D-Day has arrived. For a while already, I have been steeling my nerves and heart for this day. We were due to sail at 14h00 but were delayed – and we only left at 4pm. There was a festive atmosphere at the quay. Live music.
Excited passengers and their families milling about. I was more afraid than excited. Speeches – one by the director of DEA, Henry Valentine and one by Capt Bill Leith, a retired master of the SA Agulhas, who then unveiled a plaque in honor of the ship and Cape Town as a key link in Antarctic exploration over the past 100 years.
The two hour delay was very difficult for me. Sort of like holding your breath for as long as you can and then having to hold it some more. Worst of all, I was aboard the ship and Paul and the children and Tanya and Charl and kids were on the quay. We passengers were no longer permitted to get off the ship. If we had been able to spend that time together, the delay would have been an enjoyable windfall. Instead, it prolonged the agony of leaving.
The longer I stood up there on the ship's deck, the greater the urge became to leap off, onto terra firma.
When the harbor tug/pilot (whatever that thing is called!) came for us and the ship finally started moving, my heart leaped into my mouth. One of the most unbearable things I have ever experienced was watching my family and friends get smaller and smaller as the ship moved further away from the quay. Even now, writing about it days later, it brings tears to my eyes.
They looked so frail and vulnerable, standing on the outermost point of the quay. That was when I heard that little voice in my head scream out "Oh God, what have I done?" And then the tears flowed freely.
Here is an extract from poem I happened upon. It yanks at the heart strings, doesn't it? But at the same time, it also provides a little solace:
As slow our ship her foamy track
Against the wind was cleaving,
Her trembling pennant still look'd back
To that dear isle 'twas leaving.
So loth we part from all we love,
From all the links that bind us;
So turn our hearts, as on we rove,
To those we've left behind us!
As travelers oft look back at eve
When eastward darkly going,
To gaze upon that light they leave
Still faint behind them glowing, – So, when the close of pleasure's day
To gloom hath near consign'd us,
We turn to catch one fading ray
Of joy that's left behind us.
(From: The Journey Onwards, by T. Moore )
Later, on departure day
You may be asking "Why are you so tearful, if you are actually getting the chance to live your dream?" That is a very good question. The reason is that it is hard for me to leave my family for so long, and to be so utterly removed from them. Their vulnerability suddenly becomes so clear. This journey defines the word 'remoteness'. There is basically no turning around and quickly coming home…
Leaving the harbor, the swell was about 2 meters (6 feet) high. As a preventative measure against sea sickness, I went and stood on the main deck, watching the ocean and the horizon, and anticipating the movement.
Bobbing up and down, very rhythmically, I actually thought, 'Hey, this is rather "lekker"!' (Lekker – an extremely versatile Afrikaans adjective without equal in English, meaning enjoyable, tasty, delightful, nice, great, cool…) Within about 2 hours of leaving Cape Town harbor, the swell had increased to 4 to 5 meters (12 to 15 feet). That was rather a quick increase in swell size and my body no longer found things to be so very 'lekker'. Not only that, but the time between the rises and dips was very short, which meant that the ship did not do a simple up -and-down cycle. Rather, she would go UP – then- roll-and-twist-to-the-side and then only, DOWN, and then UP and twist and so on. One of the crew members told me that they call this particular, vomit-inducing motion, 'cork-screwing'. The fact that it had been formally named did nothing to ameliorate the seasickness that quickly gripped my body.
This was the first time that I had ever really experienced seasickness. And my God, it is indeed an ungodly thing to experience. For the un-initiated, imagine you are an old tennis shoe inside a washing machine, soap and all.
Around and around you go, being tossed this way and that. After a while, you no longer have any idea of which way is up. EVERYthing seems to be moving in convulsions, both clockwise and anti-clockwise at the same time.
Every few minutes I had to run outside or find a toilet. This is when I realized how wonderful it was to have a cabin situated close to an external door. Outside, it was getting rather chilly. In between vomits, I tried to dig into my luggage to find some warm clothing but could only search for about 30 seconds, before having to rush outside again. The mere physical position of bending over to rummage inside a bag was enough to send my belly into vomit-mode. I am grateful for one thing and that is that as far as I know, no-one photographed me in the outfit that resulted from these desperate, lightning-fast rummages in the luggage. I am especially grateful that my daughter, Gabriella, (who has excellent dress sense) did not see me in my final outfit of the day. Let me just say that it involved lightweight cotton shorts and long woollen socks pulled up to above the knee, and leave it at that.
At a point I realized it would be a good idea to find the doctor. Perhaps I could even dictate my last will and testament to him. I was told where to find him, but getting to him was not that simple. There was puke everywhere – no, not mine – from other passengers. On the steps, in the passageways, everywhere. Thank God I had not contributed to that.
Luckily, my cabin was close to an external door. With every desperate scramble to get outside in time, I managed to open the heavy door a bit quicker.
The sea sickness persisted. The first 3 days were hell. The good doctor gave me some pills to take and told me that it was important to "eat something before taking them." Ha ha. That kept me busy for a while. I had to eat three times before the food stayed in long enough for me to take the pills.
Then it started to get a little better each day. However, I was still horizontal most of the time. I think it took about 5 days before I felt like myself again. I lost track. Those days are basically blanks in my memory.
Sort of like when I had malaria, in Tanzania. At first you think you are going to die and then on the third day you fear that you might not die. Lest there be any confusion, let me just state that the SA Agulhas is not a pleasure cruise vessel, and does not have very many fancy mechanisms to stabilize itself in the water. This might be why some old sailors have thought up not-so-flattering nicknames for her!