Land Ho

April 7
Land Ho

Our last day on the boat dawned sunny and clear. The cold winds and big waves of the North Atlantic in early spring had washed further south. The ocean also changed color, from a slate gray with wind-blown white caps, to an almost turquoise blue. I think this might be in part due to the depth under our keel, which has gone from 4,000 meters out in the middle to less than 90 as we come to within 250 miles of port.

The warmer weather brought many people outside to what seems to be known as “the promenade deck ” on the third level where you can walk all the way around the boat. Three laps equals .9 miles.

By 10:30 so many people were out there strolling that occasional traffic jams ensued in the narrow spots. Empty deck chairs became scarce. But every one was quite civil, cheery even, warmed up by the sun and the shared experience.

On this last day, the ship’s entertainment director hosted a passenger talent show. Nine people performed including a woman in her last 70s. “Next week I am going to my first folk festival and this is the first time I have ever stood up and sung in front of a crowd and I am scared,” she said before singing an acapella version of “My Bill,” in a tremulous, hesitant voice. The woman who played the bagpipes as we left New York played them again in the talent show, including in her several songs a version of “Auld Lang Syne.” She told the audience she was playing the song for the friends she had made during the crossing and for the camaraderie the passengers had shared.

I was back out on deck at 3 p.m. when we caught our first sight of land, the Isles of Scilly, shimmering far off the port side like a warm mirage. “I had my supposed honeymoon there,” a man on deck told me. We passed a half dozen, high-sided fishing vessels and picked up a scattering of seagulls in our wake. A fellow passenger said they were gannets, the largest English seagull with a wingspan of 5 feet. Some 40 minutes later, we could see a distant mountain off to port. Land’s end in Cornwall where we will be in a week.

We’ve done it. Crossed the Atlantic in a boat. Sure the boat is bigger than most houses, hotels even. We did not have to navigate, stand watch or eat our meals with one hand while gripping the wheel with the other. But still it feels good to know we survived the North Atlantic. It gives me new insight into Samuel De Champlain and other ocean explorers who made these crossings so many times and a new appreciation for their skills and courage. I have always wanted to do this, but never could figure out how to pull it off. Thankyou Mom for making it possible.

That night, we could see lights out our windows and by early dawn, the vessel had stopped. When I went on deck at about 6 a.m., the Queen was inching sideways alongside a long pier, in between two tankers. Men stood watching on the shore and two blue gantry cranes taller than the ship moved into place with hooks to lift up the shoreside gang planks. Towards the bow of the ship, about halfway up, the starboard side of the bridge sticks out like a small wing. Inside stood two men in uniforms looking up and down the pier and occasionally looking through binoculars–the captain landing his ship. We are in the Solent in Southhampton.

It took about 20 minutes to move the ship 10 feet into the pier, then long, thick lines emerged from the sides of the vessel and were thrown over massive bollards.

We have arrived. Our packed bags have been taken from our rooms and we are off for the shoreside portion of our adventure. As we leave the ship, porters are loading supplies. The Queen leaves this afternoon at 4 pm headed for Madeira.

A chart of our voyage signed by all the officers was auctioned off the last day, fetching $350

Docking the vessel

The captain on his bridge

tugs heading out the Solent to bring in the next big ship






Shall we Dance?

Many of the passengers on this ship seem to be here for the dancing. They start in the morning with line-dancing classes, then in the afternoon take ballroom-dancing lessons.
The ship features a live ballroom-dance band, Trevor Newby and the Queens Room Band, including a male singer named Jean something or other. Each evening the floor is cleared for 15 minutes or so to let “International Dance couple Eugene and Daria” glide and leap around, demonstrating the samba, the tango, the rhumba etc. Daria is impossibly thin with long skinny legs and she wears filmy outfits with skimpy tops that must be held on by tape. Both of them have permanent smiles that give no hint of whether they really are having fun or not.

On previous nights I have looked down on the dancers from the balcony above, watching them glide and twirl and seeing the action as great wonderful swirling pattern. Tonight we watched from the floor-level sidelines, seeing more of individual dancers and less of the whole.

Behind us, a Korean couple who now live in Seattle, also watched the action. They had come on the boat to dance and had taken a private lesson from Eugene and Daria earlier in the afternoon. “One hour with the two of them for only $50. A very good deal,” the woman said. But she had hurt her knee in the class and was forced to sit out the dancing tonight. Too bad, because this was the night of the Cunard Ballroom Dancing Competition, complete with three celebrity judges — entertainers from the previous nights: the violin player, the Irish tenor and the comedian.

