The World Cruise or part of it, at least..
The Great White Whale set sail from the port of Southampton with a newbie in its midst. In the housekeeping department, that was located on the front part of the ship, known as “forward”. The back part of the ship was called “aft”, left side was called “port” and the right side was called “starboard”. It took some time to get used to it. Another issue was figuring out which side the ship was moving when you are in the middle of the ship. Turns out the trick was to remember that Port, Left and Even had all four letters and proceeded from front to back and Starboard, Right and Odd were the others. The levels of the ships were called decks and were lettered top down.. so A deck would be the top and and F deck would be below, maybe below the waterline.
With this knowledge and with your wits about, I went about figuring out the various areas that I needed to know to acquaint myself during this traiing phase. The HK department where I had to report to was in the front of the ship which was an assault on my body. The route of the ship took it out into the English Channel and then enters the Bay of Biscay, which is one of the roughest seas one encounters straight away. No one briefed me about it and my sensitivity to motion sickness came to the fore here. Also I did not know that the next five or six days would be at sea for the Trans-Atlantic trip across the North Atlantic Sea.
Every time the bow of the ship would ride a wave and land, my bowels would ride along with it and more often than not, land on the outside. Soon a seasickness bag, became a constant companion, in case I could not reach a convenient WC or my room(cabin) in time. It became pretty severe in the sea journey and the medication would make me groggy and work would get affected with multiple breaks in between.
The crew mess with its food was also tough going in these situations and I would barely eat to survive. All the curries made would taste the same with the use of a generic curry powder and the meat from the sheep was a different ball game compared to the goat meat that I was used to. I did meet a couple of guys on the ship who were friends of friends I knew and it became a bit tolerable. I started to wonder whether missing my brother-in-laws wedding (Jaya’s brother) on the 9th of Jan was worth it.
Crossing the equator on Jaya’s birthday was an event and all passengers were given a certificate from the Captain. First stop was Barbados and I was able to walk on land for the first time. Also made the trip to the famous Kensington Oval, where Gavaskar created a record in his debut series scoring 774 runs and we had heard it on the radio and newspapers of the day and raised a toast to him by consuming the famous Rum Punch.
We entered the famous Panama Canal after a stop at St. Lucia and was exposed to one the modern engineering marvels that shortened the trip to the western coast of the US of A. I was surprised to hear of an announcement on the ship’s speakers by the Captain encouraging the passengers to buy carrots to feed the “mules” of Panama Canal which would ensure safe passage. The first timers did carry them too. Only when they reached the Promenade deck to meet these “mules” did they realise that they were not animals but small powerful engines that ran on tracks parallel to the ships. They were used to tug the huge ship through “locks” which were narrow passages and ships propellors could not be used. Once the ships entered these locks, the gates were closed, water pumped in, ships was raised by 85 feet and moved into the next lock. This was done as the canal was higher that the seas on either side.
I also had a opportunity to get on land in Acapulco where I was to see cliff divers of La Quebrada where they jump from 135 ft into 16 ft of water with accuracy spending 3 seconds in the air failing which they could crash into the rocks. No, I did not buy Tequila here, couldn’t afford it then.
My last stop was the Port of Los Angeles where I was to get off the seaport and proceed to the airport for my return flight to India. The port authorities came on board to check our papers and we were lined up in the crew mess. When it was my turn, the customs officer told me that I could not disembark as I have jumped ship before. I tried to explain that this was my first trip. Then he told me that it was a George. I said that I have a flight to catch in 3 hours. As I stood waiting nervously, it appeared that the other George was a Pakistani and I heaved a sigh of relief and thanked my Indian passport for clarifying my nationality.
I reached the airport on time and took the flight in the early morning and the sight of the Rocky mountains and the cloud cover over them is still fresh in my mind. I am hopeful of a visit to the US before I die.
The SS Canberra continued on its world cruise while my travels continued differently.
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