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A Message from the Sea

Ship Pacific Jewel

Sunday 23 December in this year of the Lord’s favour, 2018

I am sitting with Janet at a table in “the Pantry” which is a public dining area on the ship. We have just finished lunch and we are on a southward course, bound for  the port of Hobart, in Van Diemen’s Land. So far it is a little overcast, with a swell running, which is making us reel around the decks like drunken sailors as we walk, but it’s not too bad. We left Kangaroo Island yesterday evening, delayed an hour because of some emergency. We had actually left the island and had been sailing an hour when someone on board became gravely ill. The ship returned, the passenger was disembarked on a tender and as the tender returned alone, I imagine the patient was probably taken to the small hospital on Kangaroo Island, or transferred to Adelaide, or dumped overboard. Thankfully there was no work for the likes of myself or Fr Thomas Peacock, the Roman Catholic chaplain on board.

We found the city of Adelaide to be your usual big city; full of shops and eleventy million people, all crowded into the exact space that I wished to occupy. We didn’t stay very long, but on  the way back, stopped at the harbour where our ship was berthed (Outer Harbor) and went on a “Hop On-Hop Off” bus – and wished we’d done that, rather than go into the city. It  took us to a fascinating beachside suburb called Semapahore with a very old history dating back to the days of sail,  then on to Port Adelaide, which is even better. There are two square riggers berthed there – and even more amazing the great clipper ship, City of Adelaide,dating from the first half of  the 19thcentury, used to transport immigrants to Australia. She transported thousands during her time as an immigrant  ship and it is amazing to think she is being restored. She was returned from Britain in a very bad state, but in time she will be like Cutty Sark, (London) James McLeod(Sydney) and Polly Woodside (Melbourne); living remnants of the great age of sail.

Finally we returned to our ship, Pacific Jewel

    We were fascinated with Kangaroo Island. It’s like going back 150 years to early Australian settlement. We anchored off the tiny village of Penneshaw which sounds either Welsh or Cornish to me. We didn’t do any tours but wandered about the town area and found the fascinating if tiny museum, which is all about ships and the sea and Kangaroo Island’s discovery by Matthew Flinders. Dozens of ships have been wrecked around KI as they call it and there is a powerful link between KI and England which one can sense. There are some beautifully built models of ships in the museum, such as Matthew Flinders’ ship Discovery.

    We’ve been on these cruise liners when it was common to have quite a few things that were part of the price of the cruise, but no more. This ship is one designed for those who want FUN FUN FUN AND NOISE NOISE NOISE in endless quantities. I can’t be in the areas where the shows are held because of the noise. The other day Janet and I were in the big area called the Atrium, having a coffee when one of those bands started up. The base was put at full pitch and I can tell you I could feel waves of sound hitting my chest and for a while thought I was going to have a heart attack… they were like physical blows. We had to leave hurriedly. There are numerous shops selling everything. 

I must say that the cruise director Pablo and his assistant, Matthew, have been very cooperative in advertising the church services. There was a notice in the ship’s paper last night about today’s two services and I heard them give them a plug on the morning TV show today. 

Unfortunately, there was a time-confusion that had an effect on the attendance at my church service of “Nine Lessons & Carols” today.

This morning everyone was supposed to turn their clocks back from SA time to Eastern Standard (daylight saving time), at 2.00am. We changed our watches back, others didn’t, but what made it confusing was the fact that people were depending on their mobile phones to change back automatically. Ours didn’t. They were still on Adelaide time and perhaps still are. That’s how dependent people are on their phones.

The result was, we may have had quite a few more in the congregation than we would have had if everyone had relied on their watches. Some arrived on time but about a quarter who were there arrived late. When our service was due to start, I was so worried. Only four were there. I knew there would not be a great crowd. When I awoke this morning I had a thought in my head: “God is lonely, on this ship.” In fact I still have the feeling, by and large, that the vast majority of these people have no knowledge of God, or faith, or even anything even vaguely spiritual in their lives. With lots of noise noise noise and/or fun fun fun and all sorts of distractions, people don’t have to think about God. Be still, and know that I am Godis utterly foreign to them.. no rest for their souls in the quietness. Those were my thoughts in my depressed state this morning at 0600, with the service looming at 0800.

