After a brace of days in the spellbinding beauty that is Port Elizabeth, the Boudicca swung out to sea again, en route for Durban. After the exhilaration of our first true South African landfall, a day at sea came as a bit of a welcome respite.
In point of fact, our next port of call was to have been Richards’ Bay, with Durban being put in a few days later. But circumstances in the ‘Rainbow Nation’ itself dictated a necessary change to our running order.
The political unrest surrounding the impending impeachment of President Jacob Zuma seemed as nought when compared to a crippling drought that has blighted swathes of the country. The long, hot summer had meant no significant rainfall of any kind for months on end, and the reservoirs are running dry.
The per person allowance of water was eighty seven litres per day on my arrival in Cape Town, but by the time we returned to Cape Town that had shrivelled to a mere fifty litres. By any measure, this was a desperate state of affairs.
Of course, we on board Boudicca had no shortage of water for our own, personal use. But the local authorities did impose a hose pipe ban on board our ship, which meant that the normal, nightly cleaning of all exterior decks had to be put on hold. The ship’s substantial acreage of normally pristine teak decks would just have to make do as best as was possible.
Actually, the crew did a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances. Hotel manager Peter Reeves and his staff toiled manfully to keep the ship clean. Both on board and ashore, the use of hand sanitisers was promoted vigourously. And those of us sensitive to the local situation certainly did what we could to keep the water usage down whenever possible.
This, then, was the backdrop to our decision to go to Durban first. We spent an indolent, somewhat undemanding day romping through a sporadically turbulent sea, flecked with a conga line of whitecaps that kept the good ship Boudicca rocking most of the day under a benign, sunny sky.
Some people seemed surprised at the motion of the ship, which in turn came as something of a surprise to me. We were essentially crossing from the South Atlantic into the Indian Ocean. Those waters can cut up fast and loose at any time of the year, let alone in summer.
Apart from this background, the day passed in a kind of sublime, peaceful whirl. Reading for a while was followed by an informative lecture on the delights that Durban would soon have to offer. There was a lunchtime quiz in the Lido Lounge, and then some cracking fish and chips for lunch at the outdoor Ocean Grill, complete with side orders of tartar sauce and bracing sea air.
Early afternoon, and I sauntered up to the lofty, outdoor terrace at the rear of Seven Deck. A glass or two of gorgeous South African wine was mellowed by the equally splendid view of the ship’s stately wake, somehow managed to occupy a seemingly inordinate amount of my time.
There’s a kind of detached, almost Olympian feeling about lingering here- one also common to the same spot on board Black Watch- especially with that marvellous panorama of petrol blue sky, and the majestic rise and fall of the stern in that following sea. It’s deliciously indulgent, and totally addictive.
Dinner seemed to come around at warp speed that night. A string trio swung lushly through a conga line of Cole Porter classics as passengers gathered to enjoy their pre-dinner cocktails. Early evening sunshine flooded the ship in a mellow glow, apt anticipation of the five course feast that lay ahead.
It was wonderful to find Rommel (a very fine Filipino gentleman, and not the ‘Desert Fox’ of old) acting as Maitre d’ for the Four Seasons restaurant. I knew him of old from many previous cruises aboard the Braemar, and he runs a very deft, welcoming operation over breakfast, lunch and dinner alike.
The same has to be said for the staff; dinner on any Fred. Olsen ship is a warm, intimate experience, where fine food and flawless services provides all the gimmickry that you will ever need. It’s at once both alluring and reassuring, and for many it is the highlight of the day. And little wonder, too.
Later, I sauntered up to the Lido Lounge to listen to Colin the piano player and the excellent Staple Hill duo as they serenaded us gently past the witching hour. And, with most passengers now retired for the night, there was time for one last nightcap, back out on the terrace.
And there it was again; the gentle heave of the ship and the sound of the rolling ocean, swishing by past her flanks. It came tonight with a side order of moonlight; a pale quarter strawberry moon shone fitfully from between passing banks of night time clouds. Ashore, the odd lighthouse beam shone fitfully out across the surging, pitch dark southern ocean. The air was as warm as toast.
By now, my bed was calling. The morning would see our arrival in Durban, and I had a busy day ahead…..