Introduction

My first taste of cruising was on board the long-gone, but much loved QE2, more years ago than I care to remember. I had two voyages on board her, to the Norwegian fjords and to the Med. While I could not help being impressed by her grandure and elegance, I found her rather large (despite being small compared to the modern “floating blocks of flats”), and I was always uneasy about the rigid class system on board.

When I resumed cruising a little later, I looked around for smaller, friendlier ships, and tried a week-long cruise back to the fjords on Fred. Olsen’s Black Watch. I found the small ship very much to my liking, being able to reach tiny places at the ends of fjords, and the smaller number of passengers meant places were less crowded or busy, and I stood much better chance of actually meeting the same person twice.

Once hooked, one or two cruises a year followed, gradually increasing in length, and sometimes on the other three ships in Fred. Olsen’s fleet – Boudicca, Balmoral, and Braemar. I saw and photographed many wonderful places around Europe, particularly loving both the coast and fjords of Norway, the highlight was definitely the cruise to Svalbard,  which was stunning in clear blue skies and bright sunshine for all 24 hours of the day.

Move forward 9 years, and I am just starting my 17th cruise on Fred. Olsen ships. Due to changing circumstances I am now very fortunate to be able to take more frequent and longer cruises than ever before. To record all these adventures for myself, and to share them – and some of the photographs I take – with others, I thought it was more than time I started this blog. I hope you enjoy sharing my travels

 

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W1801 – Where did Sunday go?

In my last post, W1801 – Bubble burst again, I described how because of rough weather, seas and Cyclone Gita we had an extended stay in Papeete, Tahiti; rather than visiting Tahiti, Bora Bora and Rarotonga as planned.

Leaving Tahiti we now have another run of 6 consecutive days at sea in a row as we sail directly to Auckland, New Zealand. As Carol and I were unable to go ashore on Easter Island, and Bora Bora & Rarotonga were cancelled, it means that during the first three weeks of February we will have only gone ashore on two days!

In this post I thought I would document some of the things that have entertained us during the latest run of sea days.

Valentine’s Day

The second and unplanned day in Tahiti was Valentine’s Day – the day of course that we should have been in the iconic South Sea island of Bora Bora. It wasn’t quite the romantic and beautiful scenery during the day that Carol and I had previously been imagining, but at least in the evening they decorated the restaurants and bars, and put on two shows of romantic songs for us to enjoy together.

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Dinner with the Captain

The morning after we left Tahiti I noticed that a posh envelope had been delivered under the door of our cabin. Inside was a personal invitation for Carol and I to join the Captain for dinner that evening! Carol and I have experienced this honour once before, on our German Waterways cruise (see M1716/7 – Back-to-back on Braemar), on that occasion it was because I had received the award for having the highest number of loyalty points on that cruise. This time around I am far from having the highest number, so we were left wondering whether it was because I am now at the highest plateau of loyalty points, or because we are on honeymoon – or both of these – but either way we were delighted to accept the invitation.

Dinner with the Captain is during the second sitting at 8:30, but we were invited to join him first for drinks in the Observatory Lounge, where we were greeted by his partner for the evening, Alexandra, who is the Guest Relations Manager on board. We were soon joined by three other couples and the Captain himself, and everyone there was fascinated and delighted to hear our ‘story’ – how Carol and I met and fell in love on last year’s around the world cruise, and are going around again on our honeymoon.

We then descended to the main restaurant slightly late for our meal, pausing first to have a photograph taken of everyone together – a copy of which is presented to each couple as a souvenir at the end of the meal. The (free) drinks continued to flow, and even Carol and I who don’t often drink were tempted to have a glass of wine with our meal. The meal and conversation were wonderful, and time flew by. By our usual standards Carol and I were late to bed that night, but it was well worth it as it was a delightful evening, so a big thank you once again to the Captain and Alexandra for the kind invitation.

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During the evening the subject of my blog came up, and the Captain said that he had read my post about Easter Island (W1801 – It’s almost Easter) and liked it, and that he had left a copy of it for his crew to read. Both the Captain and Alexandra asked for me to let them have the web address for my blog so that they could continue to read it. The following day we left notes for them both containing the web address at Guest Services, the note for the Captain was written on the back of a postcard of him bought from the photographic shop! When we happened to see the Captain later that day he said he was first puzzled then amused to receive a note written on the back of himself, and that he had already been reading my blog. So in case you are still reading Sir, thank you for your interest, and congratulations on being in charge of such a lovely ship and such an amazing and hardworking crew.