Ten couples signed up and performed three dances, a foxtrot, a waltz and a jive.
Between each dance the judges made comments, such as I liked his shoes, or she completed me on my playing so I like her dancing. But in the end the audience chose the winners, picking a young couple were from Dublin. He wore shiny black and white oxford shoes and a black tuxedo. She wore a puffy short black skirt. The second-place couple were Japanese and said they lived in San Francisco. When asked how much they like dancing, the wife proudly told us that they dance 9 hours a week at home.

Dancing brings out the characters. Every night we have watched an older woman with long blond hair who always wears a Hawaiian-looking pink headband. She makes me think of Miss Havisham– an old woman dressed in fancy cloths more suited for a young one. Tonight she wore a silk tartan jacket and skirt. Getting hot with dancing, she removed her jacket to reveal a strapless top. Her wrinkled skin oozed over a bit in the back. Not a good look. There are quite a few single women like her one this boat. But Cunard has that covered with so-called “Gentleman Dancing Escorts.” Six men, mostly older, wearing white jackets and name tags prowl the dance floor and the tables around it, looking for women who want to dance. Some women, like the older tartan-wearing one, end up dancing every number this way. Many of the contestants in the dance competition included ‘dancing men’ as the spectators call them.

During the competition, an older Scottish lady in front of me asked me to photograph her and the older ‘dancing man’ who was her partner. “Be sure to get him when he goes wild during the Jive,” she said. It felt good to have a job!

One of the dancing men, Andrew Doukas, is from Portland, Maine. He says he has been doing this for 8 or 9 years. Cunard pays for his trip and travel costs but does not give him a salary.

“It’s a great way to get a free vacation,” he says, although he concedes that sometimes it’s not easy. Many of the single women waiting expectantly for dance partners are not young and beautiful — to put it politely.

He’s been on this boat since Los Angeles and does one or two of these trips a year. Tonight he stands out in the dance competition for his practiced swings and twirls, but it turns out his partner is a British woman who is now his girlfriend. He met her on a cruise a year ago.

When not tripping the light fantastic on cruise ships, Andrew works for himself as an attorney in Portland. He’s been ballroom dancing for 25 years and found about the “Dancing escort” gig from a scout at a dance class.

“They were looking for single men who were willing to go on cruises,” he said.

Mom and I cringed when one by one the dancing men came by and asked us to dance because the people out there twirling around know what they are doing and we do not. But on the way up to our stateroom, we both decided we’d like to learn.
The dancers
Andrew Doukas- a Dancing Escort from Portland
Many of the men and their partners wear kilts
Mom and me enjoying the sunny weather on deck





What’s for dinner?

Today we toured the main galley for the kitchen off the
Britannia Dining room. All the top chefs on board lined up like
celebrities to be introduced. Wearing their calf-length white
cotton aprons and tall, white pleated paper chefs hats.

The Executive Sous Chef Steven Peter Schaap, who is Australian, told me
that in the old days the number of pleats on a hat corresponded to
the number of egg dishes a chef had mastered. I think he might be
full of it! He also said that the chefs’ aprons were double
breasted to protect them from burning if they had to carry hot
platters close to their chests.

The kitchens on this vessel process
an extraordinary amount of food. On a 7-day voyage, they will serve
about 45,000 meals and clean over 500,000 pieces of china and
glass. This includes about 800 pizzas, 5,500 scones, 45,000 cups of
tea, 2,000 pints of beer, about 2,600 bottles of wine and 250
bottles of champagne. In terms of raw ingredients, a typical 7-day
trip will require 35 tons of fruit and vegetables, 15 tons of meat,
including poultry, 10 tons of fish and seafood, 15 tons of cheese
and dairy products, 1.5 tons of sugar, 33,000 pints of milk, 2,300
dozen eggs, 4 tons of flour and 1.5 tons of rice.

The ship has a
crew of 10 people who handle all the food provisioning when in
port. The storerooms include 17 huge refrigerators, freezers and
dry areas. Fresh products are loaded every 7 days, while dry and
frozen goods come on board every 12 to 14 days, depending on the
ships schedule. All this food is prepared in 12 galleys spread
around the ship, which operate 24 hours a day in shifts, Schaap
said. He and Executive Chef Klaus Kremer supervise a staff of seven
chefs de cuisine, including an executive pastry chef and a chief
butcher, 140 under chefs and 68 cleaners.

We entered the kitchen
through a large stainless steel revolving door. Staff enter through
one of these doors, drop off dirty plates and linen etc. then clean
their hands before proceeding into the inner sanctum. They exit
with new dishes through another door.

