Sea Fever

I was fortunate to attend HMS Conway, which was a training ship (see picture below) to supply officers for the merchant and Royal Navy – most us went in to the merchant service.

The college began in 1859, and I attended ‘Conway’ between 1960 and 1962. During my time we lived in barracks because the old ship had run aground and broken her back in 1953 while being towed through the Swillies, which is a very dangerous stretch of water  between the North Wales coast and the Isle on Anglesey. She was on her way to dry dock in Birkenhead, but never made it.  . . .

Conway-01After leaving Conway in 1962, I went to sea, and my first ship was a tanker, the Ellenga, with a gross tonnage of 24,246 gt. At that time she was quite a large vessel.

Ellenga

Tomorrow we sail from Sydney harbour aboard the Diamond Princess, which is just under 116,000 dwt and nearly five times the size of my first ship.

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The above was taken last September, (2015), and the small yellow / green ship is a Sydney harbour ferry. The black vessel is a tanker bunkering the Diamond Princess moored alongside the Sydney Cruise Terminal, where she will be tomorrow when we join her.

For many of us who went to sea as young men (I was eighteen on my first trip) never lose the love of the ocean. One old Conway, John Masefield, captured the feeling of the sea when he wrote Sea Fever.

Sea Fever

By John Masefield.  HMS Conway 1891-94.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

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South China Sea in 1967 at the start of a typhoon.
Cargo ship ‘Pundua’, built 1945, 7,295 gt
I think I prefer
Diamond Princess, built 2004, 116,000 gt
Tomorrow, thanks to our daughter & son-in-law, a hire limo will transport us for the expected hour’s run to the cruise terminal. Our check-in is 11.30 am, so all being well we will have lunch on board.

Kenanga Boutique Hotel, in Ubud, Bali. A hotel that impressed.

We were a small group of three ‘mature’ couples on our first visit to Bali.
After a lot of research we decided that Ubud would be our first stop rather than the beach side resorts, and that Kenanga Boutique Hotel would be our Ubud accommodation – a good choice.

Bali 2014 166rOur drivers were waiting for us just outside the arrival hall. We had booked the Kenanga Boutique hotel’s transport on the basis that it would be efficient and on time – it was. We expected a single large vehicle to accommodate all of our bags as well as ourselves; instead we had two five-seater vehicles with plenty of room for our luggage. We split three and three, so we had a comfortable ride to the hotel, which took 65 minutes. Unfortunately the trip was in the dark so we didn’t see much of the countryside.

Checking-in was fast, during which time we were offered fruit drinks and cold towels.

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This photo was taken next day, which is why it is daylight.

Our first floor bedroom was large, as was the bathroom, which had a rainwater shower head with plenty of pressure. The abundance of space allowed my wife and I to fully unpack and sort ourselves out.

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We had a large balcony over looking rice fields. The balcony was large enough to accommodate all six of our group for an evening chat and a glass of wine.

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In addition the lock on our room door (top picture) we also had a lock on the outer door of our balcony (lower picture).

Breakfast was al la carte with various choices of Asian or Western meals. The staff members were very friendly and happy to answer our questions.

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At the end of the meal the Manager of the hotel introduced himself and asked us how our rooms were for comfort, and if we slept well. It was a pleasure to complement him on his hotel, because few managers bother to ask guests for their opinion.

Later in the day a French couple arrived who turned out to be the husband and wife owners of the hotel. The following morning Patricia (one of the owners) asked us for our opinion of the hotel, and whether we had any suggestions to add to the already high service. We were happy to chat with her about her hotel, and the relaxing ambience that her and her husband had created.

The appeal of the hotel, with only fifteen bedrooms, was pure relaxation. The hotel owned rice fields behind the hotel and we would wake in the morning to the distant sound of ‘bird scarers’, as these ‘scarers’ chased very small birds from the rice fields. The rice was close to being harvested. The people who scared the birds had plastic bags tied to sticks and as they flicked the stick the bag would give off the sound of a crack, which was enough to scare the birds, but not the peacefulness of the day.

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View from our balcony.

The farmers who grew the rice had an arrangement with the hotel that they would work the hotel’s fields and split the profit with the hotel owners – it seemed to work well for both parties.

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The horizon pool was always welcome after a day of site seeing.

The evening meal was cooked to order; nothing was held ‘just in case’. The food was a mix of French and Bali influences.

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The hotel’s Terracotta restaurant; about to start serving the evening meal.

