A pool of one’s own within easy reach

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - HE­LEN HUTCHEON

ONE of the most mem­o­rable cap­tains I have met was Au­gusto Lago­marsini, who com­manded what was Sit­mar’s Fairstar for many years. He was made com­modore of the Princess Cruises fleet be­fore re­tir­ing to his home in Italy.

Bearded and mus­ta­chioed, he was dev­as­tat­ingly at­trac­tive, and a bevy of fe­male pas­sen­gers across Aus­tralia would check to make sure he was go­ing to be on board be­fore they booked. I met a school­teacher from Ade­laide mak­ing her 16th cruise with Cap­tain Lago, as ev­ery­one called him.

Lago grew herbs on his bal­cony that were used in the won­der­ful Ital­ian meals served in his pri­vate din­ing room.

These din­ner par­ties were grand oc­ca­sions where I met the most in­ter­est­ing pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing mar­itime his­to­rian Bill Miller, who has writ­ten more than 65 books and is known as Mr Ocean Liner. I trea­sure the copy of The Great Lux­ury Lin­ers — 1927-1954, a pho­to­graphic record of the likes of Mau­re­ta­nia, Nor­mandie and Queen Mary, that Bill sent me from New York af­ter we had met at one of Lago’s dos.

At the end of ev­ery din­ner, Lago would turn to the lady, of­ten mar­ried, sitting next to him and say, ‘‘I think it is time for a kiss.’’

Af­ter an awk­ward si­lence, dur­ing which the em­bar­rassed woman did not know what to say and her hus­band did not know what he should do, Lago would pro­duce a box of Kiss choco­lates.

He was not just a pretty face, ei­ther (hence his pro­mo­tion to com­modore). He ran a tight ship.

It seemed wher­ever you were on Fairstar, Lago was there in the back­ground, keep­ing an eye on things. Dur­ing his rou­tine cabin in­spec­tions on one cruise he found some peo­ple smok­ing a sub­stance other than to­bacco. They were put ashore at the next port of call.

On one South Pa­cific cruise with Lago, I bought my hus­band, Pa­trick, and me a shore ex­cur­sion to a Great Bar­rier Reef is­land.

It was a glo­ri­ous sunny day and we were stand­ing in line on deck, tick­ets in hand, wait­ing for a ten­der to take us ashore. Along came Lago, who asked what we were do­ing in the queue. I ex­plained we were go­ing ashore to swim at the lo­cal beach. I know a bet­ter place to swim, he said, pulling us out of the line and tear­ing up our tick­ets. ‘‘Wait here while I change and I will take you to Fairstar Beach.’’

We had never heard of Fairstar Beach and we won­dered about its lo­ca­tion. ‘‘He must be go­ing to com­man­deer a ten­der to take us around the is­land to the other side,’’ Pa­trick vol­un­teered.

Lago reap­peared in swim­ming trunks and in­di­cated we should fol­low him. We did and ended up at the ship’s swim­ming pool.

‘‘This is Fairstar Beach,’’ Lago said proudly. ‘‘All the pas­sen­gers are go­ing ashore and we will have it to our­selves.’’

He was right. Stew­ards were on duty to bring us all-day drinks and lunch and we felt like Mr and Mrs Onas­sis on a pri­vate yacht.

Now we go to What­ever-thename-of-our-ship Beach, while pas­sen­gers rush off like lem­mings. More of­ten than not, we have ex­clu­sive use of the pool and the stew­ards, with no one else to serve, treat us as if we are Greek ship­ping mag­nates.

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