Oneness Awareness: Royal Clipper
Barbados: Royal Clipper embarkation—Saturday, April 10, 2010, 4:30 to 10:00 pm
The sun is shining when I walk a mile from the bus stop to the shipping terminal. Three others walk with me, stopping once in a while to take photographs of the blue sea and colorful flowers and trees. A guard at the entry checks my passport while the others show only their vessels’ reboarding pass.
A mist is falling as I request permission to board Royal Clipper. After check-in in the main lounge, a steward shows me to my cabin. My first question is in regard to Internet service, and I learn that, in contrast to previous promises by the booking agency, that service is not working aboard the ship. So, I quickly stow my gear, grab my laptop, and return to the terminal where I had seen a Wi-Fi sign. The mist has added heft and become rain—another consecutive unusually wet day in paradise.
Mariano, the ship’s marine biologist and lecturer, greets me by name even though we had met only once briefly. He directs me to a self-help kiosk where I can buy a Wi-Fi card for $5.00 Barbadian, and I am glad that I still have a bill of that denomination left in my wallet. For this amount, I can connect to the Internet via my computer for one hour or via a seaport computer for 30 minutes. I choose mine, wanting to attach a document, a manuscript that I had been editing, to an email to one client. But my computer can’t locate the signal.
Mariano then directs me to the seaport computer. Fortunately, I had made a list of all who I wanted or needed to contact—friends and clients—before departing. However, rather than being able to do so comfortably from my cabin over the next few hours, my location and time was limited to the here and now—fast. I made a note of the time on the Windows operating system screen and quickly attended to my task. After 28 minutes, I had sent all that I wanted to send, and at 30 minutes, promptly, the computer screen went black. Time ashore is up. Time to go aboard.
By now, the rain has gained even more heft and transformed into a downpour. I bundle my laptop under my anorak and start toward the ship. Fortunately, in the Caribbean, heavy drops of rain do not necessarily equate to a drop in temperature. So, even though soaked, I am warm.
Supper is served at 7:00, and I dine with Jim and Jennie from the UK, Ronald and Marianne from Switzerland, and Bill from Canada. The conversation is international, political, and familial.
At 10:00, passengers gather around the bridge and crew work the decks. Most are dressed in raingear as mist continues to descend. “1492: Conquest of Paradise,” the theme written by Vangelis for a movie by the same name about Christopher Columbus, plays over loud speakers. Bow thrusters push us away from the dock, and a tugboat helps turn the bow toward the harbor entrance.
The winds are favorable, so the crew hoists the sails. Hearts and spirits rise in unison—at least mine are. We are under way with the dark Atlantic ahead and diminishing Barbadian city lights fading off the stern.
We run northwest, parallel to the island coast until we are well clear of the northern end—and probably unseen coral reefs or shoals. Then, we turn northeast, into the wind, and the crew furls the sails. A few remaining passengers remain topsides to watch while the majority descend to the piano bar for entertainment by Lazlo, the ship’s keyboard artist.
Later that night, visiting the bridge, I learn, with some disappointment, that we will be motoring for the next several days until we reach the 30th Parallel where trade winds are expected to be more favorable for actual sailing. So, for the next several days, I experience motor cruising aboard a five-masted tall ship. Oh, well. At least we are at sea.
Royal Clipper: My first talk at sea—Wednesday, April 14, 2010, morning
I have a microphone in hand and a newly developed PowerPoint presentation at my fingertips and am giving a presentation to about 24 fellow passengers. The topic is “Stories: We All Have One. Here’s Mine. What’s Yours?”
This came about because of an announcement on the daily printed schedule two days ago in which Ximena, the cruise director, extended an invitation for passengers to tell stories, show slides, or otherwise entertain others.
I am reading a poem about my dad and a story about my mom from Cobble Creek, telling about John McConnell’s vision of peace, justice, care of Earth, and describing my brain tumor experience—the subjects of my three commercial books. The audience is attentive; some look enthralled.
I make the offer to sit and talk with anyone who wants to tell me their story or wants free coaching on how to write their story.
Afterward, I receive compliments and further conversation. Two couples who were not in attendance say, “Oh, are you the writer? I wanted to hear you talk but didn’t make it there.” And so I review highlights with them.
One man confides an emotional event of the previous day, a situation involving his deceased wife of 47 years. He says, “I hadn’t planned on telling anyone but when I heard you speak, I decided I wanted to tell you.” I listened and thanked him.
Storytelling. It’s cathartic, essential, primal.
I am reminded of a conversation over dinner the night before. I said to the people around the table: “If we had a societal meltdown due to manmade or natural disaster that wiped out our communications systems, our highways, our physical and technical infrastructure, who would we turn to first?” Answer: Our local constabulary, medical triage personnel, ministers, mechanics; these are key people who would help us hold ourselves, our emotions, and our machinery together. We would turn to our local farmers and growers for sustenance. And we would rely on teachers, storytellers, artists, and poets to keep our folklore alive. In other words, we would turn to those who, according to current standards of financial compensation, we value the least—and yet are so vital to the full, true human experience.
Royal Clipper: Mid-Atlantic Neptune ceremony—Wednesday, April 14, 2010, mid-afternoon
I and about 15 others are gathered on the aft deck, dressed in our swimsuits and tied with a faux knot around our wrists. We are led and prodded amidships by the Sports Team: Mariano, who has painted his face green and is dressed in robes with jangling wads of plastic flotsam tied around his waist; Dave, who is dressed in a black cape, black hat, and fake black beard; Marcus, whose bare face, torso, and legs are striped with red and who carries a crimson trident in his hands; and a young woman with cardboard wings that, due to the breeze, don’t want to remain affixed to her shoulders.
The ship is at 24.07.01 N and 49.32.02 W, approximately above the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and turned so that a good wind strikes the sails broadsides. The sails are unfurled, casting the masts in full canvas regalia, and “1492: Conquest of Paradise,” the ship’s theme song, plays over loud speakers.
Our crime is crossing the ocean for the first time. Our punishment is to be determined by Neptune, fabled god of the sea, who sits on the starboard side, dressed in white robe and adorned with a white flowing beard and white hat. His elevated throne is, normally, a launching platform for a lifeboat. But on this day, it is a dais of justice.
