Week 1 Part 2 – Oh dear, P&O, here we go again

So, on this ship about a year ago, I think, the computers worked fine. In fact, astonishingly well. The new ‘packages’ meant no more watching the seconds tick and the price going up (along with the blood pressure), so that was nice. It was almost as though they had finally grasped how to provide decent internet at sea for a reasonable price. Guess how long that was ever going to last.

Boarded for this cruise. All hunky dory? Of course not. They have not only changed the packages, they have changed the provider. And the signal has gone to hell in a handbasket. We’ve gone back about five years in signal quality and reliability. Ditto the television signal.

Most annoyingly, the cheapest package is now social media only. You have to upgrade in order to have access to your emails. How ridiculous is that?! It’s like they have no idea who their customers are. The silver surfer generation are not interested in Instagram and Twitter. *le sigh*

So I was forced to take the middle package of the three prices available, not the cheapy one. Irksome, but not much in it price-wise compared to the old system, so heigh ho, whatever. I’ll live.

No, apparently not. Access to Dropbox denied. Now, those of you who know me know that I work while I’m away. It’s one of the things about being self-employed – I can’t afford to take a month off, basically! And being able to access my work means that I can provide a continuity of service to my clients (i.e. not tell them I’m in the Caribbean, ahem). But in all the years I have sailed with P&O, I have never had a problem accessing my work, which is sent to me via Dropbox. My business has been running for seven years, during which time I have worked in Hawaii, Korea, Papua New Guinea, everywhere. Now, all of a sudden, it’s a problem.

So I go to Reception. They say, ask the librarian. She deals with computer matters. So I go to the library. She is, needless to say, not in the least bit computer savvy. In fact, she’s an idiot. She spends the best part of an hour establishing that, precisely as I explained when I walked in the door, I could not access Dropbox. She then logs on to the CREW wifi on her phone (as opposed to my passenger account access) and delightedly announces that she has access to Dropbox, no problem. Great! Can I use it to check whether I have any work in? No.

Let that sink in for a second. No. Now, I don’t profess to be an expert in customer care, but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to say No to the paying customer.

So, back to Reception. Various intermediaries (and two days of complaining) later (I’m summarising because it bored me at the time, so I don’t need to inflict the minutiae on you), we establish that upgrading to the most expensive package makes not one jot of difference, and still denies access to Dropbox.

Eventually, the Hotel Manager sits with me in the Reception area for three hours, letting me use her iphone data and the crew wifi to log on and download what I need. Of course, all of this is taking place over the weekend, when, apparently, no shoreside IT support is available. Because if all the computers on the bridge went down on a weekend, there’s no way Southampton would respond. My arse. *le sigh 2*

So, I get what I need for the time being, and am assured that it will be sorted out during business hours on the Monday, when shoreside will get involved and speak to the ISP if necessary. I’m sure I am not going to shake you to your core if I tell you that it wasn’t sorted during business hours on the Monday. At least not in the UK.

Eventually, at about 10pm on Monday night, Dropbox suddenly loaded on my computer. The relief was immense. I was really panicking about losing my entire business as a result of this nonsense. I was worrying I would have to draft emails saying, You know that work I said you would get back in a week? It may be a month…

Ever since when, I have been able to work, as usual, without any problem. I have also had an apology bottle of wine delivered to my cabin, and am now on first name terms with the most senior passenger-facing person on the ship.

And Josephine assures me that all the staff are terrified of me. Which is nice. 🙂

So I have in my cabin fridge a bottle of P&O house white to dispose of. Anyone got any brass needs polishing?

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Oriana X903 to Bermuda and the Caribbean 22 Feb 2019

Okay, okay, okay. I’m sorry. I haven’t blogged as much (or at all) so far. I have a good excuse. The signal has been TERRIBLE.

So, from the top then.

Departure: 22nd February 2019.

Two new travel companions: mum’s carer, Josephine (so that hopefully dad and I will get more of a rest by having to do less pushing), and Mario, the Office Rabbit. Photos of both to follow.

