xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: April 2014

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Cruising in the seventies.

Hello, Dear, Dedicated Blog Reader.

No doubt you are wondering why I did not write anything during the entire month of March. Well, the truth is I was travelling.

Not only travelling, I was cruising. And not only was I cruising, but I was cruising with a beautiful married lady. She was a fabulous travelling companion and we had a barrel of fun. Of course, I knew that we would, because I have been married to this lovely lady for 46 years this coming August.

There was a time when people sailed on ships because they wanted to get from point A to point B. Maybe that should be Port A to Port B? That had always been the case with me. When I was 18 years old I sailed home to Perth from Melbourne on the Westralia, a 12 000 ton ship, owned by the state of Western Australia. It used to deliver cargo to all the major ports in our state’s North West and occasionally, travelled to the eastern coast to pick up more cargo and low fee paying passengers like me, returning home from a summer holiday.

In 1958 I travelled home to Perth from Sydney on the SS Iberia, a stately P&O ship of about 33 000 tons. The Iberia was heading back to Britain to pick up another load of what were affectionately known as "Ten Pound Poms". Then in January, 1962, I sailed to England on the Strathnaver.  It was a little smaller than the SS Iberia and filled with young Aussies and Kiwis off to see “the Old Country”. Actually, I got off in Naples and saw a bit of Europe first.

In August, 1962, I sailed from Southampton to Montreal on the SS Homeric, also of about 30 000 tons. This was a Greek ship with an Italian crew who believed that everybody should have a good time all the time. As the ship was filled mainly with young Americans and Canadians returning home from their summer holidays in Europe, the crew did not have to try very hard to muster up a party every night in the ship’s nightclub, The Taverna. Read about it at An Homeric Odyssey

It was here, at about 12-30am on the first night out on the Atlantic that I met what was to become one of the great loves of my life. Yes, Hooray for pizza! They gave slices of it away for free while we all danced and drank and sang, “Moon River” or “Quando, Quando, Quando.”

They had a fancy dress Ball on The Homeric one night. We were told it would have an Apache theme. I made arrangements to borrow some lipstick and other cosmetics from one of the girls on board. The idea was to paint my face and tie a feather duster to my head for that  American Indian look. In my mind this get up practically made me  a full blood brother to those great Apache warriors, Cochise and Geronimo.

However, when I returned to my cabin about 4-30 in the afternoon, our cabin steward was issuing striped t-shirts and berets. We weren’t supposed to look like Apache Indians at all, but like those French Apache dancers who generally treated their dancing partners quite roughly. Actually, I had a lot in common with those Apache dancers  because, over the years I have inflicted an awful lot of damage to the dainty feet of many pretty young ladies.

Finally, in September, 1964, after three years overseas, I again boarded the SS Iberia, this time to sail home to Fremantle, where I arrived on November 7. Once again the passengers were generally young Australians and New Zealanders returning home after their lap of the globe. There were also a
lot of young Canadians and Americans just setting out on their great voyage into a world of fun and adventure. There was a party around the pool each night and Beatles' music was King! That voyage took 43 days. It was the trip of a lifetime. It must have been, because fifty years passed  before I sailed on another ocean liner.

All of these sea voyages were a lot of fun, but the main reason I was on all of these ships was to get to particular destinations. So, fifty years later, when Lesley expressed a desire to visit family and friends in Melbourne, I thought that if we are going to Melbourne we may as well visit Sydney as well. Next decision was how to travel to Sydney. We had been many times by plane, train and motor car and, as Lesley had never experienced an ocean voyage, I checked the internet to find out which ships were sailing from Fremantle to Sydney in March.

The one that caught my eye immediately was Queen Mary 2. To call Queen Mary 2 a ship doesn’t do it justice. It is the largest ocean liner in the world. It is a sumptuous palace. A ten star floating hotel. It carries 2600 pampered passengers and 1800 courteous and helpful crew. It has the population of a respectably sized village; a luxuriously looked after village. Apart from that it sails very smoothly. Two days out from Fremantle, we were in the Great Australian Bight, well known for its stormy seas. From my balcony I looked down upon huge swells and saw the wind whipping foam off the wave tops. It was very rough. Ships like the Iberia, Strathnaver or Homeric would have been  making very heavy weather of it. They would have been pitching up and down and rolling from Port to Starboard. Not the Queen Mary 2. She just sailed serenely on, with only the slightest perception of a roll. Riding on bus would have been bumpier.