We did eat out one evening, at a French / Balinese restaurant recommended by the hotel, but we all considered that the hotel food was better.

Bali 2014 256r Part of the walk from our rooms to the restaurant for breakfast.

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 A delightful hotel in which we slooowed down . . .after all isn’t that what a holiday is all about?

 

The sea was so blue it was unbelievable . .

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Island Princess

Although we joined the ship at 1.00 pm on Thursday we didn’t sail until lunchtime on Friday.
What a departure as we sailed along the Grand Canal past St Marks’ Square. The weather was perfect, the passengers on the ship were friendly; we all shared good spots for the taking of just one more photograph of Venice.

Approaching St Mark’s Square (top picture) and passing St Mark’s Square

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Our first port of call would be Istanbul in Turkey. My last visit to this city was in 1965, and it would be my wife’s first visit.

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As we watched the sunset during our pre-dinner drink the Captain spoke to the passengers and ship’s crew over the loud speaker.
The Greek coast guard had requested the Island Princess to divert, because a small vessel was in distress.
Because the law of the sea demands that all ships will go to the aide of those in distress that Captain didn’t have a choice.
We watched some of the crew make ready a fast tender, while donning life jackets and preparing the tender for launch.
As the evening light turned to darkness we waited, but couldn’t see anything as full night arrived so made our way to the dining room.
After dinner we checked again and little had changed re the crew and the fast tender, so we went to bed.
During the night (which we slept through) the ship had stopped in the Ionian Sea to pick up 117 Syrian refugees from a small sailing boat. I did hear later that the small boat sank shortly after the refugees were rescued due to the increase in the wind and the waves. Our new passengers were confined in the aft area and  were given food and hot drinks after their ordeal.They were kept under guard by the ship’s security.
We then sailed to Katakolon, which is a sea port near Olympia, where we were met by  military and coast guard vessels.

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The Island Princess lowered two tender boats (each able to carry 150 people) and waited for instructions from the port authorities. We remained at anchor in the bay for most of the morning.

The picture of the tender boats was taken from our balcony.

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Later I found out that the delay was due to the refugees refusing to leave the Island Princess and it was a mixture of persuasion and force that resulted in them all being sent ashore.

Our diversion to rescue the refugees meant that we would not be able to visit Istanbul because we had run out of time, and we had to maintain our schedule. While at anchor off the Greek coast we waited for information of our replacement destination. In the afternoon we were told that we would be visiting Santorini instead of Istanbul. This would allow us to return to our normal schedule of destinations. It was unfortunate that we would miss Istanbul, but the safety of those in distress had to take precedence over everything else. We can try again next year, the refugees, if their boat had sunk with them still on board, would not have had a next year.

The following morning we steamed slowly to an anchorage off Santorini, we had company.

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Local tender crafts came out to the Island Princess just after 9.00 am and disembarkation took place of those passengers who wished to go ashore. The whole operation was very efficient, yet friendly.

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Once ashore we bought tickets for the cable car to the top of the cliffs. We could have used the zig zag trail and walked up via 500 steps, but even though it was only 10.00 am it was already getting quite hot. The alternative to walking up the 500 steps was riding on the back of a donkey, which we didn’t fancy. We’d also been warned of the donkey ‘eggs’ (droppings)  making the wide steps slippery.

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View from our cable car

The cable car cost  Euro 5.00 each way and it didn’t take long before we were at the top and walking around the various shops. Some of the restaurants, with spectacular views, ripped off the tourists when charging for drinks. A small glass of local beer in a bar with a limited view was Eu 3.00, (AUD $4.30), but in the bar with the view it was Eu 7.50 (AUD $10.70). There were plenty of viewing spots where we able to take photos of the views, so our custom with the rip off merchants was limited.

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Shopping streets in Santorini

The sea around Santorini seemed destined to be filled with various types of sailing vessels. The chance to sail around the islands, under sail, is obviously very popular. I only wished that we were there longer so that I could have experienced one of the short sailing cruises.

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The colour of the sea was such that one never tired of looking and photographing – it was as blue as any picture post card in a travel agents window.

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Flooded streets are not a problem for some . .

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Venice airport as we approached our gate

As we exited the customs area in Venice I expected to see the promised ‘meet & greet’ person. I’d booked a water taxi to our hotel, via our hotel.
The available area of the arrival hall was checked to make sure that we were not in the wrong place – other passengers were met and disappeared through the exit doors.