It’s all quite industrial
looking. Lots of stainless steel, white-tiled floor and labels at
each station, although the labels might have been added today just
for us. We passed through a beverage area, with machines for tea,
lemonade etc., and on into what looked like a long alley between
cooking stations. Each side was stacked with white plastic
individual dish covers. Each menu item for a main course has its
own prep and cooking area. Chefs on one side cook items, hand them
off to chefs on another who plate them and put them on a rack for
waiters, who have to line up for their orders. The waiters put on
the plastic dish covers.

On the pastry side, chefs were running two
Hobart mixers the size my dishwasher, and unloading silpat muffin
flats containing what looked like 24 chilled chocolate souffl├ęs per
dish. Cold items are prepared in an area of the galley called the
cold larder. The chef in charge will put together a sample plate of
the daily dishes which are then reproduced by his sous chefs. This
same method is used for other dishes, as well.

Kremer, a native of
Germany, who has been cooking on Cunard Line vessels for 25 years,
said Cunard does not have shore-side test kitchens. New dishes are
prepared on board and then tested. Menu items are prepared based in
the demographics of the passengers on any given voyage, according
to Chef de Cuisine Prasad Haldankarr who supervises one of the
largest restaurants on board, the Britannia, which serves as many
as 878 people in a seating. People from different countries tend to
prefer different foods and Cunard keeps track on its computers.
Each order at any given sit-down meal is entered in to a computer
as soon as the waiter gets out to the kitchen, so the company can
track trends. I took a photo of the Sous Chef at his computer,
which is where he spends a fair amount of time. He shares a
glassed-in office with the executive chef in the center of the main
galley where they can easily see the various stations around them.

I was surprised at how few people showed up for the galley tour,
only about 75 of so. Many were worried that our passage through the
clean cooking area might contaminate the food. Not to worry, said
Kremer, the 68 cleaners have it under control. “They do all the
work that we don’t want to do,” he said. Not only does the kitchen
have the capacity to wash and disinfect dishes in about 2 minutes,
it also has really strict sanitation controls.

So where does all
the waste go? Leftover food is pulped and thrown overboard when the
ship is far enough offshore. Plastic and papers are incinerated.
Glass and metals are crushed and taken ashore for recycling. The
most consumed item on this ship, no matter what the demographic is
water. And there is no way, the vessel could have enough room to
store water for a full voyage. The Queen Elizabeth has 2 large salt
water evaporators which process about 45,200 gallons of water a
day, which is about the daily usage onboard. That water then is
treated with chemicals and filtered to make even tap water in the
cabins potable.

It’s almost time for dinner. I think dessert might
be chocolate souffl├ęs.

I did not get a tour of the bridge or the
engine room because Mom and I were too cheap to pay for that
privilege. Oh well. We can do it on our next trip.

Photos: the
Executive Chef The Executive Sous Chef scenes in the kitchen all
the top chefs introduce themselves








What do people do all day

What do people do all day

So you spend a week on a big ship and what do you do all day? Well on the Queen Elizabeth there are many options. Today I wandered around the ship checking out all the different ways passengers keep themselves busy. The crew keep busy, as well. While we were at breakfast, it sounded like a giant woodpecker was trying to come down through the roof. Workers up top were chiseling at the endless rust. Get a bit here, and tomorrow it’s popped up over there.

Some passengers start their day at an early fitness class in the spa, or go to work out on their own on one of the many machines facing out to sea. Some go to catholic mass while others head off to collaborate on crossword puzzles. I checked up on four tables of people learning how to play bridge and on the way passed someone doing a large jigsaw puzzle. A space that mimics a British pub at night was home to a giant trivia contest in the morning. Heard through the door: “In what western state would you open your door and look out into the town of Ding Dong.” I never did get the answer because I heard the cheery chirp of the line-dancing instructor just down the corridor. “Now does anyone remember the steps we learned yesterday to Independence?” One step forward and back and cha cha cha. I tried to follow along but could not keep up, and truthfully got a little out of breath.

My mother went off to a workshop on using your digital camera, but when I looked in, they were learning what button did what and it seemed pretty basic. Enroute to something called a “Baggo Tournament,” I passed people lounging in chairs reading, chatting, looking at their computers, or heads thrown back, completely relaxed in sleep. In the “Royal arcade,” a crowd of ladies were looking over purses and bags that were on sale at half price for two hours only. Folks were looking at art for sale, jewelry, knick knacks, and even a wall of photos. Buy a portrait of yourself taken by the ship’s roving photographer.

I never could figure out what or where the Baggo was, nor could I find the watercolor class, but I did get to the theater in time to catch a bit of historian and mariner Paul Covell’s talk on ocean voyages. You could not get in without bumping in to the ubiquitous Purrell dispenser. Not only are these machines everywhere, but each time you enter a restaurant to eat a small flotilla of waiters chases you down with little squirts of the stuff.