Vlad, the captain is nearby, with microphone in hand, to call forth the names of us poor mortals who are now draped by and trapped in a net.
Ximena, the cruise director, calls the first name. Bill emerges from under the net and is prodded forward to meet his demise.
Neptune announces that his crime will be forgiven if he pays proper homage to the sea: to kiss the fish that Ximena holds before him, to allow her to pour champagne atop his head, and to stand quietly as the other captors cover him with a cracked egg, hollandaise-coated pasta, and flour. Naturally, Bill obeys. Then, he is commanded to jump into a pool of water (one of Royal Clipper’s three swimming pools) to rinse the grime from his body and the crime from his soul.
One by one, the captain calls each of our names. Each makes the journey before Neptune and faces Ximena and the fish. We stand before Mariano, Dave, and Marcus with their large bowls of eggs, pasta, and flour. Then, we plunge into the saltwater pool.
We are laughing, of course, as are many passengers who have faced similar judgment on a previous crossing.
Royal Clipper: Thai massage—Wednesday, April 14, 2010, 17:00
“Rearranging the landscape,” is a term that a sports therapy masseuse used to describe treatment to increase range of motion and strength when I was recovering from a torn medial meniscus a decade ago. The term comes to mind now as Kird, whose full name is Waranyu Ratpakdee, tugs and contorts my legs and arms into positions that were once natural, when I was a child, but have become limited with years of living and much sitting at a computer desk.
He pokes and prods with his fingers, thumbs, heel of hands, knees, and feet on all parts of my body. Unlike a Swedish massage where I would lie passively under the smooth, soothing strokes of the masseuse, I am rolled and raised—upside down and right side up—like a ship in a storm. Resistance seems natural but is, in reality, futile if not detrimental.
Why am I doing this? Well, before leaving home, Karen, a friend who is a massage therapist, suggested that I get a massage in every country I visit then write an article about that for a massage magazine. Great idea. Relaxation written off as a business expense.
On Friday, the day I departed Barbados, I received a typical Swedish massage in Holetown. Stepping aboard Royal Clipper, I promised myself a massage at the mid-point of the Atlantic. The on-ship spa offered the Thai variety, a new experience for me, and I booked one. It seemed like a great follow-up to the Neptune mid-Atlantic ceremony. Right now, with only my head and shoulders touching the mat as Kird raises my feet high to the level of his eyes, I am not so sure. Yet, I endure.
After the massage, I lie on the mat while Kird leaves the room. He is grinning, and the word “masochist” comes to mind. But when I stand up, I see that I am standing taller. I feel lighter, rejuvenated. This is good.
Royal Clipper: Apartheid—Wednesday, April 14, 2010, evening meal
Trevor and Margaret and Stephen and Ann are from South Africans. The couples didn’t know each other before arriving and met by chance in the dining hall a few nights earlier.
Stephen and Ann own two dairy farms and milk 1,900 head of cattle. They are concerned about a political candidate who is telling citizens of South Africa to kill farmers.
Trevor and Margaret are retired from a security business they have now sold to their son. They are concerned about car thieves who use AK-47s to shoot at security helicopters.
All of them want South Africa to be like it was in the 1980s when apartheid prevailed.
Royal Clipper: Bob from Pennsylvania—Thursday, April 15, 2010, late morning
Bob is a debonair gentleman in his 80s, and I feel compelled to address him as Robert. He says he lives in Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, and I mention my research about John McConnell in nearby Swarthmore. We further hone his home as being in Media, the same community where I lived with Robin Harper in 2005 while doing my research. I ask him if he knows Robin, and he doesn’t. He asks me if I have heard of a certain professor at Swarthmore College, and I haven’t.
His elaboration of this fellow, who he admires as a rare gem among the predominant liberals of that Quaker institution, tells me that Bob is politically conservative. He speaks of the need to tell certain other individuals how to think and act in a proper manner. “And what constitutes a proper manner?” I ask. “Well, doing what’s right,” he answers, as if I should already know that.
Bob says that humans can never reach perfection. I offer that all persons are one with God, who is perfection, and, therefore, perfection and love and grace are natural to all persons. He acquiesces to some degree by agreeing that God is perfect.
I delve into the concept of communion with all, stating that I prefer that over separation and viewing some people or nationalities as “others.” I say that I view humanity as one race: the Human Race. And he agrees.
The conversation moves to health, heredity, and genetics. Bob states his belief that genes control the fate of our health. I tell him that authors I’ve read and whose books I’ve helped edit have debunked that theory and believe that our thoughts and our response to our environment manifest as either disease or wellness.
Bob believes that babies are naturally greedy, demanding what they want through tears and tantrums. I counter that babies are naturally loving, willing to share with others. I speak of the possible environments into which a child might be born: that of love or that of fear. And Bob is aghast when I state that some people believe parenting begins two years before conception when the mother and father begin to build the home (nest) into which the child will be born. But I continue on, mentioning the You Tube video of the expectant mother who is receiving an ultrasound when the angry father bursts in the room and the fetus jumps inside the womb. And Bob becomes fascinated.
I become aware, as the conversation progresses, that Bob and I are now agreeing more than we are disagreeing. We have reached a common ground. We are sharing laughter and sincerity. We are speaking our truths and respecting the truths of each other.
We agree that we are blessed in the United States with an oasis of general freedom from debilitating diseases that remain prevalent in other countries, such as malaria in India and yellow fever in South America. Bob talks about mosquitoes and how to eradicate them: DDT. “Not one human has been harmed and not one bird egg shell has ever been weakened by exposure to DDT,” he says, “but when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring …” My mind moves to images of crop duster airplanes spraying DDT on the people of India, where I will be in another three months, and I decide I don’t want to respond any further. I excuse myself from the conversation.
Royal Clipper: The boy from Germany—Thursday, April 15, 2010, noontime meal
Laurenz is nine, the only child on board Royal Clipper, and he is quite all right with that situation. I compliment his good behavior. “He knows his friends are all in school,” says Mike, his father, whose command of English is quite good. I continue with my compliments, including that I took photographs of the three of them on the netting at the bowsprit the day before. Addressing Laurenz, I see that his expression becomes puzzled. Mike translates, and the lad smiles.
