May 27th, Sunday morning

June 19, 2007

“…bringing out a large wrinkled roll of yellowish sea charts, spread them before him on his screwed-down table…” (Moby Dick)

I’m writing in the cabin to the accompaniment of a Beethoven string quartet. The fog still thick, the water choppy. The alarm woke us at 7 and Chris took a GPS reading as I showered, holding onto the rail.

“We’re heading straight for Africa!” it seems. In fact we are plotting a detour round the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to avoid icebergs. Even so, the Captain spotted one on radar last night, not more than a mile away from the ship. He’s posting a look-out on the bridge whose job it is to see growlers coming, though the visibility is only 100m or so. These are “bergy waters”, as it says in the fax messages scrolling from the printer, which mention a “heavy concentration of significant ice” in the Belle Isle passage, which would have been our most direct route to the UK. In fact the Flottbek is categorised as an ice-breaker– she can push through three feet of river ice in winter– but ‘bergs are another matter. There’s also a “large whale trapped in fishing gear,” poor creature, the report giving the latitude and longitude of its whereabouts. The weather map shows us with lows behind us and ahead. Every half hour the position of our ship is marked on a Nav. chart drawn in Taunton, UK.

Nico is on duty again this morning; having returned to the party at midnight yesterday, he found the Stehlis were still there. I said what fun the singing had been. If we didn’t sing, Nico commented, we’d shout at one another.
Having stood for hours attached to his iPod while staring fascinated at the waves, their patterns so complex it’s hard to tell the direction they come from, Chris returned to the cabin for another sleep. I gave him a couple of ginger jelly beans (an Australian souvenir from my friend Elva) as a stomach settler, just in case. The waves are growing now, coming at us diagonally, the water splashing dramatically from the starboard side of the bows in turquoise-white crests. I’m rather glad we can’t see the horizon yet; though the sky’s quite light, almost sunny, above us the fog’s still thick ahead. [I took the photo of Chris, above, on a clearer day.]

Lunch was soup, T-bone steaks with stirfry vegetables, followed by icecream topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce! Managed it, though.

We’re now in deeper water, off the edge of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. We made the change of heading at 13:40hrs, still 1812.9 nautical miles from Liverpool, according to our friend Laurie’s CoPilot program. Chris is programming in a new aeroplane flying at a very low altitude at 18 knots, called the Flottbek. It will take us 100 hours 43 minutes if we “fly direct” across Ireland, which obviously won’t be possible. We’re now listening to Schubert on the CD player and the visibility’s improving.

At about 1550 came the announcement of our Emergency Drill over the intercom, followed by 7 + 1 blasts. Mischa had just woken up from her siesta and forgot her jacket in the rush to the Muster Station on Deck 6. Chris left his jacket on the hook too. drillwear2.jpgIt wasn’t easy to hurry down 56 steps in the rolling ship carrying my bulky life-vest and immersion suit with my bad ankle. My helmet was on my head, but not very tightly– at a rakish angle.

Plenty of merriment at the Muster Station, the crew, all in orange suits, milling around like schoolboys. A roll-call of men and PAX was also like being at school. Two senior officers then ordered groups of crew to disperse on a sort of treasure hunt “all over the ship” to look for anything unusual or out of place, supposedly a bomb.

“What do WE do?”

“Passengers, STAY HERE!” So we were left all alone and forlorn at the stern, looking back on an increasingly rough sea, the wind now blowing the waves into white crests. muster.jpg [Photos by Martin Stehli]
It was perishing cold, despite our life-vests and helmets. We stood there in a little huddle for well over half an hour hanging onto rails and trying to find the most sheltered spot, while occasional crew members roamed by, still searching for a bomb in the same places. muster2.jpgStephan and Reagan felt sorry for me and came to chat. As he’ll be promoted on the next voyage I’m one of Reagan’s last passengers. (“My passengers write me letters sometimes. Oh, that’s …!” Lost for words, he put his hand on his heart.) Chris says, Admiral Lord Nelson started out at a cabin boy, too.

Chris disobediently wandered off to find a WC when he should have remained standing in the cold wind; all that water was too much for him. The crew members were still rushing about.

“Have you found anything yet?” we kept asking, hopefully.

“No. Not yet.” Stephan’s theory was that the bomb would be found in the Engine Room.

In the end, Mamerto took pity on us and allowed us to warm up in the crew’s recreation room, while the search continued.

Finally Captain Block popped his head round the door to dismiss us and instead of telling us off for disobedience, thanked us for our co-operation! Has the ‘bomb’ been found? Yes! Where was it, in the end? We put a biscuit tin in the sauna, said the Captain. The men have to learn to keep a look out for anything that’s in the wrong place.

The seas are now rough / high and the wind at Beaufort Scale 8! The sky’s clearning rapidly. We’re lucky that the wind’s in the opposite direction from the waves, says Orlando. If they come in the same direction, then “we’ll get it”! Orlando suffers from sea-sickness then, as well as lack of sleep. He says the whales and dolphins “get dizzy”, too, so they swim away from the bad weather. If we see them swimming in the same direction as the ship we’re in luck; it means calm seas ahead. I’m amazed that I still don’t feel sick or dizzy and am still capable of doing SODUKO puzzles!

We went to bed with moonlight shining upon increasingly wild water.


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