Monday, January 21, 2013

Bill Miller recollections

Sun Jan 13th At Sea: Something new! Today, I give a brand new lecture – Conquest of the Atlantic: The History of Cunard. In the end, seems to work well – like a recipe but with different ingredients and some varied parts (like spices in a kitchen recipe) from other talks. 
And speaking of Cunard! My good friend, publisher John Clarkson (of UK-based Ships in Focus Publications) has very kindly sent a copy of his thick, glossy new book Cunard Line: A Fleet History, by renowned author Peter Newall. It is superb and immensely detailed – from the great Cunard passenger ships to Cunard freighters, Cunard tankers, Cunard ships managed in wartime, even Cunard tenders. The book offers a full history of each vessel & includes countless photos, many unseen before, as well as vivid color sections. Stephen Card has done another brilliant cover, this one of the original Queen Elizabeth at sea; the rear cover is a dramatic aerial of the Queen Mary 2. This hardcover book is a treat, a great read and not just highly, but heartily recommendable!
Daily program! I'm often fascinated by the list of offerings in the ship's daily program. Today's activities include the likes of Tai Chi Class, Introduction to Foil Fencing, a Skype Seminar, No Need to Fear – the Barber is Here (lecture on hair cutting & styling), Footprint Analysis, Managing Arthritis with Chinese Medicine, a lecture on Tanzanite, Advanced Facial Rejuvenation, Watercolor Class, the Royal Hair Show, Skincare at Sea, Medium Yoga and a Slot Clinic. 
Sunday service! A well attended service – complete with lots of hymns and ending with a tribute to sailors against the perils of the sea – includes a reading & then a song with "thanks to God" by a youngish woman who has just successfully survived a 5-yr battle with cancer. Touching.
Gala supper! Invited tonight to dinner with Ronnie Keir, a longtime friend & chief engineer of this 90,000-ton ship. He is a great ship enthusiast, knows lots about lots of things and, being from Scotland, has a very gregarious, very friendly manner. Interesting, diverse fellow guests: couple from the north of England (I could barely understand them with their thickest of North Country accents), an Australian lady (in tears at times – after 37 years of marriage, her husband has just run off with her best friend), Lady D (very grand and sometimes rather imperious, living in England and Spain & wearing a fantastic diamond watch) and a dear little couple (British but also living in Spain – she was too dear with ringlet hair, old pearls & a little white fox fur cape and he with gorgeous silver hair & the look of a latter day Douglas Fairbanks, Jr). 
Sad anniversary! It has been exactly one year since the Costa Concordia capsized off the Italian coast, killing 32 people, denting the cruise industry (especially for Costa Cruises) and destroying that $600 million ship. Her salvage, costing another $400 million-plus, is underway and should be completed by September. The 965-ft long ship is then expected to be towed away & demolished. 
News from Southampton! The 40-yr old Saga Ruby is waiting at her Southampton berth, her world cruise delayed & the ship suffering from a major illness: a broken crankshaft. With her departure delayed and with some of the 500 passengers canceling their long, expensive trip, the repairs might take (according to today's reports) as long as 10 days. Expectedly, the itinerary will have to be altered & some ports of call dropped. You might remember: The 24,000-ton Saga Ruby, actually due to be retired next year by Saga Cruises, was commissioned back in 1973 as the superb Vistafjord for Norwegian America Line. Bought by Cunard in 1983, she later changed names, becoming theCaronia in 1999, but then joined Saga in 2004. (Her onetime fleetmateSagafjord also joined Saga -- later becoming the Saga Rose, but was scrapped in China in 2009.)
Platform 2! It is also the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, the infamous Tube, and to celebrate an old steam tube train is brought out for a commemorative run. BBC News runs a tribute – complete with a vintage, smoking engine & wooden passenger cars. All aboard!
Mon Jan 14th At Sea: Cowboys & Indians! Tony Sloman, a historian of "the cinema," gives a fascinating talk: Cinema: The Westerns. We go from the early age of William S Hart & John Wayne to the later age of Clint Eastwood & Johnny Depp. 
Counting beds! We are full-up – 2,000 passengers in all. 300 are taking the full world cruise (110 days), 500 are going to San Francisco & 300 on the half the full cruise to Sydney. 150 Germans joined last week, but at Hamburg (during a 4-night mini cruise). And like me, 800 are getting off in New York, having made the 8-day westward passage from Southampton (with 250 having made the eastbound trip last week, but on the Queen Mary 2). 