A surprisingly smooth travel down/departure. All of us managed to fit into one large minicab, so definitely packing lighter than we do for the really long ones! Josephine had 1 case, Dad had 1.5, Mum had 2.5 and I had two and a wheely hand luggage. All rather civilised, really. Mario travelled with me, and put his stuff in my case. He wore his purple Bermuda shorts to travel in, but it was a mild day, so he didn’t get cold. His shorts are tailor made to fit him, complete with a hole in the back for his little bunny tail, so he finds them very comfy.

On board, everything is much as usual. Oriana looks tired, bless her. She is getting on a bit, and is due to end her service in the summer, and she’s starting to look her age. This includes at least one lift out of service. The more cynical might say that she is not being cared for with the same diligence any more. She has been sold and is rumoured to be facing a future as a Chinese casino.

Lovely cabin steward (Sachin), lovely waiters (Elvis and Raymond (yeah, right)), delightful table mates. Stephanie and Chris and Marion and George.

Weather for the first week or so: ROTTEN. Bumpy as hell. Not one but two large weather systems in the Atlantic that the Captain could not (read: would not) go around. So we slept well! Josephine was seasick and stopped eating and drinking until I bought her some SeaBands, whereupon she was right as rain and took up choir and dancing lessons. She is now having a great time. Being Filipino, she is right at home and knows ALL the staff. We now turn to her for gossip updates!

Things didn’t warm up or calm down until maybe two days before Bermuda. Now it’s lovely. Like a proper cruise.

Dad didn’t enjoy Bermuda because, although we were there for two days, he lost his hearing a couple of days before, which made him very depressed and unable to communicate. Eventually, the doctor cleared the problem and now he hears so well, he isn’t using his hearing aids at all!

Port reports to follow, as well as an update on Mario’s adventures.

Friday 5th Jan 2018. Last day of the cruise.

Woke at 6 when the sea suddenly became much calmer as we entered the shelter of the Channel.

Woken again at 9am by a medical emergency tannoy call.

Woken again at 9.30 by the captain announcing we will dock at 2pm today and we can go ashore/disembark early if we want.

Woken again at 10 by gangway and checkout information for those wanting to disembark early.

At this point, I gave up trying to sleep and got up. I can take a hint.

Telly channels are back but now Yahoo Mail is offline instead. Marvellous.

Well, this is weird. It’s now 3pm and we’re moored. The sail up the Solent was very pleasant. It was nice to be able to admire the scenery on the approach to Southampton, as we normally arrive hideously early in the morning and leave after dark.

After lunch, helped Dad pack their cases. Then he came to my cabin and watched me pack mine (!) while mum had a rest.

Have had to put on my sea bands, because my MDD has kicked in, because we are, of course, no longer moving about! Got a little bit queasy, but the bands were already out, just in case, so it didn’t last long. Queasiness returned during dinner, but that passed fairly quickly.

Met the couple on the next table that Dad spoke to for the first time last night and found out live down the road from me. They’re very sweet.

Did all the goodbyes to the waiters that I hadn’t seen at lunchtime. Some passengers had gone ashore to eat, so dinner was quite quick. Said goodbye to Ben.

Many people – passengers and crew alike – asked when we would be back. Don’t know. We have nothing booked at all, and the parents are saying this may be their last cruise. I hope not. They both enjoy them – as long as they stay healthy, that is.

The last night of a cruise means the arrival of the Cruise Log, a sailing parlance diary of every cruise. It’s supposed to be a special souvenir of our trip.

It is always a proofreading joy, and this cruise’s offering is no exception. They made it as far as the second paragraph before getting the name of the Solent wrong. You’d like to think that Solvent was a regular enough autocorrect error to have been automatically corrected by now, but apparently not.

Even  more bizarrely, the log states that “guests had an overnight stay ensuring they could explore all that the beautiful island of Fuerteventura had to offer”. Erm… no, we didn’t! Even more bizarrely, the entry for La Gomera states that we headed from there to Madeira, which we didn’t, and the next entry, on the next line down, is clearly entitled Tenerife. This is pretty poor, even by the usual, extremely low standards one expects from P&O staff!

