Monday, March 9, 2009

Thrown off a Tram; Tossed by the Sea

To paraphrase an old warning – it’s all fun and games until someone vomits a stomach out. That is, people are always joking about rough seas but then the waves start and it’s not so funny, It’s rather hard to come up with a seasick-joke while on a pitching, rolling vessel in a storm.

Captain Bos announced last night that because of high winds the ship would need the help of tugs to leave the harbor. I guess that Ships can maneuver well when under speed but the starts and stops make it less responsive. But he also warned us that at 9 p.m. and for at least 30 minutes that sailing would be rough. He laughed saying that the promenade doors would be locked and that we should use care in moving about the ship.

Was he lying, in error or just manipulating those of tender stomach? My guess is that Captain Bos does not make mistakes regarding this vessel and I, for one, feel nicely manipulate.

The ship did start to become active at 9 p.m. The dining hall pitched and stewards grabbed bottles and stacked plate covers with feet splayed for balance and arms stretched to hold as much as possible.

As the stewards strained against the movement, the rest of the place shouted or yelped – as if on a lurching Ferris wheel. The ship rolled back and nervous laughter sprinkled over the room. Not a minute later another wave tipped the ship and my mind started seeing us as a miniscule cork on the vast ocean.

In my head a screen scrolled terms on an endless loop – rollicking, rolling, pitching, tossing, undulating, sloping, rising, falling, plunging, swelling, heaving, lurching, churning, surging, leaning, slanting, dipping, tumbling (but never, never, NEVER sinking).

By 9:15 my internal conversation became, “You’re halfway there. Hang on. In 15 minutes it will be over.”

The countdown continued and as the numbers decreased my suspicion regarding the Captain grew but my stomach started to adjust. I could last longer. I could keep my dinner and ride out the storm for another half hour.

After dinner Rick and I tried to look out on deck but all the lights were out (to protect the birds) and the doors were locked (to protect us). The force of the wind could be heard and felt as it rushed through the tiny gaps around the doors.
We made way to the stateroom passing others in the halls. Everyone either hung onto the rails or lurched down the narrow halls. One man asked if I was drunk or just pretending – wise guy. A woman said that someone opened a stateroom door and she plunged in, an unannounced and unexpected guest.

When Rick and I got to our room he moved our gift bottle of sparkling wine to the sofa and turned just in time to catch the sailing fruit bowl. At the same time all four drawers on our night stands slid open, then shut, then open. We locked the top drawers and put shoes in front of the bottom drawers to hold them shut.
A towel in the top drawer kept stuff from rolling back and forth inside the drawer but what would hold my stomach? Had the captain warned the rough seas would last all night my composure might have wavered long enough to forget to swallow. Because of the captain I convinced myself that the rough seas were temporary and while waiting for the problem to end I adjusted little by little and fell asleep but remember thinking that putting a baby in a rocking cradle might be child abuse.

This day had started with going ashore in Melbourne, Australia. We walked around town and went to some museums and it was all very civilized. Melbourne has a legion of volunteer guides in red hats and vests. They man the tourist information desks and stroll the streets looking for people to help. All of them assured us that the trip back to the dock was easy on the 109 tram.

Melbourne has a marvelous free tram that goes in a loop around downtown all day long and gives a commentary on the attractions and architecture at each stop. We rode the tram a couple of times. Once while we were on it, the driver got off. It was a bit curious until we realized he was going to the public toilets on the corner.

There is also a free public bus that has a larger loop than the tram. It seems a very generous and hospitable service. How nice if New York offered that to tourists.
Our ship sailed at 5:30 so giving plenty of time we boarded the 109 at 4:00. The 109 is part of the regular public transit system so there were kids and people going to and from shopping and work as well as not a few cruise-ship-folk.

Getting around Melbourne was easy stuff. No problem at all except that this tram driver announced she wasn’t going to go to the docks but would return to the city. The tram had about 120 people on it and there were another 50 at the stop intending to board it, not to see people get off and watch the empty tram scuttle away.

The next 109 tram stopped and people squeezed on. The driver tried to shut the doors when he felt that the train was full but people kept pushing on and then the doors wouldn’t close. He was very angry as he came by to reset the doors and then to turn off the engine and turn it on again. At each stop the doors would open and people in the train would try to discourage anyone from getting on but 3 people would get off and 20 would crush on.

