Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Voyage: Thursday November 12


We got up early to get breakfast, sort out the last paperwork and phone the boat company. They told us we could board in the late afternoon, and we'd be sailing out at 2pm on Friday.
Tom was expected at lunchtime, so we set off into town to explore Le Havre and its boats.

We walked along the basin and watched kids learn to sail, then walked across to the ferry and fishing harbour were a pile of old gear was laying on the quay. I was a little bit frustrated not to have the trusted caravelle - I would have liked to load some of it into a car and use it later to play with in rehearsals.

The fish market was still open.

We left the market and continued on, then saw this man who had a small problem.

We walked further along the shore and as we passed the corner of the seafront, an enormous cargo ship pulled out of the harbour. Suddenly our plan became very real. This is what we were about to do.

Were we entirely insane?

Further on we found the pleasure harbour, with private smaller boats. As we were desperate for coffee, we were very happy to finally find a little cafe. It was perfect. A sailor's bar, full of maps of the owner's previous journeys. There was also a chart of a sailing competition that had just started. Quite a few sailing boats were crossing the Atlantic, just like we were about to do.
We chose the table that had the maps of our destination on it and looked at our route.

It was time to meet Tom so we walked to the train station (slightly further than we expected).

(Kieran is holding a small sign saying Tomas)
And there he was: the final passenger.

Being complete at last, we went for lunch. There were a fair amount of brasseries around the train station and we thought it might be nice to go for a French plat du jour. This could be the last decent meal we'd be having for the next 10 days.
The restaurant we chose had a speciality: dishes from the Maghreb. So half of us went for couscous (it was delicious), the other half for steak.

We spent our last hour on land with doing some last minute shopping, and then off we went, into a taxi to the harbour.
The first taxi arrived immediately after we called them, but then something went wrong.
Tom, Kieran, David, Liz and I stood there waiting.
And waiting.
And waiting.
We watched some kids climb up the strange volcano building opposite the hotel (it's a theatre). They would climb as high as they could get and then slide down on their bums. We cheered them on and after about 40 minutes Kieran took on the challenge and ran over to them. He didn't get nearly as high up as the kids, but that might have been because the taxi had finally arrived.

Still, it wasn't big enough for the 5 of us, so him and David ended up waiting for a third taxi.

We checked in at the port and our driver drove into the harbour. He clearly knew where he was going (luckily, as Le Havre has a fairly large harbour).

Driving up to the boat made us all gasp a little: it was big. Very, very big.
The others were right behind us in the other taxi, and Alex, Margit and Kjell were waiting for us on the deck.

A man came running down the (wobbly) stairs to deal with our luggage. We'd later find out his name is Speedy.
He put all the bags in a pile on a pallet, which would then be pulled up with a rope. The stack looked very precarious, and I was sure one of our suitcases would fall between quay and ship. That would not be good.

Clearly they'd done this before: all went well, and once the luggage was up, we were invited the climb the dodgy stairs.
(They were not dodgy as such, but since they were attached to the first deck, but didn't reach the quay, they were sort of free-floating at the bottom, and the rope railings didn't give much support).

So there we were, on board the Fort St. Louis. We signed in on the bottom deck, then went to Deck A to the office, were we handed over our passports, signed a piece of paper stating we did not have swine flu, and had our picture taken for a badge. The first officer told us the boat would be leaving an hour earlier than planned, 1pm instead of 2pm.

Then we were shown to our cabins and unpacked.

Mario, the purser, showed us around and told us when feeding time was.
We arrived after 6pm, and dinner was at 7pm, so we went for dinner almost immediately.

Dinner was beyond everyone's expectations. A long table with table cloths, candles, 2 bottles of rose, 2 bottles of red wine, flowers, and a menu. Starters, mains, cheese and fruit. And the food was good. We were briefly introduced to the chef (Xavier) and his assistant (don't know his name).
We ate well, drank well, and went upstairs.

On the menu it said we'd be leaving Le Havre another hour earlier than planned, at noon.

Part of our aims during this journey is to write five letters to someone, real of fictional, living or dead.
Our first night on board we wrote our first letter. Liz brought us some pipes to get into the right atmosphere.

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