Boudicca had been slated to sail from Cape Town at 2300 for our first scheduled call at Port Elizabeth. I waited patiently for the moment on deck, savouring both the floodlit Cape Town skyline and some fine Chenin Blanc. And I waited some more as the hour came and went.
Looking over the ship’s side, the reason for our delay was not hard to see. The waters of the harbour churned and rolled in the strong wind that swept across an otherwise balmy evening. If it was this rough in the harbour, then it would be rougher still out in the open. In all probability, our captain was simply waiting for the wind to drop.
Finally, at around 0130, the engines trembled into life. The Boudicca shrugged off her shackles, and warped out slowly into the rolling waters of the South Atlantic. Honour satisfied, I turned in for the night, and was rocked to sleep by the gentle rolling of the ship.
Next day dawned muggy, and slightly overcast. The ship was rolling with a kind of stately grace across the South Atlantic. Holding onto handrails and taking care when walking up and down stairs was definitely advisable. Many of the passengers- seemingly seasoned old Fred. Olsen hands- took the whole thing in their stride.
A sea day on a ship as traditional and well mannered as Boudicca is a world removed from resort life aboard the super sized ships. There are no rock climbing walls or hairy teeth competitions here; the infectious, often frantic hugger- mugger that propels such days at sea is completely absent here.
Instead, I took my time over a long, languid breakfast in the Secret Garden cafe, before heading up to the library for an hour or so to pick out the books I intended to devour over the course of our trio of sea days.
A walk around the promenade deck had the gentle clack of shuffleboard as a backdrop. There was no blaring music, no constant loudspeaker announcements. Just the usual noon time broadcast from our captain giving the course, speed and weather information. What more needed to be said, anyway?
Well, I could say a lot about the fish and chips that they serve up for lunch at the outdoor Ocean Grill on Deck Six, and it’s all good. Portions were just the right size: crisp as freshly laundered table cloths (and far better tasting) and complete with all the sides that you needed. Best of all, should you desire one of their gorgeous burgers with the orange onion topping for dessert, then no-one is going to stop you. Phew.
Early afternoon found me sagging with almost pathetic gratitude into one of the two hot tubs overlooking the stern. The ship was still pitching and rolling, albeit more gently. It was getting warmer, but few people seemed inclined to use either the pools or the Jacuzzis. I wallowed in my solitary splendour like some supine hippo in a particularly exotic watering hole. Who said travel can’t be exotic, eh?
Eventually, a ponderous wobble upstairs led me to one of the welcoming awnings under the Marquee Bar. I sagged like a felled tree into a plush rattan armchair, where I was revived by a welcome infusion of sublime South African Chenin Blanc. It was summertime once more and yes, the living was really easy.
Though the sun made only random guest appearances that first day, the twilight was a hushed, mellow affair, with only the sound of the rolling, relentless ocean as a backdrop. For the first time, I suddenly realised that I was already suntanned. For reasons beyond my understanding, that very thought left me grinning like an idiot.
For dinner that first night, I opted again for the Secret Garden and it’s evening buffet. It offers most of the same, excellent fayre found in the main dining room and, to be honest, I was still not yet quite one hundred per cent after my long journey to get out here. But, as always on Fred. Olsen, the food quality was fantastic. Make no mistake; this is five star cuisine across the board. The fish in particular is always quite outstanding, as are the soups.
After dinner, I wandered back to the Lido Lounge at the rear of Deck Seven. It’s a club like, intimate little room; one part cabaret venue, one part late-ish night disco. It opens out onto a beautiful little terrace area that overlooks the stern. For anyone ‘out and about’ on Boudicca after dinner, this was the late night bar.
And the music here was always just right; we had a piano player who ran through a repertoire from Neil Diamond to Buddy Holly, via Billy Joel. The man handled a whole raft of special requests with some truly deft aplomb.
There was also a fabulous act called the Staple Hill Duo. Made up of Jack and Alice, they played everything from Steelers’ Wheel to Chic, via Bruno Mars and Fleetwood Mac. Throughout the next fourteen days, they kept on surprising and delighting me with some tune that was completely outside of the box. They always kept it fun and fresh.
With these sounds in my ears, I took my final few glasses of wine outside on the terrace. The stars were out in droves; ‘like pin pricks in the fabric of the Heavens’ as somebody once wrote. The sheer scale and beauty of that celestial display was damned near hypnotic.
The ship was no longer pitching and rolling as much by now, but there were very few people out and about at this witching hour. Having the ship, the elements and the ocean seemingly to myself engendered a sense of incredible freedom, ease and contentment in me that had been missing for far, far too long. I could have gone to sleep right there, cradled in the embrace of something ageless and wonderful. Something that you simply cannot buy.
Thankfully, I did not. I reluctantly tip toed along the hushed, slightly creaking corridor to my midships cabin on Deck Four. Rest was now an obvious imperative.
After all, I would have to do all of this- or some variation of it- again tomorrow. And, like the pro that I am, I fully intended to be at the top of my game.