OK, me first

OK – me first…..

In the days before emails, facebook and twitter we used to circulate jokes and funny articles on the fax machine. And although it wasn’t funny – the story of the Captain of the MTS Oceanos was one such story that circulated throughout South Africa. The fact that most of the crew and the Captain left the ship before any passengers was astonishing. So therefore the Captain became known by his nick name “Captain OK – me first”.

But let’s go back a bit. You will remember in my last blog I told you about my first ever cruise on the Odysseus, part of the Epirotiki line. Apparently the idea of these cruises out of Durban to Mozambique and beyond had become quite popular so after our Odysseus cruise in 1989 Epirotiki brought in another ship the Oceanos – holding just over 500 passengers – to do this popular route.

So what happened that day – here is the timeline from wiki –

“Final voyage

On 3 August 1991, Oceanos – initially delayed due to a bomb threat – set out from East LondonSouth Africa and headed for Durban. Captain Yiannis Avranas (born c. 1940) had been an officer for twenty years and a seaman for thirty.[2][3] Oceanos headed into 40-knot winds and 9 m (30 ft) swells.[1] Usually, there would have been a “sail-away” party on deck with the ship’s musicians and British entertainers Moss and Tracy Hills. However, due to the rough seas, this was held inside in the Four Seasons lounge; most passengers chose to stay in their cabins.

The storm worsened as the evening progressed and when the first sitting of dinner was served, the waiters could hardly carry the trays of food without dropping something. Eventually Oceanos was rolling about from side to side so badly that crockery and cutlery began sliding off the tables and potted plants fell over.

Flooding

While trying to make up time due to the earlier delay, Oceanos encountered rough seas. Earlier repairs to the waste disposal system had not been completed, which meant that a vital ventilation pipe which ran through the watertight aft bulkhead and the non-return valves was not replaced. It is believed that after a series of freak waves slammed against the ship, the pipe’s shell plating burst open and began filling the compartment with seawater. At about 9:30 pm, a muffled explosion was heard and Oceanos lost power. The ship started taking on water, rapidly flooding the engine room. By the next morning rescuers found Oceanos adrift just off Coffee Bay, listing badly to its starboard side.[4]

Now it is significant that the ship was adrift just off Coffee Bay, a small town located on what is known as the Wild Coast of South Africa. It was given that name for good reason as it was known as an area of freak storms, heavy seas and many shipwrecks over the years. It also happens to be a fairly isolated part of South Africa being bout 200 kms from the nearest port Durban and very few roads and highways in the area.

Because of the bad weather apparently many of the passengers had decided to get an early night but when they woke up in the morning they found the ship drifting and listing badly. The next entry in the story will blow your mind. The rescue effort apparently had started before dawn with many of the crew leaving the ship at 3 am and the Captain taking one of the first rescue helicopters. This is where he got his nickname “OK me first”. This is a transcript from one of the messages to the Oceanos from one of the rescue ships

–4 August 1991 —
Rescue ship to a person on the bridge of the fast sinking OCEANOS

“Where are you?”
“I don’t really know, somewhere between East London and Durban.”
“Can you give me your actual position?”
“No”
“What is your rank?”
“I’m the guitarist”

It’s true! The entertainment staff saved the day and not a life was lost.

Now as this whole drama started in the middle of the night imagine my feelings getting ready for work in Swaziland when I switched on the TV and saw this live footage of the badly listing ship off the Wild Coast. For a minute I thought it was the Odysseus itself that was sinking and having so recently cruised this area we could not believe our eyes. We sat glued to the screen while helicopters from the South African Defence Force were able to shuttle about 250 passengers off the top deck.

The entertainers became South African heroes – the magician, the Entertainment manager, the singers and dancers – they arranged an orderly evacuation and were the last ones to be hitched up by the helicopters. The ship did not disappear quickly and we sat glued to our screens while it slowly filled with water and tipped sideways.

Then as the nose filled with air the stern rose up out of the water. Deck chairs and cushions slid along the deck. It was like watching Titanic. And then slowly and gracefully the Oceanos slipped under the water and disappeared completely.

Fascinated? Watch this short youtube documentary with footage from the rescue.

Wow – so the lesson here?

On your next cruise be nice to the entertainment staff, laugh loudly at the comedian and get a front row seat for the magician’s show. You never know!

What was your first?

