Travelling by Ship Versus Travelling by Plane
The Aurora Australis radiating over our camp at Macquarie Island in 1977
Ship or plane - I know which I prefer
A few months ago I took a flight back from Hong Kong to my home in Sydney. What a contrast in travel today compared with what it was like sixty-five years ago. On the flight home we spent around nine hours in the air - but this was preceded by eight hours actually in the plane seated whilst the plane remained on the ground! In total we were on the aircraft, sitting in our seats, from around 9-00 pm until our big Boeing 747 actually blasted off for the final time at 5-20 am the following morning. The time on that plane wasn't appreciated. We could all tell by the spontaneous cheer which went up as we finally became airborne.
Those are not pebbles down there, but half a million King Penguins! There were approximately three million penguins on the island.
Ship versus Plane -When you are boarding to travel half-way around the world...
Contrast this with a leisurely, holiday atmosphere trip, on a 20,000 ton ocean liner leaving Tilbury Docks and stopping at Port Said, Suez, Aden, Colombo, Fremantle, Adelaide and Melbourne before finally rounding Sydney Heads just after dawn some seven weeks later.
Now, you could say that times have changed and they have. No one sails long distances on ships now 'just to get there' as they did from the first days of sail. All this changed with the advent of fast flights and cheap airfares. People who go aboard the big ships nowadays are paying money for just that - to experience a few days or weeks of shipboard life. They call these big, luxurious vessels, Cruise Liners.
Waited on hand and foot. Yep, even the Plebs
The idea of the cruise liner is to provide the passengers not only with lots of things to do whilst aboard that they can do ashore - many are first class floating hotel - but have the temerity to advertise these trips as the "Adventure of a lifetime." After all, the ship is going to stop in at various ports the people aboard might never have seen before - and they'll get a chance to go ashore to buy things at the souvenir store.
My seventh ship was different again, painted a bright red rather than the Navy's ship-side gray.
Lots of time in port; lots of time to really get ashore and see the sights
Yeah! If they're lucky they'll get one full day in a port. Mostly they won't. They'll get just enough time to get out and see the local surrounds. Certainly not enough time to explore any hinterland, unless it is no more than an hour or so away from the dock area. You see, berthing and harbour fees are such nowadays that the cruise liners come in for the maximum time available to them at what the company is prepared to pay. This cruise liner simply top up their fuel, the stock up on food and...away they go again.
For working class people, these ships epitomized a new way of living - a life of abundance. Suddenly everyone was important
Compare that with the years from around 1900 through to the 1960s. The ship I came out from England in 1951 was a migrant ship. Nearly every passenger aboard was off to make a new life in a new land. What an adventure! A blast on her foghorn, the gulls shrieking around her masts and we're nudged out into the grey waters of the English Channel by the tugs. Farewelling crowds on the wharf are still throwing paper streamers, as we pull away. There are the strains on 'Auld Lang Syne" coming across the gradually intervening distance between jetty and ship. Maybe a band is playing. People crowd the ship's rail picking out their friends and relatives and waving wildly. Kisses are blown.
You were almost guaranteed to put on weight on an ocean liner
On the trip out its a wakeup cup of tea at 6-00am by a steward, cup in hand. It's breakfast an hour later. It's morning tea three hours after that. Then it's lunch. Then there's afternoon tea, then dinner...well. Oh, and an evening coffee and cheese platter. God! one never stopped eating! And the choices of food, the marvellous menus, the camaraderie around the dining room tables!
Getting ready to unload a full year's supplies.
So much to do on shipboard life. I doubt anyone was ever bored and anxiously looking forward to arriving.
Also there's entertainment: there were all manner of things to do or attend: lectures, demonstrations, fancy dress parties, dances, swimming, deck-coits, and lots of just lying around sunbaking. Not to mention all the shipboard romances.
Then there is the ceremony of 'Crossing the Line." That is, the ship transiting from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere; the equator crossing, where King Neptune climbs aboard and does all manner of terrible things to certain crew members and any volunteer passengers bold enough to be part of the celebrations.
And on the trip out the ship spends a full day and night at Port Said. A day is spent in Suez, another in Aden. Two days in Colombo, two days in Fremantle, three days in Adelaide, and four in Melbourne.
One board the ship and still feeling full of adventure the passengers disembark seven weeks later. They're feeling relaxed and well after that nice long holiday; suntanned and perhaps carrying a few extra pounds because of all that good living. No jetlag here .
