Gliding and sliding up the Red Sea

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April 8th 2014
Published: June 26th 2017
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From Salalah, four days traversing the Red Sea

Temp: 77F 25C

Distance travelled: 2063 nautical miles

Now we have 4 days cruising up the Red Sea. This will give me the chance to explain a little about life on board. What do we get up to for 4 days without setting foot on land? This is not the longest stint at sea we have experienced but up until now it has certainly been the hottest!

Having left Salalah behind us, the ship headed back out in to the Gulf of Aden. The next leg of our odyssey will take us up the length of the Red Sea turn right up the Gulf of Aqaba to arrive in the city of the same name; the only port in the Kingdom of Jordan, some 1,937 nautical miles ahead of us.

The Red Sea is so named because of Algae that can be seen along the shore of this stretch of water. The Red Sea is actually a rift between the Nubian and Arabian Tectonic plates. The Red Sea is part of the Great Rift Valley but over thousands of Millennia has flooded and become the expanse of water we know today. The floor of the Sea varies greatly from anywhere between 800 – 2000m below the surface of the water. I learned this information from a seminar I attended on the Red Sea and how it was formed. I only went for the fantastic charts and graphs as part of the presentation!!

In the early hours of the morning we crept round the Horn of Africa. This is where the Somali pirates seem to have been at their most active although we're not in the clear just yet.

The promenade deck is on deck 6. This is a deck where it is possible to walk the length of the ship. Whilst the outside upper decks on deck 11 and above remain open, the promenade deck has been closed for the past few evenings. The sign hanging from the chain draped across the doorway states that this is due to high winds yet up on top the wind is barely a breeze and the info point via the stateroom TV indicates that the wind is not much more than 9 knots/hr. Roisin peeked from behind the festooned curtains and noticed that the promenade deck was not illuminated as it normally is. We have now both concluded that our Guardians and Safety Marshals are patrolling the lower decks as it is more likely that if an attack is imminent it will be under the cover of darkness. The security detail will no doubt have night vision goggles. All the passengers seem oblivious to what is happening and to what extent MSC is going in order to protect the safety of all passengers and crew. But we know…the truth is out there!!!

Just before heading out for breakfast, Roisin spotted what looked like a whale about 200 metres off the starboard bow. Either that or the Somali pirates have got even more sophisticated and are using submarine technology to monitor their prey!!

Speaking of breakfast, and lunch, dinner and those meal times in-between come to mention it, some people are still in the all you can eat mode one week in to the cruise whilst others are competing for the ‘eat your weight in pizza'. I was behind a family of Germans at lunch today and they must have been exercising the more European friendly ‘one of everything' option!!!

Whilst making notes for the blog, sitting in the Le Cabaret lounge not too far where Roisin was practicing her Arts & Craft with Joe Magic, I was approached by a German who introduced himself as Klaus Knippel. Because he pointed to himself as he said his name, I thought he was saying something about his sore nipples!! Once that was cleared up (his name not his nipple rash!!) he wanted to know if I could send an email for him. He only needs to send the 1 email but did not want to pay for a package on board in order to send 1 email. He was willing to pay me €10 which I refused. I'm just happy to help a fellow passenger. I asked him for his email account. This is where it got a bit strange. He said that it is still in Germany. I may have misunderstood this and never questioned him further. I asked him to type the message on to a word document which I then copied and pasted to the body of the email and in the subject line I wrote: ‘Concerning Klaus Knippel'. It wasn't until afterwards I read the message he'd sent. It said:

Hi Hakam, the dropout from the ship works very fast. Let us try to start already at 8.00. Don't answer because the message will not reach me. Let us try! Best regards Klaus Knippel'

What does ‘Dropout' mean? Is this a code word? Have I been used as a pawn in some international terrorist organisation? Wasn't the mastermind in Die Hard 1 called Klaus?! As it turns out, despite Klaus not requesting an answer, Hakam replied anyway. It was a one liner that just read: ‘8:00 is fine. No problem'. This could have started alarm bells ringing if it wasn't for the fact that below Hakam's name were the words ‘Via Jordan's travel'. Our friend Klaus had just been confirming a private tour once in Aqaba. I knew that!! I'd better recall the email to MI6!!!

