Flying fish, scrabble players and other sea life
‘Ladies and gentleman, just to let you know that the ice sculpture demonstration today will have to be cancelled due to the sea state….’
We left the Caribbean behind and spent most of the six sea days to the Azores on a lumpy Atlantic swell. The weather chilled noticeably; elderly passengers with mobility problems were moving carefully and after a few days the decks were empty of sun loungers.
Faial in the Azores was fabulous; yet another place I vowed to revisit – a bit like Orkney, Scillies, Channel Islands, Madeira and yet different and totally itself.
There’s much more to be said about the Azores, but this post is meant to be about life on board. It’s easy to forget the day of the week whilst at sea; there are only sea days and shore days. The sea day routine is different for everyone, but this is how it goes for Pat and I:
7.00 A knock on the cabin door and our morning tea arrives
8.30 Breakfast (usually fruit and yogurt for me but there is a huge choice of freshly baked breads and cooked dishes available)
9.15 Pat goes to bridge classes, I settle down at the cabin table with laptop and art stuff to catch up on emails, lesson preparation, finishing sketchbook pages or bits of commissioned work.
10.00 Music group (I take my autoharp to ukelele group and join in with whatever they’re practising, just for fun).
11.00 Back to cabin, back to work, possibly nipping up to the Drawing Room for a cup of tea.
12.00 Officer on the bridge rings bell and sounds ship’s horn to announce midday and gives our position, speed, distance from nearest land and depth under keel
12.45 Pat and I go to lunch at the grill (huge choice of hot or cold – we try and keep it light!)
1.40pm I pack up my art stuff (which lives in a suitcase) and wheel it down to the restaurant on deck 7, where cruise staff and I set up tables for the 2.15 lesson – plastic tablecloths, water pots and kitchen towel. The art class is attended by between 18-24 regulars; hectic and lively but enjoyable now.
4pm Art class over and packed up for the day, Pat and I head to the swimming pool. While we were in lower latitudes this was the open air pool on deck 11, but now we’re in cooler weather we go to the indoor spa and sauna on deck 2. The open air pool has been closed since Cuba as the sea has been lively and the water was throwing itself out of the pool.
5pm Grab a cup of tea on the veranda deck and read for half an hour or so (alas, the days of sitting out on the sofas overlooking the stern are now over as it’s too chilly)
6pm Change for dinner (occasionally this involves evening wear, but mostly ‘casual’)
6.30pm Wander down to Coopers bar for a drink and listen to Brad the cocktail pianist. Brad has an a vast repertoire of classic songs and tunes, and he knows the history of all of them. Cool weather has put a stop to our habit of a gin and tonic on the veranda leaning on the rail watching the sun go down.
7.15pm Dinner. Resolve (and usually fail) not to eat and drink too much.
9.30 Showtime. Different acts are flown in and out at various stopovers to keep the variety going and the passengers entertained. Currently a troupe of six lively professional singers called WestEnders with a selection of – guess what – west end musical songs.
10.45 Bedtime for Pat and me, but the ship’s entertainment carries on until late with ballroom dancing (there are four male dance hosts on board to make sure that no lady passenger sits alone).
I never did learn to ballroom dance, except on ice skates, but maybe I will one day. Although this is a small ship (currently around 460 passengers) there are also Spanish lessons, bridge lessons, deck games and quizzes, daily crosswords and sudoku sheets, a passenger choir, concerts and crooners, dance bands and lectures, a gym and spa, library, computer suite, regular cocktail parties, banquets, themed parties and charity fundraising events. Everything runs like clockwork thanks to an inexhaustible cruise director and staff. The Captain, nearing retirement and with enormous eyebrows, is known and loved by all passengers who enjoy his dry wit from the bridge (‘Well, folks, it looks like we’ve found the right harbour so you can go ashore as soon as we’ve tied up the ship with our hairy bits of string’).
The restaurant, bar and hotel staff are all Filipinos and they are exceptionally good. They work hard, always smile and say ‘hello Madam’ with genuine goodwill. It’s part of their job, of course, but they are always ready to chat and joke and nothing is too much trouble. We hear that Saga look after their crew well and it pays in loyalty. I’ve learned much about our regular waiters’ life and families and I’m getting rather to like having doors opened for me, food served that I haven’t had to cook, and being called ‘Madam’. Normal life back home is going to be a shock.
Up in the drawing room, wherever we are in the world, even in port, there are always passengers quietly playing scrabble and chess, knitting or reading. There is a jigsaw table, usually with a puzzle completed apart from the sky. Out on deck in the chill Atlantic breeze those who like to keep fit are still striding round deck 11 (six times round for a mile) or playing table tennis.
I wouldn’t be on the ship if I wasn’t teaching, of course, but for me it’s a way to escape the worst of the winter and visit countries I would never otherwise see. Once the seasickness is over I never tire of being at sea and find at least some time each day to lean on the rail looking at the distant horizon, patterns of the waves and the gentle breath of the ocean swell. Occasionally a shoal of flying fish scatters from the bow wave, gliding above the waves to safer waters (unless they are unlucky and there are brown boobies hovering, looking for an easy lunch).
I have taught my last class and there is an end-of-term feel in the air. We have enjoyed a final evening ashore in Ferrol, Northern Spain, in a tapas bar with a chaplain and his wife, a geology lecturer, a banjo player, a mathematician, a retired diplomat and his wife – and a good time was had by all. Please reassure me that spring has arrived so that when I get home I don’t have to put all my summer clothes away!