Scholastic School-day Sailing South (Honking the Horn...Not)

Oceans and Seas » Southern
January 19th 2013
Published: January 21st 2013
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Our early departure from Ushuaia heralded our earlier “Rounding of the Horn”. On this cruise; though we more or less sail pass Cape Horn out of Drake’s Passage, continuing in a south, south easterly direction on to Antarctica. On Sharon’s previous east-to-west cruise she did “round the horn” during daylight hours, and the captain traversed in a zigzag fashion several times from the Atlantic to the Pacific or back again, each time tooting the deep throated cruise ship horn. (Do cruise ships toot their horns?) We were scheduled to pass by Cape Horn just before midnight, so this event went largely unnoticed by passengers; indeed, Sharon and I were sound asleep by this time. The captain had predicted about ten-foot swells once we reached the unprotected waters below the horn, and we did notice some rolling and yawing during the night, but nothing that should bother anyone.

With a day heavy in activities ahead of us, and four lectures that we planned to attend, we were happy to be up to date in blog postings, not knowing when we might lose our internet connection. The night before we received a letter from the captain addressed to all passengers, informing us of the extra precautions we must take once we’re below the 60 degree South latitude. We’d heard that once we reach this point the ship with have nothing but the lighter diesel onboard for fuel. As passengers, smoking is no longer permitted outside, not because of the smoke, but because the cigarette butts can pose a threat to the eco system. We are also supposed to refrain from using tissue outside, a handkerchief is okay, or as the guest lecturer was to tell us later this morning, do as he does and wipe your nose on your sleeve. Since we entered the Straights of Magellan, we’d been warned not to have lights visible to the outside because of the way that nighttime lights can disorient the birds flying over the water. On that first night following this warning, four birds were found either killed or injured on deck. Passengers were told to summon help, and not to give assistance to the wildlife, and under no case, are we to offer wildlife food. To minimize problems, the ship has been operating without its outside running lights on.

We awoke to fairly heavy fog, and all that we could see was the rolling sea and some whitecaps. We went up to breakfast, and this morning was the first time we had been seated, that we were the first to sit down at the table. I had the Scottish steel cut oatmeal with bananas and brown sugar (again). Sharon had her American breakfast (again).

The first lecture of the day was presented by our Travel Guide Benjamin. His talk on “Discovering the Horn” presented again many of characters that we have met in previous talks. During the early period of discovery the Pope had intervened and split the New World into two parts. To the east of a line that the Portuguese had lobbied to include Brazil, all newly discovered lands would belong to Portugal. To the west, everything belonged to Spain. The trouble with dividing the earth along a single longitude is that some smart-aleck Spaniard was likely to come along and reason that if he sailed west across this papal line and reached the Spice Islands, that they could be claimed for Spain even though Portugal had already reached them around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. And as it happens, De Vega was just such a Spaniard.

Finally, the casino is open again. I thought I might try my luck at the blackjack table, and Sharon asked me to bring back a Coke, if I remembered… and she would save me a seat. I opened the table, and things weren’t as easy as they had been up to this point. It’s not hard to win when you seldom lose two hands in a row, but that sometimes happens. The reverse can also happen, and that is never fun. I was left making minimum bets and biding time waiting for things to get better. I checked my watch and it looked like I was not going to get back for the start of the lecture, but at least I had started to hold my own once the cards needed to be reshuffled. I then put together a mini win streak of my own, with a double down, splitting a pair and getting a couple of blackjacks. I left the table up $40, found Sharon’s Coke, nearly fell down the stairs when I remembered to go back for her straw just as the ship pitched suddenly, and arrived about fifteen minutes late to find that squatters had swooped into my spot next to Sharon. The lecture was about terns and cormorants and was geared to birdwatchers such as Mary and Neal (my aunt and uncle). They would have really appreciated this cruise and this guest speaker in particular (Chris Wilson), in a part of the world they never got to visit. They could have picked up many new species on the Life List. For the lay person, the subtle coloring differences that distinguish different birds, I’m sure it went right over their heads just as it did mine.

We had just one hour to eat lunch and continue with our busy scholarly afternoon. I had their Murdo Soup, a Cream of Chicken that was very tasty. I didn’t find an appetizer that appealed to me, though I heard that the shrimp and artichoke dip was excellent. I chose a second soup, a chilled one: vichyssoise. I enjoyed it as well and followed it with the grilled chicken on flatbread with a hint of chili spices. It was delicious and with just two pieces, not very filling. Flatbread can be so many different things and prepared so many different ways. This was close to a very thin slice of pizza, cut in a pizza wedge shape and almost tortilla-like. It should surprise no one that Sharon opted for the Hamburger. We both emphasized to the waiter 1-Bun, 2-Meat, 3-Nothing else… no cheese, no mayonnaise, no pickle, no tomato… It was perfect. I had the Peña Colada pastry and Sharon again ordered the coffee ice cream with chocolate syrup. We were both happy cruisers.

