It’s exactly a year since we were last at sea

On Saturday 16 November 2019 we returned to Southampton on Queen Victoria after a very happy voyage to the Canaries.

We had two cruises booked for 2020 but sadly they were both cancelled. Cunard refunded every penny that we had paid.

The cruise companies have had a disastrous year. Fleets of cruise ships are at anchor around the world. The majority of their crew have been returned to their homelands, some flown home, others by sea. Skeleton crews remain on the ships, keeping them ship shape and here on the south coast of England there are a multitude of Cunard, P&O, Holland America, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and other ships at anchor.

From time to time the ships leave their anchorages off Bournemouth and Weymouth and return to Southampton to revictual, change crew and then they return to the boredom of Bournemouth bay.

We are taking a positive line for 2021. The only way that we can have a really meaningful holiday is at sea. Not just because of my heritage but because Cunard make it easy for us.

An old friend from my Mudeford teenage years emailed me yesterday to tell me that she had remarried. I responded and this morning she sent me this photograph of Queen Victoria as it sailed up Southampton Water past her home in Warsash. It would have been a very quick turnaround by QV to minimise port charges.

As you will be aware Cunard were keen to exploit the Australian market and had based Queen Elizabeth there for 2020. Because of the pandemic they brought the ship back to Europe but their new itineraries for 2021 take her back to Australia. It is a shame because QE and QV are ideal for us and taking one of them away from Europe halves the number of choices we have.

The equipment that we have to take with us (a heavy motorised wheelchair, a folding wheelchair, a bathchair and a large hoist) makes flying to or from a ship impossible. With QE on the other side of the world, our Cunard choices are QV or QM2. The adapted cabins on QM2 are not great so that when batches of new cruises are released we have to make quick decisions to get one of the adapted QV cabins.

I mentioned Mudeford. Many of you will not know it. The place is pronounced Muddyford. It is near Christchurch in Dorset, England. My parents had a beach hut on Mudeford Sandbank during my youth. We used to call them chalets, not huts! They were (and still are) wooden buildings and the licence from the local authority allows the hut owners to live in them from March to October.

As my father was regularly away at sea, as soon as the school summer holidays started, mother would load up the car and we would set off to Mudeford for the 6/8 weeks school holidays. If father had leave during that time he would of course join us. We all loved it.

The chalet was fairly basic. Father built a double bed which folded into the wall and there were bunks in the back room for my sister Liz and me. There was a small kitchen area with a sink and that was it. Public loos were nearby. There was no running water to the hut (although after a year or two father did manage to get us linked up to the mains (illegally!). So large metal jugs were filled from standpipes nearby.

But it was great. We looked out to sea and to the Isle of Wight and behind us was Christchurch Harbour.

From day one we had boats. Initially it was a beautifully built clinker rowing dinghy. Someone lent me a small red spinnaker type sail with a mast, and I set it up with rope stays. The boat didn’t have any sort of centre board so I would row up the harbour into the wind, set up the mast and the sail and then turn so that the wind was behind me and roar back to the beach. I steered with an oar at the stern.

That’s how I learned how to sail. During the next winter father realised that Liz and I needed a proper sailing dinghy. Somehow we heard of a dinghy that was for sale near where we lived in Southampton. Father agreed to buy it and I can remember that it came with a trailer and we walked it home. I spent many hours rigging and unrigging it in the garden before it was taken to Mudeford.

Father was on leave during the summer term but knew that he would be away when the school summer holiday started. He wanted to get the new boat to Mudeford and to check that we could sail it before he went back to sea. Our respective headteachers gave permission for Liz and me to miss school for a day.

On that day we quickly rigged the boat and were ready to sail it when father said he wanted to sail it first to check it out. This was a man who at the time was a Chief Officer on the old Cunard Queens. He had probably not sailed a boat for 25 years (if at all!). It was a calm day with very little wind. He climbed in and we pushed him off. Within 2 minutes and no more than 50 yards from where we were standing waist deep, suddenly the boat tipped back and father fell backwards into the water. Liz and I swam out, righted the boat and brought it back to shore.