And to top it all off, it states we moored in Southampton on the 6th, when, as you well know, we arrived on the 5th. That decision was taken two or three days ago! It also states that the air pressure on Friday 5th was over 1000 millibars. It wasn’t. It was about 960.

I mean, seriously, how hard can it really be to type this thing?! It’s only two pages/ five columns of text! Makes my eyes bleed and my brain ache every time, without fail.

Time for bed. Last night on board for a while and we all know I won’t sleep well, so I need to get ahead of the curve if I can!

Thursday 4th Jan 2018

The captain says we are going to run up to the south coast and shelter in the lee of the UK mainland, rather than go down the middle of the Channel as we usually would. He also said he is booking an early parking slot at Southampton, in case we get home early, so we can, as he put it, ‘Get a good night’s sleep’ before we disembark. Not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. Firstly, I sleep better when it’s moving, and, secondly, if I wanted to sleep in Southampton, I’d book a hotel. Meh, we’ll see what happens.

At least this gives me time for the sea colour update.

Water scientists have a scale for sea colour description, named after Francois Alphonse Forel and Willi Ule (Swiss and German respectively) and is, perhaps a little unfortunately, called the Florel-Ule Scale or FU for short. No, really. Google it if you don’t believe me.

The colour of the water is assessed by lowering a white disc called a Secchi disc into the water until it disappears completely, noting the depth (which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Secchi depth)(Secchi discs are all white for marine water and black and white quadrants for freshwater and were originally designed to measure water transparency), and then raising it to precisely half that depth. The colour seen is then compared to a standardised set of liquids of different colours and the closest number assigned. Apparently, we humans are remarkably consistent with our appreciation of water colours and it is all very regular and orderly – as one might expect from a Swiss/German invention!

Some natural phenomena can change water colour but it does not necessarily mean that the water is of bad quality. The different colour numbers correspond mainly to these types of water bodies:

  • Indigo blue to greenish blue with high light penetration (1-5 FU scale). These waters have often low nutrient levels and low production of biomass. The colour is dominated by microscopic algae (phytoplankton).
  • Greenish blue to bluish green (6-9 FU scale). The colour is still dominated by algae, but also increased dissolved matter and some sediment may be present. Typical for areas towards the open sea.
  • Greenish (10-13 FU scale). Often coastal waters which usually display increased nutrient and phytoplankton levels, but also contain minerals and dissolved organic material.
  • Greenish brown to brownish green (14-17 FU scale). Usually with high nutrient and phytoplankton concentrations, but also increased sediment and dissolved organic matter. Typical for near-shore areas and tidal flats.
  • Brownish green to cola brown( 18-21 FU scale). Waters with an extremely high concentration of humic acids, which are typical for rivers and estuaries.

So now you know.

Wednesday 3rd Jan.

Woken by the captain shouting at me through the emergency channel, to update us on our somewhat bumpy journey progression. In summary, we have been tacking up the coast of Portugal and they are keeping an eye on the weather.

Most of the afternoon was taken up sitting in Andersons doing Sudoku with EVERYONE ELSE ON THE SHIP. They were airlifting a Medevac off the back and everyone was evacuated from the stern in case the helicopter crashed into the ship by mistake. So everyone was shunted to the front half of the vessel for a couple of hours. Andersons was packed!

Then dinner and annoyingly sporadic telly (if the ship sways too much from side to side, we lose the satellite signal, usually mid-word at the most dramatic moment) til bed.

At 6.30 am the next morning one of my drinking glasses, that had previously sat quite quietly on top of the fridge, got tired of the rolling motion and committed hari kari, so I had to clear the shards of broken glass off the floor. Definitely quite bumpy now.

Then back to bed.

Tuesday 2nd January 2018.

Posh loyalty lunch today. We are supposed to get an officer. We got an idiot. We eventually gave up trying to get him to explain what the hell he actually did after the following exchanges.

