See­ing red in duty-free storm at sea

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GRA­HAM ERBACHER

Jose Car­reras is as big a per­former as they come and the Span­ish tenor will be head­lin­ing the Bravo! Cruise of the Per­form­ing Arts out of Syd­ney next year. Con­tribut­ing editor Ju­dith Elen is just back from the 2016 “edi­tion” of the cruise on which the star was Kiri Te Kanawa (Page 6).

What a di­ver­sity of ex­pe­ri­ences and des­ti­na­tions cruis­ing of­fers to­day. I’m look­ing for­ward in the next few weeks to join­ing Ova­tion of the Seas on the Perth to Ade­laide leg of its maiden voy­age to Aus­tralia. One of the world’s largest pas­sen­ger ships, I’m sure to en­joy its Bionic Bar, where robotic bar­tenders ob­vi­ously free up mixol­o­gists to look at them­selves full­time in the mir­ror.

How things have changed since I boarded my first ship 40 years ago, bound for Syd­ney from Hong Kong. The ves­sel was a Soviet one, Fe­dor Shalyapin (named for a Rus­sian bari­tone), and was quite el­e­gant; it had been a Cu­nard Fran­co­nia. The ad for the cruise promised “Bri­tish ex­ec­u­tive staff and friendly Rus­sian crew”. The ship hit con­tro­versy later in the 1970s when it re­port­edly had a ren­dezvous with a Soviet sub­ma­rine on the Tas­man Sea. Soon af­ter, the Soviet in­va­sion of Afghanistan sparked a Fraser govern­ment ban on Rus­sian cruise ships.

Our first night out on the South China Sea was tor­rid and the next morn­ing we were in­vited over boom­ing speak­ers to crawl to the hos­pi­tal sta­tion where Nurse Olga (her name em­bla­zoned on a uni­form) ad­min­is­tered a very heady cure. Back in my cabin I fell into a golden slum­ber, bro­ken by a fall on my way to the bath­room af­ter which I lay on the floor for hours in a cu­ri­ous con­fig­u­ra­tion but with­out a care in the world.

When re­vived, I sought out the li­brary, which was well stocked with vol­umes on the life of Lenin. Early in my read­ing I learned he was a ter­rific bloke who cared heaps for the work­ers and peas­ants (but no­body else, which ex­plained why the ship boasted “one class”). By co­in­ci­dence, then Soviet pres­i­dent Leonid Brezh­nev was a sim­i­lar sort of guy, a work on his life re­vealed. Strangely, the shelves were empty un­der S for Stalin.

Part of the prob­lem of this voy­age was to do with some of my fel­low Aussie pas­sen­gers. It was the era of over­seas duty-free sprees and these charm­ers had shopped them­selves silly in Sin­ga­pore and Hong Kong. They had zero cu­rios­ity about the ports we were to visit, in­clud­ing Manila and Port Moresby, and, in­deed, pelted with ice those who dared to dis­em­bark. I just knew things were not go­ing to turn out well when, one evening af­ter the stew, a dessert was served with the look, feel and pos­si­bly taste of a green ten­nis ball. They were used as mis­siles in a hot pud­ding war, which left the “friendly crew” cold.

I’m sure there were great bars on board, but I didn’t ex­plore. Maybe I was ab­sorbed by rev­o­lu­tion­ary read­ings or didn’t fancy more ridicule for tak­ing a shore ex­cur­sion. On the ba­sis of the sea­sick­ness med­i­ca­tion, a Moscow mule (vodka, gin­ger beer and lime) would have had a real kick. But I wish now I had marched to the bar men­ac­ingly and or­dered the house cock­tail, “Make mine a Molo­tov!”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.