Last Day and Grand Exhibition

Today was our final day at sea. We’ve turned the corner by the Cherbourg peninsula and sailing along the English Channel has been nothing short of bliss – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever known the Channel to be quite this calm and unruffled – it’s been like a millpond!

It’s been so calm that soup has reappeared on the menu in the Bistro… yeeey!

This afternoon, we held our grand Art, Craft and Creative Writing Exhibition. Tracey and I turned up outside the Conference Room at around 1:15pm, and with an army of helpers, we had about three hundred paintings stuck to the walls, ready for the official start at 2pm. Peter Counsell displayed the work from his classes on three tables down the centre, and Christine displayed work from her Creative Writing sessions.

The turnout was incredible, and the paintings looked fantastic! Even the captain made an appearance and kindly opened the exhibition for us with a short speech, which was a nice touch.

In the words of Bart Simpson and Mary Poppins; my work here is done.

Early tomorrow morning, we will be arriving back at London Tilbury Cruise Terminal, and the voyage will be over.

It’s back to reality tomorrow, but I’ll be returning to the newly-refurbished Marco Polo in May when we’ll be sailing to Iceland… watch this space…

Last Classes

Today, I’ve run my final two classes for this voyage; a roundup of ways to improve the design of people’s paintings – what I like to call my ‘Composition Checklist’. The scene I had them painting was from my first ever cruise ship assignment back in 2006, when I visited Egypt and Libya… the scene was a street in Tripoli, featuring some interesting textures and a smattering of simple figures.

The Bay of Biscay has been much kinder to us than on the outward bound journey. There has been a small swell, but nothing to upset folks too much or to prevent any of the activities. My biggest gripe with the swell that we have had has been that they’ve taken soup off the menu in the Bistro at lunchtime and dinner time, presumably to stop folks throwing it down themselves.

The good news is that everyone who has attended the classes has been bringing along their work to add to the pile, for tomorrow’s big exhibition.

The bad news is that it’s another formal night (which I hate).

Having got all dressed up, though, we decided to head along to the watch the show after dinner, which was an around-the-world celebration loosely based upon the travels of Ferdinand Magellan who led the first expedition to sail all the way around the world and was responsible for giving the Pacific Ocean its name in 1520. Magellan didn’t complete the voyage himself; he is credited with organising the route and negotiating the Treacherous South American strait and crossing the pacific, but the voyage suffered through two mutinies due to the mostly Spanish crew who deeply resented being led by a Portugese captain, and Ferdinand Magellan was killed in a battle with some indigenous islanders who refused to be converted to Christianity, before his ship reached the Spice Islands.

Clocks go forward one last time tonight, putting us in line with the UK. We’re nearly home….

Passenger Talent Show

It was rough last night. Throughout the night doors banged and crashed, and stuff was strewn across the floor in the morning. The forecast is for the swell (about 6 metres) to continue, not getting any worse, and hopefully decreasing as the day goes on.

Today, in the classes, we revisited Perspective, and Contre Jour, with a rural Yorkshire Dales landscape featuring some farm buildings.

In the evening, we were treated to the Passenger Talent Show, which was a rich and diverse collection pf performances. We had a lady opera singer, who was rather brilliant (and she’s from my classes, so I was particularly happy to hear her sing), a pianist, a lady who did some Joyce Grenfell (George, don’t do that…), and an other lady who recited Albert and the lion. A couple playing guitar and clarinet gave us their rendition of Acker Bilk’s ‘Stranger on the Shore’, while another lady did a crazy, but very entertaining mime to the Court of King Caractacus… something or other… which got even crazier when she had everyone on the audience doing it as well… whacky, but funny. The finale came from the people who had been learning to play the Ukelele throughout the cruise. All very entertaining!

Back at Sea

You know when things are about to get rough… they close the deadlights! Those are the shutters that cover the portholes in case of adverse weather conditions. Cabins that have windows (ours has portholes) have large wooden covers that have to be bolted securely into place; they were systematically working their way down the ship installing the covers this morning, and the sick-bag fairy has been out and about… all slightly worrying…

The swell has been gradually increasing throughout the day, but things never quite got so bad that I couldn’t run the classes. When stuff doesn’t stay on the tables, that’s generally the point at which you quit. Today, I taught them how to paint stone walls and sheep.

In the evening, we went along to watch a new Guest Act, comedian Clark Stewart who must have joined us in Ponta Delgada. We enjoyed him very much.

After the show, it seemed too early to be heading back to the cabin (even though clocks went forward tonight), so we finished up in the pub playing darts (I lost all 3 games… again).

Carnival Madness in Ponta Delgada

Today, we arrived at our final port-of-call for this cruise (discounting Tilbury, of course, where we will be disembarking on Sunday), Ponta Delgada in the Azores.

Tracey and I had been given tour escorting duties, which we expected, and didn’t mind at all since we’ve been here quite a few times before. The excursion we’d been give was ‘Sete Cicedes, Crater Lake’, a three and a half hour coach journey through the island, stopping off at a Pineapple farm and Botanical Gardens before heading to the mountain top for a view of the twin lakes.

Unfortunately, right from the first glance outside over breakfast, things didn’t bode well at all, with the weather being extremely inclement; low clouds hiding the hilltops and heavy, torrential rain.

It was raining so hard that boarding the buses was operated in a very controlled, and sensible way, with each coach coming forward at the appointed time for people to climb on board with as little fuss, and rain, as possible.

Everything was going rather well. My coach (coach number 5) was almost ready to go, with only two more passengers required to make up the necessary 45, when who should come blustering their way through the orderly queue, loud, rude and totally without any consideration for anyone but themselves, but – yes, you’ve guessed it… Mr Angry and his wife.

I was literally herding the final two passengers onto my bus, as he barged his way through to the front and demanded that not only he be let on bus number 5 now, and immediately, but that he should be given the two front seats because his wife is disabled, and he had a letter to prove it (which he shouted about a lot, but never actually produced). He tried to fight his way past me, but I blocked him. This happened twice, with me trying to persuade him to calm down and be reasonable in between, but he was having none of it. His voice rose in volume and pitch, and his demands sounded more like those of a petulant, thwarted teenager, or those of a spoilt child, than a grown man.

It was an ugly, stressful moment for all concerned, and all who witnessed it. I insisted that no matter how loudly he protested, he would not be getting on my coach (even if he did, he would then have demanded to have the front seats which had been occupied long before). Five staff where quickly drafted into attendance trying to calm the man down, with a threat of bringing security in on the act; I finally managed to get my last two passengers onto the coach (minus Mr Angry, thankfully), and the bus was away… we were finally off on our tour.

Just for balance, I should say that despite most people being appalled at the scene, with mutterings and protestations along the lines of bullies should not be allowed to get away with it, there were still, oddly, a couple of dissenters, who felt that Mr Angry not only had a point, but that he was in some way being badly treated. For most of those people, it was the first time they’d come across the man, and were totally unaware of the utter chaos and abuse he’s given staff, crew, and by all accounts, other passengers, since boarding the Magellan in Tilbury almost six weeks ago. I, personally, have nothing more to say on the matter; Mr Angry clearly has some personal issues, but it’s his absolute refusal to back down and consider any note of reason that appears to make people not really sure how to deal with him. Thankfully, we will be home again in five days time and this is (hopefully) the last possible encounter I or Tracey should have with the disagreeable little man… he can be someone else’s problem from now on…

It rained heavily at the Pineapple Plantation, and continued to rain at the Botanical Gardens, which was a bit of a shame because they would have looked great in the sunshine. It really wasn’t looking good for our photo stop overlooking the Crater Lake, and when we got there, the cloud around us was so heavy that it wasn’t even worth getting off the coach. We waited a few minutes in the vain hope that the cloud would part, and afford us our view, but it clearly wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

As compensation, the guide told us that we would head down into the crater, to see the lakes from lower down. When viewed from above on a clear and sunny day, the two lakes in the crater look completely different from each other; one being green while the other is blue.

The clouds did start to part for us before we arrived at lake level, so we were able to stop off and grab a few high(ish) level photos. Down in the crater, we stopped briefly in the small village of Sete Cicedes, for a restroom stop, before heading back towards Ponta Delgada.

We’d been warned by the Captain a few days ago that we would be visiting Ponta Delgada on Shrove Tuesday, when the locals hold some sort of carnival that might not be deemed suitable for visitors. Today, on the way back to the town, my guide also told us about their carnival, and strongly advised against going back into the town, along the promenade. So what is the nature of this mysterious carnival that everyone seemed so concerned about? The answer is; a water fight.

We were told that the fighting would start at around 3pm and would go on until around about 6pm. After lunch, Tracey and I headed back out into the town… curiosity was getting the better of us.

By the time we reached the main road along the edge of the marina, many people had already taken a seat by the harbour wall, clearly in preparation for something. Many people had buckets full of clear plastic bags and balloons filled with water. Not just a few bags of water, but literally hundreds. There were piles of them, all ready for the event to come, with cars and trucks bringing more, in preparation. On the opposite side of the road to the harbour, many businesses had boarded up their frontages… you could cut the growing sense of anticipation with a knife.

There were many children about, and families, so we figured that things couldn’t possibly be as aggressive as my guide had suggested. In fact, the atmosphere was quite light and jovial, with occasional flurries of activity, and water bombs being hurled randomly across the road.

And then, just as we were starting to wonder if this was it, with flurries of water-bombs increasing, and the whole thing gradually building in momentum, a series of large open-topped trucks with men in body armour and helmets appeared at the far end of the promenade… and then the whole thing suddenly kicked off big-time.

It was like a riot, but with water. Bags of water and water-filled balloons flew in all directions, but mostly between the trucks and the people lining the route. Folks would hurl a bag or two at the trucks, and be rewarded by a barrage of waterbombs back. There was chanting and drumming, and music from some trucks, and one of the men on a truck even wielded a water cannon.

The whole thing was quite mesmerising. At first. The manic scene just seemed so chaotic, and without any reason or structure at all, that all the bystanders could do was gawp in amazement as it played out. But then, the desire to be a part of the action became increasingly addictive, and I found myself picking up any bags that landed without exploding, and hurling them back.

The whole thing was totally cool, and brilliant fun! The people of Ponta Delgada certainly know how to celebrate Shrove Tuesday (although, I’m not absolutely certain that it being Shrove Tuesday is anything other than a coincidence). Throwing water bombs at people with wild abandon is a cathartic experience, and clearly appeals to young and old alike; everyone was pitching in and simply loving every minute of it. Getting drenched in the process was just part of the fun!

And so our final port stop ended on an unexpected high note. No-one was sure what to expect (and the ney-sayers had helped to set the seeds of doubt), but everyone we saw from the ship who had watched the spectacle seemed to have really enjoyed it.

And so, now we are on the final leg of our voyage. We have four days at sea ahead of us, and we have been warned of some potentially heavy swells. I have three more classes to run, with an exhibition planned for the final sea day. Fingers crossed it all goes as planned…

Follow watercolour artist Peter Woolley's adventures as he runs art workshops on the high seas…