Can’t Pot, Won’t Pot

In the recent post, W1801 – It’s nice to be appreciated, you might remember that Cruise Director Michelle and Deputy Cruise Director Duncan were contestants for an on-board version of the popular TV show ‘Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook’. As the result of that was considered to be a draw, they were put to a new challenge – pottery. During this cruise there has been a resident pottery expert, Caroline, on board offering daily classes on sea days – I believe this is a first for Fred. Olsen – and so she challenged Michelle and Duncan to watch how she create a pottery item and then make it themselves. As the day was the start of the Chinese New Year – a year of the dog, the item she created was a Chinese-style hanging lamp, decorated with the head and tail of a dog:

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After a while of watching Caroline at work, Michelle and Duncan started their attempts. As with the cooking, there was a great deal of banter and humour for us to enjoy, not least when they re-enacted the famous scene from the film ‘Ghost’:

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Initially Michelle seemed to be making the better attempt, but after a while her more delicate lamp began to collapse under its own weigh, whereas Duncan’s more robust design came good, and was voted the winner by the audience:

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Chinese New Year

That evening the crew had been busy once again, for the restaurants and bars had been very well decorated for the Chinese New Year. Then, after our main course, announced by loud drums, a procession started moving its way through the restaurants. A very animated ‘dragon’, accompanied by the two loud drummers and a man and lady suitably attired made their way slowly around the restaurant, to the delight of the passengers, and even some of the crew who were stood at the back of the restaurant to watch the spectacle. Plenty of the passengers, like me, had come to the meal armed with their cameras, and were clicking away to record the event:

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Where did Sunday go?

If the day before yesterday was Friday, yesterday was Saturday, then what day is it today? Monday of course!!??!!

We have now crossed the International Date Line, and it’s the time when payback comes for all those extra hours of sleep we have been getting as we put our clocks and watches back an hour to adjust to the various time zones on our voyage. So last night when we went to bed it was Saturday 17th, but this morning we woke up to Monday 19th – for us Sunday 18th never existed. The big question is, if it happened to be your birthday on the 18th, does it mean you don’t get a year older?

One big disappointment to report though – last year they published a special edition of the ‘Daily Times’ – the newsletter listing the events for the next day – for the missing day. This was hilarious, there was an astonishing line-up of international stars appearing at that night’s show, and all sorts of weird and wonderful events were listed such as naked bungee jumping for the over-80s on the rear deck. Carol and I had very much been looking forward to seeing what would be in it this time – especially with the creative talents of Jack and Wilmar from the Events team on board. But alas, when we returned to our cabin last night, there was just the standard one for the day we were really having – Monday. An opportunity missed.

Update: This evening at the end of the main show, the Cruise Director Michelle announced that copies of a ‘Daily Times’ for the missing day could now be collected from Guest Services.

Poolside

While it’s possible that the ship’s management might be reading this, I thought I might be brave and mention something else that has been a disappointment compared to our voyage last year. I would like to stress that neither Carol or I are some of those ‘professional moaners’ that all too often you seem to come across these days. We love cruising with Fred. Olsen – why else would we have so many loyalty points – and have nothing but admiration and praise for how hard and how long the crew work to make our holiday so special. However there are a few occasions when things could be made even better…

Last year, a definite highlight for both Carol and myself was to dine at the Poolside restaurant. When the weather was nice, we would always have our breakfast there, usually when it opened at 8am – in really hot weather it was still pleasantly cool at this time. Now it doesn’t open until 9am, which is too late if we want to attend and get a good seat at say a port talk at 9:45. At lunchtime, again we enjoyed being able to eat outdoors, and the menu was changed every couple of weeks so that there was regularly new things to try. On this cruise it has been the same zzzz menu zzzz every zzzz time we have gone there – apart from a ‘special’. When we ask the waiter what the special is, they invariably say ‘the same as yesterday’ – which is not a lot of help if we weren’t there yesterday! For the hottest parts of last year’s cruise they also opened Poolside for evening meals, which again we enjoyed very much, but alas it no longer seems to open in the evenings. Judging by the number of people who attended the one time Poolside did open this cruise – for the barbeque – we are not alone in enjoying dining outside.

Postscript

The Captain has just made his noon report – and given us some great news. Instead of arriving in Auckland late in the evening on the 21st, we will now be arriving early in the morning that day – so we get a second day in Auckland. That definitely helps to make up for missing Bora Bora and Rarotonga!

W1801 – Bubble burst again

In my last post, W1801 – It’s nice to be appreciated, which was my 150th post on this blog, I acknowledged the recognition I have been fortunate to receive during this cruise for my blog; and also documented a ‘Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook’ show put on to entertain us on one of the many sea days as we sailed towards our next port of call, Papeete in Tahiti.

As we sailed on towards Tahiti the Captain during his noon reports warned us that there was rough weather and seas ahead, and also talked about Cyclone Gita, which they were having to keep a close watch on. For those of you thousands of miles away from us, who may not have heard about Cyclone Gita on the news, this is a category 4 cyclone that has caused lots of damage in Samoa and Tonga, which are not that far from our intended course.

Our planned itinerary was to spend a day in Tahiti, the next day (Valentine’s Day) in the idyllic Bora Bora, and two days later a day in Rarotonga which is one of the Cook Islands. In view of the expected rough conditions ahead, the Captain decided to ‘put his foot down’, so that we arrived into Tahiti on the evening before the planned day, so that we got an extra period of shelter from the rough weather and seas.

We  visited the same three South Sea Islands on our world cruise last year – or rather we were supposed to, but just as had apparently happened the year before that, the visit to Rarotonga was cancelled due to rough weather and seas. Actually, as documented in my post W1702 – South Sea bubble burst, I missed out on seeing any of the islands, as I was unwell and unable to leave my cabin in Tahiti, and leave the ship in Bora Bora.

