Centenary World Cruise Days 18-20: Oh, I Sea

Day 18:

The weather is getting warmer as we go further south and east. We’re in the southeastern part of the Mediterranean, and tomorrow we’ll get to Port Said, where we’ll wait for clearance through the Suez Canal.

Thus far, the coffee bars and lounges have been completely full of people, but today they were relatively empty because everyone is out on deck enjoying the warmer weather. But let’s be clear: when I say “warmer,” I mean that the high was 72 degrees. I’m still wearing sweaters and drinking hot tea at every opportunity, but the British folks are all in their shorts, getting some sun on their blinding white knees.

The other nice thing is that, after the turbulence of the Bay of Biscay, the water has been completely calm and lovely. Standing on the deck and looking at the water feels almost the same as standing on the shore of a river and watching the water flow past. I can’t feel any motion on the ship at all – but I guarantee you that at the next port, I’m going to get off the boat and be all unsteady on land.

Day 19:

Today, we did our pirate drill. Yesterday, I went by the library and asked if they had old newspapers, because I wanted to fold myself up a nice pirate hat for the drill. They didn’t. For the drill, everyone with an outside-facing cabin had to go into the corridor and wait while the stewards counted us. Since we knew the drill was going to be at 10am, I took the wise precaution of making sure my phone was fully charged and I had a hot cup of tea so I could sit in the corridor, sipping my tea and playing a stupid game. Everyone in the corridor speculated about the likelihood of even seeing a pirate ship, and I think it’s unlikely. Why go after a bunch of over-80s when they could go after any of the skillion of container ships laden with consumer goods?

Later, I ran into a woman I knew and asked her how the drill went for her. She has an inside stateroom, and she said that she just got to hang out in her room. She expressed regret that on this trip, we will not have a complement of hunky NATO guards like they had the last time she’d done this run. Now I feel cheated.

Day 20:

Today we were transiting the Suez Canal. The Pirate opened the door to our balcony, made a face, and shut it again. That part of the canal is apparently where cabbage goes to die.

Transiting the Panama Canal takes about 6 hours, and there are lots of ships going both ways, since a lot of it is very wide. Suez, on the other hand, is extremely narrow. Ships travel in a single long line going each way (there are two separate channels) with no locks to change the water level. Transit time through Suez is 12 hours.

As the day progressed, most people were out on the decks checking out the canal banks. When I travel, I always map the landscape to similar landscapes back home. A lot of the Suez Canal looks like Bakersfield. Or maybe Riverside. Hanging off the side of the railing was a warning to stay at least 50 feet from the ship. It struck me as funny, because about 50’ from our ship, the water was so shallow that any ship trying to pull around us would have to have wheels.

Because we traveled in a long line of other ships, we could see the ones in front and behind. It turns out that the ship behind us was the largest container ship in the world, with 19.5 thousand containers aboard. It looked like a Borg cube.

Centenary World Cruise Days 13-16: Sea, Sea, Señor

Day 13:

There’s a book I love: Johannes Cabal and The Fear Institute. It takes place in the Dream Lands popularized by Cthulhu mythos authors. There’s a scene where Cabal and his entourage are in a pub trying to find a ship that will take them to a certain island. They meet the owners of the Black Galley, one of whom promised them every luxury, while the other one employed the only four human words he knew: “We has deck quoits!”

When looking at the brochures for this trip, deck quoits was prominent among the onboard entertainment options. On this ship, it’s like a cross between horseshoes and shuffleboard. Like horseshoes, it involves tossing a round object at a target (in this case, a series of concentric circles). Like shuffleboard, your score is all about how many you can get in various parts of the circles. There are some hilarious risks, like your quoit (it’s just a circle of rope about a hand span in diameter) rolling across the deck and disappearing down the stairs to the next deck. Or striking a passerby. Or knocking your own quoit out of a high-scoring ring with another quoit. While I still have hopes that I will come home the undisputed deck quoits champion of the greater Bonny Doon area, I think I still have a way to go.

