Sketching my way to Sydney

At the age of twelve I sailed aboard the P&O liner ‘Orsova’ from Singapore to London. This was a sensible long haul travel option in the sixties, especially when you were moving house from one side of the world to the other. My father’s spells of duty as meteorologist lasted about three years, and we alternated between the UK and overseas.


Once I got over my seasickness I loved every minute of that school-free six weeks. This was the time of the Suez Crisis and so the Mediterranean route was not an option; we travelled down to Cape Horn and round the Cape of Good Hope, crossing the Equator twice (a ceremony that involved much hilarity and being covered in cold custard). I was too old for the children’s activities (presided over by an enthusiastic matron who introduced herself to my father as ‘Auntie Jean’) but I was also too young for the adult entertainment, the fancy dress parties, concerts and lengthy dinners. Between two worlds, adult and child, my familiar home in Singapore and an unknown destination in England, I spent hours leaning on the rail watching the steel blue roll of the ocean, waves breaking into shards of spray at the bow, and the turquoise flash of flying fish. I made friends with the quartermaster and swam in the pool. My parents encouraged me to attend art classes on board, but I don’t remember them. When we docked at Tilbury on a grey January morning and had to disembark, I cried.

Orsova Postcard

The reason for this voyage into childhood is that I’m about to take my nautical hitch-hiking to a whole new level, spending the next six weeks on board P&O Aurora. This time my task is to teach the art classes on board, hopefully making them more memorable to the passengers than the ones I attended all those years ago. It’s a working holiday – no pay, but all expenses paid. It came up at short notice, but I had to say yes, didn’t I?


The original P&O Orsova would have been dwarfed by Aurora – a different creature altogether

It’s always the lion in me that accepts a challenge and the mouse in me that has to deal with the consequences. So now I’m in a total funk, worried sick about how to pay a heap of bills when I’ll be earning zero until March; worried about what to take, how I’ll get on, how I’m going to find my way to the right place at the right time on the first morning, jetlagged from the flight and unfamilar with the challenges of teaching a large group of holiday makers of all different abilities. But I reasoned that you always regret refusing an opportunity more than you regret taking it…. and I’ve always wanted to see the Panama Canal….

panama queen

I can’t really call this an adventure, can I, as there is the expectation that an adventure will involve some degree of fear, difficulty and discomfort, especially where sailing is concerned. This challenge will involve an alarming degree of physical comfort – the challenge this time is purely social and professional.

My voyage starts in Barbados on Tuesday and ends in Sydney at the end of February. It’s a little surreal, and I can see that I have your deep sympathy for the tough challenges ahead. I’ll report in when I can, but if you need to get in touch in the meantime my access to internet will be intermittent, so bear with me…. I’ll be by the pool, planning my next lesson!

book cover low res

15 thoughts on “Sketching my way to Sydney”

  1. Al Coy says:

    Go girl – Bon Voyage!! Decisions – one harp or two??

  2. Jane Cochrane says:

    Just think of all those sketching opportunities!

    I bet PBO will suddenly be filled with illustrations of Junks and Feluccas rather than Luggers and Crabbers!

  3. Gill Moon says:

    Bon Voyage Claudia, have a brilliant time. You are an inspiration!

  4. Grenville Horner says:

    Fantastic Claudia!!!!! Just brilliant!! xxxx

  5. Mike Sugden says:

    Hi Claudia,
    Good on yer, have a great time. We are in OZ/NZ Feb/March so you never know, we might be able to meet up.

    Mike et Barbaraxx

  6. Paul Hayes says:

    Sounds like an opportunity not to be missed. I think I’d be the same as you mixing, balancing the excitement of the challenge with the fear of the consequences. Looking forward to your, intermittent, updates.

  7. Fleur Whitlock says:

    Awesome!!! What a wonderful adventure!!! Fxxx

  8. Kenda says:

    Very best wishes for your sea bound journey and big adventure. If my once-in-a-lifetime experience of you is anything to go by, you are exactly the right person for the job and the ladies and gentlemen attending your classes are highly favoured!

    I admire you so much Claudia. You take steps into the somewhat unknown and I tend not to these days. I hope that this coming year, I might take a leaf out of your adventurous book! 😀

  9. Chris says:

    Good luck have a great adventure missing the worst of the British weather.

  10. Richard says:

    I’ll wave to you as you come into Sydney under the bridge turn to port and past our house.
    As a child in the mid 50’s we sailed on the Rangitani,not sure what shipping line, from NZ to the UK and Returned on her sister ship the Rangitoto to Auckland NZ.
    I remember the flying fish and bow wave as do you and my equator christianing by Neptune (who was in fact my father so well disguised I didn’t recognise him )
    Regards Claudia

  11. Frances says:

    Wow! Have a superb time, Claudia. What are you going to do from Sydney? Frances

  12. Carrie says:

    Wow, Claudia – how fantastic! What an opportunity!
    Have a wonderful trip and bring back lots of good memories.

  13. Colin says:

    You’re right Claudia. If an opportunity pops up;Take it !! Worry about the money when you get back. Make individual cartoons and sell them to the punters and you might meet a millionaire on the way round ??

  14. Ron Sheldon says:

    I probably cooked some of your meals – I was a chef on Orsova January 66 til Christmas 67 , then on the Himalaya

  15. Claudia says:

    Hi Ron, small world! I don’t remember much about the meals – was seasick the first couple of weeks – but I’m sure they were wonderful!

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