For almost all our world cruise last year, Carol and I were blessed with fine weather and calm seas almost all the way around, with only half a dozen or so rough days during the entire voyage. This time around it seems like the pendulum has swung completely the other way, and this time we only seem to be  getting the odd calm day. Given this, and that based on last year’s experiences I seem to be jinxed in this part of the world, I could not help feeling pessimistic  about what lay ahead.

Tahiti is the largest and most populous island in French Polynesia. The island was formed from volcanic activity and is high and mountainous with surrounding coral reefs. Tahiti is divided into two parts – the bigger part in the northwest is called Tahiti Nui, and the smaller part in the southeast is called Tahiti Iti.

Carol and I went up on deck to watch us sail into Papeete. It was dark and wet, so I didn’t even bother to try taking any photographs. At least that night we could sleep peacefully, spared the rocking and rolling of the ship that we had been used to the previous nights.

The following morning Carol and I were up bright and early as we had booked a ship’s tour – a coach tour around some of the scenic places on the island. When we got to the show lounge to check in for our tour, the tours manager was busy informing other passengers that two of the planned tours were cancelled due to the weather – a catamaran tour and a tour by jeep up into the mountains. It was clear the weather was affecting us on land as well as at sea.

As we left our ship to walk to our coach, we were greeted by some suitably dressed locals who offered us flowers, while nearby a group of musicians were playing:

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When we boarded our coach our local guide informed us that we would not be able to visit a couple of places that we were supposed to visit on our tour – some historic caves and a viewpoint on the coast – as they were flooded following very heavy rain. We soon understood why, for as we crossed some bridges over raging rivers, our local guide told us that they are usually dry at this time of year, and for one of them he said that he had never seen the river so high. It was a very dark and wet morning, and the rain was really heavy at times, but we were fortunate in that when we were out of the coach it had almost stopped. As we drove along I was struck by how built up it was, and how generally scruffy and tired it looked – the guide told us that the residents don’t exactly rush to repair their houses – and how there seemed to be graffiti on almost every available wall and some abandoned and rusting cars around:

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We had quite a long drive along a coastal road to reach our first stop, the Spring Garden of Vaipahi. We walked on ahead of the main group so that I could get some photographs of the lovely gardens without other people in the way:

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It was only a short drive further along the coast to our next stop, a restaurant where we stopped for a refreshing fruit drink and a piece of cake. The restaurant was located right on the coast, and immediately outside it there was a boardwalk running out over a pool containing lots of fish. Unfortunately the water was quite murky, and it was quite difficult to see, never mind photograph, the fish – I’m sure some sunlight would have helped!

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Leaving the restaurant we then started driving back towards Papeete on the same road. Eventually we came to our final stop on the tour, Ārahurahu Marae. A marae is a communal or sacred place that serves religious and social purposes in Polynesian societies, consisting of an area of cleared land roughly rectangular (the marae itself), bordered with stones or wooden posts, often with terraces traditionally used for ceremonial purposes. Most marae were destroyed by the missionaries when Tahiti was converted to Christianity in the 19th century, and this one had been rebuilt since using the same discarded rocks and stones. Our guide pointed out a large stone which he told us had a gruesome use in the past – if a mother could not confirm the lineage of a newborn baby, it was brought to this stone to be killed, for it was important to know which families a person was descended from to avoid inbreeding.

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We then returned to our waiting ship in time for a late lunch. Although Carol had seen some of Tahiti last year, I hadn’t and was glad to see it for myself. Like Carol I was disappointed – it all didn’t live up to the paradise south sea island that most people would picture when they hear the name Tahiti.

Carol and I were sat in the restaurant having our lunch when the Captain came on the tannoy to announce changes to our itinerary. He said the seas would be too rough and the winds too strong to go to Bora Bora or Rarotonga (both are tender ports). Instead we would spend a second day in Tahiti, then sail directly to Auckland in New Zealand. We were both heartbroken to have missed out going to Bora Bora on Valentine’s Day, as it is so beautiful and idyllic there, and my jinx when it comes to south sea islands continues.

That afternoon Carol and I went for a short walk into the town to look around the local market there:

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That evening the show was put on by local musicians and dancers, and I can’t deny enjoying watching the girls dancing the hula-hula in their grass skirts so close in front of me. There were also muscular young men dancing which brought a smile to Carol and her friend’s faces!! Before the show the Captain gave a short but excellent and very informative talk about the weather and why we are having to miss the other two islands. He said the cyclone is predicted to track back towards New Zealand, but they hope it will have passed by there before we get there.

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On our second and unplanned morning in Papeete we went for a longer walk around the port. Walking through a park on the shore we came across some pens holding tropical fish, and then a moving memorial to those affected by the French nuclear testing in the area:

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Walking on we found a small but very peaceful garden, and then walked on the cathedral which was very small but had some interesting stained glass windows:

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We also came across quite a few examples of street art:

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Although it did not rain while we were out walking, it was very hot and the humidity was really high, making it feel unpleasant. Carol in particular was quite affected by the conditions and only just made it back to our ship without fainting, so we just rested in the cool of the ship during the afternoon.

