cabin is on the wrong side, and the currents had been better than expected for a few hours, meaning my calculations were a bit off: I had noticed a blip of mobile phone signal, and thus gone outside on the other side of the ship to have a look expecting to see, maybe, a dot of land in the distance. Instead, I was slightly surprised to discover a very obvious land mass with mountains barely 20km or so away and also full mobile phone signal.

It was very strange.

Land is something I had just got used to not being there, and even though we were not stopping, here, suddenly, it was. For a couple of hours, it was great: a diversion from the monotony of sea, tempered with the sad knowledge that it was soon all at an end. I sent a few messages to let family and colleagues know that i was still alive and on course, and had a couple of happy phone calls.

I received SMS with wave after wave of good news: Everybody was OK; Maaret sounded really happy, had some very promising looking interviews for jobs and was also not sleeping on the streets as she had feared. News also came through that I have somewhere to live in London, which sounds really good and is in a pretty much ideal location, which also stops me living on streets or having to commute from – and live with – my parents. My work contract is still there and there is no problem with my delayed start (excepting i'll have to work hard and long to catch up missing weeks) as I had feared. And the World Cup draw had been made: Full details I don't know, though I heard enough to know that England scored a ridiculously easy looking group. More importantly, we didn't get them and our random tickets have scored some really tasty looking games – Portugal v Brazil being the stand out, but also with tickets to see Argentina and a couple of Dutch games. If all goes to plan/seeding, we'll get Argentina-Germany in the QF.

From what I had heard in those short few hours, I couldn't be happier. I watched Fuerteventura, and then, in the darkness, the lights of Lanzarote pass by: It felt slightly strange – it was Friday night in Lanzarote, a big tourist destination, and doubtless in the many lights we could see, thousands of locals and tourists would be out eating dinner and enjoying some drinks, entirely oblivious to us passing by, noted at most as a few lights in the distance of a passing cargo ship, of no interest to anybody. To us, the first land and contact with the outside world we had had for 10days, the contact was a bit more special.

Weather reports for the rest of our journey are grim, especially around Finistere, whilst in Northern Europe the winter seems to be in full flow and though I have no choice, not something I have a vast desire to hurry back to.

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It is a really bad photo, I know (most of mine are, as i'm sure you know by now) but these are the lights of Lanzarote, passed in the evening, and my first sight of land in 10 days

Posted by Gelli 19:54 Archived in Spain Tagged boating Comments (0)

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