The driver finally threw us all off four stops from the docks at 4:55. We started walking near 2 young girls who said that it took them 25 minutes to walk to the docks from that point. We charged ahead – make that I charged ahead and Rick tried to slow me. We saw two 109 trams pass us but they were stuffed with arms and legs and head pressed up against the glass doors and walls like so many human flowers between the pages of an old dictionary.

We wanted the next tram but we were walking on the pedestrian path and the tram ran on the track on the other side of a fence. Then one stopped when we were near the crossway. I chased it down but the tram started to leave. I banged on the side and the driver opened the door. Rick caught up so we were both able to get on and head toward the dock. There were no more trams behind u so missing it would have meant at least a 10 minute wait. We could relax except that, just after my panting from our 10minute jog, this tram driver put us off too. There were too many trams in the station and it couldn’t go all the way so we walked again and made it into the customs area at 5:15. Screening took a little while and then we were on the ship with 5 minutes to spare. Rick said that we were never in danger of missing the ship but I don’t know about that. So, after that relaxing trip back from the city, we pitched and rolled on the ship until landing an hour late in Burnie, Tasmania.

Burnie Tasmania
The people of Burnie are about as proud of their city and as nice to strangers as any people could be. They have the cleanest air and purest water in the world. The tip of South America is to their west but the air and water that reaches Tasmania doesn’t touch other land for thousands of miles. Burnie was a bit of a mess until the 70s when making paper, acids and paint pigment were their main industries. All those industries have ended or cleaned up their acts in the past decades and being clean and green seem to be taken seriously by almost everyone.

As in Melbourne the guides are volunteers. There were 29 cruise ships in Burnie this year after only 13 last year and all of them were met by a free shuttle bus with volunteer guides and drivers.

A free shuttle bus took us to the tourist information center where volunteers gave out brochures and sold tickets on the Burnie Attractions Bus. Volunteers also manned the volunteer-built Burnie Pioneer Museum which was constructed with wood, windows and doors from old structures in Burnie so that it looked like a 1900 street scene but it was a reproduction.

We took the bus to Wilf Campbell Lookout and took photos of the dock and our ship and the panoramic view of the harbor.

The next stop was the Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden. This is also volunteer-built and run. The Rhododendron society somehow got title to 30 acres of bush land and then started tearing down trees to build terraced gardens with, so far, 23000 species of plants. They’ve been recognized around the world for their collections of rhododendron. They have species from all around the world and the plants are grouped with the other plants that would occur with them in those areas so there is a North
American area and a Korean area and another Japanese area and they are working on a Chinese layout.

This guide had just sprayed the hillside to kill everything there so he could plant the Chinese varieties. What, I asked, had he sprayed with?

Roundup, he said – good stuff. He knew that Monsanto guaranteed that Roundup broke down in 2 weeks and totally disappeared. He sprayed 30 liters of Roundup every week and had been doing it for years without a mask or gloves and believed that it was safe though he was diagnosed with cancer recently. Funny he should put it that way.
I told him that Monsanto was the company that brought us Agent Orange. He wasn’t concerned though. He said it was suspicious people like me who believe in the myth of global warming.

We made a few more visits and then took the free shuttle back to the dock with time to spare. A retired bricklayer on the ship is a resident of Burnie and he said that nearly everyone in town (and that’s 20,000 people) volunteers for something. Everyone helps in some way and it’s not a chore but a social due that everyone enjoys and supports. Doesn’t that sound super?

In the night the sea became rough again. I could barely move in the morning. The ship rocked. Rick said he enjoyed it and timed his breathing with the movement of the ship. Not so for me.

Captain Bos shut down the elevators, put motion sickness bag dispensers at every elevator, emptied the pools and hot tubs and made motion sickness pills available at the hotel desk. On the deck all the cushions were taken away from chairs and they were all folded and tied tight to the side rails. I later talked with one of the shop workers and he said that even seasoned sailors experienced seasickness that day.

Rick brought me some of the seasickness pills with the directions reading - “Do not take on empty stomach.” The whole thing about needing these pills involves the stomach not wanting to keep food inside. With part of a slowly eaten bagel and the little pink pill I could again maneuver and we did a few ship-board activities including visiting with some Australian women who had been sailing for 50 years. We also got back into eating which one can hardly avoid doing on a cruise ship.

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