Laurenz and Regine, his mother, share rich red hair while Mike’s is jet black. They are a handsome family, probably in their 30s, the youngest aboard. Mike praises Laurenz’s performance in school, and Regine nods and beams in agreement.
“We took an ocean voyage when Laurenz was five,” says Mike, “from Europe to New York to the Caribbean. We figured it would be the last time we could do that because he was entering school.”
But now, going into the fourth grade, Laurenz is changing schools and the family decided to travel again. “Regine said the school principal wouldn’t let us take him away from school for so long,” Mike continues, “but I asked, and the principal said yes.”
Next year, Laurenz and three of his friends will be in a different school, two towns away from their home. “Laurenz wants to learn English,” Mike explains. “He knows how important that is. They don’t have an English program at his current school, so we are taking him to the other school.” This move is unusual, Mike says, because German schools are intended to serve only their communities.
“But all of the boys and their parents went to the new school principal together. We told him that he had to take all of the boys or none,” adds Regine. “The principal said, ‘I want those boys.’”
Before we reach this point in the conversation, Laurenz has excused himself from the dining room table. “He is going to study,” Mike says.
Royal Clipper: Doris’ sailing journeys—Thursday, April 15, 2010, evening meal
Doris, who lives in Germany, was married for 30-plus years to an Italian whose idea of a vacation was to go to Italy to visit his family. The husband died three years ago, and she has been traveling, nearly nonstop, ever since—including trips to visit his family.
“I started with the faraway places: Australia and New Zealand,” she says. “Generally, I go home for three weeks then back to traveling again for a month or more.”
She shows me pictures of the sailing vessels she has been on.
Trollfjord, a Norwegian cruise vessel that she describes as “more a hotel than a ship.” She adds that the owners of this ship, the Hurtigruten line, started as a small fleet of mail ships. She calls them “swimming post offices before roads provided adequate mail service. They visited every port along the coast, going into fjords, staying in port 20 to 30 minutes, then sailing again.”
Finnmarken, another Norwegian mail ship that is now in Australia.
Millennium, which Doris sailed from Australia to New Zealand.
A small wooden craft that looks like Christopher Columbus’ Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. “This was modeled after another ship that had been caught, buried, and preserved in sand in a river. I sailed this in Rostock, Germany. It’s a very flat bottom boat, not fit for ocean sailing, but good for coastal trading.”
Royal Clipper three times: in Italy, crossing the Atlantic, and in the Caribbean.
Fram, a Norwegian expedition ship, twice: from Hamburg to Iceland and in the Antarctic. She has booked passages again from Great Britain to Norway in May and to Greenland in August.
Polar Star, an icebreaker.
Mir, the famed Russian tall ship, from Hamburg into the North Sea.
Royal Clipper: Pirates Night—Thursday, April 15, 2010, evening
Those who have made the crossing before came prepared with pirate hats, striped shirts, tattered leggings, and scarves. One woman has a fake parrot perched atop a finger of her right hand. I happened to have a gold bandana. Pablo, my cabin steward, has loaned me a foam saber with an orange-and-green hilt. These will have to do.
In the open-air Tropical Bar, Ximena calls for five contestants to play pirate games. Three jump to join in. No one else, not even those dressed for the occasion, move. Ximena calls my name, and I step forward. Then, another man rounds out the five.
The first game is a test of strength: to hold a diving belt with 5 kilograms of weights at arm’s length. The first to falter is out. Ximena counts to three in English, and we raise our arms. The contestant next to me, Uschi, is a woman at least two decades younger than I and strong. Her belt has less weight than that of the rest of us, all men. I look to the right and the left; these guys, Paul, Ronald, and another man I didn’t get to know, are all bigger than I, their biceps larger by quite a bit. I will have to rely on breathing and willpower if I am to prevail. Right. Tell that to my quivering arm. But, just as I think I can’t hold out a moment longer, Paul drops his arm; he is out. My arm drops immediately afterward, but I am still in the game.
The second contest requires a blindfold, and there is talk of walking the plank. Instead, each of us is handed a string to which a pencil is attached at the opposite end. A narrow-neck wine bottle is stood upright near our feet. Art, a man from the audience who I had not yet met, comes forward to be my partner. My role is to follow his instructions as he tells me to raise the string, move it right or left or forward or back, then lower it. The deck sways beneath our feet. I can feel wind blowing across the deck. This is not a test of skill but a situation of pure luck. When my pencil drops into the wine bottle, I can’t feel it enter. But Art tells me to let go of the string, and I do. I listen, blindfolded. Two others are still striving to accomplish the feat. I am the second to have done it. Art pats my back. I have survived to play another round.
The third contest is a race from a chair on one side of the deck, around a chair on the other side of the deck, back to the first chair—with an inflated balloon between our knees. If we drop the balloon or touch it after the race begins, we have to return to the starting chair and begin again. Ximena counts to three in Spanish, and we begin. I start by hopping but don’t like the jarring effect, so I waddle forward. The other two contestants, Uschi and Ronald are ahead of me. But Uschi drops her balloon. Then does Ronald. I am in the lead and round the chair on the other side of the deck as they go back to start over. The balloon feels comfortable between my legs. My confidence grows. I pick up speed, rhythm, waddle. I cruise into the finish line, the only contestant to not retreat and begin again. After dropping his balloon three times, Ronald comes in second. Uschi is eliminated.
David, a member of the ship’s Sports Team, pours about one inch of water into a pair of short cocktail glasses, making sure that each has the same amount. He sets a straw in each glass. Ximena explains that the winner of this contest will be the person who can drink the water in the glass, through the straw, first. Ronald and I turn toward each other. This looks too easy. David hands us the glasses. “You can’t touch the straw,” Ximena instructs. The wind is blowing the straw around in the glass; the first challenge will be to secure it between my lips. Ximena counts to three in German. I suck on the straw; practically no water reaches the top. “The straws have little holes,” Ximena tells the audience, now laughing. “It is a matter of who has the best lungs,” she says in her Mexican accent. With that, I realize that I am bent over the glass, so I stand taller, taking a deeper breath and bringing a greater volume of water to my mouth. I draw again and again and again. The level in the glass is going down—slowly. I draw again and again and again. The last few drops remain. I know that Ronald is beside me, but I think not of him and only of the force of my inhalation. The last of the water disappears from my glass; it is in my mouth. I swallow. I raise my arm high in front of me and upturn the glass. Not a drop falls out. The crowd applauds. My victory is secure.