After having received, with a huge sigh of relief, a recall successful message in my email inbox Roisin and I headed out on deck for a morning of relaxation to work on our tans. Roisin has gradually gone a deeper shade of golden brown whilst I'm a sort of blotchy bright red!! It looks as if someone has slammed me with a hot iron on one arm and I've been frying bacon and the fat has spat out and scalded me on the other!!

During sea days, there are more activities arranged for the entertainment of the guests or, dependent on how bad the guest is at that activity, for the entertainment of the staff!! Of the tournaments organised, one can chose between bridge, mini golf or shuffleboard; this is a derivation of quoits and is similar to curling but without the ice. Disks are projected across the deck with the help of a stick like contraption on to a marked area. Depending on where the disk stops depends on the points scored. We had no idea we'd pitched our sunbeds in the middle of their playing area!! Of all the cruises we have done, we have never once seen anyone show the slightest interest in this part of the deck. How did we know the International Shuffleboard Appreciation Society were making this trip!! This deck, far away from the popular pool deck is usually reasonably quiet and spacious. Within moments, the deck was swarming with mostly Germans all eager to show off their shuffleboard skills. The following day, we noticed that although the deck was still open to sunbeds, the shuffleboard area had been cordoned off!

It is so easy to sit back and let the pounds creep on and before you know it the waistband has expanded making that shirt especially bought for a gala night rather snug around the mid-riff. For this reason, the animation team make their best efforts to incorporate exercise in lots of their activities. For example daily dance lessons are available be it, Line dancing, Argentinian tango or even bachata. I thought this was a card game. I'll never make that mistake again!! There are also exercise classes in tai chi, aerobics, aero stretching and even muscle awakening. Unfortunately I never brought my gym kit so am unable to participate!!

There is a new activity I notice in the programme today called Minefield. I'm not sure if this is an activity or, as we are now 3 days up the Red Sea and approaching Egyptian waters, a warning!!!

Day 2 of the World Champions Quiz. The theme for today's round of 12 questions was announced. Loud groans came from the Broadway Theatre and must have reverberated throughout the ship (in 6 different languages!!) as the theme of Fine Art appeared on the cinema size screen in front of us. The saving grace was that this round was multi choice so became a case of whichever team can guess the best!! We scored 10/12. Not bad but Cuba, our nearest rival, scored 11. The 12 questions contained a photo of a painting, the question was either to name the painting or name the artist. We are now joint 2nd with 19/24. 1 point behind Cuba.

The evening's entertainment has been hit and miss so far. The theatre shows have been first class and the production quality as good as we have experienced at any other time on any other cruise. We haven't heard anything negative about these shows but have to agree with most of the other disgruntled guests the there is a distinct lack of evening entertainment. The 1st sitting for dinner is 6:30pm so the corresponding theatre show is 9:30pm. That's quite late by comparison considering we have usually finished our dinner by 8:10pm. Any animation team entertainment doesn't start until 22:45. This seems later than on other cruises and seems to be lots of dead time in between. There are too many gaps where nothing is happening. Granted there is ‘live' music constantly playing in each of the lounges but that becomes repetitive after a while. This may sound like I'm having a whinge but I treat MSC like a best friend or like the office buffoon (whoever that may be!!) as sometimes they do something to piss you off but you can't stay mad at them for long!!!

