Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cruising in General, Yesterday and Today

Perhaps many of you have been on a cruise. It seems to me that I was one of the last amongst my friends to actually take up cruising, in the modern sense of the word. For I always considered that only old people went on cruises. Young people went on much more adventuresome travels, as we did. So the first cruise my husband and I took was to Alaska, to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, just six years ago and when we were both age appropriate senior citizens.

But in actual fact, we both had travelled separately by ship many years before that. Before I knew him, in 1957, A sailed from Sydney to Vancouver and then on to Ottawa by train where he spent two years as a post doctoral fellow, before sailing on the Cunard Line to London, England. But that's his story to tell, mine is below.

You see, when I was 24, I set sail from Sydney, Australia to travel by ship to Southampton, England via the Suez Canal. It seemed obligatory for young Australians to travel to Great Britain, to spend some time on a working holiday. It was almost a rite of passage, like leaving home. Since Sydney had a severe housing shortage for very many years after the war, young people always lived at home until they got married or they went travelling. So after I had graduated from University in 1957 and saved every penny for two years, I left home intending to travel to London to combine working and travelling in the UK and on the Continent. After that it was my plan to visit a friend who had married a Canadian and was living in Toronto, then finally return to Australia and open a pharmacy. Ah well, "the best laid schemes of mice and men are apt to go astray", from the Robbie Burns poem and rather loosely paraphrased by me.

In March of 1960, I boarded the SS Fairsky, of the Sitmar line, to make my first voyage. Built in 1942, this ship served as an escort aircraft carrier during the Second World War and was refitted to be a passenger ship in 1957. The Sitmar line held the contract for transporting emigrants from Great Britain to Australia for the heavily government subsidized amount of 10 pounds per person but on the return journey took regular paying passengers. I can't remember how much I paid for the fare, although about 200 pounds rings a bell, however it was much cheaper than flying which was only done by very rich people in those days.

This ship, seen above, was 502 feet long, 69 feet wide, gross tonnage was 12,464, top speed 17.5 knots and had accommodation for 1461 passengers and I don't know how many crew since I can't find that information.

Compare this with the Zaandam, the ship I just sailed on to Alaska: 780 feet long, 105.8 feet wide, gross tonnage 61,396, top speed 23 knots and accommodation for 1432 passengers and 647 crew members.

Yes folks, the Zaandam is five times the size of the Fairsky, with almost the same number of passengers. So a slightly different sailing experience, don't you think? Yes indeed. I shared a cabin with 3 other women; there were two sets of double bunks. I have included a link here to show you that cabin. Although I'm pretty sure we didn't have a porthole as this one shows, but remember it as an inside cabin. Toilet and shower facilities were communal, of course.
Above you see a photo of me, at 24, in my slim days and dressed in my favourite dress at the time, and of course wearing a hat, as ladies always did at that time, for all occasions. One of the wonderful things about a ship's departure in those days was that all your friends could come down to visit the ship and when it left those on board threw streamers to those on the wharf. A band always played "Now is the hour", a New Zealand song, originally sung to the New Zealand soldiers leaving for the First World War. You both held on to those streamers until they broke and of course everyone cried because this was a very big journey you were setting out on and who knew when you would see your loved ones again. Just reading the words below brought tears to my eyes.

Now is the hour,
when we must say goodbye
Soon you'll be sailing,
far across the sea.
While you're away,
Oh please remember me.
When you return,
you'll find me waiting here

This voyage was scheduled to last for five weeks and it took at least a week for people to gain their sea legs. Luckily I was not sea sick although more than half the passengers were in the beginning. We stopped first at Melbourne, then Adelaide and I remember by this time feeling woozy when we went ashore since we had adjusted to the motion of the ship and now felt land sick instead.

So what did we do all day on the ship of 1960? Although I was travelling on my own, I knew one person on the ship, the brother of one of my fellow pharmacy students at University. But pretty soon we had formed a group of about 10 or so and we lazed away the days between ports, sitting around the tiny pool, playing cards, eating rather ordinary meals and generally filling in time. There were very long stretches at sea, ten days between Adelaide and Colombo, Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was known at that time. To be honest, a lot of the time we were bored silly. There was no entertainment except at night, when a very hum drum band played for dancing. The quickstep and the foxtrot, the popular dances of the time, had never been mastered by me and I wasn't a drinker so basically I was just wishing for time to pass so that we could arrive. I did click with two other girls and we decided to find a flat (apartment for the North Americans) together in London on our arrival.