Ximena tells me that my prize is either the drink of the day from the Tropical Bar or a Royal Clipper keychain. I choose the keychain, a memento of this victory at sea.
Royal Clipper: Wisdom from Germany—Friday, April 16, 2010, evening meal
Henning wears a black patch over his right eye: “Karma in this lifetime,” he says. A twinkle in his remaining eye and his smile seems to contradict that sentiment; either he is pulling my leg or he has learned his lessons well. Gini glows with the same brilliance she did the evening before as the best-dressed pirate for Pirates Night.
He offers burgundy from the bottle he has ordered and, after deciding to order liver instead of fish, I accept.
I thank them for speaking English. Henning says English is America’s gift to the world because it is easy to learn and understand. “But that’s only American English,” he adds, “not formal British English.” Then he asks if I can understand Texas English, adding that it is the most challenging of all.
He says the Chinese have a wonderful way with words, and he loves how one word can have several meanings, depending on how it is spoken. He cites, for example, the word for massage, which can also mean something about killing a horse.
I tell the joke about the man who enters a psychiatrists office and repeats, “Doc, I’m a teepee, a wigwam,” and the doctor’s reply, “Relax, you’re too tense.” Henning seems to be searching for understanding. Gini asks, “Tipi and wigwam are tents, right?” She has gotten that part of the pun, but they don’t laugh until I explain that “tense” means to be stressed. My body language helps explain.
Laughing, Henning says, “That’s like the German who goes to the train station and orders ‘two to Toulouse.’” Then, he says, “Numbers and letters on German military license plates end in the letter ‘Y.’ We say, ‘That marks the end of Germany.’ Y is the end of Germany, get it?” I do, and we all laugh.
The waiter serves Gini’s meal first, then Henning’s, then mine. “He did that properly,” Henning notes. “The lady first, then the eldest man, then the youngest.” I suggest that he appears to be younger than I, but he counters with being 72, ten years my senior. Gini, with shimmering dark hair, could be younger yet. This is a second marriage for both.
He is a maritime architect, a builder of boats—and still working as co-owner, along with a Korean, of his own company. They have offices in China and Germany. Gini works with him so they can be together rather than apart when he travels five to eight months of each year.
He started working with naval destroyers many years after the end of World War II when other world governments again allowed Germany to have a fleet of vessels. He has designed inflatables and sports craft as well as diving gear. Both of them dive and serve as aquatic consultants.
And he has traveled the world: China, Japan, India, many parts of the United States. He speaks knowledgeably of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Lake Michigan. He produced a promotional movie in 1979 that was filmed on the Rogue River in Washington State and the Colorado River when airplanes and helicopters were still allowed to descend within the Grand Canyon’s rock walls.
They listen intently as I describe my upcoming journey. Then Henning’s wisdom pours forth. “Be a benefit to everyone not just yourself; that is our business mission,” he says. “We value both suppliers and customers. All must profit from our experience together.”
He tells of others he knows who travel and come home with only complaints of people and customs encountered in other countries. “Compare but don’t criticize,” he says.
He talks of mirrors. “People speak of reflecting,” he says, “but reflecting is passive. It doesn’t mean anything.”
I state that I am a sponge, that I absorb energy and need to be around people who laugh and live, like these two dinner mates and others I have met on board. Henning and Gini nod in agreement. “Absorb but don’t copy,” he says.
Then, especially in regard to India, he adds, “You are going to a very special place. But remember your roots; study Tao or Dao but don’t give up who you are.” I mention planning my trip to arrive home in time to sail my favorite race of the year, the Anchorage Cup, a simple one-day linear race on Lake Michigan with Dave, the skipper who mentored me nearly 20 years ago, and my wonderful sailing companion, Will. “That’s good,” Henning compliments. “Roots don’t have to be religion. Remember the roots that link to your friends.”
He advises that life and its many journeys are “a chance and a challenge.”
And he closes with: “People experience things and can become bitter but it is better to learn lessons. And every now and then, you need someone to say, ‘It’s time to get together and compliment each other.’”
With that, we toast for the fifth time during the course of this meal, each of us taking the last sip from our glasses. The bottle is empty.
Royal Clipper: News from the sun deck—Sunday, April 18, 2010, 13:30
We’ve been sailing now for about three days.
I say “about” because the days run together, and, without my watch or the computer clock, I don’t have a clue as to what day it is. I’d rather not wear the watch, but there are interesting events to participate in while at sea, and I do strive to be on time for them, even amidst this totally relaxed atmosphere.
I say “we’ve been sailing” because for the first few days out of Barbados, we motored with the sails totally furled as we headed north-northeast with the wind on the nose or slightly to starboard. Then, about three days ago, we reached the 30th Parallel where winds are typically more favorable for the course and direction we wish to go. We are still going north-northeast but the winds are now from the southwest, pushing us. The sails are out—all except the topgallants, which, if unfurled, would put too much strain on the mast.
We are at 33.45 N, 34.47 W, southwest of the Azores. The winds are 15 knots, and our speed is a steady 10 to 13, with following seas. The Royal Clipper is pitching and rolling, tossed by swells of seven meters. A gauge on the bridge shows the rudder, set on autopilot, is swinging back and forth 7 to 10 degrees to port and starboard, passing through center once every 10 to 12 seconds—quite a bit of variance but normal under these conditions.
Walking, whether on deck or below, is a full-body exercise. Sometimes, my feet take a few quick steps to play catch-up with my upper body, and sometimes, I am literally walking uphill. At the passenger meeting this morning, Captain Vlad stood like a swaying stalagmite as he addressed his audience. When passing through a doorway with a latched door, it is wise to close it firmly behind to make sure it doesn’t swing unattended.
