THE WHOLE CIRCLE OF LIFE THING

This is our final sea day of our Atlantic crossing (I got the count wrong in an earlier post – it’s taken seven days, not six), and it’s a non-class day, which meant heading straight out onto the top deck for a few laps, interspersed with pauses to watch the sea and wildlife, and to take much needed shelter in the shade, because… it… is… HOT out there!

Now that we are in the Caribbean, things have got a little more interesting. Surprisingly, the sea is a little on the rough side, which means lots of white horses, so, as far as I know, there haven’t been any sightings of dolphins or whales (very difficult to spot anyway, when the sea is choppy).

We have been entertained by the whole ‘circle of life’ thing, however, with lots of flying fish scurrying along the surface of the water, to get out of the way of the Columbus, thinking we might be a predator. Lying in wait for the flying fish, were large numbers of masked boobies, that prowl around, hovering on the thermal air currents, occasionally diving straight down into the water, and coming up with a beak full of flying fish. Hovering menacingly even higher up, however, were a couple of large frigate birds (I always think their silhouete looks a little like a pteradactyl). Frigate birds let the boobies do all the hard work, then swoop down on them to steal their booty.

Wading into the mix was an unexpected visitor; a small swift-like bird, who we were told by Mike, one of the regular birders, was a Purple Martin (also known as a Caribbean Martin). given its miniscule size (in relation the boobies), and the distance from land, it looked like it might have be looking for somewhere to land and take a rest. Its back shimmered purple each time it flashed past us in great circles around the front of the ship, and brought added entertainment value to the proceedings.

As the temperatures rise, so the bodies on the sun loungers get redder. We were rather surprised at one passenger who insisted on running around the deck. Most folks who want to indulge in that sort of masochism do so ether early in the morning or in the evening, when the air is a little cooler and there are less people about to get in the way. Then again, that would be fewer people to see him and be impressed by his diligence, since that is clearly what he wants (‘Only Mad dogs and Englishmen’ springs to mind…).

Another thing that raised our eyebrows was seeing tables being laid out on the upper deck, just below the big screen, for more food, only half an hour after breakfast had ended. This was for something billed as Bavarian Fruhschoppen, which, as far as I can tell, is a bit like a second breakfast, common in Germany. They’d laid out quite a spread, with a whole range of foods, pastries, sausages, the lot, along with several tables with tablecloths… all out in the burning sun. That they’d squeezed yet another serving of food between breakfast and lunch seemed surprise enough, until I saw how many people were queuing up to consume yet more grub. They had to hurry, though; the feast was only on from 10:30am until 12 noon, when lunch would be starting.

I mentioned the big screen there… There are two distinctive elements that make the Columbus stand out alongside CMV’s other ships (of which another two are to be added to the fleet next year, by the way). One of those is a large, curved gantry that reaches across from one side of the top deck to the other. The lights attached to it give it the looks of a fancy, quite chunky, lighting rig, but it was in fact originally there for acrobatic performers in an ealier incarnation of the ship.

The other dominant element is the large digital screen that looks out across the upper deck. It’s clearly seen better days, though; when they play videos on it, as they have been doing, there are great chunks of screen randomly missing here and there. They’ve obviously decided to try and address its shortcomings, however; over the last couple of days, a couple of technicians have been working on it, presumeably in the hope of restoring it to a full-screen experience. I would say that they have their task well and truly cut out for them, with lots of dead pixels in evidence… it would be great to see it fully restored, though – maybe then we could have outdoor movie shows… like a drive-in cinema… complete with popcorn…

If all of these endless sea days sound a bit boring, then I’d have to say that I agree. The fact is; I struggle with the concept of doing nothing at the best of times. I’m lucky in one respect, that I have the classes to run, at least every other day, but the rest of the time can seem seem rather endless. Walking laps helps to pass the time, and wildlife spotting punctuates that time – and once we pass through the Panama Canal into the Pacific Ocean, we’re expecting there to be an increase in activity. I’m also enjoying the opportunity to read some books – time that I generally don’t get much when I’m at home. Christine, the Creative Writing tutor has taken a positive, join-everything approach, signing up for everything that’s going, as well as running her own sessions, but then she’s going the whole way round, back to Tilbury, and 120 days is a really long time.

Having said all that, we are now coming up to the first of the really good bits. We’ve got Willemstad, Cartegena and the Panama Canal to look forward to over the next few days, and then, once we are in the Pacific Ocean, we’re hoping to see a few whales and a wider variety of birdlife. After that, we face a mind-bending stretch of nine consecutive sea days. If I was a punter, I think the prospect would probably drive me nuts. There will be lots of classes for me to run, of course, but that’s a whole lot of sea in all directions before we can think about what’s to come after that (South Sea islands and Middle Earth…).

Maybe I just need to relax more…