Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Enuf is Enough, Already!

Map picture
Map picture

Our journey northward to Norfolk Island was anything but smooth. Although the weather outside seems pleasant enough with mostly sunny skies and what appears to me as rather light seas, this ship is rolling from side to side like a drunken sailor. Doors are slamming, glasses are tumbling down and rolling around the floor, and it is literally all that Lisa and I can do to get from one place in our cabin to the other without falling which by the way we have both done at least once already. Neither of us slept well last night, and more than once, I really thought that I would roll right off the bed. Believe it or not while I was at breakfast this morning the ship took a particularly nasty roll and my chair slid half way across the room; bring back sore memories of my disaster during the Northwest Passage trip? Oh, and did I tell you, the Hotel Director and the Ship’s Doctor are both the same as when I had to be sent home from Nome, AK?

At my request, the Captain opened the Bridge on our way to Norfolk Island, and while I was there, I asked the officer on duty why the ship was so unstable. He gave me what I called a BS answer in a rather condescending tone which included explaining to me that this was an expedition ship after all, and that it only had a draft in the water of around 4.5 ft. and it has a flat bottom. There is no use arguing with such a person, but as most of you know, this is not my first time on an “expedition ship,” and in fact, my favorite ship, The Silver Explorer, likewise has a flat bottom and a draft of only around 4.5 ft. So, what’s the difference? Well I have spoken with several of the crew, and it seems pretty clear to me that this is an older ship with an outdated stabilizer system, by comparison to the newly refurbished Explorer which has a much more sophisticated stabilizing platform.

We visited Norfolk Island yesterday, and this morning I am sitting here literally holding onto my desk while I try to type on a moving laptop. The winds have increased to around 35 mph, and the swells are running anywhere from 10 to 15 ft. which makes walking for me almost impossible. I asked our room steward how he managed to stand up, and his answer was that he had learned over time to adjust. Why “these are nothing compared to the 95 ft. swells we had on our last voyage!” So, enough already, let’s discuss Norfolk Island and our visit there yesterday.

Our journey started in New Zealand and from there we travelled north around 500 miles to Norfolk Island. Imagine my surprise to learn that Norfolk Island is part of Australia, albeit the most northern part. So, after dropping anchor around 6 am, we had to wait for the Australian authorities to clear the ship for our visit. By 9 am all the paper work was “sorted out” and we set out to go ashore. Because of the heavy seas and high winds, our ship had anchored rather far off shore, but in the lee of a small nearby island which provided some shelter to us in departing the ship. I can tell you that the long ride ashore was “one hell of a ride” which was described by Lisa as one of the most exciting things she had ever done.

The history of this Island is rather unique. It was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1774, and was one of only a hand full of islands where no native inhabitants were found. In 1788, Great Britain decided to settle the Island to insure that no other power tried to lay claim, and at the same time, they turned the island into a penal colony. However, by 1813 this remote island became too costly to maintain, and so the penal colony was closed, and the island once again left uninhabited. That lasted only until 1825, when a new penal colony was constructed; alas in 1855, that too was closed. In what is a most bazar chapter in British history, in 1856, Great Britain decided to settle Norfolk Island once again, but this time with the descendants of the mutineers who seized the HMS Bounty in 1788. A large number of the mutineers, led by Mr. Christian, had fled to a remote and previously uncharted island in the South Pacific, Pitcairn Island. Arriving there, they burned the Bounty to conceal their presence, and if memory serves me correctly, they were able to avoid detection for over 20 years. However, by 1856, the population on Pitcairn Island had grown to an unsustainable number, and hence Great Britain decided to move many of the residents to Norfolk Island. Indeed for many generations only direct descendants of the Bounty mutineers were permitted to reside on Norfolk Island. Today that is no longer the case and the population of Norfolk Island today is around 1500 people.

