Thoughts for Today
From the real world, sublime and challenging
The voyage to the Azores and Ponta Delgada
Some might think that six days of sailing across the Atlantic to the Azores would seem like a long time. After 59 days of travel this was not the case. The daily itinerary, as ever, was full of diversion and interest, entertainment and many sporting opportunities. We will try to give an insight into what the days had in store. Thursday 5<sup>th</sup> March we had woken to a news update on a virus called Covid 19. This informed our Morning Prayers at 9am, high up in the Observatory at the top of the ship on Deck 9. Over 30 of us participated, concluding our services on the “Harvest of Maturity’. From our cabin on Deck 3, Jane and I would avoid the lifts to complete the stairs as part of our daily exercise.
This day included a specialist illustrated talk in the main theatre titled: ‘Sugar and Slavery’, tracing the influence of the ports of Bristol, London and Liverpool in the late 18<sup>th</sup> century - business worth over £1.2 million before the 1807 abolition. A meeting with the resident onboard Choir Mistress and our talented Balmoral Orchestra pianist from the Philipines followed. His virtuosity and calmness was full of grace and so inspiring. The afternoon ‘Build a Boat’ competition for the crew took place in the swimming pool to test seaworthiness, and was won by a couple from the Boiler Room team.
The evening entertainment was provided by Magician Phil Hancock, who dramatically finished his set by disappearing into an adult size yellow balloon. In a later conversation he told me he had developed the trick for a performance at the London Palladium – extraordinary health and safety issues!
As usual the Captain gave us our daily briefing at 12 noon. We were 600 miles from any land, 1000 miles from Ponta Delgada with 15,000 feet of sea below us. I joined the Table Tennis team of 12 for the daily afternoon competition. We really got to know each other very well over the10 weeks, and my left-handedness was identified early on.
Saturday tended to be a final preparation day for the Sunday Services of Holy Communion, Interdenominational service and the Staff Mass below decks. We started the day with breakfast on one of the upper deck restaurants in the sunshine and gentle breeze. Jane was able to enjoy a morning session of Bridge. In the afternoon there was a party to raise money for the St Elmer’s Hospice, Ipswich close to the national headquarters of Fred Olsen. Fund raising on board during the whole trip raised over £6,000 for a Children’s orphanage in the Philipines, India and other designated U.K charities.
On Sunday 8<sup>th</sup> of March I celebrated the 9am Communion with just the communion host given (without intincture) as part of the early stages of precautions due to Coronavirus. This was to prepare fellow travellers for what was to come. As always, precautions with handwashing were first priorities for crew and passengers alike anyway. 190 attended the services that day and the theme was ‘Abraham and Jesus – the gift of faith’. Crew Mass was always much appreciated, and was normally held in the afternoon between duties. Being away from home for months informed the liturgy, and the prayers shared for family and fellow crew. It was apt that we held the service in the Crew Mess where meals were shared. The television screens and pool table were stilled in reverence.
Afternoon teas were served at 3.30pm every day, when the chefs shared their patisserie talents. These, and the other feeding interludes, were walked off around the deck when we enjoyed the ever-constant horizons, stunning sunsets and on the following Monday night a rare blue moon. Three laps around the deck was one mile. The fresh sea air was shared with more seabirds as we neared land. These days went by so swiftly. We were aware that this feast of a journey was coming to its final stage, so names and e mail addresses were being exchanged and good memories shared. This Sunday evening was a celebration of all things British, with the Entertainments Team on full throttle and slightly patriotic outfits. The Evening dining had all things British including Chicken Tikka Masala as well as Beef Wellington.
On Tuesday 10<sup>th</sup> March we were 2,000 miles on from St Kitts and Nevis. The mileage of this trip was beyond belief. It was the eve of our arrival at the Azores and Ponta Delgada, meaning ‘Thin Cape’. It is located along volcanic islands, and in 1450 was just a small fishing village. Today, its population is 68,000 (17,000 in the city itself) covers 89 square miles and is well known for its export of tropical fruits. In the centre of the islands at Setes Citades are two side by side large lakes - water filled craters. One lake appears blue, from the reflection of the sky, and the other appears green due to the surrounding vegetation.
That evening we arrived in the lovely port of Ponta Delgada, and the next morning Jane and I explored the town and its diverse market. The highlights were the large pineapples and profusion of freesias. At St.Sebastian’s Cathedral we delivered the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation to Paolo, the welcomer. Built in 1533, it is at first sight an unadorned building, but in every century it has had new phases of Portugese architecture added, which on closer inspection can be clearly seen.
The sail-away Communion was at 5.15pm as we sailed for Spanish La Coruna and the final part of our voyage. During the service we asked for the blessing of God upon a South American stole, given to me as a gift during the voyage. That night the clocks went forward for another hour to herald catching up the rest of Europe.
We were asking ourselves would we be allowed into Spain?
Jane and Edward