After bailing it, out Liz and I sailed the boat away without a problem.

To give my father full credit, many years later in 1965, after my first year at University, I was travelling on Queen Mary for a 3 month working holiday in the USA. Father was Staff Captain (now known as a Deputy Captain) and although I was travelling in Cabin Class (the middle one at the time – First – Cabin – Tourist) one night I was to sit at fathers table in First Class for dinner. My dinner jacket had been packed for the occasion.

Before dinner the passengers who were to sit at fathers table were invited to his cabin for pre-dinner cocktails. During that party he told the story against himself of the day in which he, the Master Mariner, had capsized his children’s sailing dinghy. The American guests loved it.

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Back catalogue

Sam is a genius. He has sorted it out. We are live and you are being notified of fresh blogs.

I have written three posts since our last cruise in November and you won’t have been notified of them

18 December 2019 Great Grimsby

20 December 2019 Cleethorpes

16 February 2020 The Diamond Princess

Let me know how you coped with these revelations.

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Early notice

Many of you are subscribed to this blog. You have added your email address to the Subscribe box on the Home page of smithyscruiseblog.com . It means that when I write a piece about our latest cruise, you receive an email telling you that Smithy has written something. You click and read BUT the big problem is that it doesn’t work now.

WordPress operate the blog and Sam the guru looks after it, but it’s not working properly so he has asked me to publish something so that he can work out what is not working well. And this is it.

But what you should know is that Cunard is looking after us again in May and September 2020. More details to follow once the blog is ship shape.

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The Diamond Princess – 3rd attempt at publishing

There have been numerous problems with the blog. Sam, who looks after these things for me, tells me that it’s because of ‘plugins’ being updated! Anyhow, as no one seems to have received this piece I will try to publish it once again. Sorry if you’ve seen it already. It would be great, if you do get an email telling you it has been published, if you could respond saying so!

This is the Diamond Princess, the ship that has been quarantined inYokohama for the last 2 weeks. She was our home for 6 weeks back in 2009. I had retired at the end of 2008. We had tried Princess Cruises the year before on the Sapphire Princess and had a great voyage from Auckland to Sydney.

The itinerary for 2009 looked really good if we put together 2 cruises back to back. The first was Bangkok to Anchorage in Alaska and the second from there down the coast of Alaska to Vancouver.

When the car came to Landfall to take us to Heathrow for the flight to Bangkok the driver asked us if we realised that the Foreign Office were advising against travel to Bangkok because of rioting in Bangkok. We knew of unrest but that was all. I rang Princess Cruises who said the ship would be leaving on time and if we weren’t there – bad luck.

So we went. We were booked into the Shangri La in Bangkok for 2 nights and when the driver arrived at the airport to collect us, I asked how we would get to the hotel. By then I knew that people had been killed and that the Red Shirts had surrounded Government House. Not a problem, he said. We just drive round it! And we did and when we settled into our room in the hotel all we could see was some smoke and little else. The protesters surrendered the next day.

After 2 days in Bangkok we boarded Diamomd Princess and set off for Singapore. Then it was some great places – Vung Tau and Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang – plenty of fake Ralph Lauren polo shirts and fake Rolexes – yes I know I’m still wearing some of those shirts! Jane bought me a real Rolex but I still wear the fake when I’m abroad.

Then on to Hong Kong for 2 days, Taipei in Taiwan and then Japan and China.

We were tracking back and forth between them. Beautiful Shanghai, the wonderful Beijing and the amazing Dalian.

And our first visit to Japan. Lots of form filling and fingerprinting. And this is where the similarity starts. There was a swine flu epidemic then. There is a coronavirus now – much much worse.

We had to go through a thermo scanning procedure in Kagoshima and Muroran. There were major delays before we were allowed ashore and in Muroran the Captain eventually announced that we were free to go ashore. As we poured down the gangways a little customs official ran up to the central gangway waving papers indicating that we were not to go ashore. He was ignored!

That was 11 years ago. We have to be sorry for the passengers who are now quarantined aboard that ship. Some of them in internal cabins.