More tea, Sir! It really is elegant, a great feature aboard Cunard. A classical concert, white gloved waiters, trays of gorgeous little cakes, other trays of neatly stacked sandwiches (along with the likes of cucumber, tuna & egg salad, there's a delicious curried chicken as well!) and of course tea in china cups ("It always tastes better in fine china," says a lady from Bournemouth).
Stage lights! Cunard is doing a great job with its evening entertainment – the big production shows, even the repeats, are very colorful & filled with talent and all while the cabaret nights are very amusing & enjoyable. Tonight, we have Brett Sherwood, who is a very, very skilled magician, but without being too glitzy, too over-the-top. 
Tue Jan 15th At Sea: Nice chat with Captain Inger Klein Olsen, master of the Queen Victoria & Cunard's first female captain. In the modern age, she is not distant or the almost frozen, robotic commander, but friendly, very accessible, chatty in an almost neighborly way. Coming from the Faeroe Islands in the North Sea, Capt Olsen will take the ship to Sydney, for half of this trip, the ship's 100-night cruise around the world. Living in Copenhagen these days, the Captain had sailed with DFDS (the big Danish ferry line) and then with Seabourn (which, like Cunard, is part of the Carnival empire).
Due west of the northern tip of Spain! A walk (I better not say laps) around Deck 3. The temperature is surprisingly mild, almost the Northeast-in-April kind of afternoon, while the seas are battleship gray, lapping against one another, sometimes creating a seascape of small, foamy mountains & sometimes forming great sprays of water. The wake is, however, a bluish-gray – almost that color of blue-rinse hair or like a mouth wash. The ship itself is indeed the floating city – as I peer through varied windows, I see passengers with the water colors & brushes in mid-afternoon art class, others at tables in intent games of bridge, others reading in the library, others taking dance class in the Queens Room & then a platoon of waiters preparing for afternoon tea. But a fair number of passengers are in those cushioned deck chairs – reading, doing word games, starring at those wallowing, often hypnotic waves & others in deep, post-lunch slumber. Heartier souls, well just a little heartier, walk the decks – some in snug jackets & tightly knotted scarves, others in shirt sleeves. Some walk with the same intent as if they were in hills of the English countryside or the German Alps while others, some hand-in-hand, stroll with the ease of a Sunday afternoon in Green Park (London) or Central Park. "Watching" the ship and the people aboard it can be very interesting. One older gentleman tells me, "I walk – otherwise I'll go inside, sit in a soft chair, quickly fall into a nap and then begin to snore out loud!" (PS: Rather quickly, the horizon from that open deck turns a darker, more lead-like gray, the cloud formations seem "heavier" and then the rains come – and almost "washing" the sides of this 12-deck high liner.)
Wings! Chris was a flyer & later captain with the Royal Air Force and tells me today of his long voyage for the Falklands War in May 1982. "We were on the Uganda, an old passenger ship that had been used as a student cruise ship," he said. "We slept in the school dorms. But the weather & the seas were awful for the entire 3 weeks sailing south. Everyone, it seemed, was sick and often very sick. We had teams that were known as the 'vomit squads'. That little ship never seemed to stop rolling, tossing about, all but turning on its side. We called it 'the voyage to Hell'."
Late afternoon! We pass some 50 miles north of the Titanic wreck site & which is some 370 miles south southeast of the coast of Newfoundland. The wreckage, in two main pieces that are a third of a mile apart, lies in a depth of approximately 12,000 feet.
Wed Jan 16th At Sea: Out in the wilds! Martin Saunders has given some fascinating talks – he is a videographer, specializing in wild life. Long associated with the BBC, he was also a long time assistant to David Attenborough (and for his countless series on life & living on the planet Earth). We see sinister Komodo Dragons, fierce gorillas in Africa, even tiny insects that freeze & then come back to life – and also the likes of undersea volcanoes and diving in planes with zero gravity. "Once, I had back-to-back assignments out in Asia," he said. "First, I filmed rare snakes in Malaysia and their hunt for food, and then I immediately boarded the QE2 and filmed passengers and their hunt to win bingo & card games!"
