On the twelfth day of Coral, last day in the Coral Sea, we headed east travelling 16.7 knots.
As the day wore on the sea calmed.
On hearing the fire alarm, I reported to the Bridge as suggested at lunch time by the Captain. Instead of worrying about putting out fires, we chatted about my blog and the previous passenger, successful writer, Philippe Garnier. Perhaps some of his publishing acumen will rub off on my head from the very pillow we have shared (clearly not at the same time). We also looked at the charts, noting the approach to Auckland, following shipping channels we go around the top of the North Island. Presumably Manakau Harbour is too shallow. We will be passing Whangarparoa where my mother used to reside. We looked at the Economic Exclusion Zones around Australia and by extension, her territories. Norfolk Island has to be good for something.
After the fire drill put out the (fictional) fire in the laundry – started in the dryer apparently – there was another practice for Abandon Ship. Win appeared on the Bridge and waved frantically at me. I think part of his duties must be taking care of passengers in times of crisis. I followed him to my cabin where we picked up the immersion suit, trotted downstairs and got fitted for my lifejacket. The Chief tested my light. The crew ranged along the deck beside the lifeboat. Half of them headed to port (in theory) but as they were only launching the one lifeboat they came back again to watch how to disentangle the attachment to the mother ship.
It was disconcerting to imagine the desperate conditions that might call for this action to be done in necessity. Everyone was wearing boiler suits and safety boots. I supposed another drill might find them in pyjamas?
Once everyone had seen the boat swing out and a frisson of imagination ran through the group, the little boat’s engine started and the steering was checked while still swinging in mid-air.
Then the life-jackets came off, everything neatly stored away and I took my immersion suit back and slung it in the wardrobe. These were the things that might save their lives one day and it was serious. That said, as with every drill, there was a lightness, a sense of being let out of school, to balance that fear. When one of the regular mini-alarms sounded down by the engines, one of the crew looked to a superior and dashed off to attend to it. Generally it was an orderly affair. It was colourful. The absolutely clear pale blue sky smoothed into the bright, curvaceous quiet sea. The men gathered on the green deck wearing their navy-blue boiler suits striped with yellow and white reflecting tape. The orange lifejackets matched the orange lifeboat. The Pacific Ocean looked as peaceful and guileless as it possibly could. I noted no plastic, no rubbish, no fish, no birds, no fisherfolk, no other vessels. If there were fish there would be fishing boats, right?
We were in the Lord Howe Rise, a good place to do a drill while the waters were calm. If it’s called the Rise is it more shallow?
The wing deck was decorated with squiggles of swallow poo after our day in port.
We had dinner at 16:00. Every day the ship’s clock got put forward another hour. I felt like I was eating all day.
Sometimes different engines; washing machine, air con humming and the vibration of the ship’s physical parts set up harmonics. I heard far off Gregorian chants as I sat on the toilet. Perhaps it was the dirge of a sad sea shanty. Somewhere deep in a boiler room a French horn player regularly sounded a solitary solemn note. Sometimes tintinnabulation rang through my head but I could not tell if it was from the metallic alarms or from me.