This evening things changed and I take back MOST that I have written about the evening entertainment (although the live music is still repetitive!!). The theme for tonight was carnival and between 8pm and 9:30pm the animation team had set up stalls dotted around deck 6. Each stall involved a task whereby points were earned depending on the result. Once all 4 stalls had been visited, the points could then be exchanged for prizes. The first stall was the old conman's sleight of hand trick of Chase the Ace. 3 cards; follow the Ace; harder than it looks; 2 chances; null points!!! The 2nd stall looked interesting. A brandy glass was used as a cup and placed over a green olive. If you swirl the brandy glass quick enough the centrifugal force will make the olive rise up inside the glass. The olive then has to be transferred in to a tumbler without dropping it. This is repeated 3 times. Try it at home. Roisin scored maximum points. The 3rd game was sniffing tea bags to guess the flavour. As many people had gone before and sniffed, Roisin told me that all the scent had been sniffed out of the tea bag!! However, she still managed to score 3/5. The final game was fishing. A rod with a bent paperclip for a hook was used to fish a number of boats from a bath of water. It didn't help when the ‘carnie' kept shaking the bath of water violently. Nevertheless Roisin managed to bag 2 ships. For her troubles she amassed enough points for a small rubber MSC ship shaped stress ball.

The 3rd round of the World Championship quiz and the theme was famous historical characters. We scored an impressive 12/12 despite Roisin saying that one of France's most influential leaders of the modern era, Charles de Gaulle was Officer Crabtree from ‘Allo ‘Allo!! With Cuba dropping a point we are now joint top in a 3 way tie with all to play for going in to tomorrow's final round.

This evening, just before we were due to go down for dinner, we noticed how the Red Sea was incredibly calm. Spookily so. There were not even riplets as our ship seemed to glide effortlessly through the water. The sea, as far as the eye could see, was like the proverbial mill pond, only a bloody big mill pond!!! There was also a distinct lack of vibration from the propellers although the trail left in the wake of the ship clearly indicated that we weren't drifting aimlessly, it just felt like it. To add to this eerie feeling a mist suddenly descended; not thick, more like a heat haze in the late afternoon sun. Cargo ships in the distance appeared through the haze and then just as quickly vanished as the scene from a Stephen King novel played out. However, we were starving so ghost ship or no ghost ship, barely alive or already dead, we went down for us dinner!!

The 4th day at sea and the 4th round world champions quiz. However, the first surprise was this would not be the final round. There are 3 more sea days during this voyage so that means another 3 rounds. Today's theme was: ‘Where in the world'. We got off to a good start. The first 5 were correct then it all went pear shaped! Cairo, Chicago and Marrakesh were all right answers. Not Addas Ababa, New York and Casablanca as we put!! Although somewhere along the way we had convinced ourselves of striking resemblances!! We'd fallen back in to old habits by talking ourselves out of the right answers. We scored a par score 8/12 which puts us 4th; 3 points behind the leaders. Thank you for the extra rounds MSC!!!

As MSC Club members we were invited to the Captains cocktail party at 5:30pm the evening before we arrived in Aqaba. This, we decided, was a bit early so turned up at 6pm. They say it's fashionable to turn up late as I mentioned to one of the animation team. He was quick to retort: ‘Not in that suit it isn't!!' I thought these people were supposed to make the guests feel good about themselves!! We immediately saw Jo, Petr and their 11 year old son Sage from Perth, Australia who we have befriended through being fellow members of Team Ecuador, our MSC quiz team. This event was a glass of Champagne or fruit juice and a few bowls of potato chips strewn around the lounge. The Staff Captain and his senior crew made an appearance and he thanked everyone for their continued support. We learned from Petr that they are away from home for 10 weeks. When asked about taking Sage away from school, Jo mentioned that this could have been an issue but Sage's teacher is confident the experience will be good for him. His mother and father ensure he does homework each day so he doesn't fall too far behind his studies. I am of the opinion that travel does broaden the mind and it's nice to think that this philosophy is shared around the world. Perhaps if this family had told the school that they were off to Orlando, they may have not been so understanding!!

During our passage up the Red Sea, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer at 23˚N before entering the strait of Tiran and in to the Gulf of Aqaba; the Gulf that separates the Sinai Peninsula from the Arabian Peninsula for the last leg of this 4 day stint at sea; the 90 or so nautical miles to the Kingdom of Jordan and the port of Aqaba.


9th April 2014

Hans Gruber was the Die Hard baddie and his brother in no 3. How serious is the threat of an attack and how cone you just don't get hammered when at sea?
9th April 2014

Watch out for the pirates. They are bad people.
9th April 2014

Looks great!

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