My first cruise was on the MS Odysseus that cruised out of Durban, South Africa on a 21 day itinerary up through the Mozambique Channel with visits to the Seychelles and the Comores Islands. Wow – that sounds adventurous for a first time cruise – but I was pretty blase about it. After all I had lived in South Africa for most of my life, had camped in the middle of game reserves, sailed a small dinghy in crocodile infested waters – Meh … what was there to worry about?

Now don’t get the wrong impression of me. I am certainly not an intrepid adventurer type of person and many of the above activities were performed with a racing pulse and a will to survive. I have told you before of my camping adventures in the middle of a pack of hungry hyenas. For the sailors out there our small two man (well one man one woman) dinghy was a Fireball – a feisty little thing with a “nappy” or harness for the number 2 (me) to put on and hang out over the side as ballast while zipping along on the water. Well I have to admit I did get quite a kick out of that. The problem was that when things became very tippy it was important to get that baby upright and sailing because we knew that the lake where we sailed was pretty full of crocs. Luckily they don’t often come out into the middle of the lake where it is deep but woe is you if you happen to drift into the shallows at the side. You certainly don’t want to be caught there.

So we thought it was time to go on a cruise. It was 1989 and it was a Christmas New Year cruise. I don’t quite know what I imagined but I was excited in our Durban hotel looking out of the window to see when the ship would arrive to make its way to the port. Eventually my husband said “there it is!”. I looked around and all I could see was this very small slightly rusty ship coming into port. “That’s not it!” I said, indignantly.

It was.

But, shame (as South Africans say), I grew fond of the old girl. And old she was – built in 1961 at just under 10.000 tons and used to cruise in South America. At just 480 passengers it just about disappears when compared to the giant ships today with over 6000 passengers. You can imagine on a 3 week cruise everyone got to know everyone else very well.

On her long career she had many names, at one time known as the MTS Marco Polo doing cruises from Australia into the South Pacific, famously being caught at sea for 5 days in a typhoon that resulted in many passengers being taken to hospital for their injuries when she finally docked in Hong Kong. She was much loved and even when she was sold and renamed the MS Aquamarine she had her fans following her. In the ’80s she was sold to Epirotiki Line and became Odysseus II. So this lady had been around the block a few times when we boarded her in 1989.

But it was our first cruise – what did we know? And it was magical. We got to visit Aldabra Island – Aldabra is the world’s second-largest coral atoll. It is situated in the Aldabra Group of islands in the Indian Ocean that are part of the Outer Islands of the Seychelles. This is the home of the giant tortoise – and we were the only people there! Wow.

One incredible “stop” was really just a slow down at the Bassas da India – this giant coral atol which is often covered by the seas is a danger to shipping and absolutely full of sharks which scuba divers seem to love for some reason. The Captain did not like this place one bit – said that the currents were too dangerous to be close. Instead he ordered a drink for everyone on board and we toasted the brave sailors who had lost their lives on this reef.

You can see that we had fun. It didn’t matter that the ship ran out of South African beer after 10 days, the menu on board became a little more limited or that the band only knew 6 songs in total. We went to places where tourists didn’t go, where cars were not allowed and when docked in Madagascar where locals were trading lemurs for whatever they could get, often throwing them up to the higher decks into the arms of waiting passengers. The Captain soon put a stop to that and ordered all lemurs returned to the island before pulling anchor and leaving.

On our way back to Durban we went back through the Mozambique Channel and hit a fierce storm that went on all day and all night. Those who could congregated in the main dining room and sat on the floor while they dished out bowls of spaghetti. For those who couldn’t make it the staff took dry toast and chicken broth to their cabins.

We arrived back in Durban tanned and full of lifetime memories. My youngest who learnt to walk on board decided that the world was far too tipsy turvy and promptly sat down on the ground when we disembarked. He just couldn’t quite get the knack of walking without the roll of the seas.

Since then I was hooked!

Camping holidays – good or bad?

It seems like in post-Covid times we might be doing our holidays a little bit differently – so they say. Maybe closer to home and in a tent. Now my thought on that is that everyone (well almost everyone) has a camping period in their lives. This usually happens when the kids are small and heading off in a tent somewhere seems to be the easiest option. Mmm not sure whose idea that was. Camping with small kids can be difficult. Add into the mix a good dose of Africa to liven things up and hey – we’ve got a party.

Yes camping in Africa has a whole new element to it to take into account. If you go somewhere remote enough you have to take all your food with you – unless you happen to be on the coast and then you can fish or catch crayfish. You have to remember to take precautions of course – remember to secure your campsite before you leave for the beach. Not because of human intruders but those pesky monkeys. They are so smart they get into anything and can easily rip the lid of any old tupperware. Be warned!

