Sunday, 29 September 2013

Southampton, 29th September 2013

Back to dreary, murky old Britain and an impromptu trip to Southampton this afternoon, via the East Cowes vehicle ferry. It was sunny when I left home, which influenced my decision to go across, but gradually got darker and murkier as the afternoon went on.

Queen Mary 2, looking as impressive as ever.

Ventura, and Asian Parade

Adventure of the Seas, at berth 101. Boat show crap is still in the way there.

Adventure departed Southampton a little after 1630

Back on the ferry, I could see QM2 preparing to depart...

...and we followed her down Southampton Water

...along with LS Christine

UKD Bluefin was on her way back to Southampton

In the distance, Adventure of the Seas was passing Cowes

We overtook QM2 by Fawley

And were on a parallel course with her at the Brambles; we were so close to her at one point that I could pick up her wifi on my phone.

With the light rapidly worsening, she passed in front of us as we approached Cowes.

Queen Mary 2 never fails to impress. Even after nearly 10 years of seeing her in and around Southampton and travelling on her once she still impresses everyone who sees her, including me. Queen Mary 2 recently came to the aid of a lone rower, a Canadian woman called Mylene Paquette, who is crossing the Atlantic single-handedly. Mylene is halfway across yet has two months of her trip still to go. Good luck to Mylene as she crosses the Atlantic alone. I certainly couldn't do it!

Friday, 20 September 2013

African 'adventure'

On Saturday 14th September we were doing a return day trip from Almeria to Nador, Morocco. Originally our transport was supposed to be Sherbatskiy but Acciona changed the ship twice, first to Vronskiy (which has actually gone back to the Algeciras-Tanger Med route further west) and then Isabella 1.

Isabella 1, departing from Almeria the previous day.

We arrived at the port, a short walk from where we'd stayed the previous night, and after a coffee, joined the short security queue. A lizard was spotted scurrying beneath the X-ray machine, luckily he didn't go through it with our bags or he'd have been fried, as these machines are a lot more powerful than vets or hospital X-ray machines.

The unemployed Berkane was in the berth next to ours.

We departed just a few minutes late and headed out into the blue Mediterranean. Once we were clear of the harbour, we went inside, only for SDS to fall foul of an irate Moroccan woman yelling at him in Arabic and French because she - wrongly - accused him of taking, or attempting to take, her photo! Why she thought anyone would want a photo of her is anyone's guess but I think it was a clash of cultures; I know that Muslims are highly sensitive about having their photos taken, particularly the women, so I think she was making a pre-emptive strike. The result was that SDS spent the rest of the outward trip keeping an eye out for her in case she came back to have another go!

The result of that was we were paranoid about getting our cameras out for the rest of the crossing, so the deck shots, etc, are crappy iPhone ones until we got to the other side - and for a couple of ships seen mid-crossing - when the DSLRs came out again.
The sea had a large swell running and was pretty choppy in places, which meant we rolled and pitched our way across most satisfyingly.

Neptune Okeanis seen heading west.

A terrible long-distance shot of Sorolla heading back to Almeria from Melilla. Out of focus, with motion blur and highly cropped, this is a pure record shot and won't win any prizes.

The next seven photos are all taken with the iPhone, as we'd both got paranoid about using our DSLRs...

I'd tried to get a photo which showed the inky dark blue of the Mediterranean Sea but I don't think I captured it. Should have used the DSLR.

Our wake was turquoise. Fabulous colours...

Back to the 'proper cameras' as we approached the north African coast and bugger any irate women who would take exception to the possibility we *might* take their photo! With all due respect - and I can understand people not wanting to appear in a photo, I hate having mine taken - if I want to use my camera, I will, unless photography is specifically banned, and I am very careful where I aim it!
It was my first view of the great continent of Africa and, setting foot in Morocco, no matter how briefly, means I have now been on all continents except Antarctica (I'd love to go there one day but it is hideously expensive to get to).

