Tuesday 22 May
As you can see from the above byline, we have sailed! I am now afloat, for the first time in … well, I suppose it must be seven years or more since Ian and I took our last Blue Star ship to (or was it from?) New Zealand. It won’t, of course, ever be seven years again, for me.
We stayed in Dunkerque for almost the whole of Monday, while the ship’s cargo was got aboard. I was quite puzzled when I saw those endless bags of flour being loaded from the barge tethered to the ship’s side, but all that was wrong was that I’d not done my homework properly. The Bank Line ships are not, as I’d rather automatically supposed, dedicated container ships, they are ‘general cargo’, so we get all sorts. I watched, for example, a huge box of truck or tractor tyres being swung into one of the open holds. But we don’t seem to have got the vast pile of windmill-parts that were heaped up on the wharf. Seems they went by barge.
Cargo watching is, however, not an enormously enthralling spectator sport, except for the utter cargo-ship neophyte, so I didn’t spend too much time at it. It was much more a (grey again) day for a little book, a little computer, a little e-mail, a little lounge-about, and the usual amount of eating and drinking. The ‘usual amount’ is rather a lot. Three meals a day – timed like a race programme, and produced by our two Russian chefs (1m 1f, I now discover) -- are there to be had and, since one is not doing anything else, one automatically attends them. Unless one has a certain strength of character. Lyndall has given the lead by already abandoning breakfast. I have not. Yesterday morning it was black pudding, today bacon and poached eggs with very nice blinis. And I have just demolished, as noontide luncheon, a large plate of really excellent ‘Russian Soup’ (a little meat, much strip-veg, and what I imagine is a beetroot base) and a nice thick piece of poached smoked haddock with a noodle salad. (The main course was pork chop with trimmings, so I am being quite sensible and selective!). This sees one through till 6.30pm when, tonight, I see it is spring chicken. And, I can report, it’s all of a very acceptable standard indeed.
But enough of things edible. After dinner last night (roast lamb with .. oops, sorry) the entertainment was ‘the departure from Dunkerque’. And it was a departure which turned out to be more entertaining than I’d expected, for the ‘Port Ouest’ is a locked port. The water of the harbour where we were berthed is more than seven metres higher than the sea. So the Tikeibank needed to be taken down a notch. And the operation had, of course, to be recorded -- in the age of digital cameras -- by each and all of our little group.
It was a grey evening, with quite a nippy wind to it, but some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, braved the open decks and Monkey Island for the occasion.
Our two tugs escorted us through the grisaille, down the waterways of the port, in the usual push-with-the nose, pull-with-the hawser fashion, past the colourful panoply of berthed ships, and manoeuvered us into position for the lock.
By the time the lock had done its work, and we steamed out, past what I assume were the famous beaches of the ‘Dunkirk Evacuation’, towards the harbour entrance, with its blinking lighthouses, twilight and the misty atmosphere had pretty largely put paid to our sightseeing and snapping. After some two hours up on deck, we descended to the warmth of the lounge, and the warmth of the last dregs of the last bottle of Jameson’s. (It’s OK, once we are at sea, Steve can and will replenish!)
By 10pm I was in bed with a book, by eleven I was in the land of very heavy Nod, and I awoke at 6am to find us already amongst the parked ships off Le Havre. So it seemed sensible to get up and investigate.
The port of Le Havre is much larger than that of Dunkerque. It stretches seemingly for kilometres. You come in through the harbour entrance, past the usual bornes and lighthouses – with a view across to the curving beach and what is evidently the main part of the city – and you see before you every kind of loading equipment imaginable – for grain, for coal … and, of course, the now ubiquitous container cranes – as well as some mighty port buildings. The first parts of the harbour are at sea level, but we have come deeper into the complex of berths, and have had to pass through another lock (dubbed, for some reason, Ecluses François 1er’) to get to our allotted tie-up. Looking out my cabin window (open! It’s permitted! Hurrah!), I see acres of silos and tanks of different sizes and doubtless purposes, I see cranes and chimneys – including those always fearsome looking ones that spout flame – hangars and towers meant for uses I understand not. Closer, there are the heaps of containers, some of which are obviously destined for us. And, everywhere, ships of all sorts and sizes, from a huge, ugly car carrier to what looks like a little Russian coaster. The port of Le Havre is a vast and busy place. A ship-spotters paradise, I would imagine.
So, here we are. Awaiting our load. For a day? Two? I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m not budging. Not going ashore. No-one has, except Michael the engineer cadet who has gone into town to buy a computer, and the ever-adventurous Lyndall who has gone in search of somewhere to spend her last two hours of French pre-paid Wi-fi.