To cruise or not to cruise?

As we walked free from that ship, I encountered one of my other selves – the one who used to travel rough and now hates to travel at all – and he stared at me and demanded: “What the hell are you doing here?”


“Well, we wanted to get to Faroe to see the eclipse, and taking this cruise seemed the only way – ”

“Yes,” said my grumpy other self, “take a cruise if you want to be one of eighteen hundred overfed Anglo tourists pampered by eight hundred handsome underpaid Goanese waiters and Filipina cabin stewards. Take a cruise if you’d like to be seated next to the same people for thirty meals – if you can stand wearing a jacket and shoes and a tie – if you enjoy being asked whether you’re enjoying yourself – if you want to be able to eat all day – if you like living in a three-dimensional world of bars, food bars, lounges, clubrooms – if you want to hear the anecdotes of people who’ve gone on three cruises a year for the past nineteen years – if you want to pour pollution into the ocean – ”

“Wait,” I interrupted, “you exaggerate unkindly. Our fellow passengers were not all overweight or over seventy; not quite all were even English or white. I shall remember at least half a dozen who were far from boring and with some of whom we’ll continue in contact. Yes, the ‘Oriana’ was less like a ship than a floating city block fourteen storeys tall, but I’ve heard there are cruise ships more than three times larger, with six thousand passengers! The eight hundred staff were not all Goanese waiters and Filipina cabin stewards: think of the necessary cooks, dishwashers, launderers, storehandlers, engineers; and they told me they weren’t required to work more than ten hours a day except on days of crisis. Pity them for the work they have to do on ‘Turnaround Day’, in the few hours between one crowd getting off and the next swarming on! If you were bored, it was your fault: you could have switched your television on and heard about all the entertainments and gone to the quiz nights and the comedians, taken bridge lessons, played bingo. If you were itchy from lack of exercise, you could have taken the yoga class, or used the stationary bicycle in the gym, or shivered more than once through the snow to the top-deck swimming pool. Instead of poking around by yourself in those few ports where the ship touched, you could have paid for tour vouchers and let yourself be taken around in coaches like everyone else. The cruise companies claim that they now recycle all the food waste and take all the human waste ashore for burning, and I think I believe them. They certainly did their utmost to prevent outbreaks of the dreaded norovirus, by spraying our hands as we went into dining rooms and confining us to our cabin if we got diarrhea. Why, you could say these cruises are a good thing. There are thousands of frail people, on crutches and wheelchairs, who could never have hoped to see exotic lands, and this way they can. If my own bones hadn’t healed up after my last bicycle crash, I might have had to be glad of a cruise.”

“So, are you going to take another?”

“Never.” On this, all my selves agree.

The cruise could not be faulted for luxury and diligent service, if those are what you want. But it consisted of one of the P&O line’s usual routes down the coast of Norway, with a diversion to Faroe tacked on because of the eclipse. It was impossible to find out anything in advance about eclipse preparations – whether the cloud prospects had been studied and a viewing position chosen, even whether protective goggles would be provided (I had lost the Number 14 welder’s glass I’d always taken before). “You’ll have to call Entertainment”; “You’ll be told on the ship.” What a contrast with, for instance, the party led by Tom Van Flandern to Mexico for the 1991 eclipse: dossiers of advance information for months ahead, planning conferences over the preceding days. On the ship everything was left to two lectures (the second on photography) by Robin Scagell.

Most days were days of confinement in the ship, out of sight of land – the more-than-two-day distances from Southampton to Faroe, Faroe to Tromso, Alta all the way to Bergen (without touching central Norway), Stavanger to Southampton. You might expect a cruise along Norway to be a threading of that incredible maze of fiords that you see in the atlas; but the ship, so huge, kept far off that coast. On the last day, we expected to get off before almost everyone else, being among the very few “self-debarkers” who had only hand-luggage. But high winds (they seemed high only on the top deck) caused the ship a difficulty, never quite explained, in Southampton harbor. Though the ship was fast to the dock, we weren’t allowed to get off, and everyone had to stay on board for yet one more night, at prodigious cost to the company in food, free drinks, extra entertainments, and labor. At last and appropriately on All Fools’ Day, April 1, we hurried out, wheeling our two small bags through a baggage-reclaim hall dense with perhaps four thousand monster suitcases. It was some days later that I came down with the norovirus. Well, it may not have been that, though we know that there was at least some of it on the ship: we’ve heard from one friend that he had it and was confined to his cabin for sixty-six hours. It’s over now; and let life resume.

Passengers, untyoical and typical

11 thoughts on “To cruise or not to cruise?”