While Carol continued to rest, I went up on deck to watch and take photographs as we set sail. The mist and rain had really set in again over the mountains, and as we eased our way through the narrow gap in the coral reef the seas instantly became much more rough. I noticed that the crew were busy stowing the mooring ropes down below rather than on deck, and were making other items on deck even more secure – which I thought might be a bad sign as to what lay ahead.

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We think it will be six days at sea before we reach our next port, Auckland in New Zealand, not including a day that we won’t have when we cross the International Date Line. Of course cyclones are unpredictable things, so exactly where and when we next make landfall is still very much subject to change, so what and when will be the subject of my next post – who knows?!

W1801 – It’s nice to be appreciated

This is a landmark post for me – the 150th post on my blog! When I started this blog just over two years ago, I was expecting it to be a small scale affair – a place for my close family and friends to find out about the longer voyages that I had just started doing, and to help me remember long term what I had seen, and where I had seen it. Indeed the early posts had only around a dozen or even fewer views, but over time that number has grown – particularly during this cruise – to the point where my recent post about Easter Island (W1801 – It’s almost Easter) has been viewed over 450 times! I would like to thank everyone for their positive and encouraging comments and ‘likes’; and also thank my wonderful wife Carol for her patience, support and understanding while I spend time creating each post, especially on this our honeymoon cruise.

I am also delighted and grateful to report that my blog has also been recognised and appreciated by Fred. Olsen too. Earlier in the cruise I was sitting in my cabin when the telephone rang – such an unusual event I nearly leapt out of my skin! It was Debbie, a Guest Relations Manager on this ship. She told me that she had been reading my blog and very much enjoying it, and as a ‘thank you’ would my wife and I like to have a complimentary meal with wine in the posh restaurant on board? Not long later this letter confirming the offer was posted under our door:

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Then a couple of days ago, following my Easter Island post, we had a surprise delivery to our cabin – a complimentary bottle of the lovely Lanson Champagne – again from Guest Relations.

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As I said in the title to this post – it’s nice to be appreciated!

 

Now for an update on the cruise…

During the six sea days it is taking to travel from Easter Island to our next port of call, Papeete in Tahiti, the times have been a-changing! Despite being 3,686 kilometres west of Chile, Easter Island is in the same time zone as Chile, while Tahiti is five hours behind. So for five consecutive nights we have been putting back our clocks and watches one hour, which gets a bit disruptive when it comes to sleeping patterns. It’s also rather tedious changing the hour each night on my two watches, my mobile phone, tablet, laptop and three cameras!

During last year’s around the world cruise we were blessed with amazingly good weather and calm seas almost the whole way around, with only a half dozen or so rough days over the whole cruise. Unfortunately so far it had been the other way around, with calm sunny days the exception. We hoped that things were changing for the better on the day after Pitcairn Island, as we awoke to find the sea was like the proverbial mill-pond:

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Alas the very next day the rain and rough seas were back, and with gale force winds the outside decks were closed off. Still, at least we are not near Tonga, where Cyclone Gita is bearing down on the islands. On his noon report yesterday the Captain told us they are very much watching the cyclone, in case we need to modify our course and plans. Meantime he has put his proverbial foot down so that we arrive in Papeete this evening, rather than tomorrow morning as planned, so that we can shelter there.

Over the next few days we are due to visit Bora Bora and the Cook Islands as well as Tahiti. Regular readers might remember that I missed all three stops on last year’s cruise due to a combination of illness and bad weather, I’ve got everything crossed that I am more lucky this year, but at the moment the omens are not looking good. What my next post will contain I just wouldn’t like to predict!

 

Postscript 1

This morning they held another edition of the ever popular ‘Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook’, this time with Cruise Director Michelle and Deputy Cruise Director Duncan as the contestants. It was a very good laugh, with much banter between the two of them. Michelle also invented a new dish, when she decided to decorate her omelette with piped cream!

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Postscript 2

I just popped up on deck to see and photograph the remote volcanic island called Mehetia which we are passing by. The conditions up there are not good – it’s very windy, rough and raining, and the starboard deck is closed off while the port one is very wet. I could barely see the island through the rain and mist, even though the Captain said we would be sailing past around four miles away. So much for the balmy tropical south seas!

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W1801 – A Bounty-full Afternoon

In my last post,  W1801 – It’s almost Easter, I described sterling efforts made by the fabulous and brave ship’s crew to get as many passengers as possible ashore on the iconic Easter Island, and how Carol and I didn’t quite make it ashore this time around.

After our late departure from Easter Island we began a sequence of six days at sea sailing towards our next port of call, Papeete in Tahiti. On the third of those days I had noticed that we were due to sail past Pitcairn Island, but hadn’t taken much notice, as my experiences in the past of such ‘sail by’s have not been good – just a distant smudge on the horizon – and sometimes in near darkness too!