A woman, Joan, who is 93, traveling alone and famed for climbing the mast to the crow’s nest on her several previous voyages, fell at supper last night and again at lunch today. Last night, her chair swayed out from under her. Fortunately, Manny, one of the food stewards, caught her by the shoulders and eased her to the floor. I was nearby and saw it all. Today, both Manny and I were across the dining room, and there was no one to catch her. Later, I met Joan walking spryly down the staircase; she said she was waiting for the third fall. “Charming things happen in threes,” she said with a smile.
The lower yardarm on the aft mast broke at 06:00 this morning; it’s now held in place with a sling. The mast is not being used. One of the ship’s two riggers, a burly Russian with a soft smile, is aloft, working on it now. An inclinometer would likely show that we are pitching 20 degrees. He wears a harness.
Yesterday, I discovered the steam sauna. Wonderful. This morning, I was among those who walked a mile with Ximena, the cruise director, although I did tag along later than the others. After that, several of us did calisthenics with Marcus of the Sports Team on the Tropical Deck. Then, I spent an hour in the sauna and missed breakfast. That’s okay. I’ve eaten enough on other days. It’s fun to be getting in shape at sea. My skin feels great, too, softer and more natural than normal. Is that the salt air or being away from Michigan’s dry winter, or both?
Royal Clipper: Healthcare—Sunday, April 18, 2010, 21:30
“Robert, tell us about healthcare in the United States,” asks Jim from Canada.
Four of us have just finished our dessert, and the wait staff is clearing our dishes, so I wait for them to finish. “I’m not an expert,” I say, “but I do live in the U.S. so I have that perspective.”
“That’s what I want,” Jim persists.
Paul from the Netherlands and Robin from Great Britain turn their attention in my direction.
“A few days before we sailed,” I begin, “the U.S. Congress did pass legislation to provide universal healthcare. The bill is 1,200 pages long, which is ridiculous. No congressman is going to read that.”
“No one can,” Jim interjects.
I tell them that the debate is not really about healthcare, even though that is the name used to discuss the legislation. The real issue is what entity is going to provide insurance for healthcare: the government or health insurance companies.
“The crux of the situation,” I say, “is the inequity between laws that Congress passes for itself and laws that Congress passes for the populace. Congressional representatives have universal healthcare, yet a large minority voted against the legislation that would allow the populace to have that same privilege. That’s why there is an amendment circulating that would require Congress to pass no laws that apply to Congress that do not apply to the populace and no laws that apply to the populace that do not apply to Congress.”
“That sounds fair,” Robin says in Liverpudlian accent.
Jim asks if most Americans want universal healthcare, and I respond that I am likely among a modest majority who favor universal healthcare. “But,” I continue, “I think if the media were not involved, those in favor would be a larger, more significant majority.”
“Who’s against universal healthcare?” Jim asks, and he begins to nod his head even as I utter the first syllables of my response: “Insurance companies.”
“And their lobbyists,” Jim adds, completing the thought.
“Right,” I say. “The lobbyists and the media are scaring people into thinking they won’t be able to choose their doctor.”
“That’s what the media told us in The Netherlands,” Paul says, “but after about three weeks, people saw that that wasn’t true, and that whole argument went away.”
I continue, “The pharmaceutical industry and the health insurance industry are the greatest profit makers in the U.S., and, I think, greed is a major factor in this debate. I am self-employed and pay my own insurance. My premiums and my deductible have gone up disproportionately to the cost of living over the last five years so that I am getting considerably less coverage for no significant reduction in premiums.”
After a few more questions and details, I state, “To me, the irony is that the healthcare debate is more about toeing the party line than it is about healthcare. Our nation is divided by a two-party system. I think that if the Republican Party had proposed universal healthcare, then Republicans would have voted for it and Democrats would have voted against it rather than the other way around.”
Jim describes healthcare in Canada, which is government supported. He says that, yes, he does have to wait for treatment to some extent but he much prefers the Canadian way over what has been the U.S. way.
Paul says that government-sponsored universal healthcare used to be the norm in The Netherlands but, recently, the government gave that role back to insurance companies. One result, he says, is that the cost of medication in The Netherlands is several times higher than the same medicine in Germany.
Jim and I note that U.S. citizens also see the same medications selling for far less in Canada than in the States.
Robin mentions working in France where universal healthcare is fiscally broken due to the cost of medications and treatments. In the UK, he says universal healthcare is working all right, but there is some consternation because the government withdraws working cancer medications when doctors determine that a patient isn’t likely to live more than another year.
I protest that that doesn’t seem right. But Jim interjects, “You have to draw the line somewhere or else the cost of treatment up to the point of death will bankrupt the country.” Having a second thought, I recall hearing that the vast majority of a person’s total healthcare expense occurs in the last year or few months of life, and I acquiesce to his point of view.
As we ascend from the table, I remind my dinner mates that I am not an expert on this subject but I do have the viewpoint of citizenship. “That’s what I wanted,” Jim says. “All we have is the media, and your perspective is much more valuable than that.”
Royal Clipper: Dolphins—Monday, April 19, 2010, 08:00
Ximena is leading six of us on a fast-pace walk around all parts of the ship as part of our daily wake-up, work-out regimen. We are on the foredeck when a crewman says, “Dolphins.” Ximena leads us to the port bow, and that is the end of the walk.
The dolphins, perhaps a dozen of them, are romping in the surf of our bow wake, seemingly pushed by the thrust of water ahead of the ship, inches to no more than four feet in front of or beside the prow. At first glance, it appears the ship could run over them. One veers sharply to the left, falling aft 10 to 15 meters, then turns abruptly and races ahead of the ship. Others leap forward about five meters and, in unison, leap above the surface to gulp oxygen.
In seconds, they let the ship catch up to them again, romping in the thrust inches below the bow wake’s foam. One rolls over, exposing its white underbelly but without diminishing its speed.
“They are so fast, and I can’t even see them move their fins,” I say to Mariano, the ship’s marine biologist. “That’s because they are highly efficient,” he responds.
We watch them for, perhaps, ten minutes. Then they are gone. This is a sign that we are getting closer to the Azores. “We’ll see them again,” says Mariano.
Royal Clipper: Searching—Tuesday, 20 April, 2010, 18:30
I am out on the netting next to the bowsprit, admiring the ship’s figurehead, taking in the view of sails at sunset, watching dolphins cavort 10 meters below my feet.
