Thursday, 10 November 2011

All at sea: Atlantic crossing.

Until last month we had never been on a cruise ship, but our friends, the Young and Fit, persuaded us to join them, saying that we would have a lot of fun. We were under the impression that cruising was for the elderly, and that surely wasn't us!
We sailed out of Southampton in something resembling a large block of flats, while a brass band on the dockside attempted to make sufficient noise to speed us on our way. They were reduced to Lilliputians by the size of our vessel and failed to make much of an impression. 

Our friends the Y&F are incredibly well organised, so it was study the programme, visit the gym, sign up for everything (them), look in amazement at the instruments of torture (us) and then explore the ship.
We were so lucky that our evening dining companions, another group of four, were all from Yorkshire. Oh, the banter, the witty repartee! All this and the romance and history of an Atlantic crossing. Eh oop, Bay of Biscay ahead.

Our gang.

My daily routine at sea was to greet the sunrise with a morning mile, four times round the prom deck, then half an hour in the gym for stretch exercises followed by a really indulgent breakfast!

First stop, Madeira.(That's our cruise ship in the background, all lit up like a Christmas tree.) I know that in March I said that I wouldn't return, but this time I was just passing through. I had extolled the bounty of the flower market to  the Y&F, so we were off the ship at first light to catch all the action. What a disappointment - no flowers! I had presumed that because the weather is always warm that some flowers would always be in bloom. But, like Britain, Madeira has it's seasons, and this wasn't the season for flowers.
Luckily, because of our early start, there were things to see in the adjacent fish market. The Y&F had lived and worked in Japan for several years and were interested in the variety of fish on display.

Then we sampled  one or two of the many fruits, all unknown to us, that the market had to offer.
"Do you like that?"
"Mmm. Not sure."

Cruising seems to involve a great deal of dressing up.... and eating. Never fear, we can rise to the occasion. (And my afternoon aerobics classes should counteract the puddings - ha, ha.)

Cherries flamed in brandy.
Oh, go on then, add a dollop of ice cream!
(I had to eat them, because they matched the colour of my dress.)

Every day at four o'clock there is that most civilized of occasions, afternoon tea. A choice of sandwiches, crusts removed, hot buttered toast and crumpets, scones with jam and cream, a selection of cakes. And a pot of proper leaf tea with tea strainer, Lapsang Souchong for me.

Will a session on the machines compensate for afternoon tea? 

Dream on!

On the sun decks people the size of hippos had bagged the sunbeds and were slowly frying to unhealthy shades of red. (I have to report that the British public viewed en masse are a pretty grim sight.)
A choreographer from the television programme, 'Strictly Come Dancing' is on board. He gives a couple of inspiring master classes on salsa and swing. Happy in the knowledge that nobody on board knows us or is likely to meet us again, our gang enter a dancing competition. One of the Y&F is chosen to compete. 
The excitement! The terror! He is taught a jive routine.

Our lad and his partner, a member of the crew, put on a good show, 

but they are pipped at the post by a pair with snake hips performing a salsa.

Friday, 28th October.
We are sleeping midships, mid-Atlantic, in the floating gin-palace of a P&O cruise ship. We are able to sleep undisturbed, accustomed, now, to the creaking of the vessel, the throbbing engines and the lift and sway beneath us. But at 5.30 a voice on the p.a. system announces, "Man overboard, man overboard." Instantly we are awake and leave the coolness of our air-conditioned cabin to stand on our balcony in the darkness. Passengers have gathered on the decks below us to scan the water. Life buoys with attached lights are thrown overboard  and as the ship continues its forward movement the small, blinking marker lights are  quickly left far behind.
The second in command informs us, over the p.a. system, that the identity of the man is known and asks that, if we see anything at all in the water, we are to inform staff at once. The weather is kind, with a calm sea and warm temperature but we think, no chance, to fall in darkness into the very middle of the Atlantic.
The ship has now been traveling for half an hour. It is still dark. I suddenly spot the flare lights up ahead and realize that our huge ship has traveled in a large circle to arrive back in the vicinity of the man overboard. I see the lifeboats that had been lowered a while ago and searchlights that seem small and inadequate in all this space.
"Help." A faint cry is heard and answering voices from the ship call out urgently in response. A young man is pulled from the water.
After a message from the captain informing us that the man is being attended to in the medical unit, no further information is forthcoming. Rumour is rife and the entire ship plays Chinese whispers.
"He's 22."
"He's 26."
"He fell out with his girlfriend/ grandmother/ grandfather over a bar bill."
"He's with a wedding party."
The only thing on which everyone agrees is that he will be put ashore to make his own way home as soon as we make landfall. There will be no sailing around the Carribean for the man overboard. But I hope he will appreciate how lucky he is to be alive.

Statement from the ship's log.
At Sea, Friday, 28th October.
At 5.30 a Man Overboard call was received on the bridge, 15 minutes later 2 fast rescue craft (FRC) were launched to begin the search. At 6.22 the casualty is sighted by the port FRC and recovered into the Starboard FRC. By 07.15 both FRC are recovered. Passage continued towards Tortola.


  1. Glad you enjoyed it. I would be so afraid of sea sickness - the only cruise we have ever been on was up the coast of Norway to the Russian border - it was wonderful apart from the 3 hour crossing to the Lofotens, when I was sick about every two minutes.

  2. So much excitement so early in the morning. I think I shall spend sometime thinking of how the young man might have fallen overboard. I am so impressed by your daily activity. Looks as if you are having a wonderful time. Three bikinis (you did say three?)...was that plenty? Hugs!

  3. The captain announced bad weather ahead, Weaver, when we were around the Bay of Biscay area. He made it sound rather grim. Himself put on his wrist bands and after ten minutes the pitching and tossing sent us off to sleep like babes in arms!

    Dear Bonnie, yes, you can imagine that rumour was rife. The young man jumped - I presume he had been drinking.
    Three bikinis was just about right! Holiday snaps coming up on my next posting, then I'll shut up - promise.