This time though to our delight things proved to be different. On his noon report the day before the Captain had teased us with a comment that he hoped we would experience something special there, and when we read the Daily Times sheet detailing the next day’s activities that night, more became clear. We would in fact be pausing near to the island, so that the islanders could come on board and set up stalls selling us crafts and souvenirs, and also give us a presentation about the island.

By mid afternoon the island started to loom ahead of us on the horizon, and large numbers of us were up on deck to watch and take photographs as we approached close to the island, through a gorgeous blue sea. To be honest it was not a place I knew much about, and I was surprised to see both how rugged and lush it was. To start with the coastline looked to be all steep cliffs and rocks, and we wondered where their boats would be moored or launched from.

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Just then we spotted a boat making its way out towards our ship, well laden with islanders. As it neared our ship we could see that some of them had backpacks, but we wondered where all the merchandise was that they were going to sell to us. Once most of them had scrambled up a short vertical ladder to board our ship, the mystery was solved when they lifted large floorboards to reveal loads of cases, bags and drums in the well of the boat – these were soon hoisted aboard our ship by rope. The Captain then came on the tannoy to announce that we would now sail right around the island while the islanders set up their stalls.

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We could soon see the small dock where the islander’s boat had come from, and then had great views of the island as we circumnavigated it quite close to the shore. We were particularly amused and intrigued by a small rocky islet just off shore, with it single tree growing out of one side:

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As we continued around the island we could see places where there had been rock falls and erosion, as well as caves and other rock features:

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We knew when we had completed the circuit when the islet with it’s single tree came back into view, this time viewing it from the other side:

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It was now time to fight our way to the stalls set out on the rear deck – a fight as the stalls were so popular with crowds of passengers around each one. Carol and I each bought a Pitcairn t-shirt, a little more expensive than usual but we were happy to support these remote islanders who must have so few chances to earn some income:

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It was very hot up on deck – around 28C – so we were glad to seek some rest on the cool air-conditioned show lounge, and at the same time secure ourselves front row seats for the presentation about the island. This was timed to be at the same time as the first sitting for dinner – which we are on – but like quite a lot of people we decided that having the opportunity to hear about the island from a local resident was a unique opportunity and not one to be passed over – we could always eat later in the café. The presentation was given by a lady who came originally from New Zealand, but who 10 years ago gave up a good professional career there to come and live on Pitcairn. She is interested in birds, and came initially to help eradicate the rats which are such a problem to nesting birds.

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Her presentation was very interesting and informative, with plenty of good photographs of the islands – that’s a plural as there are four islands in the group. Only one of them is permanently inhabited – Pitcairn Island, the others are Henderson, Ducie and Oeno. The four islands are scattered across several hundred miles of ocean and have a combined land area of about 47 square kilometres. Henderson is by far the largest of the four and accounts for 86% of the land area.

Pitcairn is the least populous national jurisdiction in the world, with only about 50 permanent inhabitants, originating from four main families. The Pitcairn Islanders are a descended mostly from nine Bounty mutineers and the handful of Tahitians who accompanied them, this history is still apparent in the surnames of many of the islanders. Around 90% of the population came aboard our ship that afternoon! The Pitcairn Islands are a British Overseas Territory, and are administered from New Zealand.

She explained that all their supplies come by ship from New Zealand, which calls just four times a year, so they have to plan many months ahead to order in anything and everything they might need, other than the fruit, vegetables and chickens that they grow on the island. Everything arrives in small containers, which are craned off the supply ship into one of the three metal longboats on the island – one of which brought the islanders out to our ship. Another crane on the quayside lifts the containers off the longboats, and they are taken up the single surfaced road to ‘town’ – the cluster of buildings we could see from the ship earlier.

She then went on to show us photographs of the island and it’s important buildings – the school, museum, medical centre etc. The school was for primary children and current has just three pupils, secondary pupils go to boarding school in New Zealand. She told us that there is a resident doctor and nurse, but for serious medical conditions they have to find the nearest passing ship to get the patient transferred on to Tahiti for hospital treatment. She also showed us pictures of the ‘town square’ – a covered area where they hold meetings and celebrations – she pointed out they can invite the whole nation to a birthday party! Around the Square were the post office, bank and council offices. There was also a small shop, but she said many households simply exchange produce between each other – they might swap some vegetables for some eggs for example.

There is an application process to emigrate to the island, but it seems a very isolated and hard life, not suited to many. To our surprise you are not allowed to do paid work for three years on arrival, which seems counter-productive if they want to recruit young families to boost their population and bring new blood to the island.

At the end of her presentation there was just time for a few questions and answers before it was time for the islanders to re-board their longboat and return to their island. As the sun started to go down I took one last shot of the waves crashing over the rocks:

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The difficulties of landing hundreds of passengers on such a rugged island meant having the islanders come to us was by far the best solution. While they were with us, the ship’s videographer and one of the photographers were on the island, and we are looking forward to seeing what they took at a later date. We thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon – sometimes it is the unexpected and different things that are the best.

 

Postscript

The following lunchtime we passed the Gambier Islands – this photograph of them shows how little we would normally see from a ‘sail past’:

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We are continuing our voyage on to Papeete, Tahiti, which is likely to be the subject of my next post.

