[Originally posted by e-mail from the ship and edited on my return to the UK]
Friday, 29th April
I woke up during the night due to a change in the engine noise at about twenty past two in the morning. The single engine we were still running on for economy slowed and then stopped. Checking through the porthole confirmed that we were no longer making progress and the ship became more 'lively' as she responded to the moderate waves. I considered getting dressed and trying to get more information but, in fact, I stayed in bed and dropped off to sleep again. Waking some time later, I was relieved to discover that an engine was running again and that we were once again making 'way'. So I went back to sleep again.
Friday was our last full day at sea so it was necessary to make preparations for landing on Ascension. The 'Ocean Mail', the ship's daily 'newspaper' contained, in addition to details of the days activities, information on the collection of luggage for transhipment ashore and details of the procedures for landing on Ascension.
At ten o'clock, a Galley Tour had been arranged. The Chef conducted a party of about eight around his stainless steel domain. With a staff of six, the sheer hard work involved in catering for passengers and crew was impressive. The chef himself starts at 5.00 a.m. preparing soup and, with short breaks, continues throughout the day. Various types of bread are baked daily, using 24 kg of flour a day. Each 'station' within the galley caters for a different type of food. The variety of menu and the consistent quality of the food has been an outstanding feature of this trip.
The public address advised us that there would be a Crew Drill at 10.30 a.m., not involving passengers. Sure enough, the Ships Alarm sounded and the crew moved to their appointed stations. The scenario was that thick smoke had been seen coming from a 'Reefer' (refrigerated container) on deck on the port side. A little later, supplementary information came over the public address that the smoke was toxic and only crew wearing 'BA Sets' (Breathing Apparatus) could approach the incident. From a suitable vantage point, we could see two crew members lying on the deck apparently incapacitated by fumes after having run out a red canvas fire hose prior to tackling the problem. Eventually a rescue party arrived, helped the casualties to their feet and they slowly made their way inside. A party of three firefighters appeared on deck and one was in touch with the bridge by mobile radio. A second fire hose was run-out, fitted with a long nozzle tube which appeared to finish in a spray head. One member of the party opened the container door whilst the second used the spray head to address the supposed fire. Of course, there was no actual fire and no water was used but it was still a fascinating simulation.
There was a Shuffleboard Contest in the morning but I didn't see much of it because I'd agreed to join Roy from Bath in the pool. By the time I was ready for the water, some youngsters who'd joined the ship at St. Helena were making use of the pool so it was a little bit crowded but quite good fun. The water was warmer than on any of the previous occasions I'd used the pool. After the swim, I had a quick shower and then it was time for lunch. My Texan friends and I were joined by a British lady doctor who'd just completed three months working in the hospital on St. Helena and was also hoping to be on the Saturday evening flight from Ascension.
Documentation for landing on Ascension is every bit as complex as at St. Helena. I had to complete a Landing Card and Customs Form in addition to being in possession of an Ascension Island Entry Permit (which I'd obtained before I left the UK), a valid passport and adequate travel insurance. They also charge an £11.00 fee. The Purser issued me with 'Landing Permit No. 3' intended to ensure transfer ashore in the first launch. Apparently, at Ascension the landing by launch also attracts a fee of £5.50! The Texans and I hoped to be taken to the Obsidian Hotel where Day Rooms had been reserved. If all went well, we hoped to get a whistle-stop tour of the island before showering at the hotel and being transferred to Wideawake Airstrip for our flight back to the U.K.
All my pictures from the trip are here.