As it happened, Queen Mary2 called into Fremantle about three weeks before we were to board her on March 6. This is when I first began to realise that a lot had a happened to ship travel in the intervening fifty years. We entered the very spacious Fremantle Passenger Terminal but were told we could not board the QM2 unless we were sailing that day. In my youth we used to go to Fremantle quite regularly to just walk on board the visiting liners to get a feel for them before we eventually set off for Europe. Not anymore. The security man said it was because of 9/11 and the fear of terrorists. He assured Lesley and me that he did not think that we were your actual bomb toting terrorists but he had his orders. We understood and we looked upwards in awe at the massive ship that towered over twelve storeys above us. QM2 is 160 000 tonnes, which means it is five times bigger than SS Iberia, which I had always thought was a pretty big ship.

When we arrived back home our daughter Jane called in and we told her about our little pre view of QM2 prior to our boarding her in a few weeks. “Yes, it was very interesting,” said Lesley, “but I must say, most of the passengers looked elderly.”

Jane burst out laughing and said, “Mum, just how old do you think you and Dad are?”

“Well,” replied Lesley, “we may be older, but we certainly are not elderly.” My sentiments exactly. We were fit and healthy and perfectly suited to cruising in our seventies!

Well, three weeks later we did board QM2 and again it was quite a contrast to my departure on SS Strathnaver in January, 1962. On that occasion thousands of family, friends and well wishers had crowded into the passenger terminal and on to the wide balconies to say Bon Voyage to those on board. They had streamers and a band was playing Auld Lang Syne.
Jane, Lesley, Sarah Noel, Emily,  good friend Sue and assorted grandchildren
In 1962, instead of streamers, my travelling companions and I had spent the previous six months collecting ladies’ hosiery and tying them all together. As an alternative to throwing streamers, we threw a long, long line of ladies’ stockings to our friends on the dock. As the ship moved away into the middle of the harbour, this line stretched and stretched and lasted much longer than any of the streamers. At length, with a great cheer, we let go of our end and in doing so severed our connection with Australia for quite some time. A few weeks later my mother wrote to inform me that the practice of using stocking instead of streamers had been banned by the Fremantle Port Authority because  stockings were fouling the propellers of various harbour vessels.

In contrast, this time when we stood on the deck of QM2 to wave farewell to our three daughters, our grandchildren and some very dear friends, there was no crowd on the passenger terminal balcony. There was no band. There were no streamers and there definitely were no stockings. In fact there were no daughters, no grandchildren, no very dear friends. Because of 9/11 they were not allowed into the terminal. Instead they found a vantage point on a pedestrian bridge about 200 metres behind the terminal. Fortunately, about thirty minutes before departure we were able to get off the ship to make our goodbyes a little more close up and personal.
Our family group, bottom right, on the pedestrian overpass.
When the great ship did set sail, recorded music hit the air and we sailed away to the stirring and emotional renditions of “Rule Britannia”, “Jerusalem” and Rod Stewart singing “We Are Sailing”. As we moved up the harbour between the North and South Moles we could see thousands of people lining the way and waving, giving this great ship the send off she deserved. Yes, very emotional, even for a staunch Republican like me.

We were on QM2 for eight nights and it lived up to our every expectation. The staterooms were very comfortable and well appointed. Yes, we were in a stateroom with a balcony. The QM2 does not have cabins!
Lesley, ready for our first Formal Dinner.
Second night out. Pre dinner drinks before a not so formal dinner.
The food was plentiful and tasty. There are 13 bars and restaurants on board so you are never far from food or a drink. We were in the 8-30pm sitting for dinner in the magnificent Britannia Restaurant. This dining area is on three levels and live musicians serenaded us as we ate each evening. We tended to eat our breakfast and lunch in The King’s Court Buffet which was always well stocked with a great variety of food and beverages. On two occasions we enjoyed a very Traditional English Afternoon Tea in the Queen’s Room where gloved waiters poured our tea and served cakes and scones with jam and cream. Oh, yes, it was quite an experience.
Our charming table companions.
Lesley and I also scored an invitation to the Captain’s Cocktail Party, also in the Queen’s Room, which I am informed has the largest dance floor afloat. We were lucky to score this invitation because not everyone gets one. Fortunately for us, our daughter Emily is friendly with  one of the "school mothers" who used to be a nurse on Queen Elizabeth 2. She contacted some of her medical friends on QM2 and gave them our name, which is how Lesley and I came to be sitting in the Queen’s Room, being waited on hand and foot by several ship’s crew. One waitress in particular was very attentive. She asked if we wanted some more champagne. Lesley observed that we still had some in our glasses.

