Wednesday 29th to Friday 31st March 2017

Sea Days

There has been a nice blend of port and sea days on this cruise, with an overall 21 days ashore and 14 days at sea, giving us the time to recover from the last excursion and to plan for the next one. Here on the south side of Australia it's more uneven, with three successive sea days followed by four days in port.

Since leaving Fremantle the weather's been chilly and windy, and the seas have been really quite rough, with the swell as high as ten metres! Given that there are a fair number of elderly passengers on board there seem to have been no significant problems.

Sea days are a time for 'enrichment lectures', and they're always well attended. There's a retired US naval man who talks about forthcoming ports of call and a botanist who covers the flora of Australia. On Thursday we also had a Q&A session with the Captain, the Hotel Director and the Chief Engineer, mediated by the Cruise Director who asked questions that she'd gathered beforehand from the audience. This was much better than handing a microphone around because it was less wasteful of time and it also stripped out the people who like to make long statements that pose as questions and that are designed to display the knowledge of the questioner.

All three confessed to having been horribly sea sick as young people at the start of their careers. The Captain and Hotel Directors said that their remedy had been dry bread and anchovies, but then again they're both Italian!

With tropical storms and cyclones very much on people's minds lately – Cyclone Debbie has just wreaked havoc in the Whitsunday Islands – the Captain was asked where was the best place to be when cornered by this sort of weather. To general surprise he said that the very worst place to be was in port. Many years ago he'd been on a ship docked in Hamilton, Bermuda, and the ship's master was intending to sail because a cyclone was approaching, but the port's pilot refused permission to sail. When the wind hit it drove the ship against the dock, and then the eye of the storm passed overhead, with blue skies and sunshine. When the far edge of the storm arrived and the wind switched to the opposite direction it drove the ship away from the dock with such force that all the mooring ropes snapped. The ship's Master dropped anchors fore and aft and set the engines running to hold position until the storm passed. In the meanwhile, all passengers were mustered in their life jackets ready to abandon ship if necessary. So much for, 'any port in a storm'!

We heard today for the first time that in the first patch of rough seas that we had when we left Sydney one of the two ship's stabilisers failed, which probably explains why the seas seemed so very rough. It's since been repaired, which is just as well, given that sea conditions here on the opposite side of Australia have been so much worse!

There were several questions about staff, their accommodation and employment conditions. Staff are generally on six month contracts and are recruited by agents around the world. People with hotel and catering backgrounds are generally preferred Gratuities collected from passengers are shared out according to role and seniority, but only below senior management level – presumably senior managers have very generous contracts anyway.

Staff have their own galley, with a wide range of food types to cater for national tastes – we were told the other day that there are 54 nationalities working on Sirena. Officers are served from the same galley that prepares meals for guests, although they don't have the same extensive menu that we get. From comments we've heard, it seems that staff feel that they're well-treated.

We've noticed on our travels that non English-speaking people around the world seem to have latched on to things that the English say and proudly repeat them to us. In Tokyo our walking guide was delighted when she heard Gill say, 'Lovely', as she associates that strongly with English people. On several occasions during our times in the far east and elsewhere the locals, when they learn our nationality, say, 'Lovely Jubbly'. Our guide in Bali did this and we both laughed, and then he asked what it meant :o) That involved explaining about frozen orange drinks and Del Boy, but we weren't sure he understood.

One of the sommeliers in the Grand Dining Room, who seems to be Indian, always says, 'Cheers' to us. I heard a story a while back about an English tourist at a market in Cairo who tried on a fez and the seller said, 'Just like that'. When asked if he knew about Tommy Cooper he said he didn't; it was just that it was what English people always said when trying on a fez.

Yesterday we listened to the string quartet on four separate occasions; at afternoon tea and then three times in the evening both sides of dinner. They were wearing white blouses embroidered with colourful flowers and long skirts in complementary pastel colours – one each of green, red, purple and yellow. The leader, Tamara, said that these outfits were Ukrainian national dress and that flowers are very important to the people. She said that the Ukrainian language lends itself well to song, bettered only by Italian.

They then played four Ukrainian songs, which were absolutely lovely. Ahead of their last piece of the night, a well-known Hungarian folk dance song called 'Czardas', Tamara said that her father loves to play it with her, accompanying her on the piano. At the end of the piece the tempo speeds up considerably and he challenges her to keep up with him. She then asked if a member of the audience would use her iPad to record a movie of them playing, which she could then send back home to her father, so I volunteered. At the end they stood to take the audience's enthusiastic applause, and I made sure that this was included because I'm sure it will have brought a tear to a proud father's eye :o)

Tonight (Friday) we'll be visiting the 'Red Ginger' speciality restaurant again, and our thoughts will turn to Peter Beagles, our friend who died suddenly of late-diagnosed cancer just before we set off for this cruise and whose funeral is today. It was only last October that the four of us took a city break in Florence, with him apparently in good health. A sad day.

Saturday 1st April 2017

Penneshaw/Kangaroo Island

At last, a chance to go ashore again.

Kangaroo Island is the third largest of Australia's islands. Even so, it's not that extensive at 150km long and 50 kilometres wide, with a resident population of one person per square kilometre. It lies 13 kilometres off the mainland and 112 kilometres southwest of Adelaide. It seems to be one of the few places in Australia where European settlers didn't displace an aboriginal population – the locals seem to have simply disappeared from the island around 2,000 years ago after having been here for well over 10,000 years. There must be a reason why the mainland aboriginal tribes call it, 'Island of the Dead'. Nowadays it's a popular tourist destination, attracting 140,000 visitors a year.

To be frank, there's not a great deal to see or do here, but that might change once the island's airport is extended to take larger planes from Melbourne and Sydney. Our excursion seems to have covered much of the local wildlife and economy. The first stop was at Seal Bay on the island's south coast, facing Antarctica. It was cloudy but bright today, with a biting wind. There weren't terribly many seals to be seen on the beach, but this might have been because they haul themselves through the sand dunes into vegetation that shelters them from the wind. A few pups were snuggling up to mum and another came ashore barking to attract attention. Seals spend three days at sea feeding then return to the beach to rest from their exertions for another three days. There was the skeleton of a juvenile whale on the beach. The whale had been washed ashore and stranded during a storm thirty years ago.

The second stop was at a Eucalyptus oil distillery that also manufactures emu oil, with a shop that sells a wide range of their various products. By the door there was a display of feral cat skins. Cats are a big problem here, and a deadline has been set to eradicate them. Dogs are also a problem, with two of them having ravaged the local Little Penguin population.

The last stop was at a honey farm, again with a shop selling their many honey-based products. They also had a colony of bees in a glass case with access to the outside world. Bees were imported here from Italy in the late 19th century and they are now the only pure-bred and disease-free population of Ligurian honey bees in the world.

Then it was back to the ship. It's a shame that the sun didn't come out today, as Kangaroo Island looks quite a pleasant place.

Travelling westwards across the top of Australia we progressively put our clocks back a total of three hours, and now, over the past four days, we've put them all the way forward again and we're ten hours ahead of the UK.

[Sydney]  [Brisbane]  [Whitsunday]  [Cairns]  [Alotau]  [Port Moresby]
[Darwin]  [Komodo]  [Bali]  [Broome]  [Exmouth]  [Fremantle]
[Penneshaw]  [Portland]  [Melbourne]  [[Geelong]  [Hobart]  [Eden]