Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 6: Thursday, November 18
Last night’s (Wednesday’s) dinner was “California Night” with Jim and wife Barbara from La Mirada, sister Barbara from San Diego, and “Mother” from Montecito. Last names unknown (around here nobody has last names). We start off with the usual chit-chat…is this your first time on Silversea? Are you a regular cruiser? What other cruise lines have you been on? To be honest, this meal ends up being a pretty boring situation, with the conversation ranging from spa hours to Euro/Dollar exchange rates to the weather, although I probably shouldn’t blame them since it’s hard to find new things to talk about after six days. Every five minutes Mother tells me I have to try Crystal. Yes, I’d like to. They have cruises out of Los Angeles. (She’s one of those old-line 3rd– or 4th generation Angelinos who, like former Mayor Sam Yorty, prefers the Anglicization of the city’s name and call it “Los Angle-ess”.) Yes, I think I knew that. You really should go. Yes, I hope I get the chance one day. They have cruises out of Los Angle-ess. Yes, Mother. I begin to wonder: is she an undercover gnat the front desk has sent to drive me crazy…payback for my complaining about the noise from the next-door veranda? Tough night. Nothing much going on so I go to the nightclub and listen to the blues/jazz singer for a half-hour, then tuck in early.
Today, Thursday, we’re in St. Maarten, and this is the day for the America’s Cup Regatta. (I checked the activities desk and it’s actually going to happen!) As noted in yesterday’s report, the monstrous Celebrity Solstice sits outside my veranda, from which I watch an anthill of Solstice’s 2,850 passengers file down their gangplank onto the pier. Looks like it might be a crowded day here in Philipsburg. Next to the Solstice sits the giant MSC Poesia, and word has it we may soon be joined by Royal Caribbean’s colossal Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship carrying FIVE THOUSAND passengers.
. . .
Wow is all I can say. Just got back from a most thrilling experience: the activity billed as the America’s Cup Regatta. Here’s what they do. 28 passengers are divided into two groups and assigned to one of two boats, each of which competed in past America’s Cup races—the Stars & Stripes (which won it a few years back) and the Canada II (my boat)—to engage in a five-mile race. Among each boat’s crew were three professional sailors, several very experienced competition sailors in our company and some neophytes like me. All the elements were there for a terrific competition: a nice windy day, two sleek boats and two crack crews. I volunteered for an “active” crew role and served as one of the four Primary Grinders, whose job it was crank this apparatus that helps with the turns (I think). I mean, most of us have been out in sailboats, but I at least hadn’t ever seen anything like these boats—a pair of speed merchants with no frills and no fat designed to literally fly through the water.
At the risk of boring you with the details of the regatta (it’s sort of like recounting a golf game stroke by stroke, but I’m going to do it anyway), here’s how it went. A little warm-up and we were off to a running start, side by side with the Stars & Stripes. We’d be flying along a straightaway when the time would come to tack around a red flag, which was when the real work and the racing strategy really began. My fellow grinders and I—Main and Primary— and the team of mainsail trimmers would spring into action as the Canada II surged into a turn, the wind blasting us in the face, the keel leaning half-way over, the Skipper calling out “Rail in the water!”, which essentially means that you’re going really, really fast. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it—thirteen “teammates” and I pulling together in a frenetic effort in pursuit of the Stars & Stripes, which had jumped out to an early lead and held it doggedly for four miles. Finally, as we were preparing to tack around our final flag, the Skipper makes the decision to tack to starboard instead of port—an all or nothing gamble which meant were going to swing wide right and hope to catch a miraculous blast of wind. Precisely what happened. As the crews on both boats hurled catcalls at one another, the two crafts spun around the flag in opposite directions and flew toward the finish in a V formation, the S&S far to the left and C2 far to the right. Our Skipper surveyed the churning waters and smiled: “Better wind for us than for them!” The came a mile of tense racing, like two champion racehorses barreling head-to-head down the stretch, as the Canada II inched closer and closer, then even, then ahead, and crossed the finish, winning by maybe 30-50 meters. We all looked at one another. We just beat the America’s Cup winner! Morgan congratulated us heartily and told us it was traditional to gloat over a victory like this, also reminding us it was customary to tip the pros on board, returning us to reality.
So, there it was—an experience that in and of itself has gone a long way toward making this whole cruise memorable and worthwhile. Things like that always make me wonder why I didn’t try them earlier in life, when I could have allowed the thrill to grow into a passion. Oh well, I guess I’ll just take it as it comes.
Tonight (Thursday) I’m the guest of International hostesses Isabelita and Carla and Cruise Director Mike (one of my mates on the Canada II today) at dinner. Just the four of us. When I came back from breakfast this morning, out of the blue appeared a written invitation on the ship’s stationery. Not really sure why me (maybe they’re pumping me for my impressions of the Spirit), but I think it will be fun.
. . .
It’s just after sunset and our neighbor, the Solstice, is blowing its air horns in preparation for its departure from St. Maarten. Camera flashes popping, passengers along the decks and verandas of both vessels are lined up to watch the spectacle of this massive creature being untied at the dock and then pushing off unassisted into the harbor and out to sea. You stare and wonder how it’s even possible to budge such a beast, how incredible the task was to build such a thing. Above the growl of its engines can be heard the shouts of crewmen going through their checklists. The lights from the Captain’s bridge on the 13th deck flash red and blue, giving it the appearance of a nightclub. A line of spotlights illuminates the waters, giving them a teal hue. The Solstice rumbles and pushes off sideways from shore, pauses, then begins its forward thrust. Quite a sight.
Now it’s the Spirit’s turn to rumble as she prepares to depart for Tortola, British Virgin Islands.