Your's truly on an exploratory trip of Macquarie Island 1976
Ship versus plane - aircraft travel...Ho Hum...
So let us now compare that with my B747 trip back from Hong Kong last year.
Firstly, the aircraft was towed away from the boarding bay at 8-00 pm, thirty minutes before it's departure time because of mechanical trouble. After three announcements, each of which put back the boarding time by thirty minutes or so, the aircraft was towed back. Twice we all lined up ready to board, only to be told there would be a further delay.
Finally around 370 of us crammed aboard and we were ready to roll at around 10.00pm. The pilot then announced, as we were taxying out, that owing to the heavy traffic load at the airport, we'd be waiting our turn for around forty-five minutes. And no doubt about it, there was plenty of activity. It was roughly forty-five minutes before we looked like making that 'do or die' dash into the sky.
Crowds, pressure, delays, and all manner of interuptions
So, at 10-45 we swung onto and lined up on the main runway. The engines roared. We were thrust back in our seats! The engines stopped roaring almost immediately. Then came the captain's voice.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we're got a warning light on our main undercarriage braking system. It seems our brakes could be a problem. It could be just an electrical fault, but we're not certain. We're are returning to the terminal to have it checked."
Macquarie Island on a fine winter's day
"This is your captain speaking...It appears we have a problem...
We return, but are told to stay on the plane. Fair enough. Then, after half-and-hour or so.
"This is your captain again. It appears our braking system problem could be simply a monitoring light or the actual brakes themselves. If it's the light, we'll be rolling again in about twenty minutes. If it's the actual brakes, well...we expect an hour or so. You'll understand, it's a safety issue."
It was the actual brakes. The "hour or so," was certainly an understatement.
By the time we rolled out again it was around 1-30 am. As we're taxying out there is a thump. It didn't sound loud, but I certainly noticed it. A steward close to me says. "Oops! That doesn't sound good." It wasn't.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain again..."
Ladies and Gentlemen, your captain again. It seems something has fallen over or come loose in the cargo hold. We will have to return to the terminal..."
By the time we get back to the terminal we're told we can disembark to stretch our legs. With nearly 400 passengers it takes an age for everyone to get off. The terminal is closed. Not one shop or kiosk open anywhere. The place is dead. We passengers find places to lie down and catch some sleep. I lay on the carpeted floor, a hat over my eyes. It's uncomfortable but not as bad as a cramped aero-plane seat.
Couple of frisky young bull elephans seals engaging a half-hearted fight
Three times we had to return to the terminal area
At 3-15am we're told to get back on the plane. That takes a while. At 4-00 am, we're told over the PA that our brake system been fixed. But wait for it...!
Because we've been running our air-conditioning since we all boarded the first time, fuel has been used, a lot of fuel. We will need to go to the fuel terminal to top up our tanks. So off we go. We're told this will take only thirty minutes or so. But obviously it did not. We were there much longer.
"You are cleared for takeoff..." Hooray!
Finally we get the clearance from Hong Kong Air-traffic Control that we can take off. Once again we manoeuvre our way out to the duty runway. Then, with a roar of those four massive jet engines, we're airborne. I look at my wristwatch. It is 5-20am. Every passenger sinks into their seats trying desperately to catch a few hours sleep.
Okay, that was an exception to the rule. This doesn't generally happen. But even if everything goes smoothly, one is still cramped into a seat with a person beside, one behind and one in front, sitting and hoping the time will pass quickly. The meals are, to use a euphemism, 'pretty ordinary.' There is little sense of adventure. One doesn't get to mix and make friends with other passengers - at least, not for long. All of this to SAVE TIME.
Surely part of our precious time can be taken up in enjoying the journey.
Yes, time is of the essence, we're told. But why? Surely we're not so busy we cannot allow time to enjoy a journey? People take trips on cruise liners to do just that, even though the journey might take them back to the very port they left; a round trip out to a couple of islands in the South Pacific perhaps, then back they come.
Homeward bound after a year away. The island off the port beam as we head north to Australia. Below, the expeditionary ship Nella Dan.
In ship versus plane the ship wins hands down
Oh, for the old days, when an ocean voyage actually took you somewhere! Maybe even to a new life in a new land. We lost something very dear to us human beings when we changed en-bulk from sailing the seas to flying the skies. As for me, I've sailed on quite a number of ships, some as crew. But only three as a passenger. Yet of all those voyages the one that stands out as the most significant and enjoyable in my life would have to be that of my seven week voyage from England to Australia all those years ago.