Little red ships

When we mentioned to people that we were going to Antarctica, 50% of them asked “why?” and thought we were mad, while some of the others just seemed surprised and asked “what do you do in Antarctica?”

As it turned out, some people play scrabble, though to us this seemed sacrilegious!

Tim got a terrific rate for us on the first cruise of the 1981 season, which had not sold out because it was really a “positioning” leg. The ship had just finished an Amazon cruise, so we were to join in Rio de Janiero and spend the first few days sailing south, stopping at Montevideo and from there we would proceed to the Falkland Islands.

The above picture was taken in 1981, by Tim as we cruised down the Beagle Channel at the tip of South America. The scenery was stunning and the temperature was frigid. You could only stay a few minutes outside in the wind, but it was exhilarating!

Our ship on that occasion, was the mv World Discoverer and we became addicted to expedition cruising. In 1984 we did a second trip to Antarctica, this time on the mv Society Explorer on her maiden cruise for the new owners.

“The Little Red Ship” had belonged Lindblad, cruising continuously around the world. Now she became sister ship to her former competitor the Discoverer.

The itineraries were very similar, but in 1984 we began our cruise in Punta Arena, Chile, where our previous cruise had ended. This time, I took photographs!

It was, in fact the 1984 cruise which saw the first appearance of the original red hats, the Disaster Tours hats! You see, the 1981 cruise had been such fun, we couldn’t wait to get back on the ship and take some friends with us.

The fly in the ointment was that we would all have to get ourselves to whatever remote location the ship might find itself at, when she became available to accommodate us (in one notable case the island of Yap). And as we were all airline employees, travelling “space available”, this could prove to be a problem. Attempting group movements on “subject to load” tickets was not known for it’s successes. Which is where the Disaster part came from!

There was one occasion when just a small party of four of us went off enthusiastically to JFK, intending to fly to Amsterdam and thence to Bangkok. At the end of the night we were instead all sitting on Tim’s sofa looking at one another. But our disasters always ended well. We simply rearranged our plans and went to Sri Lanka instead, which was a really fun, interesting holiday.

When it comes to ships, though, like trains, they don’t wait. And expedition ships tend to find themselves, as I said before, in off the beaten track places. So getting to the starting point of the cruise, on time, is a matter of importance.

Being airline staff, of course, one never had unlimited amounts of time available, so you started your journey as soon as possible, via whichever route looked the most promising. In the case of Punta Arenas, the routes were very limited. Basically there were choices A and B and they were fully booked with the “real” cruise passengers, who had actually paid a fare.

Three of us huddled miserably in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Santiago, waiting to see what news Tim would bring when he returned from the Lan Chile office. He approached with a sombre look and we thought that, after all Chile was not the worst place to be stranded for two weeks, being that it was not currently in a state of revolution.

How we got seats on an oversold flight, we will never know and we were not asking questions. When the aircraft lifted it’s wheels, we knew we were on our way, that all would be well. Except…there was an intermediate stop in Puerto Montt. That was were two more of our little group were planning to board.

It’s hard to believe all these years later that we behaved like such rowdy teenagers. Tim had commissioned the Disaster Tours hats, with a penguin emblem and had presented one to each of us. We were instructed to don our hats the moment we saw our friends board the aircraft. He then placed a hat on each of their surprised heads and we all made a lot of noise. It was quite out of order but the other passengers seemed not to mind. Americans, you know. Actually, none of us were!

For Tim and I it was a great moment, because we knew we were going to make it to the new little ship. We were going to be able to share the wonder of Antarctica with a whole group of friends and they were going to love the experience every bit as much. It’s no wonder we made noise.

And eventually, I will get around to describing the experience, with a few rather aged scanned photographs of the 1984 journey. Two of the group were so enthused, they joined the crew and did two more working cruises.

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