We had just enough time to get up to the Crow’s Nest for Team Trivia. Our other regular team member was already on another team, but we found three others to join us. Our team mates came up with “Morris Grater” for: What does “MG” in the British car stand for? Unfortunately, the correct answer is Morris Garage. We did know that there are 640 acres in a square mile. And Sharon, and one of our partners, did name both books in the Bible that are named after women… Ruth and Esther. But we only got half of the question to name the parents of Solomon. Sharon did finish reading the Bible for a second time last year, but I guess she didn’t pay close enough attention to all of the begetting that was going on. We came up with David, but not Bathsheba. And the first weekly magazine to top one billion issues per year is obvious when you hear the answer. Newsweek was a nice try, but TV Guide would have gotten us the point. We knew that 7-up, introduced in the 1920’s, included lithium as an ingredient. The team was leading towards Dr. Pepper for this, but I knew that Dr. Pepper was created much earlier, even before Coca-Cola. We didn’t know that the kiwi bird has its nostrils in the tip of its beak… I was leaning towards penguins, considering the cruise that we’re on and I thought this might help them while swimming, but Sharon “nose” her penguins and nixed that… hummingbird wasn’t right either. For the bonus question, we were stumped with: “Bovine means cow-like. What does murine mean?” We got clues like, “Her voice was murine.” “The statues were murine.” Now if she’d offered Mickey and Minnie are murine, we might have come up with the right answer.

I decided to sneak in a second round of Blackjack before going back to school in the Showroom. Someone else was playing, so I joined at third base. I bought in for $200, placed my $10 bet and made a bet for the dealer. It was gone, and I must have lost eight out of the first nine hands. By this time I just trying to hold on and making minimum $5 bets. Things did improve, and it looked like this table might be okay after all. And I even got back to where I could have walked away a few bucks ahead. Unfortunately, I hit another losing streak, and this time when I did walk away I had just a few single dollar chips, tossing one to the dealer.

I did show up just as Dr. David Wilson was starting his talk on “Blubber, Blubber , Oil and Trouble”, to find that squatters had again swooped in to take my seat next to Sharon. But she was sitting with Ruth, and they made room for me between them. The talk told of how fortunes were made exploiting the rich resources of the Southern Seas and Antarctica. The industrial revolution was fueled by whale oil and blubber processed into oil. Entire populations of seals were decimated for their furs, without regard for their continued survival.

Chris Wilson followed with his talk on “The Mammals of the Antarctica Continent and Southern Oceans” focusing on whales and seals. There are baleen whales that feed on krill which they filter by taking in water and squeezing it out, while the baleen composed of a fingernail-like substance. Whales must consume about 10% of their body weight in food each day. And then there are the toothed whales, such as the sperm whale. Baleen whales of two blow holes, while toothed whales have just one. He gave examples of what the blow looks like for each type of whale. Some are easy to spot and hang in the air for a long time, such as the blue whale. The humpback is the most likely one to spot, which will surface several times before descending with an impressive fluke flap. We learned (again) how individual humpback flukes are sufficient to identify individual humpbacks (there is a worldwide registry). The flukes have distinguishing nicks in them, much as people have fingerprints.

We rushed off to $50,000 bingo where it was again my turn to buy the ticket. I showed up after Sharon, but it was my turn to buy the bingo cards. Everyone was sitting around… waiting. Sharon said that I was the 19th person, so we still needed one more so that they could hold the game. Quite a few people trailed in after me, so they started selling cards. Sharon’s card was pretty bad, and she only got to stand once. I got to stand twice, and had very good prospects on the double-blackjack “B” and “G” game. Normally they run the “B” and “O” game and make the winner call out “I have B.O.” I had one square where all I needed was one “B” and another where I only needed the “G”. Someone else called “Bingo”. For the blackout, I still had a chance to win the bonus jackpot with ten numbers left. And then with nine numbers left. Then they called an “N” and I already had all the “N’s” folded over. Remember, in cruise bingo, you “punch and fold”.

The blackjack table seemed to be calling me as we went to Vigil Mass, but I figured that would have to wait. Service started with Father Jim’s own song, a three chorus rendition of “Praise Him… Praise Him… and Amen…” He told the story of the one dollar bill and the hundred dollar bill and their journey from the mint. They went out into the world, circulated some, and eventually it came time for them to be retired and they were returned to the mint. Seeing each other, the one dollar bill asked the hundred dollar bill what he’d seen. He talked of the rich and famous people whose pockets he’s been in, how he’d travelled to Chile, made his way to Rio, and all of the exciting times he’d had in the Bahamas. The one dollar bill said that he had been handled by lots of people, but that he hadn’t travelled to the wide ends of the earth as his brother had. Mostly, he’d spent a lot of time in churches. Churches, the C-note exclaimed. What are those? The priest then suggested that if any of us had a fellow hundred dollar bill in our pockets, that we give it a chance to learn what church is as we pass the collection box.