After our “exciting” ride ashore, we were given a walking tour of ruins from the penal colony days after which we boarded buses for a drive around the small island. DSC01845All I can say is that the scenery was magnificent. This is a place in which I could quickly fall in love. Temperatures are moderate all year round with ample rainfall to keep everything green. We drove by the former home of Helen Reddy who had just recently moved away to the mainland. Next we paid a visit to the cemetery which believe it or not was really quite fascinating. Next on the agenda was a stop at the church, where what I found most interesting was not the beautiful interior, but instead I was captivated by the web of the beautiful Golden Orb Spider. The female, who sits at the center of the gigantic web, is very colorful and really quite beautiful. Her size is about that of my fist, and all around her are much smaller and drab male spiders, all hoping to mate with the Queen. Whether they succeed or not is in some ways immaterial since the Queen eventually eats all the males.

We then were given time to “shop” the small center of town, and since we had not brought any money with us, we opted to find a chair in the travel office, only to have one of the staff befriend us with some cold water and a curiosity about who we were. We had a wonderful conversation over the next hour and learned that this person was a sixth generation relation to Mr. Christian of the who started the mutiny on Bounty. At one point when she was younger, she accepted an offer from the Government to be resettled back to Pitcairn because of its declining population. She and six other women were moved to Pitcairn where the population had declined to only 49 people. I wish I had time to recant all of her stories because they were quite interesting. However, in the end, all of those who were resettled eventually returned to Norfolk Island.

It was time for lunch, and the group was taken to a wonderful view point where a monument to Captain Cook was erected. There, surrounded by a wondrous vista that you would have to see to fully appreciate. The ship had setup tables and chairs for a fish fry. I managed to make the long walk down to the bottom of the cliffs, where a scenic vista awaited me – although I will tell you that on the LONG walk back up the steep hillside I begin to question my sanity. DSC01941

After lunch we visited the Royal Botanical Gardens which in all honesty were not very impressive. By then it was time to return to our ship which because of deteriorating weather had repositioned to a new location. When we arrived at the quay, I took one look at the high seas and pounding surf and knew in an instant this would be no ordinary zodiac ride. There is a fine line sometimes between “exciting” and dangerous, and in my mind the ride back to the ship was perilously close to that edge. Lisa and I became separated, so she got to take the first trip. As I watched her small craft battle the high seas and pounding surf I was concerned for her well-being. She survived the trip, but injured her knee when attempting to re-board the ship.

At the jetty, while I awaited my turn, the surf was pounding up against the stairs making the simple walk down to board the zodiac a treacherous one. I was first in line when the next craft made two attempts to push itself up onto the stairs in order to make boarding easier. The driver kept the motor at almost full throttle keeping the little boat hard up against the jetty, while the wind and the surf did their best to push us away. Finally, we set out on the trip back to the Discoverer. At first it was not too bad, but once we crossed the little jetty, massive sheets of water poured over my back and into the little craft. The engine roared at full throttle pushing us even deeper into ever increasing boiling sea being driven by strong winds which threatened to topple the little boat every time it topped a wave crest. I held on with every ounce of strength I could muster. Initially I forgot that to avoid the massive pounding my spine was taking every time I was thrown into the air and then came crashing down. I needed to lean over and look at the bottom of the boat; in this way, my spine was not taking all of the strain. So while buckets of water are being poured over me, I am holding on for dear life! I just had to hold on until we reached our ship or get overturned into the water. Finally we reached the ship where even with the zodiac secured by several ropes, the huge swells threatened to rip the little craft back into the roiling sea. When it was my turn to step back up our ship, all I can say is how grateful I was for the four people whose arms miraculously managed to move me across and onto the ship uninjured.

By the time I got to our room, I was dripping all down the hallway. Rather than try to get out of all those wet clothes covered in salt water, I simply stepped into the shower, hat, camera and all and rinsed down with fresh water. One by one I tossed Lisa the wet clothes which she added to her pile already building on the bathroom floor. What a mess, and even worse, even though the camera was wrapped in a “water proof bag,” when I opened the bag it was damp inside and I had let the camera sit for several hours before I opened the bag – not good, not good at all.

So today we find ourselves with our last “day at sea” for this voyage continuing north to New Caledonia and the Isle des Pines. Perhaps by the time we get there, I can figure out why we are headed there in the first place!


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