If you happen to be camping in the game reserve then a whole lot more precautions come to mind. Number one for me – go for a pee right before you go to sleep because the simple camping we did was in a two man tent and the toilet was a good walk away. You don’t want to be doing that on your own in the middle of the night. You never know what you will come across or who you might bump into. Oh hello Mr Lion. Actually we should be more afraid of bumping into Mrs Lion as she does all the hunting. And really it would be more dangerous probably to run into a hippo in the night. They are incredibly fast you know. They don’t look it. BBC – Ungainly as it is, the hippopotamus is the world’s deadliest large land mammal, killing an estimated 500 people per year in Africa. Hippos are aggressive creatures, and they have very sharp teeth. And you would not want to get stuck under one; at up to 2,750kg they can crush a human to death.

It also seems that tents are curious things to many animals. We experienced this too. The odd jackal pulling at the guy ropes while his cousins (?) the hyenas have a huge fight next to the camp fire over the left over bones from our dinner. I wonder what the jackal was looking for – or maybe he was just curious. Maybe the hyenas wouldn’t let him join in the fun so he decided to see if the humans would come out to play.

But there are maybe types of tents and many variations of camping – hence the new buzz word – glamping. Now I can definitely handle this without a problem.

Getting away from it all in the middle of the Grumeti Game Reserve Tanzania
OK – I am fine with this type of camping

So I think I can say with some certainty that I have graduated from the 2 man tent to something a little grander. Mind you – at the moment with the amount of cabin fever going on I might just settle for a small tent with basic facilities in the middle of nowhere … well … maybe not!

What would King Tut say?

I think just about every person studied the story of King Tutankhamun in school. The story of the boy king who died so suddenly and was buried in an elaborate tomb in the Valley of the Kings. For thousands of years he lay undiscovered in his tomb until Howard Carter stumbled upon it in 1922. Sometimes true life is more fascinating than fiction and this indeed reads like a Raiders of the Lost Ark story – but it is all real.

Carter searched for 6 years to find the tomb and when his backer (Lord Carnarvon) gave him just one more year’s grace, lo and behold – he uncovered some steps in the desert and the rest, as they say, is history.

What made me think about this? A National Geographic article I came across where they are now speculating about the brown spots on the wall of King Tut’s tomb and whether these are bacterial in nature and could they be evidence of what caused the young King’s death. The good news is that you are OK – you can still go and visit the tomb and the brown spots are not dangerous.

That is you can go and visit when we all get back to normal!

But something else in that article gave me pause for thought. The problem of keeping the tomb dust free is very difficult considering that it is in the middle of the desert and the tomb has 500 to 1000 visitors EVERY DAY! Oh my goodness. So here is something good to come out of COVID for our post-covid travel. It makes a strong case case for visiting hitherto closed up historical sites, cities, countries. You will experience these places without the thousands of tourists. Imagine being the only person in St Mark’s Square? Well I doubt that would happen but if you have ever been in St Mark’s Square when it is jam packed I know you will appreciate less people. You could get that chance when tourism starts up again because it will be slow and that will be the ideal opportunity to enjoy these places without the crowds.

Like King Tut! After the revolution in 2011 everything stopped for Egypt’s tourism. In 2013 I decided to go and visit the source of the tales that had fascinated me since childhood. I figured that tourism was starting up again and I could see it before the crowds. I was so lucky to visit King Tut and be in his tomb with no line up and just the guide, me and my husband. Wow.

So maybe King Tut has a message for us. Maybe he is lying there in his tomb thinking about the ebb and flow of visitors over the years as wars come and go – as do plagues, and flu and now COVID.

When things open up don’t wait! Go when the crowds are small and the experience is intimate. This is your chance.

Did you see Dr Who on your flight?

Are you a Dr Who fan? The eccentric doctor (who has changed from old to young, male to female over the years) travels through time in his trusty time machine, the Tardis. It actually looks like a telephone booth from the outside.

But when you open the door a whole new world awaits inside – it is a massive space ship style feel that can transport you to anywhere and any time.

So what has that to do with travel you might ask. Well airports are getting creative with how to clean us dirty humans up before we get on a flight and one idea is the sanitizing booth. Step into this beauty and when you come out you will be clean as a whistle and ready to board your flight – maybe not to another time but certainly to somewhere else than here – which is a novelty in itself at the moment. This is being tested at Hong Kong airport and while this is a good idea I must say it doesn’t have the charm of Dr Who’s Tardis.