  1. Wow! Jack here again and just want to say how nice it is to see so many responses to this blog. Maybe we should set up another one just for eclipses.
    to Curtis; Lucky you to be in the path of totality for the one in Aug ’17. I’m from NY, so I’ll be driving south and playing the cards as they fall. I kinda like center line positions for maximum duration, but might try something midway next time.
    to Eric, I happened to be on the Sir Francis Drake cruise through the Caribean with Guy and it was one of the best times of my life. Not only did we see the eclipse, but also a few ‘green flashes’ just at sunset, flying fishes, and the Southern Cross and lots of other stars way down south. Although I chose to stay on the island of Antigua for the main event while the rest of the guests took to sea, it was AMAZING! Got to see shadow bands and strange coloration in some of the clouds. So I give a yay vote to cruise for that one.
    to Angela; Guy hesitates to say it, but I will. Welcome aboard! Just by becoming aware of all the great stuff Guy puts out puts you on this terrific vessel we’re on, orbiting around an amazing star that gives us life and spectacular sights.
    to Terry; Don’t be so quick to jump to the conclusion excluding cruises. When they work, they’re terrific times; again referring to the ’98 Caribean cuise.
    and last but not least, to Anthony; Got a new sleeping bag, eh? Wanna come camping with us in 2017 to chase the American one? I’m sure at least one of my European buddies is coming here for that one and I’ll probably be his host.
    Guy, I’m so glad you do this blog. it’s so much fun to hear from everyone.
    Good viewing to all……later…..jack….

    1. Jack, thanks for the invitation. I certainly hope to see the 2017 total solar eclipse, don’t have specific plans yet, but I’m thinking eastern Oregon is likely to have clear skies — unless there are forest fires.

  2. Guy and Eric, I was interested to learn that you both participated in an eclipse expedition led by the late Tom Van Flandern. I knew Tom Van Flandern and served as web master for his and EclipseEdge web sites.

    He always advocated avoiding the eclipse centerline for the edge where some of the more fleeting phenomena (such as Bailey’s Beads and the Chromosphere) were more prolonged. I noticed the 2017 eclipse passes through my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska and that my old neighborhood is near the edge where the duration is expected to last under one minute.

    So I was considering acknowledging Tom’s edge evangelism by making an edge eclipse out of that one . Since you have been on an edge eclipse, I was wondering if you could share your opinions, please?

    1. Tom’s eclipse-edge strategy worked extremely well in 1991. The site we chose, the fishing village Sayulita, was only 4 kilometers in from the edge, but we saw one and three quarter minutes of totality, besides all the edge phenomena, including the chromosphere not just fleetingly but throughout totality. I’ll spare you the 18 pages of my account of that adventure (I cycled from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta).

  3. I went on the Tom Van Flandern 1991 “Eclipse Edge” expedition to Puerto Vallarta with my parents and was rewarded with a great view of the eclipse and a very gratifying week of seminars, presentations, and association with people all interested in astronomy. (One morning, we sat at the same table for breakfast with a gentleman named Guy Ottewell, where I learned of the Astronomical Calendar and from which point I became a regular subscriber!). In 1998, my parents took a cruise in the Caribbean to see the eclipse, but at the last minute I had to pull out because of work, so I missed it. They said it was not nearly as enjoyable as the 1991 trip, in part because of the same things Guy describes. At least we won’t have to cruise for the 2017 eclipse in North America!

  4. Guy
    Finally managed to get connected(“only connect”).
    I see in your latest blog you were doing a bit of bunburying. I don’t remember you ever being grumpy,well not much. As for the cruise: sometimes you just have to enjoy the moment ,and it was better than not going, I presume. A

  5. Welcome home, and best wishes for good health. I’ve never done a cruise, and you’re confirming my prejudice. But who knows what the future may hold? I don’t travel much, and I used to exchew hotels; now I enjoy the comfort and convenience.

    And just last week I bought a rectangular sleeping bag, as my legs now want more room than my old mummy bag allows.

  6. Wonderful post, Guy. Reminds me of two lessons I’ve learned from putting my eclipse-seeking fate in the hands of locked in pre-determined times and co-ordinates by stubborn imbeciles for the great event. Once, only on the west coast of the US of A, and once more again half the world away, in China. Last minute flexibility and mobility are two very important keys. In China, I think we should have “shang-hai”ed the tour bus and traveled west out from under the clouds, but alas and alack, we didn’t and got really socked in under heavy clouds and even rain right after totality was done. But I happened to be standing next to a mimosa tree whose leaves folded and drooped in response to the darkness, so I think of having viewed totality through the eyes of that Mimose tree.
    And in May, 1984, it wasn’t til the evening before the broken annular eclipse that was supposed to be maximum on the Virginian peninsula, when we threw all our rain-drenched clothes and camping equipment into my car and drove through the night, til we , as one seasoned eclipse chaser had told us, in a last minute move, “Drive til you see stars”, which we did. The only star we saw though, was only the one most important to us on our journey, and with very detailed maps provided by NASA, found an intersection in N.Carolina and set up our stuff. There, within minutes, also arrived some eclipse chasers from other various places. It was an impromptu eclipse party, and afterwards, despite us all using all the proper filters to protect our eyes from the even less that 1% of photosphere around the topography of the moon, we all gazed and stared at a rocket a student from the University of Pennsylvania had prepared for just this event, which shot up right up through our line of sight with the sun. Hah! Ironic to get blinded by that instead of the actual eclipse.
    Your docking difficulties in Southhampton also remind me of some troubles we faced in a much smaller cruise experience in the Caribean for great total eclipse in Feb,’98. I still chuckle at the remark I made about questioning whether the captain was referring to the docking ropes or some of the crew as he hollered out “Lose the black ones” as we tried to dry dock on St. Barts.
    Well, Did you get to at least some great northern lights displays?
    and finally…..Welcome home. Glad you’re back safe and sound.

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