I am in a deck chair, reading The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau, a gift from a friend, Janice, prior to my departure. This book is divided into seven chapters, which the author describes as “the universal ‘round’ of the sacred journey … the common rites of pilgrimage”: The Longing, The Call, Departure, The Pilgrim’s Way, The Labyrinth, Arrival, and Bringing Back the Boon.
I have long experienced the longing. I have finally answered the call. I am two-thirds of the way across the Atlantic, more than 2,000 nm from Barbados and approaching the Azores. I am beginning to sense that I have departed.
Gazing aloft at full sails and blue sky, feeling the ship rock like a child’s cradle, I realize how much guilt, fear, self-intimidation, and self-criticism have defined parts of my life. Yet, I am searching. That is one reason I am here—on this pilgrimage. I seek to bring back a different kind of boon.
The Azores, Sao Miguel island—Wednesday, 21 April 2010, all day
After 11 days at sea, we are in the Azores, Sao Miguel Island, Ponta Delgada.
The Star Clipper line has arranged an island tour for two buses of passengers—one for those who speak English and one for those who speak German—to the village of Sete Cidades (Seven Cities). The nearby volcano-formed lake contains water that is blue on one side of a bridge and green on the other side. The reality has to do with the way sunlight hits the water, the tour guide says. But legend tells of two star-crossed lovers, a princess and a poor farmer, whose marriage is forbidden. With her blue eyes, she cries tears of blue to form one side of the lake, and from his green eyes comes the green water on the other side.
After the tour, I walk about two miles to find a massage therapist who the tour guide has recommended. Against the odds, I am able to book an appointment for later that afternoon.
Perfect. I find a barbershop, thanks to incomplete directions from a patron of a small eatery who speaks only a little bit of English. The barberia is on a small street near the center of town with no significant sign to mark its location. The barber speaks no English, but we both know the reason I’m there. The only real question is how much to cut off, and we communicate that through hand motions.
Then, I hustle back to Royal Clipper to climb the mast to the lower crow’s nest, about 10 meters above the deck. This endeavor challenges my fear of heights, but there is no time for trepidation—I’ve got a massage appointment to keep and no way to call the therapist—so I climb into the safety harness and clamber up the ratlines. Three others are there ahead of me: Robin from Liverpool, Doris from Germany who loves to travel by ship, and 93-year-young Joan. I enjoy the view and snap some photos while Paul, the young man from The Netherlands, joins us. Then Dave, manning the belay line below, says someone has to come down to make room for another, so I volunteer. On the deck that features the Tropical Bar, I grab a bite of food and water from the afternoon buffet then rush to the massage.
After another two-mile walk, I arrive at exactly the appointed minute. Patricia (pronounced Pah-treece-ee-ah) doesn’t speak English. But, as with the barber, we both know the purpose of this appointment. The massage is good, as I had expected, but the massage oil was exceptional: sweet and silky, it warmed under Patricia’s hands on my back and legs. Afterward, I asked Sophia, the receptionist, how I can buy a bottle. “We make it ourselves, and we don’t sell it,” she says. A pity? No, a temporary delight, worth sailing the ocean to attain.
That night, aboard Royal Clipper, we are entertained by Group Folclorico Ilha Verda, 25 musicians and dancers from Ponta Delgado, men and women who invite the ship’s passengers to get up and dance with them.
Royal Clipper: International lunch—Thursday, 22 April 2010, 13:00
“Do people in the United States care what people from other countries think?” asks Paul from The Netherlands. Robin from the UK, Doris from Germany, and Jim from Canada turn to hear my answer.
“Yes, people like us sitting around this table do. People who travel among other common people do. But I think there are those in power and government who do not,” I reply.
Robin says that he thinks it would be a shame if President Barack Obama is not elected for a second term. The others are quick to agree.
The words and terms that all use to describe former President George W. Bush—bluntly and not very politely—describe him as being intellectually incapable of serving as a nation’s leader.
Jim says that the U.S. is “a complicated country,” then expresses a desire for neighborly watchfulness because, as he says, “Canada catches whatever the U.S. has got.”
The general paradigm among this group is liberal with concern for conservative or fundamental extremists in all countries.
Paul tells of an anti-Muslim candidate for Prime Minister in The Netherlands’ upcoming election in June who has said that he would legislate a tax on the head garments of Muslim women. “It’s like he has a target on his forehead,” Paul criticizes.
Similarly, Robin says that Britain will likely have a hung Parliament after its upcoming election in May because no party has a clear majority, a situation that, he says, will favor conservatives and also help Scotland in its move for independence from the UK.
The conversation switches to the presentations of an onboard lecturer, a war correspondent from New Zealand, who has spoken in recent days about the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Paul repeats the lecturer’s comment that it will take many years and much money for the U.S. to disentangle itself from those conflicts.
I offer the opinion of many peace leaders who have stated that the U.S. and the world would be much better off if the Bush Administration would have made a choice for forgiveness and understanding, rather than retaliation, after the attack on the World Trade Center. “If we had responded with humanitarian aid, schools, and hospitals, the cost would have been far less and the reward of understanding would have been much greater,” I say.
These words are not yet out of my mouth when Paul, who, at 24, is young enough to be a son to the rest of us at the table, says, “Oh, absolutely,” while Doris, Jim, and Robin nod their agreement.
Jim says, “They attacked the World Trade Center to create support for terrorists.”
“Who are ‘they’?” I ask.
“The insurgents from Afghanistan,” he replies.
“Please consider that many people in the U.S. consider the events of September 11, 2001, to be an inside job, done by people within the Bush Administration.”
Jim appears skeptical, but Paul is again quick to respond, citing the perfection with which the Twin Towers imploded within their own footprint. He talks about the lack of evidence that it was a plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
I mention the third building, near the Twin Towers, that was intentionally imploded and supposedly contained highly secret documents from the FBI, the CIA, and world financial institutions.
Robin and Doris are also knowledgeable about this conspiracy theory evidence.
I conclude with my observation that the demise of the World Trade Center was the greatest single attack on U.S. soil and, within weeks, the government had all of the forensic evidence moved off site and melted into steel for a battle ship. Everyone agrees that is very strange, indeed.
