Local Radio France The Burgundy Blog Poems About/Contact
The 2CV Alaska Challenge
Bulletin No.3: THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA
Friday 9th July 1999. MV Christiane slap bang in the middle of the North Atlantic.
Midweek it had been glorious, with blue skies and a blazing sun beating down on boiling mercury. There'd been a light sea swell, with small waves smashing against the side of the ship and turning into dancing foam snakes. The dolphins were still playing in the wash from the ships propellers. It was all so relaxed, so peaceful, just like they'd told me: "it's never rough in the summer", so why did the maritime forecasts saythere were 'very rough' seas ahead? I didn't particularly want to experience those very rough seas, nor did the Captain, and so the ship diverted south to avoid the bad weather. The ocean was pretty annoyed about something and as we sailed along the southern edge of the storm we still felt its anger. The charging waves grew higher and the ship began lurching and bucking like a geriatric bronco. The wind bitched and moaned. The engines, which had given us so much trouble in Rotterdam, roared and whined as they drove the ship onwards through the storm tossed waves. In fact, every rivet, every plate, every fixture, every fitting vibrated with the power required to push 27,000 tons of metal and minerals across the ocean at 13.5 knots (the ship averaged a distance of 350 miles a day). This shaking and vibrating continued 24 hours a day for the duration of the voyage.
After a day or so the ocean became less petulant and you were able to venture out on to the deck without being simultaneously washed and blow dried. Rather like the aftermath of a storm on land, the sea storm had left everything cleaner, fresher, with a rich salty smell eminating from the ocean. The dolphins had scarpered, and I was surprised to see birds hovering above the waves. I don't know enough about our feathered friends to tell you what sort of birds they were, but since they were thousands of miles from the nearest land the word 'dumb' springs to mind.
Watching the birds with me was Kurt, the only other passenger on the Christiane. Kurt's an amazing 91 years old, yet he still has all his faculties and is quite agile, managing to negotiate the ship's stairs and ladders without difficulty. A small man with sunken eyes and a prominant nose, he came from Hamburg and had spent his working life at sea. During the 30 years of his retirement he had travelled many times as a passenger on cargo ships. It was as though he were unable to break his strong bond with the sea. Watching Kurt up on the poop deck, stripped to the waist, his parchment-like skin soaking up the rays of the sun, you soon realised that it was the sea that had kept him alive and healthy for so long.
But he was still an incredible 91 years old and had to give the shipping line a 6000 dollar insurance bond before they'd allow him to travel on the ship. 'You go to Prudhoe Bay', he would say to me, with a heavy Germanic accent. Kurt of course, having been everywhere and done everything, had been to Prudhoe Bay (he last made the trip when he was a mere 89 years old, and drove a camper van all the way from Savannah to Alaska). In the weeks to come I could look forward to hearing many fascinating tales of Kurt's adventures in the wilderness, but for now, all I could hear was the sound of lunch being prepared in the kitchen below the poop deck. From a nearby vent shaft there wafted the smell of some strange kind of Croatian goulash. The stern of the ship suddenly lifted up 30ft as the bow crashed into a wave trough. I felt nausea put its arm around my shoulder.