Your badge says Food and Beverages Services Manager, so do we talk to you about the smoked salmon issue (apparently the chefs do not know the difference between the kind of smoked salmon you put on a bagel and Alaskan whole smoked salmon, which is thick and flakey and has a much stronger flavour and is not suitable for bagels)? No, I deal with Public Health.

So, when the water went off yesterday lunchtime on Deck 12, it was you that should have told people to go to their cabins to use the toilets, to enable them to flush and wash their hands, and prevent the spread of infection in the restaurants and public toilets. No, I deal with Public Health in the kitchens only.

So, you were responsible for ensuring that, when the water went off yesterday, the waiters and chefs were able to access water to wash their hands, then? No, I didn’t know the water went off.

As the next words would have been swear words (along the lines of “So what the f*!& DO you actually do?!), I just gave up talking to him. He’s clearly a useless idiot with nothing to contribute. We pretty much talked around him for the rest of the lunch. Added to which, he was either very deaf or just decided to ignore mum throughout, because she was sat next to him and he never once even looked at her, let alone spoke to her, even when she was speaking directly to him.

The food was nice. And the other two ladies at the table were fairly good company. He was a waste of space, which bearing in mind time in his company is supposed to be our reward and give us insight into life on board, was a little irritating. Heigh ho. Whatever.

Then I had a lie down/siesta and then went for my massage (mum’s treat for hurting my back pushing her up the hill in Fuerteventura!). Full body massage for an hour and a half. Bliss. My back is much better. Not 100%, but definitely better than it was.

Then dinner, which was quite adequate, food-wise.

It has been quite rough today, and it is not going to improve. Lisbon was cancelled by announcement at 6pm. We need to get ahead of Storm Eleanor before it gets to our bit of the Atlantic. So we are pegging it and rolling quite a lot. Yesterday we were pitching. The one thing we don’t want is both at once!

During dinner, dad and I noticed that, every so often, the vibrations reduced significantly, and we figured out that what was happening is that the swell is so large that one of the screws (propeller shafts) is actually coming clean out of the water, so there is no resistance when it turns in the air. Luckily, most others do not seem to have cottoned on!

The captain warned that we are heading towards waves of 11 metres or so (measured from the top of a peak to the bottom of a trough). The prom deck is only 12 metres from sea level. This is Not Good. Things could get very interesting soon.

Word of warning: apparently I have been describing the sea colours all wrong. I will shortly amend this. Have your mea culpa now, while it’s still at the forefront of my mind.

Sunday 31st December 2017. New Year’s Eve. Tenerife. And Monday 1st January 2018. At sea after a 1am departure

I’ve hurt my back. I think I’ve pulled/ torn a muscle. Flat on my back all day apart from dinner, and regretted even that. Gave me time for a little proofreading. The onboard daily newspaper for the 30th stated that La Gomera is “The most north-westerly of the seven Canary Islands”. Well, firstly, there are not seven Canary Islands, there are thirteen, to my knowledge. And La Gomera is not the most north-westerly of them anyway. La Palma is. That’s the level of information accuracy given to P&O passengers. Good, eh?

Didn’t go anywhere. Didn’t do anything. Sat on deck for a bit, enjoying the warmth (24 degrees – did I mention that?) and then went back to the cabin to cool down!

We left about 12.45 am. People said the fireworks over the island were very pretty, but I was flat on my back in the cabin, watching the fireworks from around the world on the news, instead. I’m not a huge fan of fireworks, to be honest, so I turned off those as well. Happy New Year anyway.

Monday

It got pretty bumpy pretty quickly after we left the shelter of the archipelago and started heading back north. Also a leetle bit too blowy for sitting outside by late afternoon. I did it anyway and got a bit too chilled, so I went back to the cabin to warm up before dinner. At least the movement of the ship put a few people off coming to dinner, which made life a little easier for the waiters. Although some people are becoming unwell, so that doesn’t make life easier for the staff who have to clean up after them. I hope it doesn’t get really bumpy, because this bunch of passengers seem to be RUBBISH sailors!