The other point on which we agree is that our diplomatic conversations aboard this vessel are stimulating and profound, signs of how people can interact and learn from each other—if they are willing to do so.
Royal Clipper: U.S. and German politics—Thursday, 22 April 2010, 19:30
Dinner time discussion with Bernhard, Karrin, and Gisela swings from wine to books to politics and societal norms. They are knowledgeable of U.S. politics, including the history of the 20th century. “Why do you know so much about America?” I ask. “Are you the norm?”
Gisela, who was a child during World War II, answers, “After the war, there were the American zone, the British zone, and other zones in Germany. We were under their control. The Americans gave us aid, care packages, so we were curious about them.”
Bern, who was an adult at that time, adds, “Germans are the largest European population to emigrate to the U.S. They went there for opportunity. The relatives who stayed behind were curious about where they were living.”
They ask if Americans are open to learning about other countries. “The people I know and associate with are,” I say, “but I also know people who only want to protect their piece of land and their nationalism.”
Gisela brings up the topic of nostalgia, and Karrin, who is married to Bern and speaks limited English, offers the German word, which sounds similar; she makes a point about nostalgia, but due to her accent, background ship noises, and a loud voice at a nearby table, I don’t understand. “Many people want to go back to old ways,” Gisela explains. Then, she asks, “To what time would you like to go back?”
“I wish that we could go back to the early 1960s, to before John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and that he would not have been killed. Then, I wish we would have gone forward from there.” The three Germans nod their understanding.
Then we begin to discuss U.S. presidents. They know the names of most of them, the political parties to which they belonged, and the years or eras when they governed. I admit, with embarrassment, that I have little knowledge of only a few German leaders since Adolf Hitler. They seem to understand and accept that many Americans have a limited view of the history of other nations. “Your country won the war,” Bern says as though that explains everything.
Of current politics, Gisele lists parties that are active in Germany: Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Free Democrats, The Left, Conservatives, Communists, and Green. “None have a majority, so they make coalitions,” she states. Bern notes that, as a result, politics are much more complicated in Germany than in the United States. In both countries, they say, the ruling parties shift from election to election; none have lasting power.
Royal Clipper: Steering the ship—Friday, 23 April 2010, 10:30
I am steering Royal Clipper. The officer on watch, Navigator Paulo from Spain, is on the bridge. He has turned off the autopilot and put the ship’s direction into my hands—under the guidance of crewman Tiago from India.
This is, by far, the largest vessel I have ever steered, including stints at the wheel of Schooner America, Pride of Baltimore II, and Highlander Sea on the Great Lakes. But those double-masted schooners, at about 30 meters in length, are one-third the length of Royal Clipper.
This ship’s wheel turns effortlessly. Because of servo linkage, there is no direct mechanical connection to the rudder, which means I cannot feel that submerged blade slicing through the water beneath our stern. Lacking that sensation, I rely solely on two instruments, the compass and the rudder angle indicator, which reports the number of degrees the rudder is off-center, and on Tiago’s instruction and his occasional touch of the wheel, of course.
I notice that this wheel does not have a Turk’s Head knot or any other tactile object on any particular spoke that would indicate when the rudder is in alignment with the vessel’s center line. That’s because, on this ship, having the rudder at dead center doesn’t necessarily steer the proper course, Tiago tells me. With today’s current and winds blowing from starboard, for example, we need to hold the rudder at four degrees to port in order to steer our desired heading of 205 degrees. At first, the compass spins between 200 and 210 as I turn the wheel a half turn or more clockwise then counterclockwise. But as I acquire a touch with less wheel movement, I bring our wayward path to a steadier 203 to 207.
With other passengers waiting in line, I admit to being a helm hog and turn the thrill over to Bill from Canada.
When I get a second chance to steer an hour or so later, Tiago tells me to put my hand on a certain spoke. He says, “Keep this straight up when you’re at 205. Turn it to the right if the compass reads less than 205, and turn it to the left if the compass is more than 205.” He explains that this spoke, when vertical, positions the rudder in the proper number of degrees off center to steer our course under these wind and current conditions.
Watching only the compass and steering according to Tiago’s instructions does simplify the task tremendously. And I am able to keep us within a degree of 205. Tiago says that one degree variance is normal because of the fluidity of conditions in which a ship sails. In rougher conditions, two degrees either direction is acceptable. Any more variance than that is not.
I smile. I’m doing well. Tiago’s assisting fingertips no longer need to touch the wheel.
This is fun!
Royal Clipper: European table manners—Friday, 23 April 2010, 19:30
“I have a question,” I say to Aase from Germany and Paul from The Netherlands. “In America, I would hold my wine glass like this,” and I lift it with the bowl cradled between my thumb and my index finger and middle finger with the lower two digits touching and balancing the glass stem. But I notice that you—”
“Ohhh, nooo,” Aase drawls “You hold it like this.” Her fingers are touching only the stem, with the bowl nearly an inch above her index finger.
“Actually, it depends on the wine,” interjects Paul. “You can hold a glass of red wine the American way because it is supposed to be warmer, but you always hold a glass of white wine by the stem because it’s supposed to be chilled.”
“Learning to sit properly at the table, with your back straight, is very important in Europe,” adds Aase.
We discuss tableware. Observing others aboard ship, I had begun holding my fork in my left hand and only my knife in my right, per European traditions. But Paul offers a refinement to my technique. He informs me that the fork only faces down when holding food to be cut and that it should always be turned over, so the tines are level, when conveying food to the mouth. Except when eating a salad, in which case, it’s okay to hold the fork in the right hand.
“When you are eating, you set the fork and knife down on top of your plate on opposite sides,” says Aase, demonstrating her fork on the left and her knife on the right. “When you are finished eating,” she continues, “you always put both on the right side so the waiter knows to come and take your plate.”
“I was eating in a restaurant with American friends,” says Paul, who is a very mature 24, “and I couldn’t believe them. They would sit with their menus open and talk. Then, they complained because the service was slow. I told them the waiter was waiting for them to close their menus.”
“Yes, that’s the signal that you are ready to order,” adds Aase.
Royal Clipper: Sleeping topsides—Saturday, 24 April 2010, 04:00
It’s 4:00 am, and I am awakened by deckhands swabbing the deck.