In 2009 in between the Japanese ports we had a day in Pusan, South Korea and an amazing day in Vladivostok, Russia. In Vladivostok we stumbled on a full blooded military parade involving thousands of troops, heavy vehicles and tanks. It was celebrating the end of WW2. They were not happy that a group of us from the ship were watching and taking photos.

From Vladivostok we crossed the northern Pacific to Anchorage and then 7 glorious days down to Vancouver . The Alaskan ports of Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan are somewhat artificial but great fun.

We had booked 2 nights in the Pan Pacific in Vancouver but 2 of our dinner companions on the ship, Bruce and Moreen Rutherford, who we had dined with throughout the cruise, insisted that we cancelled the hotel and stayed with them. They were wonderful hosts and despite having been away from their home for some 10 weeks they treated us regally.

Then after a few days in Vancouver we flew down to stay with our good friends Mike and Maggie O’Connell in Sarasota, California.

As many of you will know, sadly Mike died in February 2013. We had arranged a Pacific cruise out of LA that February and the plan was to meet up with Mike and Maggie in Santa Monica, where we were staying, before boarding Queen Elizabeth, but sadly Mike died the day after we arrived in LA. He was a great man and we loved him very much.

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Cleethorpes

Mention of my grandfather, Charles William Hewson and the town of Grimsby prompted some of you to ask why I ended up living in Southampton. It is stunning, exciting stuff.

Next door to Grimsby is the seaside resort of Cleethorpes. I was born there. That word appears in my passport. I used to keep quiet about it because Cleethorpes was regularly the butt of music hall comedians. I’m not clear why that was, except that I can recall that you could be sitting on the promenade and, if the tide was out, you couldn’t see the sea.

As a young boy I was taken out in a horse and cart to see the sea. And if you were far out, at the water’s edge, when the tide turned, the horse had to move at quite a pace to keep ahead of the incoming tide.

When I first went abroad in a school group, the lads saw that Cleethorpes was my place of birth and they thought that was enormously funny, without really know why. But I survived the banter.

When I was about one, my parents moved to Southampton as my father had been assigned to the original Queen Elizabeth on the Southampton – New York run.

But as all my relatives lived in Grimsby and surrounding villages, my sister Liz and I had to go to Grimsby at least once a year. It was usually in the Easter school holidays and if father was away, mother would drive us there. She didn’t like having to overtake large lorries, so that if we were stuck behind one, she would pull into a lay-by and give the lorry time to get well away ahead of us before she set off again.

I remember that one year mother announced that we would not do the trip in the usual one day, but would stay the night in the George Hotel, Kettering to break up the journey. We arrived there well before lunch and could easily have covered the rest of the 120 or so miles before tea but we had to mooch about in Kettering killing time.

I wrote this some time ago and had so much more to say, but I was unable to publish anything. Sam is investigating the problem but while he is working on outgoing I will try again!

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Great Grimsby

On Friday morning, as I watched the election results coming in, I remembered some of my family history.

Great Grimsby had been won by a Conservative candidate for the first time in 74 years. The Conservatives had held the seat until 1945 when Labour won it and they then retained it at every election until now.

My Grandfather, Alderman Charles William Hewson, contested the seat in the October 1951 parliamentary election but lost to the Labour candidate. Famous Labour MP’s in the constituency in the subsequent years were Tony Crosland and Austin Mitchell.

Grandfather was an interesting man. As I recall it, both his parents were tenant farmers in Tetney, near Grimsby. Charles inherited the tenancy at a young age, both his parents having died before he was 21.

He built up a number of businesses. A haulage firm – CW Hewson – which had branches in towns up the north east coast, a butchery business with a number of butchers shops in Grimsby and Immingham, dairy farms in the area between Grimsby and the coast and a Ship Chandlery and Postmastership in the docks at Immingham.

He was married to my Grandmother Eliza Catherine Hewson and they had 4 children including my Mother, Lucy Winifred Smith.

Grandfather was a Grimsby Town Councillor, was made an Alderman of the Town and in 1944/45 was elected as Mayor.

