Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings, Day 19 - At Sea - Rotterdam to Dunmore/Waterford, Ireland

Thank God for sea days! Power touring is fun and educational (wholesome even maybe), but at my age, it has become very tiring.

For many years Keith has been reading stories about the English Channel. Now he is sailing in it! It really doesn't look that much different from any other patch of ocean, except that there is much, much more ship traffic than we have seen previously. From Boston to the North Sea, it was rare to see another ship, for days at a time. Today we have seen dozens of other vessels.


Sailing the English Channel

We are homeward bound. Rotterdam was the termination of our outbound voyage. Most passengers stayed aboard for the return trip to Boston, but about 300 people disembarked, and an equal number embarked for the return voyage. Our route back is similar to the outbound voyage, except we stop at the Faeroes, instead of sailing by. About 4800 miles each way. If we add in our Alaska voyage, we are approaching 10.000 frequent sailor miles, except they don't keep track that way; they track nights aboard. We will have 42 on return, which is almost enough to get us some silly little pin.

Speaking of repeat business, we received a flyer this morning with some really attractive prices on future cruises. We think the slumping economy must be hitting the cruise industry very hard. We are being tempted by prices well below $100pp per night. We are thinking about it.

To cope with the ailing economy and the reduced passenger revenue, we see cost cutting everywhere. It’s all still very nice, but a critical observer can see occasional examples of cutting corners, such as the broken elevator rail shown below.


Infrastructure Breakdown

To give credit where credit is due, this rail was repaired the day after the photo was taken.

We have done four tours, so, far. One has been so-so (the Nessie thing), one very good (although misleading), and two excellent, including yesterday's tour of Holland. It covered everything iconically Dutch, including old Amsterdam and it's canals, the Ann Frank house, the dykes, the lowlands, and the canals, the windmills (traditional and modern), and modern Rotterdam, rebuilt from the ground up after being leveled by the Germans at the opening days of WW 2. At this time of year, a very green and very picturesque country.

We slept late this morning, arising at 7:30. We get our first hour back tonight, so Keith is going to pretend it's 6:30. Kathy ordered room service. She will breakfast and watch the English Channel roll by. Keith went up to the Lido Café to breakfast and watch the English Channel roll by.

Interesting stuff at the breakfast buffet. In addition to the normal stuff, there is a selection of oddments, including nuts (pecans, sliced almonds, and a small, more or less spherical nut that Keith recognizes but doesn't remember the name of), raisins, prunes, and, strangest of all, for breakfast, chocolate shavings. It's there every day, but Keith just decided to sample it today.


Odd and Interesting Breakfast Garnishes


Kathy Relaxes After Breakfast

We have new speakers aboard. On the outbound voyage we heard an ornithologist, a historian, and a licensed ice pilot. The ice pilot was outstanding. The other two were really pretty lame.

Today we hear a geologist talk about the English Channel, the North Sea, and such. Keith has great hopes. Keith is itching to sort our Holland photos, but does not expect to be able to get a seat in the lab. The instructor teaches on sea days and his courses have been very popular. With a new population on board, I don't think we will get in today. We will try tomorrow, when we are in port.

It is noon in the middle of the English Channel. 60 deg., overcast, wind west 20, seas moderate.

The speaker before lunch was as good as the outbound speakers were lame. A little bit of plate tectonics, a bit about ice age sea levels and migrations, etc. Subduction was mentioned, but the term orogony was not used. Future lectures on other geology related topics are promised. Keith will be there.


David Smith, A Retired Geology Professor, Lectures on Various Topics


One of Prof. Smith’s Slides Illustrates the Mechanisms Underlying Continental Drift

Featured poolside for lunch was a German theme buffet. Excellent liverwurst!

A nap after lunch, then another lecture, about the 6th century voyage of St. Brendan. The lecturer was a History Professor named Mike Millwood. Another excellent lecturer, who managed to make this seemingly very dry topic actually somewhat interesting. His talk was about a supposed year 575 voyage by a guy named St. Brendan, from Brendan’s Cove on the west coast of Ireland to Newfoundland, by way of the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. Just the route we are following.


Professor Millwood’s Slide Showing St. Brendan’s Putative Route

The putative voyage was made in a traditional Irish vessel named a carrough. Framed with wood, the hull is made of seal skin softened with lanolin. This vessel is said to have the advantage in dealing with ice, which deforms but does not damage the seal skin hull.

St. Brendan supposedly sailed back to Ireland, taking advantage of prevailing winds and the Gulf Stream. There is an oral history which claims the voyage took 7 years, and that Brendan embarked at the age of 71. He is said to have died shortly after his return.

It is claimed that the climate in the 7th century was warmer than today making the voyage a bit easier. The hypothesis is advanced that Irish fisherman sailed to Newfoundland before Brendan, but kept knowledge of these prolific fishing grounds secret. The voyage was reproduced in the mid 1970's by a guy named Tim Severin, who wrote a book about named "The Brendan Voyage", published in 1978. I plan to try to find this book.

A major point was made about the difference between Norsemen (settlers) and Vikings (war raiders). He says this trip should be called "Voyage of the Norsemen", because it retraces the route of settlers, not raiders. Damn purist!

A mohito for Kathy in the Crow’s Nest followed Prof. Millwood’s lecture, then supper in the Lido Café. Beef Wellington with asparagus and baked potato for Kathy, shrimp cocktail, sirloin, and asparagus for Keith. Chocolate napoleon and chocolate mud for Keith.


Kathy Blogs in the Crow’s Nest, with Inspiration From a Tasty Mohito

We won't be up much later tonight. We are looking forward to an extra hour of sleep. Tomorrow we anchor in Dunmore, near Waterford, Ireland.

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