End of July 2011 and I have just returned from a cruise up the West Coast of Norway on board the latest ship in the Cunard fleet – the new Queen Elizabeth. A massive ship – 10 decks high – taller by far than all the buildings and all the ships in all the ports she visits. So you have an inbuilt sense of superiority wherever you arrive.
It must have been much the same experience for the adventurous sailors of centuries past, whose ships were bigger and stranger than anything the people of far off lands had ever seen.
The Queen Elizabeth has echoes of the past by being beautifully decorated throughout in the 1930’s Art Deco style. An era reminiscent of luxury and Hollywood films for the rich and famous.
Leaving Southampton to cruise across the North Sea with a shipful of retired ramblers relaxing in the lap of luxury. A floating cacooned community of sixty, seventy and eighty year-olds sailing on their solitary seas. Cut off from their youth and momentarily comfortably cradled in their wealth.
A year ago I wrote about a trip across the Atlantic – see “Cast Adrift” dated 29th July 2010. That time all we saw was the sea, which led me to question the value of endless days at sea. I have certainly no desire to be a lone sailor. I am no Frances Chichester or Ellen McArthur.
The cruising life is different, it’s an opportunity for total self-indulgence. A chance to do what you like, when you like. Time is your own. Read when you like. Stare out of the window when you like – there is nothing to see but sea – so all you see is a reflection of your own thoughts. Puzzle yourself with crosswords, quizzes, Sudoku or jigsaws as you please. Grab a scrap of paper and capture a thought.
Eating is an essential part of the cruising lifestyle. Anytime is meal time. Eat in one or all of the many restaurants; eat for breakfast, lunch, high tea and dinner; eat in the bar, eat in the all-day buffet, eat canapes at the reception parties and when you get back to your cabin order room service and eat all over again. It is as if we haven’t ever eaten before or never will again.
One of the other things to do is to meet great new people. Every one says “hello” to everyone. The staff are obviously trained to do it, but every stranger you pass on the corridor, in the lift and on deck does it too. It is a habit we have lost in the rush hours of a busy working week, but here on board it is a habit regained that lifts the day.
If we learned from this we could probably transform our hospitals into happier places. Customer care and politeness costs nothing but a smile.
In one brief encounter, I met a lovely lady from Louisiana. It was her Southern Belle accent that first caught my attention. She looked well into her eighties and was travelling alone – bright as a button. She told me that since her husband died several years ago, she had decided to travel some. She had started by driving herself all around the United States visiting all the national parks. Her longest driving trip was to Alaska and took 31 days! She said that her son had worried about her safety, especially when she wanted to go to Mexico but she told him “what the heck, at my age I need to do it now”. Now she was doing Europe starting with this cruise to Norway.
What a lady, what a lesson. You’re never too old for an adventure. She is certainly not adrift, she knows exactly where she is going and what she is doing. So too are all the other senior sailors. They are having the time of their later lives in this retirement village at sea.