By Robert Braverman
Recently my wife and I learned that our lives as ex-pats were coming to an end, so we decided it was time to take one last trip and enjoy one last adventure…in short, we wanted one last hurrah.
Living in the U.K. has made travel easy and we’ve had the good fortune to visit more than 20 countries while here. So our challenge was where to go and what to do. What would be a memorable, fun and something unique…something different than anything else we’ve experienced?
That’s when I came up with the idea of a cruise. Not a huge ship type cruise, but something smaller, something more intimate, something just like a 12 day Mediterranean excursion aboard the 430 foot Royal Clipper vessel, cruising with 200 other passengers and 100 crew members.
Day 1 – Our adventure began in Civitivecchia, Italy, a seaport a short distance from Rome. In high spirits and hoping for calm seas, we had suntan oil at the ready, and packed shorts and flip-flops in anticipation of sunny skies.
After a three part boarding process which included mug shots, security checks and surrending our passports, we were up the ramp and on the way to our luxury mega-yacht experience.
A welcome cocktail greeted us and a deck hand, Hadi showed us to our home for the next week and a half. It was Cabin # 316, named Marco Polo. One of only two staterooms on the aft of the ship, it had access directly onto the deck. We hoped this was well worth the cost. A bottle of wine and petits fours, as well as a stocked mini bar helped to convince us.
As we wandered around the ship and took into account the ships’ amenities, our fellow passengers ages and origins, I was confident that the decision to make this our last big trip, was the right move.
Our first night’s dinner continued in grand style with a Florida couple, Darrel and Jen, and a lovely pair from Germany, Werner and Elizabeth. The lobster was good and apple tart dessert was quite nice. We followed this up with a beer at the Tropical bar.
Back in the Marco Polo just before midnight, we were in good spirits and were looking forward to awakening in Corsica.
Day 2 – The ship moved more than expected throughout the night, waking us up a few times and giving me a bit of a queasy stomach, but a few minutes of fresh air on deck, a lovely sunrise and a brisk walk up to the bow renewed my faith in the journey.
Surprised not to see the island close by, I ventured into the pilot house (only possible on a small ship), to speak with the Captain and his first officer. I was duly informed of the situation, a strong headwind had set us back a couple of hours and was also the source of the ships rocking and rolling during the night. Additionally, due to current and wind conditions, it would not be possible to anchor off Bonifacio, so we would have to change our plans and arrive at a more leeward location, Porto Vecchio to allow the ships tenders to shuttle passengers to and from shore.
We were scheduled to arrive at 10, but it was after noon by time the tenders started moving the passengers ashore. Scheduled to leave at 2:30 pm, this did not leave much time for those wanting to see the port and do some shopping. Not that it mattered, as we arrived on Sunday and everything was closed.
I decided to go scuba diving, as this was the only day we were going to be able to enjoy this water sport. Equipped with a small marina platform off the stern, this was launch point for sailing, kayaking, snorkeling, and diving. The six of us who signed up for the dive meekly congregated at the lower aft of the ship and began to sign away any responsibility the cruise company had for us should we not return from the dive in one piece. While this seemed unlikely at the time, it later appeared to be a distinct possibility.
When the marina platform was lowered we were each issued our scuba gear. Next a Zodiac entered the water and our boat driver, Maria maneuvered the small craft into position on the port side. Soon the Zodiac was loaded with seven Scuba tanks, BCDS, weight belts, fins, mask, snorkels, two tanks of fuel, six divers, our other dive master Tracy and Maria. Tracy had expressed a bit of skepticism over Maria’s boating skills and would have preferred to have Jimmy, another dive master along, but he had other duties at the time. Given the deteriorating weather and the tricky anchoring maneuvers that would be required at the dive site, Tracy’s concerns seemed perfectly justified.
After about 2 minutes, our boat began to take on water off the stern and was really struggling with the weight and the load balance. We all shifted as much as we could towards the bow and moved the gear forward to the extent possible. We opened the drain plugs and had Maria give it full throttle and the water level began to lessen as it was forced out the holes in the zodiac.
The crate with the weights dug into my calf, and the sea water stung my face, but it was all good, because we were going to dive, and for me it had been five years since my last under water experience.
Though it only took 20 minutes to reach our dive site, it seemed like hours. It’s then we began the arduous task of setting the anchor. Forward, stop, reverse, too close to the rocks, head into the wind, is it set, are we drifting; these phrases were bandied about by Tracy, Maria and Wally, who was the most experienced boater/diver amongst us. After distributing BCD’s and tanks it was finally time to jump in. By now, the wind had picked up, the water was choppy and the current was fairly strong. Jim, a happy-go-lucky Californian went in first, followed by Harold, a German with limited English language skills. I was next and while I maneuvered over to the anchor line and bobbed up and down in the waves, Jim decided that it was too much for him and Harold began to panick.
The remaining divers hauled Jim back onto the zodiac, then Harold. Wally, Michelle, Tracy and I started for sea floor along the anchor line. With the amount of wet suit we were wearing and the salt content of the water, getting to the bottom was harder than we thought. It took a lot of kicking and paddling, but we finally met up at 10 meters, then set out to view the three sunken ships. It was clear enough to distinguish the keel, the rudder, an anchor and the main hull of these various wrecks and we encountered many types of fish including Gruper and a friendly eel.
Forty minutes later, we surfaced and paddled our way back to the boat. While the ride out to this point seemed longer than it was, the trek back to the Clipper seemed even longer.
When I saw my wife and Harold’s wife waving and calling our names from the stern…it was great relief. We shed our gear, headed for hot showers and then to eat. We were barely seated at lunch when the Clipper set sail for our next stop, Mahon, on the Island of Menorca.