Sunday, February 22, 2009

Back in the Home Port

OK, yesterday's post was a fake, in the sense that I was home by then. I hope that doesn't offend blogetiquette!

And now I should just tell what remains of the trip. We arrived in Fremantle ( the port for Perth) on Thursday morning, but we didn't have to leave the ship immediately as they were having two nights in port, so we were able have one more day of luxury and indulgence.

But we spent the day in the charming town of Fremantle, mostly to meet with a colleague and discuss some projects, but there was time in the afternoon to wander the town a bit and to visit the excellent maritime museum.

Freo streescape
Nice day!

Freo: The Roundhouse
A small-scale Panopticon prison for the settlers, not the convicts

Freo: Bathers Beach
Sadly, I didn't have any (bathers, that is)

The museum (or at least the part that I visited) houses remains from several Dutch ships that wrecked on the WA coast in the 1600s. Most notorious was the Batavia, because over 100 of the survivors, stranded on an offshore island, were massacred by others from the ship while the captain was sailing a small boat to the the town of Batavia to get help. The mutineers were caught and executed on the island when the captain returned. The wreck was located some years ago and the remains of the hull was raised and is now preserved in the museum, along with many other items.

Fremantle Maritime Museum
The hull of the Batavia, and an ornamental archway that it was carrying

Our last night on the ship involved many farewells to passengers and crew. Since many of the them are serial cruisers we may meet again.

Fremantle harbour
View from the Rotterdam's dining room

On Friday we had to leave and travel with the plebs again on the three hour flight to Melbourne and the one hour flight (late!) to Hobart. But it was lovely to be home, and the ground has now stopped swaying under my feet.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Great Australian Bite

And what did we see....?
Crossing the Bight

Our second day crossing the Great Australian Bight. We are well out to sea, so that the casino can operate, and the weather and swell continue to be kind. Fewer birds out this way however, which is a shame, since I spent an hour this morning telling the customers how interesting seabirds are, and what they might see from the ship. But they didn’t seem to mind.

We continue to get insights into the lives of world cruisers. At dinner last night we sat with a group of folk, and someone happened to mention that they were x days into the cruise, at which all the others put their fingers in their ears and said la la la! The thought that the whole business might end some day is abhorrent, and it seems that many people spend the last week of the cruise in tears. A fair proportion of passengers are single, widows or widowers, and the tight community of the ship becomes very important to them. But woe betide them when it’s time to go home! No wonder so many come back again and again. Some have made literally dozens of world cruises, and at the present rate that’s $US50K a trip, at the very least.

These are the people that we rub shoulders with in the Crows Nest Bar every night, but they are all very social, and politely interested in what we do. We’ve had up to 200 at our lectures.

Niall at the Crow's Nest Bar
(That's my empty chair and beer)

And the food just goes on and on. Hardly anything has been a failure so far. There is usually a fish or seafood option in the half dozen choices for each of the three courses at dinner (that’s not including dessert), so that has been making my choices easy. And today there was Cajun catfish on the lunch buffet as well. Highlights? So many really, but I remember a chilled avocado soup very kindly. It is all beautifully presented, and the (largely Filipino) staff are all charming.

While our “lecture theatre’, which is also the cabaret room, might be a bit extravagant, most of the ship is very tastefully decorated. The stairways and public spaces are all adorned with a range of art works, from bronzes and casts of historic Dutch plaques to more modern works.

Wall plaque on the MS Rotterdam
A cast from somewhere in Holland

Bronze seal on the Rotterdam

They also have an excellent series of Holland America posters from between the wars that are very stylish. It’s a pity that they don’t sell reproductions in the shop, along with the branded clothing. Shopping on board, although diverse and abundant, is a fairly expensive exercise, even with our 10% event staff discount.

Holland America posters from the Rotterdam

Next stop Fremantle, and soon it will be all over. Already the ship feels like home and we will feel some pangs as we leave and it sails away without us.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Melbourne to Adelaide

The cruise down to Melbourne was OK, despite some squally cool weather and a little swell (not enough to trouble my stomach). The best bit was passing between the north of Flinders Island and Wilsons Promontary, with all the associated small islands at the entry to Bass Strait. We were in the Crows Nest Bar (where the barmen Henry and Nestor now know our names and which beer we drink), which has a 180 degree view as we headed into the sunset. Would have been perfect without the ominous smoke to the north.

Entering Bass Strait: Hogan Island?

Woke in Melbourne to see the Spirit of Tasmania ferry on the other side of the wharf, and made a tram trip into the city for a little shopping and gallery browsing. Then out across Port Phillip Bay in the evening, pasing through the heads with its tide race just before dark. That produced the last bit of detectable movement, since the water has been very smooth on our way to Adelaide.

The Melbourne Sailaway
That's what they call it: "Join us in the xxxx Bar for the sailaway"

Smokey sky over Port Phillip Bay

Yesterday, as we cruised past the south coast of Victoria and South Australia, there were whales about (Fin whales, according to our Dutch captain). I saw several spouting in the distance, and then two obligingly came up less than half a kilometre away as I was having my morning calorie-burning thrash around the deck. Some dolphins too, and lots of albatrosses.