I must say the printed Order of Service of Nine Lessons and Carols that arrived was really good… no errors. It has a gold border with a gold P&O logo in the corner. In the end, we had around 30 or 40, but from what I can gather, we could have had about another 15 or so, had there not been the confusion with the time. Everyone sang the carols lustily and with good heart. We had folk from several denominations attending, including Lutherans from South Australia, a state that was largely settled originally by Germans immigrants. I had four folk read eight of the lessons, including Janet. One was a Lutheran lay preacher, another an Anglican lady from NZ. I read the last: John 1:1-4, known as The Prelude, but the others were longer. There in the community of faith again, with believing Christians, my spirits were buoyed and uplifted. Regardless of denomination, we all belong to the family and household of faith. One thing I did notice: of those present at the Service, there was not one child, or even young person. The youngest would be about 35. So once when young children knew all the Bible stories of Noah and the Ark, Daniel in the Lion’s Den etc and were taught  the Lord’s Prayer, they now live in ignorance. In most little lives, there is nothing to replace that faith. When we went off on our first chaplaincy cruise on the old Fairstarback in ’81, we had over 300 at the Easter Service… unheard of today.

We have our next service tomorrow on the ship in the port of Hobart at 0800 and the final one on Christmas Day, in Port Arthur.

Apart from the gloom, which so wracked me today, we’ve met some interesting and nice people, who greet us when we see them around the ship. We get on well with all the staff;  the  wait people and so on, most of whom are Filipinos. Despite their hard, tiring work, they are always smiling. Today we were chatting to a young Filipino lass who was waiting at the table, who had an accent exactly like Marilene’s – and she also had that pretty little trill of a laugh, like hers. She laughed when we told her about our Marilene and I added – “and she is very pretty, just like you.” She laughed. I told her that I had run out of sons, but if I had one more, I would introduce him to her (Ria). She thought that would be wonderful. So did we. I don’t know if she was a Protestant, like Marilene, or a Catholic.

We are not going to have dinner in the dining room at night any more. The choice of food for vegetarians is shocking. I had pasta twice and would have had to have it again, but tried something else, which was thick and gluggy rice. We chat away to the folk seated beside us, but you wouldn’t believe it – what I am about to relate has now happened twice: The first time there were six of us at the dining room table. Opposite me was an elderly gent and his wife. The wife was as bright as a button, chatting away happily; a real life of the party type. Her hubby said nothing, so I thought I’d better engage him in conversation. I shouldn’t have. I think his wife usually did the talking, so he started talking directly to me, and didn’t stop. As well, he had a  very soft voice – softer than mine. With all the other noise going on, I spent the meal leaning across  the table, asking “What was that?” … “I beg your pardon?”… etc. 

I got him the following night too. The next night we had a change. Opposite me was a lady, Pat, whose hubby was next to me. Further up the table was a very talkative lady with a loud voice. Pat caught my eye and started to talk… even more softy than the one the previous night, and her words ran into each other … I had no idea at all what she was saying and spent the meal repeating my experience with the gent of the previous two nights. In the end I nodded, said “Really?” smiled when she smiled, looked sad when she looked sad, laughed when she did. Beside me, her husband said almost nothing.

Janet is having a relaxing time. She’s knocked over a book or two, leads me about when she can see I’m lost, and generally organized me as usual, went to a talk or two etc. She doesn’t like our cabin at all. I don’t mind… a room is a room is a room and a bed a bed to lie on when one gets tired.. . better than trying to sleep under a hoochy in pouring rain, believe me. A hoochy is a sheet of very light camouflage materialabout six feet (2 metres) long and roughly the width of a body, which at night is tied each end to a handy bush or tree if available and is supposed to protect a soldier from the weather. What a joke. I’ve spent more than one freezing night as an ARA chaplain, getting soaked to the skin under a hoochy. They would be handy for wrapping up the body of a dead soldier. 

Oh well, I’ve been prattling away so will sign off. Janet is long gone; went for a walk around the deck, leaving me to write to you. It’s 15.40, the sun is shining through light cloud, the swells of the sea are moving our vessel side to side in a  soothing motion … rock the baby gently…

2100 hrs. 