The weather had deteriorated as we crossed the Med and it was cloudy and hot.

Volcán de Tinamar and RSD Dalmatia could be seen over in Melilla

While the laid up Mistral Express was in Nador, next to our berth.

We got off, went through passport control...when I say 'went through', I mean we walked right through without anyone checking. We then got paranoid - again! Paranoia had become a feature of this trip in the space of a few hours, although Morocco is a friendly country - went back and were duly admitted with a stamp in our passports. We left the terminal and walked up the road to a café, where we had burgers and soft drinks. The café was showing a football game, a turgid encounter between Inter and Juventus, and was clean although without the higher standards found in most of Europe; the proprietor was smoking a cigar and dropping ash everywhere but, that said, it was clean and pleasant enough and, although the burgers were undercooked, nearly a week later nobody has any ill effects.
We were entertained to a fight between two port staff in the car park where they hurled insults and items at each other, with the result that one took off his hi-vis vest and threw it at the other man before flouncing off. I think he'd got a bollocking over something or other and it was one of those 'You can stick your job up your arse' situations! I know a 'You can stick your job up your arse' situation when I see it, having been involved in one or two myself in the past. :-)
Eventually we returned to the terminal and joined a massive queue - although I use the term queue loosely because it was more like a rugby scrum - for security and passport control, both of which were done as slowly as they knew how. It was when we came to have our passports stamped as having left the country, there was a cock up. We'd not filled in an exit form, so we were shown to an office and a police officer gave us the relevant forms, luckily we didn't need to rejoin the passport queue and were soon joining the boarding queue. Then cock up #2 occurred...we had the wrong boarding passes! The Acciona office in the terminal had been shut for the duration, so we didn't know where we should go but the bloke took our tickets, existing boarding passes and - rather worryingly - our passports, got on his scooter and rode off into the night. Shit, that guy has just driven off with our passports...! We were now looking at potentially being stranded there...but a very long 20 or so minutes later, he came back with our passports and new boarding passes and we joined another queue rugby scrum to reboard. The police were checking passports and boarding cards (again! How many times do they need to be checked?!) and it was very hot and humid. A few rows broke out between male passengers as we waited, all part of nice local colour.

Once back aboard the ship, we went to the bar but I decided not to have a drink because I did not want to have to use the toilets if I could at all avoid them. They were in a diabolical state, overflowing because they either did not flush, the flush mechanism seemed to be non-existent, or were plain blocked. They were absolutely unspeakable. The only positive things were that there was soap in the dispensers, the taps worked and the water was actually hot (even then, I washed my hands several times when I got back to the airport the following morning!). The ship was extremely crowded and, if the cabins were all full (we did not get one but should have, really), then she was probably close to being overloaded because there was not an inch of deck space without sleeping bodies occupying it. I dread to think of what the much smaller Sherbatskiy or Vronskiy would have been like if they'd crammed this amount of people on them.
We found some space down in the disused cafeteria (all the restaurants and cafeterias were shut, probably because people brought their own food aboard, which seems to be standard practice - fortunately the bar sold food) which was more sparsely populated and I was glad I'd thought to bring my inflatable pillow.

I went on deck at 0430 as we approached the Spanish coast. The stars were out, with Orion being a lot higher in the sky than it appears from home because of us being that bit further south (approximately 1000 miles from home).

It was still dark, but with the first signs of dawn as we entered the port. Sherbatskiy was back from her round trip to Algeria.

Disembarking wasn't too bad but the passport control queue (rugby scrum again) was bad and it took us an hour to get through it, mostly because people were barging in from all sides and only three kiosks were open. We barged in as well, there's no point being frightfully British about these things because you'd get nowhere! Once through, we got a taxi, bade farewell to Sherbatskiy and the others and headed back to the airport.

It was an interesting trip and the ferry was a complete contrast to the 'cruise ferries' of Northern Europe in that this is a pure A to B ferry with no frills. Would I do the North Africa routes again? Maybe but only to Melilla, the Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast.