Tag Archives: south african cruising

BOUDICCA REVISTED- ANOTHER DAY AT SEA

BOUDICCA AT SEA
Boudicca at sea, seen from the terrace of Deck Seven. Photo copyright is that of the author

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…..

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AFRICAN SUNRISE

BOUDICCA
Boudicca

My journey out to South Africa started with an overnight Thomas Cook flight from Manchester to Cape Town. The airline uses an A330 for these flights, outfitted in a 2-4-2 row seat configuration in economy, with some extra large Premium seats up front.

As it turned out, the flight was only half full. I lucked out with an entire row of four seats to myself, adjacent to an empty window seat. Leg room was pretty good, but then I’m only five foot six tall in any event.

The plane lofted skywards from the darkened, rain sodden runway as the twelve hour flight really got into it’s stride. On each seat back was an on demand video entertainment system that was pretty lacking in comparison to those on, say, Emirates or Virgin. But it’s saving grace was an in flight, real time map that showed not only height and speed, but also the actual topography of the land being flown over. This seemed like a good little idea to me.

I was surprised at how good the quality of food was on this outward leg. The main meal was a specially curated James Martin creation, offering two different hot main courses. The emphasis is on simple good cooking (I opted for the beef) and I have to say that this was one of the best economy feels that I have ever eaten on any flight.

Drinks wise, the first one was free, courtesy of Fred. Olsen. It was a pay bar after that but, in all honesty, who really wants to sit and drink at such an unearthly hour anyway? Tea, coffee and water were free throughout the length of the flight.

I dropped in and out of a fitful sleep as the big A330 left Europe behind. It ghosted above the moonlit Mediterranean and made a seemingly slow, stately progress across the night time Sahara. Suddenly, the prospect of Africa- so long a distant dream- was becoming an immediate, looming reality.

And then came one of those magical moments that still make travel a truly thriling experience, even in these tense, hateful times. As our plane crossed the actual line on the map between the Sahara and the Serengeti, the first, faint streaks of sunrise began to shimmer on the far horizon. The big plane banked slowly, gracefully,  and the entire sky was a sudden blaze of dazzling, brilliant sun. My first ever African sunrise.

To say that it warmed the heart on more than one level is an understatement. It was a spine tingling revelation; totally apt as an appetiser to the lush, beautiful country that awaited me just a few hours ahead. And I suddenly found that any desire to sleep had gone, replaced instead by an intense adrenaline rush that seemed to put me on auto pilot, pun wholly intentional.

This being an overnight flight, the staff were pretty discreet in moving around the cabin after the main meal service. They did a very good job on the whole, and were both friendly and responsive. Updates from the flight deck were kept sensibly few, given the hour.

A light breakfast was polished off with some gusto. God, could I actually be hungry again? Apparently, yes….

Hours seemed to diappear at a frantic rate as the big bird whispered it’s way ever southwards. Before I knew it, we were on final descent into Cape Town. The next thing I remember was the yelp of tyres screeching on tarmac and a sudden, gentle shuddering that faded as the plane snuggled up to it’s arrival gate.

Our passage through customs and immigration was relatively painless. Fred. Olsen organises all transfers between the airport and the ship via a string of waiting coaches. It’s a seamless, totally convenient transition, and the whole operation ran as perfectly as a Swiss watch.

The first blast of a South African summer hit me like a steam train. Lord, after the British winter it felt so good to feel the warmth of the sun again. The feeling was like one of gently applied healing balm.

The transfer coach trundled dutifully through a warren of ramshackle townships and past an outbreak of banal shopping malls, splayed out across an arid landscape that is crying out for rainfall on a spectacular scale right now. Gradually, the great, unmistakable bulk of Table Mountain rose, high and massive against  a searing noon day sun. No clouds dusted that broad, implacable plateau; the sky was cobalt blue, without even the ghost of a breeze in the air.

And soon, another shape became apparent quite close by.  As it grew, it morphed into the unmistakable form of a cruise ship funnel. Bridal white, the flank was crowned with the familiar Fred. Olsen ‘fish’ logo in shades of red, white and blue. Below it, the sun glinted against a long row of floor to ceiling windows, making them shimmer in the haze. Under that looming shadow. our convoy of motor coaches slewed to a halt, almost as if cowed by this latest presence.

This, of course, was the Boudicca, Stately, graceful and proud, she sat bathed in both promise and sunshine. As perfectly poised as a swan and dressed from bow to stern in bright, colourful bunting, the ship was a beautiful, thrilling sight. And if that fabulous, first African sunrise had been the appetiser, then here was the main course, writ large in steel, teak and sheer, unashamed splendour.

I had the definite feeling of embarking on a truly epic adventure that was way out of the box; a sublime, seagoing safari…….