The Deck 3 walkaround
Decks freshly swabbed, but few walkers on a morning in port

Yesterday was Valentine's Day on board, which meant a huge quantity of decorations, cheesy music in the bars and menus on which every item was named "romantically". I guess if you are serving the full four month sentence, that sort of thing breaks the monotony. I was talking to a couple yesterday who said they no longer had any idea what day of the week it was.

Niall has given the first of our lectures, so we have had a look at our clients. They seemed to enjoy it, but I don't get to give my first one until the day after tomorrow.

Niall's first lecture
The cabaret room isn't quite our usual style

And this morning we woke to find ourselves in Adelaide, or rather at Outer Harbour, which is a full 45 minutes on the train to the city centre. After the moderate indifference of Sydney and Melbourne to our arrival and departure it was nice to see lots of volunteer guides here. And welcoming music, though Australian bush ballads might have been more appreciated later in the day by those (like us) who hadn't left the bar until well after midnight.

The Rotterdam at Outer Harbour, Adelaide

Adelaide serenade
These guys were singing Click go the Shears etc at 8.00 am!

Adelaide was warm and sunny, and the art gallery and museum made a pleasant excursion. Now we are back on board, but the "sailaway" isn't until 10.00 tonight so we shall not see Adelaide either coming in or going out.

Three days at sea to get to Perth across the Great Australian Bight. I'll blog there if I can.

Friday, February 13, 2009

At Sea (Why does that remind me of The Goon Show?)

As I write the northern islands of the Furneaux Group are appearing on the port side (so nautical: that’s the left as you face the sharp end), which means that we are entering Bass Strait after a night and a day of very gentle cruising from Sydney, on our way to Melbourne.

Leaving Sydney Harbour

And we have had the day off! The entertainment manager said that they have learned from bitter experience not to schedule guest lecturers on the first day out of port since they sometimes don’t turn up. And we have competition on this cruise in the shape of Gaynor and Jane (from Sydney Uni and University of Western Sydney respectively) who will be speaking on aboriginal matters and the Australian political scene. Of course we will go and see what they are like, but how can they compete with crayfish and cave spiders??

MS Rotterdam
Flagship of the Holland America Line, and a few weeks into a three month world cruise

This ship, the MS Rotterdam, is virtually identical to the MS Statendam that Jean and I sailed on last year, and so far it has been very comfortable, at least after we convinced them to re-arrange the beds out of the double configuration!

The Cabin: before

The Cabin: after (phew)

View from cabin in port

View from cabin most of the time

It has been a working day (PhD thesis to examine), interspersed by food (so much food) and stiff walks around the promenade deck (3.5 circuits = 1 mile), where I can look out for birds: so far shearwaters, possibly two species of albatrosses, gannets and one petrel.

But it’s nearly beer o’clock, and we must climb up from deck two to the Crows Nest bar for our pre-prandial. We pay for booze (at half the going rate), but everything else is free. What a life.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cash for crayfish

At last! Something to blog.

I've just had a rapid trip up to the north of the State to earn a little money from a burrowing crayfish. We have several crayfish on the threatened species list here and someone recently raised an objection to new subdivision in Devonport on the grounds that one of these species was living there. So the Commonwealth government recruited Niall Doran and I to go up and check it out. This is just slightly incestuous since it was Niall and I who got the thing Listed in the first place, but since there are not too many crayfish experts to go around we got the job.

So off to sunny Devonport on Thursday and we spent a sweaty and prickly day scrambling through thickets of tea tree and cutting grass (with a few brambles thrown in for good measure, but thankfully no snakes) looking for crayfish burrows. And sure nuff they were there. Mercifully we didn't have to dig any up because this is the only species in the area. We're pretty sure that the subdivision can go ahead if they are careful about where they put the houses, and it was encouraging to meet the developer on site on Friday and hear that he had already devised some plans to do just that.

Crayfish burrow.
Not spectacular, but important!

We had some other jobs to do in the north west so we were able to stay overnight at Boat Harbour and have an expense account dinner at Jolly Roger's on the beach on a glorious evening (oysters au naturel, pesto-baked trevalla, strawberry creme brulee and a bottle of Ninth Island pinot grigio, all thanks to what we saved on accommodation).

On Friday we went to visit a couple who live way out in the bush south of Rocky Cape. They are very keen to have a student use their property for work on the giant freshwater crayfish that live in their creek. They have a wonderful house and garden and four small fluffy dogs who thoroughly enjoy the bush.

Unexpected house and garden.
This was literally miles from anywhere

And this is their own private creek

A giant freshwater crayfish
Quite large, but they get bigger!

Niall Doran is the main driver of The Bookend Trust, which aims to gather funds to support students working on environmental problems. He and will be spending 10 days on a ship full of rich Americans shortly, giving them a few lectures and subtly suggesting that they part with some cash in a good cause. We sail from Sydney to Perth, via Melbourne and Adelaide on the Holland America Line ship Rotterdam).

Watch this space. Internet time is exorbitant on the ship, but I'll try to blog when we are ashore.