W1801 – It’s almost Easter

In my last post, W1801 – On the pull, I described the crew tug-of-war competition and the barbecue evening put on to make the most of the lovely warm sunny weather as we sailed towards our next port of call, Hanga Roa on Easter Island. These were held on the last of the five sea days it took to sail from Paracas in Peru to Easter Island, showing just how remote this island is.

Only around 1 in 5 cruise ships manage to land their passengers on Easter Island. Hanga Roa is an anchor port, and the seas there are often rough or have a significant swell, making it a very difficult or impossible job to get passengers ashore by tender. Regular readers might remember that Carol and I struck lucky on our around the world cruise last year, and had a wonderful and very memorable tour ashore, documented in my post W1702 – Easter Island Moai. I was so relieved then, as the island had fascinated me since I was a small child, and it was the place on that cruise that I most wanted to visit. Knowing those odds, and having got ashore last year, I couldn’t help having a sense of foreboding as to whether we would make it ashore this year.

We have had Fred. Olsen senior, who is around 90 years old, on board since Cuba. He has a great affinity and knowledge about Easter Island, and owns a house on the island – he even gave most of the port talk about the island. We found out that he and his family & friends travelling with him were planning to alight the ship and stay on the island for a week, before flying on to Tahiti to re-join the ship as far as Auckland.

Carol and I were very apprehensive the night before we arrived at the island, wondering if we would have to sail on by, just hoping that having Fred. senior on board would bring us good luck. Just before dawn I went up on deck to see what was happening – we had come to a stop off Hanga Roa, and they were dropping an anchor – so it was looking promising. After a while they started to lower and prepare the tenders, and around 9am they started to tender those on shore tours ashore.

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The tours on the island are expensive as on top of the tour cost you have to pay 80 dollars to enter the National Park that covers almost all the island. Carol and I had decided this year not to take a tour, but just explore the town of Hanga Roa which is outside the National Park. Those taking a ship’s tour took priority on the tenders, so we had to wait for them to get ashore before we could catch one.

It was expected that we could go ashore some time around 10:30, but unfortunately this was far from the case as they were having terrible problems getting people ashore. Loading the passengers was very slow as the tenders we going up and down and around and about on the swell, and the deck hands had to tell people when to step across and hold them tight while they did so. Also the mooring rope on one of the tenders broke under the immense strain it was under, and the trailing rope fouled the underside of the tender taking it out of operation until they had lifted it out of the water to repair it.

Carol and I were sat in one of the ship’s lounges watching the progress – or rather lack of it – through the windows. When a tender did eventually return to the shop, we would time how long it took to load the next set of passengers, this could be up to 50 minutes as they could only put one passenger on at a time, with quite a delay between each one until the conditions were momentarily OK.

By lunchtime many of the tours still hadn’t got ashore, and they announced that the two afternoon tours would be an hour later than planned. In the afternoon the conditions worsened, another mooring rope broke, and one of the tenders suffered a broken window after it slammed into the steps and jetty.

While we waited I went up on deck to take some photographs of the island from the ship, as insurance in case we didn’t make it ashore:

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Eventually they started loading the last of the tours people around 4pm, and Carol and I hung around the back of the queue in the hope that there would be room for us too. We thought our luck might be in after all as they said yes there were a few spare places in the tender, but we only got as far as being part way down the steps when there was a big bang as the mooring rope broke yet again. We were told to quickly re-board the ship, and the tender sped away before it got tangled in the rope.

We then had to wait while the next tender unloaded it’s passengers, a long slow job. These poor passengers had been on the tender for an hour tossing and turning in the rough seas, and many of them were green and very unwell and/or distressed when they finally got back to the safely of the ship. At this point Carol and I decided to give up trying to get ashore, and a few minutes later they announced that the Captain and the Safety Officer had decided no one else would be taken ashore, their priority was to get everyone ashore safely back to the ship. We have heard that some passengers, frustrated at not being able to get ashore on such an iconic and important destination, started shouting and complaining, so unfair when the safely of both passengers and crew must be the highest priority.

We went up on deck to watch the unloading of passengers from there, and instantly understood why the decision had been made. We thought that if the complaining passengers had only come up to see for themselves how difficult the conditions had become, and the struggle the crew were having to get the passengers off safely, they would have understood why the decision had been made. At times the jetty they were standing on was dunked under the waves, frequently the tender would slam into the jetty, and there was always the peril from a snapped rope. We think that the officers and crew had done an amazing job in very difficult conditions to get as many passengers as they did ashore, and are sure that an extra effort was made because of the special nature of this particular destination.

The long slow recovery continued for most of the evening, and the dining room was very empty for our first sitting meal. Between the meal and the show we went up on deck to see how things were going, and it was taking ages to get each person off a tender as they had to wait for just the right moment to grab them over. We saw a couple who sit at our table only get back on board then.