But hey, if it does the job then it’s good with me. Similar ideas are being used in other spots around the world – maybe not as sophisticated as this but generally with the idea of stepping through a portal that will disinfect the person passing through.

And scientists, like Dr Who (well he is really a scientist surely) are working hard on other ways of keeping us safe and germ free when we fly. The use of UV light has been said to kill off such viruses so you may find these on your next flight.

But even though it is Ultra Violet light it won’t quite have the same effect as those old Disco lights. C’mon admit it. I know there are those of you out there who used to dress all in white just to stand out at the disco. Nothing to be ashamed about – we all did it.


Now if someone could come out with a team of Daleks who could roam around airports and shopping malls just killing the corona virus cells that would be brilliant. Can you imagine how excited (or terrified) the kids would be. Well Sandford Police in the UK thought this would be a great way to remind people about social distancing. Because we are ALL terrified of the Daleks – aren’t we?

Could this be the end of the middle seat?

Airlines are now offering flights with the middle seat unoccupied so as to try and maintain some kind of social distancing. It isn’t really far enough apart to constitute the 6 feet needed but better than nothing. In fact for those of us who have flown in crowded planes squashed in the middle seat it is a real bonus.

But will this continue? Is this how things are going to be from now on, forever and ever, happily ever after? I don’t think so. There are a few problems with this scenario and the most obvious is that there is no way they can get enough people on board a plane leaving the middle seat vacant and still be able to cover the costs of the flight.

So for the time being there are flights happening around the world but very limited – some only domestic and a few international. If you are curious this is the listing as of yesterday

https://www.routesonline.com/news/tagged/8446/covid19-1h20-flight-changes/

When we get back to “normal” whatever that is going to look like – there will no doubt be changes to airline travel but those changes are going to have to be in keeping with the economic needs of the airlines and the passengers. As nice as it would be to never have a middle seat on a flight again I doubt this will happen.

So what changes can the airlines make? Well there will probably be lots of health checks both at check in and on the flight. Pity the poor soul with a genuine case of allergies or a tickle in the back of the throat. They might find themselves deplaned. There will be lots of masks – we have seen that already – and lots of wiping down with sanitizer. How many times have you seen the person next to you wiping down the tray table and armrests. Yep – they are smart people. I have a whole bunch of unused sanitized wipes in my travel bag – I will definitely be using them next time.

There is talk that airlines will change the seating – at least maybe with new aircraft. Talk of perspex divisions between seats. That would be a good idea – and another area to wipe down at the beginning of a flight. And also maybe a change of the configuration – one such suggestion like this

And this one

Don’t touch that arm rest !!!

Now what?

OK – we are all on hold. Isolated in our homes, working remotely, home schooling the kids – going a bit stir crazy. What is your typical trip to the grocery store like right now? Do you follow the arrows? Or perhaps you get mixed up and when you go back to get balsamic vinegar you go the wrong way (against the arrows) thereby risking dirty looks (dare I say slings and arrows? – no that is a bit much).

Do you get a bit judgmental when you are out taking your evening walk? Are those people social distancing? What are those kids doing all riding bikes together – they are surely not from the same household? Our lives have been totally disrupted in every way and in the travel industry we feel this particularly as our world just suddenly got very small and very still.

So how are other people in our industry dealing with this “Brave New World”.

How about the staff on the cruise ships? Someone has to keep the ship maintained. I came across some interesting videos made by some of those “stranded” on board.

And what about those weird meetings we have to have these days on zoom or other video conferencing options. Now one thing I will say about these meetings is that you get to know your fellow workers a little bit better because usually you are seeing them actually in their homes. Admit it, don’t you check out what is going on in the background? If you have a pet of course you are going to include them – and the other people on the call love it.

But you got to know what you are doing. Watch this and you’ll see what I mean….

Clue – watch the caller on the left second from top…..Just look at the faces of the other people on the call. Priceless!

And what about all the flight attendants who are no longer up in the sky dealing with irritable travellers, poopy diapers and people who won’t come out of the toilet? They were probably relieved the first few weeks but maybe they too are missing their jobs? This is how one flight attendant keeps tuned up for the job while she waits to be recalled.

https://youtu.be/kPlR9n_6uas Watch the full video here

So while we “remote” our way through this strange world let’s consider these wise words from Zig Zaglar