We made several quite interesting stops along the way. Colombo as I said, although I don't remember that too well, apart from buying a sari which I later gave away as a gift. Then at the bottom of the Suez Canal, at Suez, we disembarked and took a trip to Cairo for the day to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza and to visit the Cairo Museum, where we saw the Tutankhamen treasures, all covered with dust and scattered higgeldy piggeldy in glass cases. They were much more beautifully displayed when they toured North America, many years later, when I got to see them again in their full glory. We also got to ride extremely bad tempered camels, all of which seemed to be named Jack Straw. Finally, at Port Said, we rejoined the ship which had been wending its way up the canal in the meantime.

Our last stop before Southampton was in Naples where we left the ship to visit Pompeii for the day. This too was interesting, although probably more so today because I believe much more of the site has been excavated. One of my favourite books as a teenager was The Last Days of Pompeii, by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, which I know is considered to be very badly written, but I loved this story of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Do you know I still have the book to this day? The most momentous thing I remember about this trip was that the guides would not let the women in the party into one of the few excavated buildings which had been a brothel. You see the frescoes were not fit for maidenly consumption. Remember it was 1960, and as usual I was mightily incensed, but to no avail.

Finally, we reached Southampton and my long voyage from Australia was at an end. To my mind, it was about two weeks too long, for I enjoyed the first three weeks and endured the last two. After that I took to flying, no matter that it cost more. I had had my fill of sailing by boat for many years to come.

In case you are interested the Fair Sky caught fire and was scrapped in 1979. But from 1942 to 1979 she had a very interesting career with at least half a dozen names changes and as well as being an aircraft carrier and a cruise ship she was waiting to be transformed into a floating hotel and casino when she caught fire.

Next time, I'll tell you about modern cruising where there is so much entertainment and so much food that it has become an entirely different experience from my first "cruise".


Donnetta Lee said...

Hello, jmb! I absolutely love the picture of you in your favorite dress and hat. So pretty and you look so happy. Just the way you "sound" today. Enjoyed the voyage you gave me!

Lee said...

Great story, jmb...I would have been like you and have become bored, wanting to arrive at my destination. Looking forward to your further tales. :)

jmb said...

Hi Donnetta Lee,
I loved that dress, I have always loved big florals, but they don't go down well here in Canada. Like the clothes that look so good in Hawaii but look dreadful back home

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
That voyage was just too long, and I don't remember having much to read either.

Sarabeth said...

That was a great story. I do agree that the picture is great.

I am laughing about the clothes not working in Canada. When I moved from Florida to Seattle, my clothes were so completely wrong. When I moved from Seattle to NC, the Seattle clothes (during the Grunge era) were all wrong for the stately south.

Anonymous said...

Hi jmb, glad you dropped in to my place. Have just been perusing your site and find so much of interest to read. It'll take me days to catch up! You sound like a fascinating person and your writing just drew me in. I'll be back to see your comparison of "olden day" cruising to today's.

Sienna said...


That it a wonderful story, so enjoyed reading that..I wondered how it was Canada claimed you from us!

*Love* of course, ha ha.

You look so beautiful setting off, I love the color of your dress...having not sailed (except on fishing boats) I think you may have made a very valid point on sailing...a flight is over in 27 hours, weeks on a boat would not quite be the experience I had thought...especially as I like to wander off on my own, that could be tricky on a boat!

Good point.

We don't have broadband service, it is dialup, and via an old second hand exchange that gets a little ticklish in dust and moisture...we are one of the *black holes*...mobiles and internet, so what we have is something to be fortunate for.

You make a good point on further reducing the pic sizes, I will work at that avenue, thankyou so much.


Richard Havers said...

Like you I always thought of cruising as something only old people did, were mid fiftes, but we've succumbed this year and are off in a month for a week's cruising around the Western coast of Scotland. In truth I'm not really sure it counts as a cruise, and it's only a week!

ipanema said...

I love sea travel only if it's summer. It's the best way to whale watch in my country.

Beautiful story. I've watched a documentary about Pompeii and the brothels were featured as well. :)

Josie said...

JMB, that is a beautiful picture of you.

My husband was killed in a plane crash, and I have an absolute phobia of flying. So I would love to be able to sail to anywhere in the world, just like that. I think it would be a beautiful way to travel.


lady macleod said...

Great story! Brilliant photograph, I thought it was Ingrid Bergman before you told me.

Janice Thomson said...

I too loved your pic and dress.
Your story was fascinating as always. I have never been on a cruise...we considered it when going to Jamaica but decided flying was, as you pointed out, so much more convenient for those who wish to take off on their own.
Having lived by or in big cities when I moved here I felt out of place with so many dressy clothes so the Sally Ann received many huge boxes of them LOL
Looking forward to more Jmb.

jmb said...

Hi Sarabeth,
If you moved from Florida to Seattle with the same clothes you certainly understand the dilemma. I've always thought that the light is different, so much softer here in the Pacific Northwest

jmb said...

Hi anon,
I'm not sure who you are, even though I visited your site. I hope you can find something of interest here.

jmb said...

Hi Sienna,
The size of the photo uploads became an issue with some blogs I read and so I took notice and I have a file on the whole thing in my computer. I'll let you know what I do in a comment or email if you have one on your profile

jmb said...

Hi Richard,
A cruise around the western part of Scotland sounds like a wonderful holiday. I loved Skye when I visited it 47 years ago, Oban too. Very beautiful around those parts. I'll have to check on your route.
I have Scottish friends here whose daughters are called Iona and Sulla.

jmb said...

Hi ipanema,
Those whales are everywhere. what kind of whales are there in your country? Here we have orcas, humpback and greys and minkes too sometimes.

jmb said...

Hi Josie,
I'm so sorry to hear that you lost your husband in that tragic way. I'm sure that I would never be able to step onto a plane if I were you.
I have a friend who won't fly so she travels by train across Canada, then sails across the Atlantic then travels by train in Europe. Often her husband just flies and meets her there, since it is a very expensive way to travel nowadays.

jmb said...

Hi Lady macleod,
Ingrid Bergman, if only! Did you lose your glasses?
Thanks for dropping by

jmb said...

Hi Janice,

The good thing about going by boat is that you don't get jet lag, time changes on the boat are only an hour at a time.

We certainly are laid back clothwise on the West Coast, aren't we? Still it's nice to get dressed up now and again, not too often however.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Welcome home, jmb! A fabulous post. I just love that pic of you, too and, like Donetta, can't imagine that you have changed much! You paint a vivid picture not only of an experience but of an era - an era I remember but was perhaps born too late to enjoy fully. I much prefer the first ship to the second! And what exotic places you visited! again, I just felt I was with you in all of them. Thank you for such a lovely post.

jmb said...

It seems strange now that we fly everywhere that going by ship was such a major way of travel then. And luxury ship this one was not. I imagine going across the Atlantic was a different kettle of fish.
Luckily Fairsky was one class and I don't remember formal for dinner, although we did change.

Vic Grace said...

What a great autobiography and you are a stunner in that dress. I have never been on a cruise I get very seasick so I don't think I could keep all that lovely food down.

I have been tagged so I have passed this dubious honour on to you if you will check out my blog

jmb said...

Hi Vic Grace,
It's pretty flat going to Alaska and these big ships have stabilizers so you probably wouldn't have any trouble really.
Still I'm sure you are not anxious to try.

Gattina said...

I think what you did wasn't really a cruise as we understand it today. You just took a ship instead of a plane to get from one place to another. I don't count that as cruise although it could be very adventurous and nice. so far I did 3 times a real cruise, with swimming pool, bar, casino, restaurants, shops,movie theatres, shows, etc. Two times I went for a cruise on the nile which was absolutely geat and the third time we made the medetarian sea and stopped at all countries around. Must have been like your around Alaska. My dream is now to make a cruise to the Northpole, that must also be very interesting !

Ian Lidster said...

This was intriguing, the history, the lovely old photo of you and to add to the mix, I have actually been on the Fairsky, in a cruise out of LA and down the Mexican Riviera back in 1990. I recognized the ship immediately. Great posting.


jmb said...

Well gattina, this post was just contrasting the difference between the two ways of travelling by boat and it is the first part only. Real modern cruising follows tomorrow.
thanks for stopping by here as well

jmb said...

Hi Ian,
They did build a new ship in 1984 and called it the Fairsky which is the one you travelled on, I guess, because the one I travelled on was no more.

Eurodog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eurodog said...

Great post, jmb. Loved every word.