After mass we changed and went up for another smart casual dining experience. I had the Shrimp and Crab dip with tortilla chips, which was quite good. I felt like a salad tonight and got the Caesar salad from the daily menu. It was a bit smaller than I would have liked, and the three croutons that it came with weren’t as crunchy as the ones I’m accustomed to. They look to be homemade, as all of the bread products are on HAL. For my entrée I had the Southern style crab cakes with black beans, corn and some chili. It was excellent, but again not as filling as the 8 ounce sirloin steak Sharon had ordered with a baked potato, again. We both enjoyed the Chocolate Crème Brule. I ordered the Nutty Irishman cordial composed of Frangelico and Irish Cream.

We went back to the cabin, and Sharon decided to take $20 to the casino before the show. I stayed in the cabin for a bit, and tried to call my mom, but the phone kept dropping service. When I spotted Sharon at the video poker machine she was about half-way through her bankroll. She had several one-card hits for an inside straight flush, and while she was hitting the straight, she didn’t get the bigger payoff. Then she hit four-of-a-kind and she found herself in the black. A few spins later she got a second four-of-a-kind and she was up $15, and decided to cash in.

Dave Levesque was the performer and entertained us with an evening of comedy and music. He told us that while starting out he had made many sacrifices and suffered for his music… now it was our turn. He then told a joke that left us and the priest at tonight’s vigil mass, in stitches. Just before the show started we had spotted him sitting in the front right side on the lower level. The entertainer told a joke about a man who got a haircut before going on vacation. The barber asked his customer, “Where are you going?”. “Italy,” the man answered. “How are you getting there?” “Air Italia.” “Ohhh,” the barber said. “They’re a terrible airline. They’ll ruin your vacation. Where are you staying?” “At the La Capital Hotel.” Ohhh, the barber grimaced. “That’s a horrible place to stay. They have bad service, they overcharge for their rooms and there’s nowhere to eat nearby. This will ruin your vacation.” “Hmm,” the man replied. “Why are you going to Italy?” “Well, we’ve never been there, and I thought we might see the Pope.” At this the barber got very agitated, observing, “Ohhh, my goodness no. You’ll never get to see the Pope. He’s much too busy to see you.” Well, the man went on his vacation and a few weeks went by, and he came back to the same barber. The barber asked, “How was your vacation?” “It was the best vacation I ever had!” “How was the flight?” the barber asked. “It was wonderful. Every seat was like being in First Class. We had a wonderful dinner, and two snacks, with wine. Everyone was very nice to us.” The barber was skeptical, but asked, “I see. And how was your hotel?” “It was the best hotel that we’ve been to abroad. Everyone spoke English to us. The room was big, and we had a great view.” “But did you get to see the Pope?” “Ah… The Pope. Well, we tried when we first got there, but discovered that he was travelling abroad. We tried again in the middle of the week, but he was busy with his cardinals. We thought we’d try again before coming home, so we went down to Saint Peters, and there were throngs of people pushing and shoving. We wound up by this green door, that opened suddenly, and out came two lines of Swiss guardsmen. They were followed by a couple priests, and then a bishop or two, and then several cardinals. And then, there he was, Pope Benedict. I knelt down, crossed myself, and began to tremble. The Pope came over to me, placed his hand on my head, and said, ‘My son. That is the worst haircut that I’ve ever seen!’” Dave came forward while playing his everyone. He then played and chatted with people in the front, before going to the stairs and coming up to the balcony seats. His performance finished with a lively medley of catchy tunes including starting with the William Tell Overture.

After the show I decided it was my turn to play some uninterrupted blackjack. I sat down, again at third base, and I was real thrilled that the other player sitting in my favorite first base position is the same guy with the screwing hit-and-bust strategy when all of the books agree that the best approach is stand-and-pray. The problem is, this guy is a really nice guy with a lot of great stories of a group he’s involved with back home geared towards helping the elderly in his neighborhood to be able to stay in their homes rather than being shuttered away in an old-folks home. Besides, I learned a long time ago that the cards are what they are and that all one can do is play your hand as best you can. It doesn’t do anyone any good wondering what might have been if someone hadn’t taken “your” card. I was beginning to think that this might not be my day, as things again started badly with a lengthy losing streak. We came to a shuffle, and during the shuffle I noticed that the guy at first base had picked up his chips and left. I decided to “squat in his burrow”, and things began to improve. I struggled up and down for some time. But I enjoyed the faster pace of playing the dealer one-on-one. Unfortunately I always seemed to be on the rope, and reached the point that I was making my final bet, if I lost. Not only did I win, I finally got a blackjack. It’s only fair, in the same position earlier today, the dealer beat me with a blackjack. I won the next hand, and from there, I went on to enjoy a five hand winning streak. I left with $110 profit, and retired to the cabin at about 10:30 PM.


21st January 2013

Scholastic School-day Sailing south
Thanks for the blog John and Sharon, I am enjoying your blogs, they are very interesting. Glad your gambling was better today John! It is cold her about 25 right now and going down to 6 tomorrow night. I know you don't miss this! Enjoy your cruise! Looking forward to your next blog. Janet

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