Sunday, 29 January 2012
Life On An Ocean Wave - No Thanks
It's not been a good year for boats.
'It's a ship, man, a ship,' an irate ex-navy man once yelled into my ear on a crowded underground carriage when he overheard me talking with a friend.
The trouble with being stuck on a tube train is that you are packed together like sardines and it was impossible to get away from this man's ire.
'What's more it's a she,' he went on. 'She's NOT an it'
Boats have never been an area I've either been very good at or enjoyed at any time in my lifetime. In fact I had prior warning when I was 2 1/2 and was sitting on the wall of the very upmarket and sometimes snooty Bembridge Yacht Club on the Isle Of Wight. My poor father, not being a sailor had drawn the short straw and had to do the babysitting and we sat watching little dots on the horizon with sails on top racing each other. One of these dots contained my mother, who was equally not a sailor but had been carted off by a more capapable cousin.
Back on land, as I was devouring the flake on top of the 99 cone father had bought to keep me quiet, a Rear Vice Admiral in full and pristine white uniform ill advisedly walked past.
'Oh look, Daddy,' I said in rather too loud a voice. 'It's a painter.'
An easy mistake. Anyone could have mistaken the whites of one of the commanders of the Royal Navy for the overalls of a decorator. He didn't see the funny side though and we were evicted. So I never did get to see my mother's surprise triumph in finishing second in the race.
From that moment on me and boats just didn't mix.
I used to get seasick watching the Oxford and Cambridge boat race on t.v. So being on a ferry was a terrible mistake. I was probably the only person to be sick on the Dover-Ostend Sealink ferry before it had even left the port. In Bremerhaven whilst the DFDS ferry was gently bobbing on the dock and friends and family were waving and happily talking to each other between deck and quayside, the atmosphere rapidly descended into horror when a green faced Brit retched and threw up over the side. Amongst the shouts of 'Mein Gott', 'Scheisse' and 'Das ist unglaublich', the ship and the dock emptied and I was left alone, feeling wretched.
It was little better on the Boulogne ferry in a Force 9 gale. I actually rather enjoyed it and was feeling fine until another passenger was sick on my shoes. The long trip to Santander was better and worse, thanks to a rugby club from Sussex, on a tour of Spain who terrorised the ship. An hour after leaving, they were singing. Two hours, they had drunk the boat dry. Three hours they were rampaging around the ship and all the crew were so frightened that they had locked themselves in the broom cupboard. The next morning I went on deck to find fifteen grey faces staring out to sea, saying nothing.
On inland waterways, my experiences were worse. My first trip on a narrow boat in the Regent's Park Canal ended in my first boat crash. As we were ambling along at less than 3 m.p.h, another boat came hairing out of a tunnel on the wrong side of the river at an equally hairy 3 m.p.h and we had no option but to ram into the towpath and the front of the boat lodged there and all us passengers were flung to the floor with flailing arms and legs in the air. When another boat came to tow us off the riverbank, we began to sink.
I learnt from the experience, because some years later on a barge holiday on the canals of Alsace, I was the cause of a bateau mouche in Strasbourg having to take evasive action and smack into the bank. I was driving. What a mistake that was. We had all just had a particularly good lunch, washed down by many bottles of Pinot Gris. That aside, no one told me that as we were sailing through strasbourg, we were near the Rhine and the currents became stronger. Also no one told me that there was a strict traffic light code at various intersections which all river traffic had to adhere to.
I blindly ignored all the red lights on one sharp corner to suddenly come face to face with an enormous bateau-mouche, crammed full of tourists. Even through the glare, the blind panic and the pleasure boat driver's sunglasses, I thought I could see the whites of his eyes. He spun the wheel like Captain Jack Sparrow, slammed the throttle into reverse and still managed to utter some French obscenity and shake both fists, raising the middle fingers as he did so. There was a horrendous crunching sound and then silence followed by a roar similar to the sound of people celebrating the winning goal at the FA Cup Final.
I looked up to see we were wedged together. We were regrettably wedged together in the busiest part of Strasbourg, where on this beautiful summer day, the cafe's were heaving with lunchtime folk. They had never seen anything like it. And they would probably never see anything like it again.
I have to be thankful for three things. One, the Gendarmes seemed to be on their lunch break. Two, the skill of the bateau mouche driver managed to get us disentangled and we went on our separate ways. And three, the bateau mouche was sealed and air conditioned - otherwise I felt the driver would have got out and punched me on the nose, he was so angry. One hour later, still driving around the Strasbourg canals, we met again.
'Yoo-hoo' yelled all the girls on our boat and waved heartily to him. The same two middle fingers were visible as he pushed down hard on the throttle to get as far away from us as possible.
The news of the Italian cruise ship is just a reminder of how perilous the sea can be. My Grandmother was killed during the war on the SS Empress Of Britain. In my lifetime I have seen the Torrey Canyon, the Exxon Valdez, the Herald Of Free Enterprise and the SS Estonia, to name but a few. When in the Philippines I remember thinking if the boat I am on goes down, I will make a good snack for a shark. I have been to a funeral of a sailor of a Polish boat which sank in the North Sea.
The Costa Concordia is just another. The trouble is that everything is being built bigger and bigger, so if there is a disaster in the future, there is a possibility of large number of casualties.
Me - I'll be sticking to the pedalo at a pond in South Shields. With my seasickness record, that will frighten the ducks.