Sailing across a big ocean can be an apprehensive prospect. Such cruises are considered re-positioning, when the ship is moving from one continent to another for a new season of clustered itineraries. Crossing the Atlantic in a grand ship like the Queen Mary 2 is one thing. Such luxury liners carry thousands of passengers; they are like small cities. Brrrr ... not for me; it would take a week to find your most pleasing spot and never see the same face twice. On the other end of the scale are those hardy sailors who cross oceans in something like a 30' sailboat, working like crazy all the way. Not to mention lunatics who think a rubber dinghy or a wooden raft would be fun.
To my mind, "small ships" are the ideal answer. Four of us friends are in synch on that and on one cruise we plan the next one: a November repositioning cruise from Spain to the Caribbean. Such cruises are not exceedingly popular because of the week or more at sea with no ports to visit. But we knew and loved this British ship Voyager from previous sailings. With a 600-passenger capacity, its nooks and crannies and crew were familiar.
Well, sailing across a wide, deep ocean makes any ship look like a tinker toy. Trepidation about notorious November storms was turned into jokes with much exchange of YouTube horrors. Alan* prepped us, of course, as the experienced second-timer, by relating how he was the only man standing on his first crossing. It was so rough half the crew were sick. "Lots of empty tables in the dining rooms!" he chortled, wonderful food being a highlight of any cruise. With antic faces he gleefully imitated people throwing up. Alan is a very entertaining guy.
* All names disguised to protect the guilty
In preparation, I google "pitch, roll, yaw." I pack gravol. I think about the sinister sound of yaw.
Happily, on departure day we find ourselves among less than 400 like-minded fellows. Habit dictates that you spend the first 24 hours, more or less, greeting people you've met on past cruises whose names are a blank and you desperately try to recall when that was so the other person understands your brain is totally sharper than theirs. Cabin numbers are allotted at random; only if you are up to negotiating with a humourless front desk can you expect to be anywhere near your friends.
Also on the first day, a ship normally holds a mandatory lifeboat drill. Plenty of warning comes with it, i.e. bursts of loud hooting and signals to the crew over the tannoy. Whereupon we must return to our cabins from wherever we are, retrieve our life jackets, and duly trek the corridors and stairs to pre-designated gathering points on deck. After all this scrambling around I am thinking the ship could be half submerged by now. Not my half, I hope. The particular deck for gathering is where the lifeboat stations are, although we do not board them. We assemble in whatever haphazard order we arrived and hear the captain deliver his well-practised safety lecture.
In a real emergency we would be directed in groups from assembly point to specific lifeboat stations. This news causes us four to discreetly shuffle and realign to be sitting together. Thus we reassure ourselves that we live, die, or drown with a friend to hang onto.
We enjoy a couple of stops in the Canary Islands as a sort of calm before the― oops, no negative thoughts.
First morning at sea we meet on deck to check how big the swells are and what calamity is forming. Not only blue sky, we are sliding through the ocean like it was satin sheets. In fact for eight days we are forced to endure cloudless skies, bask in the sun, read our books, and pass the drinks. On the smoothest sail ever. Okay, so it's not the north North Atlantic. Life jackets and perfect storm drama are forgotten.
Alan's nose is quite out of joint at the peace of it all, instead feeling obliged to generate furious discussions about Brexit and what it means for his imported Belgian beer habit. The always-controversial National Health system is another favourite topic amongst Brits, requiring elaborate acting out. Our unbridled hilarity does not amuse fellow diners. When Barbara and Charlie begin critically comparing their denture work I have to opt out or upchuck.
On other levels, we cover such important subjects as calculating how many trots around the deck constitute a mile, or whether those Irish yahoos from Manchester can consider themselves genuinely Celtic. The mystery of Gaelic is touched upon. Competition in quiz contests is fierce. Internet via satellite being blessedly inconsistent or absent, it's like the 19th century again.
Sunset is as close as I can get to showing what are possibly the best parts of any voyage ― the clear nights when every star in the galaxy beckons. I did take countless amateur photos, the kind that merely turn out black.
It was so good we did it again.
Southampton to the Caribbean via Madeira. To our great sorrow the good ship Voyager had disappeared in a cloud of fuzzled corporate bankruptcy. Braemar is the ship we chose for its itinerary, a somewhat larger vessel with capacity for 900 passengers but carrying about 600. It's not necessarily a well-designed ship: recently it was cut in half (!) to add a large section into its middle (more passengers, heh). The cruise line had already accomplished this with a sister ship:
Now I'm a two-fer. But starting in Southampton in December was ill-advised; who needs four days of winter on a holiday? Reaching southerly Madeira was like loosing a pack of starved rats on a giant hunk of cheese.
Lovely Madeira, festooned for Christmas. Warm, laidback, comfortable Madeira. Should have stayed there.
That's not to say the Atlantic wasn't cooperative. It was. The weather was not, particularly (especially for those who worship the sun god). It's just that this was not our good old familiar ship. This one was inflexible about formal dining arrangements; in the casual restaurant the service was poor; crew members' tiny ID badges were impossible to read; instructions for accessing the expensive internet never worked for simpletons like me; front desk staff were professionally trained unsmiling robots; stewards daily adjusted cabin temperatures to frigidity; the medical centre made grievous errors in its billing; workmen were still tiling the second swimming pool that never became functional; the smell of drains invaded, pervaded, at times. And like that.
The captain was nice, though; he's practically a chain smoker.
I shan't mention the tribulations of the smokers' community. We expect to have a restricted area, but not out of sight and sound and service from the rest of the ship.
Good things: nice, roomy library; excellent cuisine in the Thistle restaurant; the smokers' community.
They say you "shouldn't go back again." Sometimes they are right.
© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman