SEVEN OF NINE – RESISTANCE IS FUTILE

Very briefly, yesterday afternoon, it looked like we might have the internet back. It was strong enough to receive and send a couple of emails briefly, but then it just sort of gave up the ghost. Tracey asked me why it was that I seemd so calm about the situation. Normally, I would be pulling my hair out, stomping around in frustration and muttering under my breath. I explained that this is a situation so out of my hands that no amount of stomping or muttering could possibly make it better. In the words of the Borg; Resistance is futile.

Breakfast was as normal, in the bistro, so we’re hopeful that last night’s closure was a one-off event. I say normal… passengers are no longer allowed to get their own tea and coffee or fruit juices from the dispensing machines. The area immediately in front of them has been cordoned-off, and a member of staff pours the tea and coffee on demand. This is all very well, but everyone likes their tea and coffee differently. The machine dispenses what I would call ‘half a cup’ (about three-quarters full). When you do it yourself, the shortfall can be topped-up by pressing the button again, but hitting a red ‘stop’ button just before it reaches the required height. I also like only a small amount of half-fat milk. Needless to say, the half cup, with double the mount of milk I would normally prefer wasn’t exactly to my liking… but they try hard and these precautions are absolutely necessary… tea-making requires precision, though….

So, it’s just been one more regular day at sea, in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. Attaining my 8000 steps is easy when there’s very little else to do. In fact, it’s smart watch and health-band city on the top deck, not to mention an increase of lycra at the moment due to the closure of the gym. Unfortunately, there has also been a notable lack of wildlife.

Normally, on long cruises like this, I would be painting in the cabin, from all the interesting port stops we’ve had… (hm…). I have lots of painting projects I need to be working on, of course, but for these I need the controlled working environment of my studio at home. I’m keeping this blog up to day, but now I’m now seven days into arrears posted them (I wasn’t even able to post the Panama Canal before we lost the signal); anyone reading the blog will have given me up as a bad job by now – those still checking in will receive a bonus batch when we finally get our signal back.

We got a call from Tony at about 6pm, just before we were about to head off to the craft room to set things up for tomorrow. Unfortunately, it’s bad news; all art and creative writing classes in the craft room have been cancelled until further notice. So,
no class tomorrow, or the day after. I’m temporarily redundant.

It’s dinner in the restaurant again tonight, and clocks go back another hour, which will put us 9 hours behind the UK.

There are now only two more sea-days to go before we reach our next port-of-call, Nuku Hiva, in French Polynesia. It can’t come soon enough…

SIX OF NINE – PAPER REFERENDUM

Today, I held a very democratic referendum in class. Yesterday afternoon, when we set up the room for this morning’s session, we counted up how many sheets of watercolour paper we have remaining, and compared that number to how many sessions I still have to run before we arrive in Sydney at the end of February. We have a shortfall of approximately 150 sheets – or roughly three classes-worth. With this in mind, I gave the class the opportunity to vote between two choices; either to bring along paintings that they have already done, and paint on the reverse side, or for us to cut the paper in two and have them work on half-sized sheets, for the next three sessions.

The result was conclusive. Thirty or more hands went up in favour of using the reverse side of previous paintings, as opposed to barely a dozen hands in favour of cutting fresh sheets in half.

An announcement by the Captain at lunchtime informed us that the public laundrette would be closed until further notice, and that the buffet will be closed for dinner in the evening. This means that we will have to eat in the restaurant at second sitting, 8:15pm. This is disappointing, since we prefer to eat all our meals in the bistro. I suspect that the extra staffing required to serve passengers their food in the bistro is taking its toll, although we did overhear someone suggesting that the bistro is going to undertake a deep clean. If this is true, then it might be that the closure of the bistro is only a very short-lived thing (I hope so… I HATE eating in the restaurant…).

Needless to say, the internet is still off. I think that this is the longest ever time I’ve gone without any form of internet connection whatsoever… and I really don’t like it. It’s making me very edgy about what I might be missing in terms of work, and what the possible fallout might be.

This evening, due to the closure of the Bistro, we ate in the restaurant. We were placed on a table with a very nice elderly lady, whom I’m sure would have been far happier eating alone, as she does most nights. One of the odd things about eating in the restaurant on the very odd occasions that we have to is that we see people who we never seem to see anywhere else around the ship (where do they come from?). The restaurant was quite noisy, and I had trouble focusing in on the converstation that was mostly conducted between Tracey and our table companion. I swear the table next to us was occupied by The Addamms Family…

FIVE OF NINE – CROSSING THE EQUATOR

Last night, at around 11pm, we crossed the equator, so we are now officially sailing in the southern hemisphere, in the South Pacific Ocean.

We are still travelling ‘dark’, with no internet, and I’m really hoping that I’m not missing anything important. This is our third day without a wi-fi network, and there’s a high probability of there being three or more still to come. That’s potentially a lot of communication fallout and an inbox full of emails to contend with when we finally get a signal again.

It’s a non-class day, which means a leisurely breakfast followed by a morning of walking the upper deck and enjoying the fresh air and calm seas. There were no omelette and fried egg stations this morning, and the ceramic mugs and teaspoons in our cabin have been changed for cartons and plastic stirrers. The pools have now been closed on the top deck, so we are clearly still at defcon 3. This afternoon’s ‘Crossing the Equator’ ceremony due to take place around the pool area has been cancelled. Instead, there will be a Crossing the Equator show in the Palladium Show Lounge this evening.

Despite an announcement from the Captain and a letter to all cabins regarding the health precautions currently being undertaken on board, I have it on reasonably good authority (following enquiries of my own regarding best practice in the craft room) that there are only a very small number of guests affected, and that tests confirm none are suffering from norovirus, which is a relief.

It’s lovely out on deck, and walking the perimeter of the top deck feels like it’s good for us. At first, it was looking like there would be no sign of life again – even the fishing boats are far behind us now – but our diligence was eventually rewarded when a pod of about 8 pilot whales came bounding past us.

This afternoon, between walking laps and looking out to sea, we treated ourselves to an ice cream from the Pool Deck vendor… verrry nice!!!

FOUR OF NINE – ESCAPE ROOM

Food is still being served by staff in the bistro, salt dispensers have been replaced by sachets, and the hot tubs are closed. Still nothing to worry about – I’d say no more than defcon 3 – although fully-bio-suited and face-masked waiters taking trays of food to a small number of cabins doesn’t inspire confidence.

Despite containment measures clearly having been put in place, I’m pleased to say that my class remains unaffected (closure of the craft room would be defcon 1), and that I had a full contingent once again. With yet another full-to-bursting room of 50 people, We’re using every backup brush and pencil that we can get our hands on, while watching the watercolour paper pile rapidly diminish, and with our fingers firmly crossed behind our backs, hoping that we might be able to stock up on paper in French Polinesia.

With numbers looking like they are not going to be dwindling any time soon, the session on ‘White Water’ seemed to go down very well. I have to say that it is a very receptive, and friendly group.

After lunch (Minestrone soup – twice – and a hot dog from the outdoor grill), we walked laps of the top deck, enjoying the fresh air and the breeze.

There have been a lot of fishing boats out today (Sue Walsh reckoned she had counted 19 visible from where she was standing on deck at on point), so clearly there must be rich pickings in this area. At one point, we also saw a massive pod of dolphins – perhaps a couple of hundred or so, all in the same area; not moving in any direction, but leaping and splashing in a relatively small, contained area. We figure they must have been feeding – it was certainly spectacular to see, and a pleasant change from the lack of wildlife so far.

This afternoon, we took part in an ‘Escape Room’.

Over the last couple of weeks, Lee, the Assistant Cruise Director, has invited teams of six to register their interest in taking part. Although the general stipulation has been for teams not to consist of any couples, he agreed that myself, Tracey, Chris (Creative Writing tutor), Carol, lecturer Paul and his wife, should be allowed to take part – just for a bit of fun really, since whatever the prize is, our team wouldn’t be allowd to claim it.

We were all met by DJ Brad in the Hampton Lounge before being led upstairs to one of the larger cabins on the ship. The cabin was in darkness. Before being allowed in, we were given a few short instructions; we were told that we didn’t need to ransack the place, not to touch anything on the bed, and that there would be no clues either under the bed or on the balcony. We would have 30 minutes to find the clues that would allow us to escape, or meet our doom. We would be allowed to ask for only one clue during that time.

Inside the room, all was dark except for a timer projected onto the wall from the bed, that told us we had 30 minutes to solve the puzzle… and then we were off…

The first thing we did was to switch the light on and take in our surroundings. A large world map was stuck to the wall and there was short a message on the TV screen. Further investigation of drawers and cupboards revealed fridge magnets from around the world and attached to a few discreet places around the cabin we started to discover small pieces of paper with coloured numbers on them. A Lonely Planet world guide had small coloured bookmarks in several pages, and it didn’t take long for us to determine that if we could find all the six coloured numbers, placing them in the correct order would provide us with the combination for the cabin safe.

How we arrived at that, I’m not entirely sure. We weren’t very co-ordinated, and certainly not working like much of a team, yet somehow, we managed to find all the numbers (the final one we found was stuck to the underside of the toilet seat). Fiddling with the remote control on the TV gave us a second message telling us that we would need to place the numbers, their colours corresponding to pages in the Lonely Planet guide, in a North to South order. Opening the safe provided us with a key laid in a box lid, which allowed us to unlock a cupboard. In the cupboard was a blue, infra-red penlight. The final piece of the puzzle was revealed by turning off all the lights again and shining the penlight around the room, until it eventually revealed a message on the box lid that had been in the safe with the key, which simply told us to ring 7070 to escape.

Lee congratulated us on having been one of the quicker groups to crack it, which we did with just over 8 minutes to spare. It was fun!

In the evening, the fishing boats were still visible, due to some very bright lights they all seemed to have. An announcement from Tony the Cruise Director informed us that the boats were all chinese, fishing for calamari (squid), and that the bright lights lured them up to the surface.

THREE OF NINE – NO INTERNET

It’s official… we have no internet, and will probably continue to have no internet for several days – possibly up to a week, with no connections at all.

Every morning, when we are in the bistro for breakfast, we make a habit of connecting to the
ship’s wi-fi to check for emails and to read the news headlines. Both yesterday, and today, there was nothing to connect to. I had my suspicions yesterday, of course, but this morning I heard the same explanation being given to several people who had gone to the Reception to enquire as to why there was no internet. The area we are in, as we cross the Pacific, is a complete dead zone, so the wi-fi network has, at least for the time being, been turned off.

It’s been a non-class day, so after breakfast, we did a few laps around the top deck. It’s been very overcast today, but, at that time at least, it wasn’t raining. There was quite a stiff breeze, though, around the very front of the ship, which we rather like.

At 11am, we went along to the Palladium Show lounge to listen to Paul’s talk on abandoned cities, which was quite interesting, and featured some great photographs of decaying buildings. This was followed by lunch. In the bistro, food was being served up by staff instead of passengers helping themselves. We’re not totally sure what that’s about although we have our suspicions, and hope that it’s nothing to worry about. After lunch, we went back outside but only managed to get a couple of laps in before the rain came.

It’s a formal night tonight, but we’ve decided to make it a Movie Night instead. With long hours of the day to fill, we gravitated towards the shop, from where we emerged clutching chocolate bars – the perfect accompaniement to a movie, I’d say. Later in the afternoon, we headed up to the craft room to set things up for tomorrow morning’s class, in which we will be painting a waterfall.