     As I write, the weather has deteriorated and we are rocking and rolling through a heavy swell hitting us, hitting us on the starboard beam, so from the west, from where so much bad Bass strait weather hails. It’s bad enough for them to cancel the later show tonight because the performers would not be able to stand. Janet is somewhere out there looking at The Great Gatsby show that is being put on tonight. Many of the passengers dress up for it in  the style of the day .. the 1920’s I think.

    Anyway, on more important issues, the powerful winds around the bottom of the planet travel from west to east. In the great days of sail, fabled wool and tea clippers, like Cutty Sark, Ariel, Lightning, Taeping, on their way to Australia used to streak down past the Cape of Good Hope, Africa, and travel as far south as possible to catch the mighty winds of the roaring forties, travelling from the west to the east, so they’d have the wind behind them. They threw up every piece of canvas possible, slicing through the giant waves of the roaring forties at 30-plus knots, doing times from England to Australia not much behind modern ships. In fact Lightningholds a record that stands to this day.

Some bad news. Somehow someone failed to note that I have a church service tomorrow morning at 0800. It was not included in the ship’s paper, which means that no one will know about it and nothing will be set up. I saw Matthew the assistant cruise director who has gone into a slight panic mode – but now the service will be in an entirely different location  – and I told the folk today it would be in the same spot! Matthew says it will be broadcast on the TV and will get a plug tomorrow morning, but I wonder if he’ll remember to put on the man who arranges the speaker system, have chairs set up and a lectern and have the orders of service sent up? Our God will have some trouble putting this one right. All we can do is watch and pray.

Tuesday 25 December in the year of grace, 2018:

CHRISTMAS DAY. 2100 hours:

Pacific Jewel

AT SEA

    As I write, our gallant vessel is steaming northwards, up the east coast of Tasmania, bound for the port of Burnie. Tonight some time we will pass between Swan Island and Clark Island, then set a westerly course passing to the north of Waterhouse Island.

    We left Port Arthur, with its grim history of violence and death about 15.00 hrs. We expect to berth in Burnie about 0900 tomorrow.

Let me take you back to where my former missive ended as I deplored the fact that our church service for Christmas Eve had not been advertised in the ship’s news sheet – which meant no one would know that it was due to be held. I’ll resume from there.

    That evening I rushed about, trying to find the assistant cruise director, Matthew, to advise him of the fact, but he is always unbelievably busy – especially at night, running the night show, out on the stage, going flat-strap. I feel rather sorry for him because so much is loaded on him and he is expected to keep smiling, do lots of organizing and ensure everything runs smoothly. (In a funny sort of a way I equate his duties as not dissimilar to that of a parish minister). I told him that according to the ship’s paper, the Dome was to be occupied by some Pilates group. Finally I managed to pin him down. He was surprised. He said he’d advertise it on the TV (which isn’t much good, for that would not be until the following morning, early, when few listen). Anyway, that was the best he could do in the circumstances. Thus my emotions had gone from low to high, after the success of the first service, despite some problems, to low again – but thankfully … more like anxiety. I’d also noted that Matthew was already looking stressed so wondered if he would remember to have the Orient room set up for a service. 

As it turned out, my fears were realized. By 0730 it was obvious to me  that nothing had been done. I rushed to the Purser’s desk and told them of the problem. Lots of consternation, lots of apologies, people running about, trying to get done in about 20 minutes what would have taken an hour to get ready the night before. As I waited in the Orient room a young woman came to put up a notice on a stand on each of the two doors leading into the Orient room that a church service would be in progress. At that stage there was no one to attend to the sound system which I needed, to play the carols via my laptop and also for the sermon, prayers, readings. Just then Janet came rushing in: “Tony – that girl who put up the notices of a church service has put up the ones that indicate it will be a CATHOLIC Service!” What else could go wrong? She rushed off to get the right ones. The sound man (Edward, a Filipino, arrived but was unaware of what I really needed, and an occasional person began to show up.

Finally the service started – but instead of the numbers I hoped for, here on Christmas Eve, we had a total of twelve. 

    At the end of. the Service, I thanked them for being there and concluded it was at least good to have twelve present. 

    “Thirteen!” a voice piped up. It was Edward the sound man, a devout little Christian but unable to attend services because of his work load. Edward said he loved the service and wanted to be counted as one present as a worshipper, not simply the sound man (regulating the volume etc). I thought  that was very touching.

