A Life on the Ocean Wave: Home Stretch

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The Achille Lauro

Hello. My name is Emma and I go on cruises. Mostly, so far on P&O ships out of Southampton, but other perfectly good cruise companies are available. ;-) When I can, I con my parents into paying for my ticket.

When I travel, I blog. If you would like to read it all, it can be found at my PS. The Post have asked me to proffer some edited highlights of my ramblings, which I shall now inflict on you forthwith. Enjoy.

Home Stretch

If you're wondering why I haven't posted anything for a while. Sea days. Lots of them. Lovely. Proper relaxation, do nothing days. Almost like being on holiday! Well, almost. I'm still doing PowerPoint presentations every few days for the Brain/ Mind talks, but the Messiah Choir has bitten the dust due to lack of pianist, so I'm getting some rest in the afternoons, when I'm not chasing Alfie round the pool trying to teach him some French. There's no CNN, so news, good or bad, is blessedly limited.

Oh, by the way, the Code Alpha bloke survived two days, but then died. His wife and brother are still on board, apparently. Well, where would they go?

We're so far from anything that the only thing marked on the Channel 1 You Are Here Shipping Chart is the Equator. We crossed the line at 2.30am this morning. Again. We've crossed it four times on this trip! The heat and humidity yesterday were stifling. Even the hardened (literally!) sunbathers could only stand about half an hour without shade. There was no breeze, nothing. We're in the Doldrums. There is no wind at the Equator. The Doldrums extend about five degrees north and south of the Equator. There is no wind and, usually, no sun, just cloud. We've been treated to blazing sunshine this time though, which is odd, but makes the heat and humidity even more oppressive. The Doldrums are synonymous with depression and misery in English parlance because there is no wind. In the days when the only mode of propulsion for your ship was wind, this was a dangerous and boring place to be. You would be becalmed, going nowhere, sometimes for weeks at a time, watching your food and water supplies dwindling by the day, waiting for a freak wind to appear from nowhere push you onwards to more active waters. Sometimes it never came. Wind here is rare (not like in Cape Town!) and many sailors perished because the Doldrums starved them to death or they died of thirst first. The only way out was to lower rowing boats and tow the ship until you found the wind. As long as you knew which way to go to find it…

We keep moving, of course, because we have four engines, which weigh four tonnes each, with 1,500 tonnes of fuel, churning away beneath us. Most of the time we only use three, keeping one in reserve for the odd occasion we have to go at full pelt, which we have done a couple of times on this cruise, such as when we pegged it through the Malacca Straits. Most of the time, things are more relaxed than that though. It's been a bit complicated recently though.

As I mentioned, we were trapped in Cape Town due to high winds. We left 15 hours late and had to give it everything we had to get to Walvis Bay. In the end we arrived a day late. To compensate for this in the itinerary, they cancelled the stop in St Helena, which upset a lot of people, but wasn't all that unexpected, frankly. They're always very pessimistic about getting into St Helena. It's a tender port and the swell at the landing site can be up to 40 feet. No, really. 40 feet. The pier has ropes hanging down so that you can SWING ashore if necessary. Not really suitable for our passengers! It seems we have been very lucky to have been to St Helena in the past. No one else has ever seemed to make it! Everyone is very jealous when I say I've actually been there. Didn't seem like a monumental achievement at the time, but still… Just goes to show. One person's ordinary day is another's unachieved dream.

To compensate in some small way, we have now been going at full tilt for several days, so that we will arrive in Madeira half a day early. Instead of our stay being 6pm to 1pm, it will now be noon on Thursday to 1pm on Friday. Big deal.

We are bored of Madeira. It will be interesting to see how it has changed since the mudslides and flooding last month, but we've been here before. We've ALL been here before. Every single P&O ship stops here on almost every cruise. It's actually become quite tiresome. In fact, I think the only way to avoid Madeira is to take a Baltic cruise.

I'm still being nagged to do the wicker basket ride, but I'm not keen. I'm not a 'throw yourself down the side of a mountain' kind of a person, no matter how well-recommended the ride may be! There is culture and history and beauty to be found on Madeira, don't get me wrong. There's whale and dolphin-watching, botanical gardens and orchid gardens and all manner of beautiful, scenic walking trails. But the shopping is limited (which is what most cruise passengers are interested in) and the town is small. I think there's a flower festival though, so that might be nice to go and see.

Oh, I sound a right miserable sod, don't I?! I think I'll stop talking now…

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