“No matter,” said the sweet  young blonde  thing with the interesting European accent, “you can have these when you finish.” Whereupon she placed two very full flutes of champers on our table. She repeated this trick about fifteen minutes later. Some time after that Lesley and I swayed our way into dinner.

While waiting to get into the cocktail party we talked with another couple who had been on QM2 since it left Southampton…three months earlier. They were going to stay on board until it returned to Southampton in another three months. I think they were intrigued as to how we had received an invitation to the prestigious Captain’s Cocktail Party after three days on board when it had taken them three months to get one. Ah ha! It is not what you know, it is who you know.

Obviously this long term cruising couple were not living on the basic wage. When we enquired whereabouts in England they lived they said they did not live in England, they lived in Bermuda. A nice little tax haven, no doubt.

Hygiene was major concern on QM2. Everyone was encouraged to wash their hands at every opportunity. At the entry to any food area there were automatic antiseptic hand wash dispensers. You just placed your hand under the dispenser and a good dollop of disinfectant would drop onto it. They even had these dispensers outside the Royal Court Theatre and at other strategic locations on board. Sometimes, crew members stood at various parts of the ship giving squirts of handwash to anyone who wanted some.

At the cocktail party we all applied the antiseptic hand wash as we entered the Queen’s Room  where we also read a large notice saying that because of health issues the Captain would not be shaking hands with guests as they arrived. In fact the captain and his senior crew all wore white gloves. They smiled and bowed and greeted us most cordially as we walked past. It reminded me of Queen  Elizabeth The Second's  tour of Western Australia in 1954. There was a polio scare at the time and the Queen always wore gloves and did not shake hands with anybody. Nobody was there handing out antiseptic handwash, either.

Our meeting with the tax avoiding, very experienced cruising couple from Bermuda soon informed us that most people these days do not board ships to get from Port A to Port B. Some of them seem to stay on board for months at a time or hop off one cruise ship and very soon get on another. We met many people who told us they had been on twenty or more cruises. We also met quite a few who complained that the entertainment on QM2 was not as good as other cruise ships they had sailed on.
I felt very sorry for these people. They lived in the days gone by and did not seem to appreciate the present. As far as Lesley and I were concerned the entertainment was almost not stop and of an excellent standard. We attended wonderful classical recitals on several occasions as well as classy performances from comedians, singers, jazz dancers, pianists, violinists, a string quartet and a very fine harpist.

The ship’s band played excellent jazz, rock n roll, romantic ballads and all of the songs from the musicals. In the day time there were trivia quizzes which were a lot of fun, as well as lectures and talks by lawyers, authors, historians, beauticians and health experts. There was also a fairly large casino bar. Apart from all that, very talented musicians played in the dining room and at various bars and restaurants throughout the voyage.

These constantly cruising travellers are not people trying to get from Port A to Port B, but they are, of course, the majority of people who now travel by ship. They do not necessarily wish to go to a particular destination. For them the voyage itself is the holiday. And a great holiday it is, too. We absolutely enjoyed our time on QM2 but I do not think I would want to be on board for three months. Not even on a ship as majestic as the Queen Mary 2.

On the morning of the ninth day we sailed into Sydney Harbour. We were eagerly looking forward to the next stage of our adventure.

You have been warned.

Welcome to Adelaide
A very BIG ship. At the Adelaide docks.

The sail away at Adelaide. Passengers sing... and drink as we leave each port.

A happy chappy.

Somewhere in the Great Australian Bight.

Our stateroom
Melbourne "Sail away'
Good bye, Melbourne town.

In the champagne bar.
Relaxing in the stateroom

Reading inside. Promenade deck outside.

The lift near our Deck Six Stateroom
The enclosed pool on the Deck 12 Sports Area.
Two pools and spas at the stern of QM2.

The main thoroughfare on Deck 3.
Outside the Britannia Restaurant. Deck Three.
The view from our stateroom balcony on Day Nine

Reflecting on the voyage and thinking about exploring Sydney.
One of Australia's greatest treasures. Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.