I tried to ring the hotel, but couldn’t obtain a signal for my mobile (perhaps I was in a Venetian blind spot), so I asked for help at a boat taxi counter. They were kind enough to ring the hotel and a conversation in Italian ensued.

In the end we booked a water taxi with the people that had helped us, they were cheaper than the hotel!

The walk from the airport terminal to the pier area, where the taxi launches were moored, was about 500 metres – but with our luggage, even wheeled luggage, the distance seemed much longer.
On reaching wharf 15 / 16 a very helpful water taxi skipper helped us load our bags in to his motorboat taxi, and then we were off on the twenty minute trip to the hotel. As we left the airport area the taxi increased speed leaving the airport in our wake.

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The poles shown on the above two pictures denotes the ‘roadway’ (should that be waterway?) for the water taxis, plus our first glimpse of Venice.

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                             Yours truly enjoying the breeze.

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The sun appeared to be setting as we approached  Venice, but within a few minutes as we closed on the city, sunset had second thoughts.

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We headed for the bridge that carried the train from / to the mainland.

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Beneath the railway line.

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VENICE !

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It must be Venice . . . . . .

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Of course it is  . . .

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Our hotel staff may not have met us at the airport, but they managed to put the flags out to welcome us . . . two nights in Venice before we joined our cruise.

 

 

All my yesterdays . . .

I heard on the grapevine that a certain bar that I used to frequent in the 1960’s, in Georgetown, Penang, was still in existence.

My wife and I and two other couples were passing through Penang, so I had to try and find my piece of yesterday. The bar was (is) called The Hong Kong Bar and it was favourite watering hole for many a service man based in Malaya and later Malaysia. My first visit would have been in 1963 when I sailed in a cargo ship.

As I turned in to the street I recognised the area and at once became the boring old guy bending my two male colleagues’ ears about life well before PC and the Nanny State of today.

The street in which the Hong Kong Bar is located.

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As I walked in a realised that someone else was on a memory trip. An Australian serviceman and his wife. He was here to do the same thing that I was about to do – lean on the bar and drink in the atmosphere over a glass of Tiger beer.

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The reason I thought the bar had closed is that I’d heard of the fire in the early 1970’s, but the owner had rescued the regimental shields, ships’ crests and air force insignia after the fire and remounted them in their old places around the refurbished bar.

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The column of paper consisted of cash notes from many countries around the world. The bar owner must have been able to rescue this part of the bar decoration from the fire, because I saw old English money that went of of circulation in the early sixties.

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Fresh memorabilia obvious donated since the fire.

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A lady, (in purple) who can just be seen in an earlier photo served me my beer, and soon afterwards the gentleman in yellow came out of the back area and I had the feeling of deja vue, because I thought I recognised him from the 60’s. After a short conversation I realised that this gentleman was the son of the man that I knew, the original owner.

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The same family had owned the bar since the mid fifties and they used to collect photographs of their customers. When I asked if they still had the photographs several large albums where placed on the bar. As I scrolled through them looking for a familiar face I realised that the pictures from the mid 50’s through my period in the 60’s had been lost in the fire.

My recent visit took place in the late morning, which was a first considering that we used to be going back to the ship around breakfast time.

But at nineteen one had stamina  :-o)

 

 

 