I will continue with some of my Grimsby memories when I get a chance!

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Dinner companions

Despite gale force winds, lumpy seas and plenty of rock and roll, our dinner companions completed an almost 100% turnout for dinner. Just a small illness absence which is forgiven!

This is us.

From the left – Bill and Judith, Doris, Ray and Leslie, Me, Jane and Kim. It is often the case that people retain the seats they happened to sit in on the first evening. We like to switch about as much as we can – in my case so that I can bore more people with my limited number of stories and jokes – but it sometimes upsets people when they find me next to them delving into their backgrounds and relationships.

It’s a shame that the Duke of York wasn’t on our table. I thought Emily Maitlis did a reasonable job interviewing him but there were so many questions she didn’t ask him, that I would have asked. That story will run and run!

This photo was taken by Faith, our assistant waiter from Kenya. She was delightful and looked after us very well.

We were home by 10.00am on Saturday. The house was immaculate. As usual Linda not only house sat but spring (autumn) cleaned. And she left us a home made cottage pie for dinner. Wonderful.

I will now cook it.

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Mobility at Sea

I want to mention Mobility at Sea. We first came across them a few years ago when we decided that we needed a hoist on ships to carry out transfers from bed to wheelchair. We have an H track hoist at home fitted on the ceiling. Cruise ships are not yet sophisticated enough with their adapted rooms to have fitted hoists and mobile ones are required.

I investigated rentals and came across this company Mobility at Sea based in Waterlooville, Hampshire. I have to say they are terrific. They are reasonable in price. All their documentation is clear. As the date of your cruise gets nearer they contact you to check that you are still going and that your cabin number hasn’t changed.

When you arrive at your cabin the hoist is there with clear instructions and the battery fully charged. The company don’t just provide hoists. They supply cruise companies with both folding and electric wheelchairs and no doubt other mobility aids.

If you need any sort of mobility aid at sea I can recommend them.

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No Lisbon on this Voyage

On Tuesday morning at 11.00am the Captain announced that it would not be possible for us to visit Lisbon. The lost 14 hours meant that there was insufficient time. Tuesday became the first of 4 days at sea.

A new speaker had boarded the ship in Las Palmas, Jonathan Haslam, John Major’s Director of .Communications. He was the ‘Celebrity Speaker’ (which means that he gets Queens Grill treatment).

Two speakers have been on the ship throughout, Dai Davies, a former Head of the Royal Protection Command and Mick Testoni a former RNLI Coxwain. So there were plenty of lectures to keep us out of mischief. If any of you have heard Dai in the past, I would love to hear your views!

Since leaving Lanzarote the weather has deteriorated. We have had some very lumpy seas and noisy winds. Wednesday night was probably the most violent night that Jane and I have had since we first started cruising. In the early days of cruising, I was pretty hopeless in rough sea conditions but a magic pill, Stugeron, has changed all that and I now don’t suffer queasiness at all.

Tonight is the last formal evening of the voyage – DJ,s and long dresses. Cunard always produce their best menu on these occasions. Lobster, fillet steak and the like. Earlier today was the Senior Officers Cocktail party. They are now held at 11.15am rather than in the evening, presumably on the basis that the punters drink less, making it a cheaper exercise for Cunard. Stupid really, because it overlaps with other activities around the ship.

We had arranged to meet Eamonn and Deena Kelly at the party. Eamonn is Brian Kelly’s elder brother. I had met up with Eamonn for a coffee earlier in the voyage and it was a delight to meet the two of them. Eamonn had celebrated a milestone birthday on 10 November. He was a little disappointed that Cunard didn’t celebrate it with him. What he didn’t know was that if you ask for (and pay for) a cake, a gang of waiters circle your table and sing Happy Birthday in a multitude of different accents and present you with the enormous cake which your companions are also meant to help you eat.

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Canaries

The internet has been weak today. That may be as a result of us being at sea rather than in Lisbon. More people are writing their blogs or reading The Times on line! It means that many of my photos have not appeared. Here, with luck, are some more

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