Oh no, not Biscay again!
Where lies the land to which the ship must go?
Far far ahead is all her seamen know
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say (A H Clough)
It is impossible to comprehend what it must have been like to sail south west across the Atlantic with the trade winds in your sails, with not the faintest idea if you would meet any fate other than death by drowning, thirst, starvation or being a snack for sea monsters. The curiosity of early explorers must have been far greater than their fear.
Centuries on, I know exactly how many miles lie ahead and behind us because there is an announcement from the bridge every day at noon. On 19th January at around 2pm, we were exactly halfway between Funchal and St Lucia, 1300 miles of ocean ahead and astern, with the mid-Atlantic ridge four thousand metres under our keel. Unlike Columbus and others, we are in no danger at all of running out of food or drink, in spite of the best efforts of 600 or so passengers to try everything on the menu, which is extraordinarily varied and of a very high standard. There is something very surreal about living in luxury at sea, which is such a wilderness and potentially hostile environment. (‘Day 8, still no sight of land. Things are getting desperate. I still haven’t found the launderette and my evening gown needs ironing…’)
I’m on board ‘Saga Sapphire’ this time, a much smaller ship than Oceana – much ‘shippier’. This is a longer trip, and it’s my way of escaping the ‘hostile environment’ of British winters. You’d think I’d learn the lesson and never go near the Bay of Biscay again, but oh dear no, in spite of taking the tablets I spent the first day rushing out of my art class to throw up (again!). After that life on board settled down to the lovely gentle long ocean swell that I love. My daily class is busy and quite demanding, a mix of people with a wide range of abilities, but ahead lies a maze of Central American countries all new to me, and how else would I ever get to see them? There will be a sketchbook diary, of course, and occasional bloggeration. This time I have a travelling companion and assistant with me, lovely friend from way back when, Pat Calver who is having to work far harder than expected!
My classes are every afternoon on sea days, so the mornings are spent working, as far as I can without my studio around me. High on the agenda is to finish my book on watercolours which will, I promise, come out this year. Our cabin has a table by the window, an ensuite bathroom and a delightful steward to attend to our needs. I have to confess that for me the greatest luxury is the bathroom; look, I turn on a tap and hot water comes out! I spend happy sessions hand-washing clothes and hanging them up to dry on the washing line above the bath. At home, hand-washing involves kettles, buckets and then rinsing on with hosepipe on the slipway. You can see I’m easily pleased.
Seven days out from Madeira brought us to St Lucia, where Pat and I took a trip ashore, what a delight. Not much time to sketch when you’re on a coach trip and are given five minute ‘photo stops’, but I did my best!
Trinidad today, then a sea day tomorrow, so back to work. It’s tough, I tell you! This is the first ship I’ve been on with free on-board wifi. It’s by satellite, not always accessible and understandably slow, but I can keep up with emails and make some attempt to run my so-called career whilst I’m away. Now whatever would Columbus have made of that?