Later in the day, Matthew found me and was full of apologies. “I’ve ensured the details of the service will be tonight’s paper. The orders of service will be there – and you are back in the Dome!” I was really relieved and so Janet and I could go ashore in Hobart town and not worry.

Amazingly, our journey into Hobart town got no further than the Old Constitution Docks. I was utterly captivated by the numbers of historic sailing craft that met my gaze, including the square rigger, Lady Nelson (which takes passengers to sea), and a 19th/early 20thcentury trading ketch, used to carry supplies to and from Tasmania. There is a picture of one at “Puddleby” our house! There are only four of the type left in the world. This one is May Queen. There were vessels, including the famous 50ft ketch Westward, which won line honors in the first Sydney-Hobart race in 1947, and again in 1948. I’ve read a lot about her. She’s a beautiful, classic yacht, a double-ender. I took photo after photo of them all.

One would have thought that would have been the end of it – but we got only as far as the Tasmanian Maritime Museum! We must have spent a couple of hours there. There is everything relating to Tasmania’s long and proud history of the sea, including figure heads from sailing ships, models of famous ships, histories of the 1100 ship wrecks that dot Tasmania’s rugged coastline. 

    We’ve been moving about the ship, meeting interesting folk from various walks of life. I even managed to sell one of the two copies of my books I brought with me: “What the Bible Really Says About Women.” Another lady is very interested in purchasing the “God Ghosts Ghouls” book. Janet has attended most of the shows, but the noise drives me out. I can’t stand it and don’t know why I alone appear to have such sensitive ears. I see even old dears sitting, listening, as someone screeches noisily into a microphone, accompanied by others banging away noisily on drums and things.

And so I came to this happy day – Christmas Day, and to our 0800 service. Rolando, another Filipino, was my sound man. He was at the first service so knew the ropes.  The Dome is a great place for the service – quite light (unlike the Orient, which is one of those dark hole in the wall places). There were about thirty chairs set up. People began to drift in. To my delight, those chairs were filled – and then more and more arrived, until at last we filled the Done! It was so uplifting, and unlike the other two services,  there were young people and children. It was a joyful service, commencing with the first carol, “Joy to the World.” I had a couple of people read the lessons and everyone  sang the carols heartily and joyfully. It was a really wonderful and uplifting service and many said they really enjoyed the sermon. It was all over in something under the hour.

The good news for me personally was that the services finished on a happy note; a joyful note and I thank God for that. So much for those times when we are overcome with the world. God has a way of lifting us from depressions and woes and ills and reassuring us that. He will never leave us or forsake us.

Later, Janet and I got on a tender and went over to explore Port Arthur. So much of it is now missing, but moving around the numerous sandstone buildings and grim prisons is an experience in which the past seems to live on; especially seeing some of the little bits of graffiti here and there that convicts managed to carve into the sandstone – usually just their names.

We all had to be back on board by 15.00 and shortly after we heard the mud hook clanking up the hawser. We can’t help hearing it: our cabin seems to be exactly above it. We could hear the sailors singing a sea shanty (it wasThe Rio Grandeas they manned the capstan, dragging that lump of iron off the bottom of the ocean …. Well, we would have heard them, a couple of hundred years ago. Anyway, do you know that sea shanty? I seem to recall the words, so I’ll sing it to you when next we see you.

    I was really surprised to see that one of the entertainments this evening was an hour of Christmas Carols, sung by the ship’s senior officers, so decide to be there. They weren’t bad, I must say. We had a programme. Unfortunately, they missed out on one carol and cut half the verses out of another, which was really disappointing, for what has been desperately needed on this ship is a spirit of the true meaning of Christmas, remembering the Reason for the season with reverence and joy, honouring the Name that is above every other name with heart and mind and soul and voice.

    Oh well, once again I have babbled on with some inconsequential stuff, but have a read anyway. 

Janet is in the land of nod but as it is only 22.55  I find it hard to relax. Walking all around Port Arthur was not a good idea for her, for her old nurse’s knees are giving her curry.

I’ll gang awa’ the noo, and may God bless you all this Merry Christmastide, and may its blessings follow you all through the Bright New Year, until it becomes the Old new year again.

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