After the show had finished, at around 9:45, we went back on deck to find that only then that the final few passengers and crew were getting on board. By now it was almost dark, and the crew had quite a job getting the tenders, steps and jetty back on board in the failing light. We watched in amazement as two of the crew untied and dismantled the steps and jetty as they dangled just above the rough seas; and in horror as the huge heavy hook for lifting one of the tenders swung on it’s cables straight towards a crewman on board it – to our huge relief he dived headfirst in through the hatch on the tender just in time. Once the tender was safely hooked up and lifted back onto the ship, as the three members of the crew climbed out they got a spontaneous round of applause from the watching crowd.

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Once we had seen that everyone was back on board Carol and I retired to our bed, for although sadly we had not make it back onto the island, it had been quite a tense and tiring day watching and waiting.

The following morning Carol and I met the Captain on our walk around the decks after breakfast, and I said that I wanted to congratulate and thank his crew through him for all their sterling work. We asked if there had been any injuries, and he was delighted to tell us that there was not even a scratch to report!  One of our fellow passengers is circulating a letter for us all to sign saying how amazing, hardworking and brave the crew were, which we hope will prompt the company to give them the recognition and reward they deserve.

Just to reinforce the remoteness of Easter Island, we are now having six consecutive sea days as we sail on to our next port of call, Papeete in Tahiti.

Postscript

On the subject of well trained, efficient and brave crew, last night we had another example of this. Not long after Carol and I had gone to bed and fallen asleep, we were woken by an tannoy announcement from the Captain to say that there was a lot of smoke on deck 4 aft, which is the deck below ours, and that emergency crew teams had been dispatched to investigate. We then had very regular updates every 10 minutes from either the Captain or the Cruise Director, which told us that passengers in the cabins in the affected area had been evacuated, that a small fire had been found, and then that it had been extinguished. Further announcements told us that they were venting the smoke, and eventually the passengers were allowed to return to their cabins. On his noon report just now the Captain told us the source of the fire was a dishwasher machine, and that it was only a small fire within the machine, but that it generated a lot of smoke. He praised his crew for the way they had handled the emergency.

 

Later today we will pass Pitcairn Island, famous for the Mutiny on the Bounty, which will probably be the subject of my next post.

 

W1801 – On the pull

Here in the South Pacific word has reached us of all the snow, ice and cold temperatures being endured by folks back in the UK, so I thought I would do a short post to show how life is for us here.

A couple of days ago was a typical tough day, temperatures in the mid 20s, bright sunshine and blue skies with light breezes! To make the most of this lovely weather, the ship put on an afternoon and evening of special events out on the rear decks. They started the afternoon with a grand tug-of-war competition, with male and female teams from the various departments around the ship – deck hands, bar staff, waiters, housekeeping, senior officers etc. competing against each other. I’ve enjoyed this on a couple of previous cruises, what is especially nice is to see ordinary members of the crew mixing freely with officers and passengers on the rear decks, all enjoying themselves as they watch the competition. In the ladies competition, the deck hands beat the entertainers in a close final.

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The clear favourites in the men’s competition were the senior officers – from their size, the fact they included the Captain in their number, and that they jokingly reminded the opposition about their upcoming performance reviews! At one point the senior officers were so dominant, one opposition team cheekily asked for extra people to join their team, and with twice as many people than normal they just managed to beat the officers in a fun pull! As expected the senior officers cruised to the final, where they easily beat the deck hands:

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It was all good fun in the sun, and proceeds from passengers betting on the eventual winners went to Fred. Olsen’s chosen charity, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

That evening, as an alternative to dining in the usual restaurant, they put on a delicious barbecue accompanied by live music on the rear decks. There was a good range of food to choose from, including burgers, hot dogs, jerk chicken, ribs, jacket potatoes, sweetcorn, salad and a spread of desserts. It was also lovely to sit outside near the pool on such a lovely evening, and it made a welcome change from our regular but delicious dinners indoors in the restaurant:

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Later as the sun went down the party was still in full flow:

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I trust this short post will bring your sympathy for how much we are suffering too as we cruise across the south seas on our amazing around the world cruise!!

W1801 – Mermaids, Seals, a Bear … and a lap dancer!

In my last blog, W1801 – This little piggy, I documented our visit to the port of Manta in Ecuador, and the tour we made from there to a beach resort for some swims. We left Manta that evening, and continued to sail south down the coast of South America towards our next port, Lima, the capital city of Peru.

In the small hours of the morning before we had arrived in Manta we had actually crossed the Equator – it was ok the bump as we went over the line didn’t wake Carol or me! – but they decided to wait holding the “Crossing the line” ceremony until the day at sea following Manta. Regular readers will be aware of these ceremonies, I well documented the two we enjoyed on last year’s world cruise in my blogs W1702 – Crossing the Line 2 and W1702 – Crossing the Line 3. Basically it’s a lot of fun centred around the swimming pool at the rear of the ship – various officers and crew are brought before ‘King and Queen Neptune’ on humorous trumped up charges and always found guilty. This time around the punishment was to kiss a raw fish and be thrown in the swimming pool. One difference this time was that two of the female dancers, and a male entertainments guy dressed up as mermaids complete with rubber tails! Carol and I managed to secure very good seats close to the action, and here are a few of the photographs I took from there:

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After this and a further day at sea, we eventually sailed into Lima early in the morning. Actually we sailed into the very commercial port called Callao, located 15 km west of the historic centre of Lima. Fred. Olsen really does find some stunningly unbeautiful ports to visit from time to time, and this one was certainly in that category, full of container ships, cranes large and small, stacks of containers and lorries. It didn’t quite match the dilapidated cement works in Safaga, Egypt last year (see W1702 – Almost Egypt) – but it was a pretty good attempt and worthy of a place in the coffee-table book of dismal ports visited by Fred. Olsen that we are always threatening to write! Just to add to its appeal, we were warned that it was not safe to walk around in Callao, and to only go out on an organised tour or take the shuttle bus into Lima.