My son Sam has been asking me via email whether I have been swimming yet. So today I decided to brave the pool, yet another activity. The motion of the ship rocks the water back and forth like a giant tidal wave. One moment, you are swimming uphill and the next, you’re shooting towards the end of the pool like a rocket.

More people than you might think, many of them men, spend much of the day in the laundry rooms. There is one on each floor, a narrow space with three washers and driers each. So far none of the men ironing their white shirts has agreed to iron anything for me.

After lunch, the activities continued. Bingo, darts, a shuffleboard tournament. A man and his son playing chess on the giant roof-top chess set. A ballroom dance class, a lecture on hymns of the sea. A movie: Life of Pi. Interesting to watch a large ship sinking in the ocean, just as ours hits some big swells and starts to pound. Several viewers left early, one muttering under her voice “too much water.” An art talk, solo travelers get together, a lecture by a former Olympic gold medalist runner, a knitting and needle-point group, alcoholics anonymous, a golf chipping tourney, too many spa lectures to list, and lots of music. Every afternoon, the Friends of Dorothy meet in an upper deck bar. This is a group for gays and lesbians.

On the way back to my stateroom after lunch, I stumbled on a band playing reggae, to a group of catatonic, largely large white people.

Last night, there were five different venues of live music. A jazz band with a fabulous sax players, a rock band playing for a dance, two piano players, a classical harpist and even a British comedian. Don’t want life music? how about the sound of the roulette wheel or slot machines. The onboard casino is open all day.

Tonight, in addition to similar musical line-ups, there will be an “Elizabethan Ball.” Too bad I missed the afternoon ballroom dancing class. But a dancing partner will not be a problem, as there are six assigned “escorts” who are paid to dance with single women.

Bed looks good after all that.

I’ve been so busy, checking out all the activities, walking and eating, I have barely read any of the books weighing down my suitcase. I guess I can catch up on my reading when I get home.

Good night!













The good ship Elizabeth

So today a bit about this ship. Launched 2010, the Queen Elizabeth was built at Fincanieri, Monfalcone Yard in Italy and is 294 meters long, with a beam of 32 meters and a draft of 7.9 meters. She rises up 55 meters from the waterline, holds 2092 passengers and about 100 crew for a ratio of 1 crew member for every 2 passengers. She can go 24 knots, but usually cruises somewhere around 19 knots. She burns 240 tons of heavy fuel every 24 hours. We were invited to cocktails with the captain last night (along with about 900 other people) and he told us that this trip the ship was sold out. The passengers come from 28 countries, with the most people (900 or so) from Great Britain, followed by America (500), then Germany. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen so many men in kilts in one place before.

Tonight we met one of the chief chefs. He supervised 65 underchefs in one of the ship’s 12 kitchens. Overall the vessel has 165 chefs, he said. Meals are planned according to the nationality of the passengers. Cunard, he said, has figured out what people from different countries tend to order and plans its meals accordingly. They are so good at it, that on a night like tonight, they may end up with just five to 10 servings left over of any one dish.

While my mother and I have been taken aback by all the extra charges — for example, if you want to visit the bridge and the engine room be prepared to shell out $120 per person– we also have been amazed at the extent of the things this company will do. Today, we met officers on the deck who were preparing for a funeral service for someone who had asked that their ashes be thrown off the Queen Elizabeth in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Apparently this is not a rare thing. We said we hoped they threw the ashes downwind, and this officer said yes he had seen people try to do this upwind and end up wiping ashes off their faces.

Lunchtime today we hit the halfway mark between New York and Southampton. We have travelled 1,650 nautical miles. The wind has dropped and the sun is trying to come out. Hard to believe this is the North Atlantic in winter. Still some people on board are seasick. We went to hear a piano concert this afternoon. The pianist played one song and then stood on the front of the stage and told us all he could not continue because he felt ill. Still there are other people who apparently think they are in the tropics. They are swimming in the outdoor pools, rolling back in forth with the water in the pool as it shudders in the swells.

As I look out at the waves rolling by and feel the gentle swell under the ship, I keep on wondering what Samuel de Champlain who did this 27 times would be thinking now. We did see a seagull flying around the ship. I wondered what kind f gull it was and went to check in the library. Most likely it was a kittywake. We also learned today that the ship plots its course according to something called circle sailing. Apparently taking the circular route is faster than going in a straight line because it follows the curve of the earth.
The photos below show:
The north Atlantic, Emmy at lunch, A wooden veneer image of the Queen Elizabeth designed by David Lindley (Princess Margaret’s son), the ship’s library and our favorite magazine displayed there (who could have delivered them!!??), dancers in the ship’s theater and the Captain introducing his officers to the passengers.