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When I was young, our school went on a cruise to Spain (from Tilsbury Docks, London); our ship; the Mikhail Kalinin was a Russian cruise liner that had seen better days.
Not knowing much about cruise ships, we thought it was wonderful, but on reflection, it was a tired old has-been. It was operating on a skeleton crew and only the Captain spoke English, (which made for an interesting safety drill). At 6pm we hoisted anchor and were off.
Our first stop Cherbourg France then on to Bayeux to see the famous tapestry.The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of William the Conqueror and the events leading up to and including the Norman invasion of England in 1066. It is roughly 20” tall and 230 ft long and is an incredible work of art as well as an accurate historical representation.
Our next stop was Gibraltar. We took a cable-car trip to the top of the Rock where we saw Spain to the north and Africa to the south. We ate a packed lunch at the top of the Rock. It was beautiful. As we sat on the wall, tame monkeys came and begged for food. One cheeky monkey took my sandwich right out of my hand, then sat on my shoulders!
Our next port of call was Barcelona; we had a wonderful time walking along the streets lined with orange trees and looking in the beautiful shop windows. That was our last port of call.
We were having great fun on board the ship. It was the end of March and therefore very rough seas which meant we couldn’t go on deck, so we made our own fun in the ballroom. The Russian crew had no idea how to entertain teenagers, but we had a great time.
It was a long sea journey back to London and we had to pass through the infamous Bay of Biscay which is a notoriously rough passage. During the day the wind whipped up to gale force and we could barely hold on or walk up the ships corridors. Almost all of our party got sick except my friend Sue and I who loved being buffeted from side to side.
Then things got progressively worse. The ship rocked violently from side to side and by early evening we had to stay in our bunks. It wasn't much fun with everyone sick and no-one could sleep. Then around 1am, the Captain came over the PA and told us things were bad and to put on our life-jackets and strap ourselves into our bunk; (side straps came over the bunk to secure the occupant). Now we were really worried. One by one we put on our life-jackets and strapped in. White faced, we looked at each other, all joking and humor gone; we were petrified.
After about half an hour, the Captain came over the PA system and said in broken English, “We mak zee April fool jok to you!” At first we didn’t understand what he was saying until he came back over the PA and told us we could un-strap and remove the life-jackets. (Although the sea was extremely rough, the ship was coping and we hadn’t needed to be in our life-jackets or strapped to our bunks).
After it dawned on us that we weren’t about to drown, relief flooded over us and we all burst out laughing hysterically. We couldn’t believe that this rather dull and disinterested Russian had the ingenuity to pull off an April fool’s joke (and a very scary and stupid one at that)! We had forgotten it was April 1st.
The teachers were seriously unimpressed with this 'joke' ...it had been an exhausting time for them with sick kids, without the Captain making it much worse! The journey back home took 12 hours longer than expected due to the severe weather.
We arrived in Tilsbury Docks exhausted, but happy to be on terra firma (the firmer the better!) Parents had been extremely worried because there was a hurricane off the coast of Spain just as we were sailing through, which caused the massive seas.
Despite our ordeal, we look back on that trip and laugh loudly at how much fun we had in that broken down old ship and how ignorance is bliss, and at the cheek of the Russian Captain. Thank God we didn’t know any better at the time.
I believe I found out later, that the Mikhail Kalinin was retired shortly after our trip!