St Maarten

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sam who kindly sorted out the earlier postings which had been truncated. Now it is almost as it was originally save that I have had to omit a number of photos.

After the rain in Guadeloupe we were expecting more of the same in St Maarten. That was the forecast, but when we awoke the sky was blue and the sun was hot and shining.

Jane and I were last here on a voyage on Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator, as it was called then. The port of Philipsburg has changed dramatically. Two large piers have been constructed, each capable of berthing 4 cruise ships. The possibility of 8 cruise ships In port at the same time is scary. It would be overrun. One of the taxi drivers told me that they once had 12 cruise ships in together. I do not believe that.

Today there were four ships in port. QV, P&O’s Azura, a Celebrity ship and Jewel of the Seas. The port area has been transformed since we were last here with a very busy terminal, diamond shops galore, top of the range duty free watch retailers and a multitude of stalls touting the regular Caribbean tat.

St Maarten is small and to be found between Anguilla and St Barts. It is one of the Leeward Islands and is strange because it is an island of two nations – the Dutch St

Maarten and the French Saint Martin.

The island, as with so many, was first found by Christopher Columbus in 1493. It was then the subject of numerous battles between the Spanish and the Dutch but eventually the Spanish left. The Dutch claimed the island for themselves, only to find that French pirates and smugglers had started arriving.

In March 1648 the Treaty of Concordia was signed by the French and the Dutch. It divided up the island and remains in force today.


Speakers at sea (2)

The earlier speakers left the ship in Antigua and Barbados and the new troop arrived before we left St Maarten.

You may remember that a couple of weeks ago I told you that we had a "Celebrity Speaker" aboard. I showed you a photo and asked you if you could name him. He was called Paul Fletcher. He had played football for Bolton and Burnley and had later been CEO of those and other clubs. His claim to fame was that he had been involved in building new stadia at those clubs and had also been on the committee involved in the redevelopment of Wembley. Some of us found it difficult to understand why Cunard had invited him to speak and why they had called him a celebrity.

General Sir Simon Mayall KBE CB is one of the new troop. He is a brilliant speaker. He is an expert on the Middle East and has been a Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Defence. Yesterday he gave us the complicated background to the troubles in the Middle East under the title History and the Crisis of Isis. Tomorrow it is the Ottomans.

We also have a naval historian speaking, Captain John Nixon. Today his topic was Captain William Bligh of the Bounty fame. The Mutiny is one of my favourite topics as a result of our day at Pitcairn Island in the early part of 2014. Tomorrow his topic is another man near the top of my list of great sailors, Admiral Lord Cochrane. Brother in law David Holt had lent me a book on the great man and I packed it when we went off round the world. I forgot about the book until we arrived in South America. Cochrane's exploits kept coming up during lectures and I'm sure I reported on him on the blog back in February 2014.


Ponta Delgada

760 miles west of Portugal and on the same latitude as Lisbon to the East and Washington DC to the West lie the Azores. Our final port is Ponta Delgada.

Has anyone actually been there? It’s an elusive place, but I am pleased to say that I have now seen the port and the island.

This morning in fact. I woke late at 7.30 am and looked out to see the Pilot boat approaching. It was rough and very windy.

When the Pilot boat was about 100 yards away from us she turned as if to return to the port. She dallied a little, but then disappeared back into the safety of the harbour. I knew then that we were not going to visit Punta Delgada in 2016.

Back in 2014 we were due to visit this very port on our way to Fort Lauderdale on the first leg of our epic voyage. The ship was the same, the Captain was the same and the result was the same. Too much wind and too rough.

Today Captain Philpott spoke to us at 8.10 am and announced that the forecast was for stronger winds and bigger seas and that the safety of the ship and those aboard was paramount. One has to ask why Cunard choose the Azores as a port to visit at this time of year.

During our 2014 trip, while in a South American port, we met a couple from the ship, who lived in Ponta Delgada. I presumed they had had to fly to Fort Lauderdale to join the ship as we had not berthed at their home port. They told me that they had joined the ship in Southampton knowing that there was a very good chance that it would not stop in the Azores!

What all this means is that when we get to Southampton on Friday we will have enjoyed 9 days at sea since leaving St Maarten. Although we enjoy the sea days, we would have loved to see this island. Jane and Kim had sorted out what we were intending to do, including, a visit to the Botanical Gardens.

In the light of the change of plan, today we decided to have lunch in the Britannia Restaurant. We don’t usually have anything other than a snack in the middle of the day, but Kim had not experienced a formal lunch before.

Tonight is the last performance of the singers and dancers in Hollywood Rocks. Their 9 month contract finishes at the end of this voyage. We will, of course, be sitting near the front. Most of the spaces for the wheelchair are at the front of the theatre, you understand!

Our love and best wishes to Rob Gordon, Abi and their children in Melbourne. Rob recently had an adverse reaction to an anaesthetic prior to a standard appendix operation. He was on life support for a time but is now slowly recovering. A very scary time for the Gordon family.


Ponta Delgada (3)

Today Tuesday, Captain Peter Philpott, in a Q&A session in the theatre, was asked which storm was the worst that he had ever experienced at sea. He said that in his 36 year career he had encountered the worst on the first leg of the 2014 World Cruise.

Jane and I were on that voyage. We remember the first 6 or 7 days being wild, but had not realised how wild. Certainly we missed Ponta Delgada that time as well (although the Captain didn't mention that today!). What he did say today, which I had forgotten, was that for a time on that voyage, he had to 'heave to'. In other words, for the safety of the ship and those of us aboard, he had to turn the ship into the wind and waves, riding out the storm.

On a different topic, Queen Victoria is having a fairly major refit after the 2017 World Cruise. As many of you know, I have a number of pieces of Cunard memorabilia, exhibited on the ship in Cunardia on Deck 2 close to the Queens Room. My recollection is that I lent them to Cunard for 10 years (the documentation is at home!). It will be interesting to learn whether or not the exhibit is to be continued.

The most important piece is the original first logbook of RMS Queen Mary (now in Long Beach, California). It covers the voyage from Clydebank to Southampton after she was completed, the visits to the ship by King George V and Queen Mary (after whom, of course, the ship was named) and her first five voyages. It is handwritten by the various officers of the watch, hour by hour, day by day.

Erratum! Earlier on I said that our dinner table companion John was in plastics. Wrong! Further cross examination has revealed that he built up very successful companies in the furniture trade, eventually selling them and reinvesting in property.

Talking of 'Johns', on this trip are John and Pat Thompson from Sheffield who were our dinner companions when we first met. They were also on the 175 celebration cruise with us last year when a Baltic cruise also took in Liverpool and a meeting of the 3 Queens.

Rosie and Simon Claxton are also aboard. We have bumped into them many times on ships. Rosie is a Cunard fanatic. She seems to know nearly all the Officers and crew and all the gossip. We had lunch in the Veranda Restaurant with them a day or two ago.

I see the blog had a problem with too many photos truncating the narrative yesterday. I have republished the words without the photos and hope that has done the job.