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When the ship was in Lima last year, Carol took a ‘highlights’ tour around the city and had therefore seen many of the sights already. I also saw many of the sights when we passed through Lima on the extended six day shore tour I took in Ecuador and Peru – see W1702 – Andes Adventure 5. We therefore decided not to do a tour on either of the days we were in Lima, and instead just book seats on the shuttle bus provided to take passengers between the port and the Miraflores district of Lima, and take a look around that area for a while.

On the first morning in port our first port of call was the ship’s laundry room. This is a scary place not to be entered lightly – there are stories of one passenger hitting another with an iron, and last year our (male) table companion was threatened by a lady with a coat hanger! We decided that this might be a safer time to enter the room with most passengers ashore on tour, and indeed we had the place virtually to ourselves, and much to our relief we managed to get all our laundry washed, dried and ironed unscathed.

That afternoon we took the shuttle bus into Lima. Leaving the port we passed through some quite rough areas, and well understood the warnings we had been given, before a much more scenic drive along the coast to Miraflores. This is an exclusive residential and upscale shopping district south of downtown Lima, and is one of the most affluent districts in the city. It has various upmarket hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Leaving the coach we walked across to see a familiar landmark, the statue of Paddington Bear, who of course comes from darkest Peru. We then wandered around the area, pausing to enjoy the views and for me to take photographs of them and anything quirky that caught my eye:

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After we had walked around for an hour and a half or so, we both felt very hot and tired, and so we returned to the shuttle bus pick up point to see if we would be allowed to catch an earlier return than we had booked – fortunately this was the case. On the way back to the ship we saw a couple of microlight planes flying overhead:

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Returning to the ship we were both glad of a cool refreshing shower and a rest before our dinner.

Our second day in port was a very quiet day spent on board ship, apart from a quick visit to some market stalls set up on the quayside alongside our ship. Here I bought a ‘Peru’ t-shirt as I wanted something to wear when swimming, as I had got quite sunburnt when swimming in Ecuador. However when we returned to the ship and I tried the t-shirt on, I thought it was much too nice to use for swimming!

Late that evening we set sail for our next port, Paracas, which is south of Lima in Peru. This is the port where I rejoined the ship after my long shore tour last year, and is another candidate for the dismal ports coffee-table book:

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Once again Carol and I had elected not to book a tour, and instead took the shuttle bus into the local town to look around. This was full of cafes, souvenir stalls and back-packer hostels, but the harbour area was quite attractive with the multitude of brightly coloured boats:

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After an hour or so of wandering around we caught the shuttle bus back to the ship, and on the way I took some photographs of the miles and miles of sand dunes that surround the area:

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That afternoon we kept a good look out for wildlife around the ship, as last year we had seen plenty. This year there was much less, just one or two seals which occasionally bobbed up, some pelicans and some other sea birds:

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Around 6pm we then set sail out into the Pacific Ocean, beginning our long journey towards Easter Island. We will have 5 sea days to get there, and a further 6 sea days afterwards towards the next port, showing just how remote Easter Island is. I remember from last year how spasmodic the internet connection was out in the mid Pacific, so my next post – about whether or not we make it ashore on Easter Island this time – may well be delayed for some time.

 

Postscript

Well you are probably saying that I have accounted for the mermaids, seals and bear in the title of this blog, but what of the lap dancer??!!

On the evening of our second day in Lima, we had some local musicians and dancers come on board to provide the show that evening. Fred. Olsen often do this when we are in port overnight or until late at night, for example on last year’s world cruise we saw performances in Bali, Singapore and Colombo. However we both thought that this show was the best ever that we had seen. We both love the South American music with the pan pipes, and the dancers were simply amazing – wonderful brightly coloured costumes, and a wide variety of often intricate dances from all around Peru.

In their final dance, the girl dancers were teasing the boys, making to run towards them for a kiss, only to duck away at the last moment. On one occasion after ducking away, one of the girls ran across to where we were sitting (the front row to get a good view and good photographs), and to my huge surprise promptly sat on my lap and snuggled in!! Fortunately I had the strap on my camera around my wrist, otherwise it might well have fallen to the floor in my shock. The male dancers came over to show their disgust and shoo her away. All good fun, and fortunately my wife sat beside me saw the joke and is not filing for divorce! Certainly not what I expected to happen on my honeymoon. Here are some of the many photographs I took when my lap wasn’t otherwise occupied:

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