Typing finger! I have squeezed-in some time on that 20,000-word text for yet another new book, this one on the post-war liners of the illustrious Union-Castle Line. One of Britain's best known and biggest shipping lines, their ships sailed between England and mostly South & East African ports until closed down in 1977. They were the vital link. I have gathered quotes for the book – including ones from the late John Havers, a longtime friend as well as a longtime purser on Union-Castle ships. "In first class, we had the equivalent of first and club classes on today's airliners," he recalled. "We'd have the high professionals, the bankers, industrialists, corporate chairmen, aristocracy and the older, well-heeled 'winter dodgers'. Princess Alice, Harold Macmillan and many South African Government officials were also among our passengers. But actually, another British passenger ship company, the Ellerman Lines, was considered to be the finest on the South African run while the Holland-Africa Line was second. While popular and prestigious, Union-Castle was actually third."
More tales! A chat with a couple from Nantucket. He says, "In 1965, I was sent to England to study & had the choice of going on the Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth, or the then fairly new France. I picked theFrance – and both ways, no less. She was flashy, modern, the new, big liner in town! Now, I kind of regret not doing the Queens – they are history, legends, part of that bygone era you talk about in your lectures. My wife & I actually met in the summer of 1969 onboard theQE2 and when that ship was but a few months old. We've made about 30 trips with Cunard since then. Cunard is, we feel, the company most like yesteryear – that romantic yesteryear of ocean liner style!" (Twenty years ago, in August 1993, I myself was crossing to New York on theQE2. We were caught in one of those thick summer fogs & the ship's whistle was going every 100 seconds. There was this great, almost mysterious mood – and a sort of silence too. It was chilly, even misty, and the outer decks were all but deserted. I had just interviewed Capt Robin Woodall in his dayroom up near the bridge & so I include a photo from the port bridge wing on that now 20-year-ago August morning.)
Thu Jan 17th At Sea: High command! Captain Inger Olsen gives an enlightening talk on being the first female captain for Cunard. She was in fact appointed on the very same day that her female equivalent was appointed at sister-company P&O. There was only one prior female captain, at Royal Caribbean, but she has now left passenger ships. From the rather remote Faeroe Islands (she has a Danish passport), Captain Olsen will actually be in command when the Queen Victoria arrives there next summer – surely there will be some local pride & festivity!
Memory lane! Sally Sagoe, our entertainment director (not mere a "cruise director" on Cunard), gives a talk about her days, back in the 1980s, as a character actress on EastEnders, the hugely popular British soap set in the working class East End of London. Myself, I've been a fan for years – watching, if 2-3 yrs behind the UK schedule, on PBS. Sally is recent to Cunard after having spent 9 years with P&O.
On that big screen! I give my last talk today, the 14th in the last 27 days. Appropriately, it is all about my favorite place in the world – New York & its wonderful harbor.

50 years ago! Oxford-born Paul served, in the mid 1960s, as a bellboy aboard the Queen Mary. He recalled today, "Fifty years ago, my parents owned a small hotel in England and felt that working on an ocean liner was training, a great experience, for me. So, at age 16, off I went. It was of course quite intimidating, even frightening. I slept in a cabin with 12 others & of course I had to take some abuse. I was given the top bunk. Early each morning, I had to appear in an immaculate rig including highly polished shoes as well as perfectly polished buttons. I ran errands – like fetching things and delivering messages. Maureen Ryan was then aboard & kept me busy, sometimes very busy – it was all go-go-go. I had to report to her in the purser's department. Actually, I saw her last year & asked her if she remembered me. She said she did, but rather vaguely. It was hardworking, even tough time – but I learned a great deal about discipline. This trip on the Queen Victoria, I was sitting at the Captain's table. So, in ways, I've come a long way with Cunard in these past 50 years!"
High marks! The Queen Victoria – like the similar Queen Elizabeth & the much larger Queen Mary 2 – are three of my favorite ships. It has been a long, wonderful ride, in fact – I've been sailing on Cunard for 43 years, since my very first trip on the QE2 back in November 1970, and been lecturing on their ships for 33 years. Their ships have some great qualities, but I would have to name the 5 top points for the Queen Victoria on this 8-night crossing, I might put them in this order:
1st Total warm ambience & friendly atmosphere
of the ship
2nd Wonderful decor throughout
3rd Diversity of lecture program & speakers
4th Maintenance & loving care given to the ship
5th Overall service – perfection!
Fri Jan 18th New York: Back home! We arrive in New York harbor and later at Pier 88 by early morning. 27 grand & wonderful days – equally well fed & well entertained -- aboard Cunard is now ended. Now, home sweet home!
Texto e imagens /Text and images copyright Bill Miller (edited by LMC). Favor não piratear. Respeite o meu trabalho / No piracy, please. For other posts and images, check our archive at the right column of the main page. Click on the photos to see them enlarged. Thanks for your visit and comments. Luís Miguel Correia
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