A parsimonious virgin, and a generous Arabian oryx

For the last twelve years my wife and I have hoarded our frequent flyer points by doing our best to only use airlines in the same ‘group’ as Virgin AtlanticVirgin_Atlantic_Airways_Logo
In May of 2014 Virgin Atlantic stopped flying to / from Australia. Our aim was to have enough points to ‘buy’ a business class round trip ticket from Sydney to Hong Kong, but the points would be valid on their partner airlines, which included Virgin Australia.new-virginaustralia-logo
Earlier this year we had notice from Virgin Atlantic that our points would be void at the end of July unless we generated some activity. Between my wife and I we had just over 142,000 points, too many to ignore.
After thinking about how to use the points we decided that we would like to visit Broome in North West Australia, a place my wife has had on her ‘bucket’ list for some time.
I checked Virgin Australia frequent flyer system to find out how many points it would cost us to fly business class to Perth. The required number of points one way was 36,500 – so we would need 146,000 points in total, which would require us to buy an additional 4000 points from Virgin Atlantic.
As a member of the Virgin Atlantic frequent Flying Club this would not be difficult. I made a note of the times and flights that we would like to use, because I knew that I would have to go through Virgin Atlantic in the UK to book tickets on any partner airline, which included Virgin Australia – not a problem I thought as Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia where in the same ‘camp’.
I rang Virgin Atlantic UK and spoke to a very helpful staff member, and told him that I would like to book two business class seats from Sydney to Perth. He asked me to hold while he checked the seven pages of regulations for Virgin Australia frequent flyer seats. Eventually he came back on line and told me that Virgin Australia didn’t allow frequent flyer business class tickets for short haul flights. Sydney to Perth is about five and a half hours, which is just short of flying from London to Kuwait (six hours), or New York to Panama City (five and a half hours), so I asked what was long haul for this airline, Sydney to Abu Dhabi (thirteen hours fifty five minutes) or Brisbane to Los Angeles (thirteen hours, ten minutes), was the reply.
I ended the call to London and my wife and I discussed flying economy – which we decided to do.
A day or so later I rang Virgin Atlantic again in the UK and was asked by the computer to hold, while I listened to their adverts. I hung up after six minutes – holding on during peak phone times is not fun. In fact I spent the next three hours trying to get past a computer telling me how important I was . . . on the eighth time of trying I spoke to a real person.
I explained my request for two economy tickets to Perth and gave the flight numbers and dates – he told me that the cost in points was 40,000 each and the only available flight from Sydney was the VA 551, which departed at 7.15 am, requiring a check in around 5.15 am, which for us meant leaving home at 4.15 am (we live 45 minutes from the airport), so setting our alarm for about 3.45 am.
The only available return flight for frequent flyer points purchases from Perth for Sydney was the 5.30 am, VA 552, which would require a check-in of around 3.30 am, because we would have bags to check-in, so was it worth paying for a hotel room if we flew from Broome the previous afternoon?
At our age – 72 & 73 – the thought of very early morning starts has lost its appeal. After saving for twelve years I now wonder if it was all worthwhile being a loyal frequent flyer supporter of the Virgin group of airline companies – I don’t think so.
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Now for a much more positive comment – in the last three or four years my wife and I managed to collect 60,000 points with Qatar Airways  296px-Qatar_Airways_Logo.svgand we wished to use them to fly from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur.
I rang Qatar Airways Privilege Club number in Doha (their head office) and spoke to a very helpful lady who booked our tickets over the phone for business class from Doha to Kuala Lumpur, and when I corrected her that we wanted to fly from Dubai via Doha to our destination, she apologised because they didn’t have any business class seats from Dubai to Doha, so she would book us First Class for the one hour flight to catch the Doha to Kuala Lumpur business class flight. Now that was customer service for two people who were using points and not cash – now which airline would you use again?
For the record our flight departs Dubai at 6.30 pm local time, a sixty minute flight, and our onward flight departs at 8.05 pm local time Doha – all very civilised – and the flight time is seven hours twenty five minutes (short haul?). What a pleasure to deal with a company that honours in the sprit as well as the word, of why people collect Qatar Airways frequent flyer points.
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I post about our experiences to warn others that, in my opinion, collecting points for ‘free’ flights is not worth the effort with a virgin.

China focused fiction

I recently started to clean out some books and realised that I gathered a small collection of China focused novels. I think I may have others , but in which box ??

The list is not in any particular order, just as they came to hand.

Tai Pan

Tai Pan – James Clavell

 

Noble HouseNoble House

 

 

Iron TreeThe Iron Tree – Martin Booth

China dawnChina Dawn – Robert Lipscombe Duncan

Mandarin                      Robert ElegantDynasty

 

Fragrant HarbourFragrant Harbour – John Lanchester

Trade Imperial – Alan LloydTrade Imperial

 

 

 

Eight BannersThe Eight Banners – Alan Savage

 

 

 

The Dream TradersThe Dream Traders – E.V. Thompson

Ty shan

 

 

 

 

Ty-Shan Bay – R. T. Aundrews

A Private

A Private Revenge – Richard Woodman

 

 

 

Shanghai  Shanghai – Christopher New

 

 

 

 

The Peking Payoff – Ian Stewart Peking pay off

The Lust of Comrade Lu – Ian Stewart

Lust of

Tea in China

For all the tea in China – Stephen Shepherd

At the moment I doubt that I will give them away . . . . . . they have all been returned to their storage place, because one doesn’t disregard old friends.