With Captain Vlad’s permission, I have been sleeping on the sundeck, a location obviously named for daytime, and not nighttime, use. I had laid out a foam exercise pad and my sleeping bag prior to midnight while the moon was high, its light diffused by a thin veil of hazy cloud. Still awake then, I watched this celestial body seemingly sashay across the sky as, in reality, the Royal Clipper’s yardarms, perched between my eyes and the moon, were responding to the pitch and roll of moderate waves off the starboard bow.
The moon is now gone beyond either denser clouds or the horizon, probably the latter, as I hear the sound of water being sprayed from high-pressure nozzles nearby. Fortunately, the swabbies have noticed me. The teak is soaked ahead, astern, and on the port side directly opposite my location. They are working around me—thank you. But rather than sleep in their way, I crawl out of my cozy mummy bag, don my clothing, and stuff my bag in my daypack, which has also served as my pillow.
I restow the foam pad and head to the bridge. There, I tell Security Officer Alexandr that I have moved and am returning to my cabin. I ask if the crew swabs the deck every morning. He says, “Yes, every morning at oh-five-hundred, but some like to start early.”
Lingering topsides, the black night illumined only by a few strands of electric light bulbs on the yardarms and a few security nightlights close to the deck, I relish the peaceful stillness and warm Atlantic air that surrounds me.
Royal Clipper: The choir—Saturday, 24 April 2010, 17:30
The impromptu passenger choir consists of eight voices: six men and two women, a rare combination of gender for a singing group. More significantly, we are blending voices from Germany, England, Austria, South Africa, and the U.S.
We’ve been practicing for four days, about 45 minutes each day. Our repertoire is of the sea, naturally: “Beyond the Sea,” “Sailing,” “What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor,” “Ode to Royal Clipper” (to the tune of “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore”), and “It’s a Long Way to Old Malaga” (to the tune of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”). The last two contained original lyrics, which several of us altered and I, as the designated writer on board, refined.
Interestingly, all eight singers were first time crossers of the Atlantic, for which we had received a Henley sailing shirt. These became our choir robes.
Royal Clipper: Disembarkation—Monday, 26 April 2010, 09:30
It’s time to get off the ship, literally. The voyage is over.
I’m among the last to disembark, having said goodbye to fellow passengers and new friends at breakfast and while lingering in the Piano Bar and the Tropical Bar.
Stepping ashore in Malaga, Spain, I am in continental Europe—for the first time.
What else can I say?
Royal Clipper: What else I can say—a reflection
The people aboard Royal Clipper are affluent and knowledgeable of world affairs. They are curious and questioning. Many travel often, either for business or pleasure. Actually, they make no distinction between business and pleasure—all travel is pleasurable. Many have been on Royal Clipper or other Star Clipper vessels before—and will do so again.
What else can I say?
The environment and atmosphere aboard Royal Clipper stimulates conversation, frequently of an international nature. Yes, there is some general, lighter conversation but nothing trivial.
Most of all, these people have information to share, and they express a desire to interact, explore, and learn from others. This is intellectually and philosophically idyllic.
Does such an experience need to be temporary? What are the parameters and determinants that we need to have in place—as a population or civilization—for this kind of introspection and conversation to occur more frequently if not universally?
Answer: We need an environment of abundance—not necessarily monetary wealth and certainly not greed—but an abundance that comes from having enough and a willingness to share physically and philosophically.
Sometimes, during our conversation, we agreed. Sometimes we didn’t. But (just about) always we shared ourselves and our ideas.
What else can I say? Lots.
What else can I learn? Lots. If I listen.
The voyage across the Atlantic on Royal Clipper was a voyage of saying, listening, and learning.
I wish to carry that over, ashore, into other arenas of my life. I hope it carries over for the other passengers, too. And for you.
So, I ask: What do we do to bring abundance—an attitude of abundance—to the world? I believe it’s possible. But how? I invite you to ask yourself that question—then strive to make it happen.
Royal Clipper: Postscript—from early in the cruise
To save money, I booked an inside cabin, which means I didn’t have a porthole. I figured that if I want to see the sea, I would do so from the deck not a small round window.
Early in the cruise, I discovered that if I put a towel at the base of my cabin door and a sock over the thermostat, I could sleep in total darkness. How often have I—or anyone—done that? Probably not since the womb. And with the gentle pitch and roll of the ship, that’s exactly where I imagined myself to be. Aah!
Stories within this chapter:
Royal Clipper is 439 feet in length, sports five masts that carry 42 sails, and is
the largest full-rigged tall ship on the seas. The following photos capture some of the onboard scenes. For a total view, visit the Royal Clipper web page.
A view of the foremast
from the bowsprit.
Some of the lines used to trim Royal Clipper's 56,000 square feet of sails.
The ship's interior features
a three-tier atrium
with piano bar and lounge
on the top deck, companion way with elaborate murals
on the second deck, and full-service dining room
on the lower deck at sea level.
The dining experience includes a sea-level view
of the Atlantic through
dining room portholes.
Sailing across the Atlantic means many days out of sight of land.
Here, the ocean stretches
far in front of Royal Clipper's foredeck as seen from near the navigation bridge.
The crew sets sail as Royal Clipper embarks from Barbados into the Atlantic night. 10 April 2010.
Robert Weir's body is covered with flour, hollandaise-coated pasta, and fresh egg as his punishment for crossing the mid-Atlantic. 14 April 2010. Photo by Alan Thagaard.
Robert Weir wins a series of games of skill and luck to win first-place honors on Pirates Nite. 15 April 2010.
Dolphins, romping in Royal Clipper's bow wake, are aquatic companions.
19 April 2010.
A full moon shines through the rigging. 20 April 2010.
Robert Weir climbs the ratlines to reach the crows nest. 21 April 2010.
Photo by Robin Eldridge.
The view of the foredeck
from the crows nest.
The dock and harbor is at Ponta Delgado, Azores.
21 April 2010.
Royal Clipper passengers are allowed to take the helm
to steer the ship. 22 April 2010. Photo by Jim King.
An impromptu ship's choir sings songs of sailing as the vessel nears its destination of Malaga, Spain. 24 April 2010. Photo by Doris Strueber.