Day 14:

A couple of days ago, there was a guy in the bar who, in the middle of a lovely piece by the string trio, whistled loudly and yelled for a waiter, evidently upset that his second bottle of wine hadn’t been promptly forthcoming. His wife looked mortified, and the man then loudly defended himself, saying that he wasn’t sorry because there was no other way to get the attention of the waitstaff (because the notion of getting up off your comfy chair and approaching one of the two waiters near the bar is out of the question, right?) and that he wasn’t the one in the wrong.

Not very long afterward, he was just as vociferously apologizing to everyone and loudly telling the string trio how much he liked them. Sadly, it was too late. His wife looked furious, and everyone in the bar was staring daggers at him.

Who knows what happened between him and his wife once they got back to their room, but although I’ve seen him a couple of times since, and she has not been with him. I have the feeling he’s going to be apologizing and sucking up to the servers and performers for as long as he remains on the ship. It’s the very first instance of unsavory behavior I’ve seen from any of the passengers.

Day 15:

Another day at sea. Boredom is beginning to set in.

To stave off boredom, I joined an improv class, taught by a crew member who has been a drama coach for several inprov groups who regularly perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was great fun because it gave me a chance to be silly and move around without feeling self-conscious or getting weird looks. I mean, I do it regularly anyway, but I do get weird looks.

The Pirate and I also joined the Guest Choir. We missed the first couple of rehearsals, but we knew all the songs, so it wasn’t hard. The choir will perform just before we get to Dubai, which is the end of the current leg of this trip.

This evening was the masquerade gala, and we dressed up and donned our fancy masks for the captain’s cocktail party, a tradition for World Cruises. We joined another couple at a table and got to talking about our upcoming shore excursion to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. The busloads of passengers will have an armed escort, and we have a list of dos and don’ts that’s a little daunting. I wasn’t sure whether I was more concerned about that, or about the 3 ½ hour bus ride each way.

But that news paled in comparison to the captain’s telling us that, once we get through the Suez canal, we’re going to “race through the Red Sea,” because there are pirates. The ship will be dark at night, and we’ll be going full-tilt. To lighten the mood, he told us we won’t have any armed guards on board, because they’ll be giving all passengers bags of potatoes to throw at anyone trying to board the ship.

I’m completely comforted.

Day 16:

There are a few skills one needs to cultivate if one is going to be at sea on a large ship for an extended period. First, the ability to communicate clearly. The second day we were on the ship, we had split up in the morning and agreed to meet at the buffet. The problem is that it’s the main dining room for breakfast and lunch. It has one entrance on each side of the ship, and stretches for about a quarter of its length. I had gotten there early and snagged a table, then spent half an hour looking around and waiting for the Pirate to show up. He had also shown up early, and after waiting outside one entrance for a while, went looking for me. But in a crowd of 300-400 other passengers having lunch, he missed me. We’ve had four or five similar incidents, and every time, we both just chalk it up to “we need to be much more specific in future.”  

One also needs to get comfortable being assertive with servers. When I say “assertive,” I don’t mean abusive. The places on the ship that serve coffee and tea are also places that people gather just to hang out, so the wait staff are looking out for people hailing them rather than approaching each table and asking if they need something. It took me 3-4 days to realize that if I just sat at a table looking thirsty, nothing happened. The trick is to make direct eye contact with the server, then give a slight nod. Getting the servers to remember what I want, because I order the same thing every time, apparently takes much longer.

The last is smiling while making inane small talk with people on the elevators, sharing a table at the coffee bar, in the hot tub, or at dinner. “Are you here for the whole world voyage?” “Did you go into port today?” “Have you seen any of the lectures?” or the old stand-by “I love your shoes!” all work wonders. The only place you can reliably be alone is in your own stateroom, and right now it’s just too cold to sit out on the balcony and work.