At Sea With The Conversationalist – Of Boats, Birds and Horses

Here’s the second despatch from regular Shipping News contributor, emeritus professor, author, scriptwriter and Inner City Fremantle resident, Brian Stoddart who is currently engaging in the art of the ‘Conversationalist’ aboard the fabulous Seabourn Sojourn as it cruises its way from Freo to Africa. After reporting on The Stowaway in his first despatch, here Brian reports on various port calls in Indonesia, as well as on the fate of The Stowaway!

Seabourn Sojourn is about to dock in Padang, West Java where guests spend a day before setting off on a seven sea days journey to Victoria on Mahe in the Seychelles, an epic “crossing”, as it is called in the trade, this time of the Indian Ocean.

Seabourn Sojourn in Fremantle. Credit Fremantle Shipping News

That follows stops in Bali, Probolinggo and Surabaya in Java. Most of these are out of the way places for Western travellers, and the three hundred guests here are drawn mostly from the United States and Australia so this is all new.

It is mostly new for people in those places, too, as they recover from the economic hit laid on by Covid. Bali expects to be right back in business by next month, but a lot of enterprises have closed and many employees gone without. Our taxi driver said he had taken no one but us to the Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur house and art museum at Sanur for a very long time, and the break had been hard for him and his family.

Welcome dancers at Surabaya

We were one of the first ships back into Surabaya which laid on a full welcome with music and local dancing as Sojourn docked there, a welcome impact on the local economy.

In Probolinggo, Sandi and I hired a car and driver to take us up to Mount Bromo, one of the innumerable volcanos in Indonesia. So did a lot of other guests and we all ended up riding horses to the steps that led to the final viewing point. That after a transfer from car to 4WD into the spectacular site.

Our driver there had once worked in the cruise industry (like so many Indonesians) but came home to be with his family, and reported that things were reasonably tough now but improving.

It is good to be reminded that if we think things were hard through Covid, then a lot more people around the world had it way worse.

Port days on the ship always start with a rush as people prepare either to meet their tours or freelance around the destination. There is an additional twist on “tender” days. That is when we anchor offshore and the ship’s lifeboats get a run as ferry boats.

It was like that in Probolinggo, and gave us an excellent view of a large and traditional port littered with fishing boats and coastal traders, the latter colourfully decorated and shaped rather like the old Arab dhows, perhaps a reflection of the trading days that brought Islam to Indonesia from Arabia and the Levant.

By now we guests on board know each other a lot better through meeting at dinner, in the bars or just around the ship. One bonus of being a Conversationalist is that we get regularly to “host” a table at dinner, a wonderful way to meet people.

Since the last despatch we have met a long time Associated Press journalist, a retired senior Canadian navy officer, an aviation industry figure, two former US Airforce officers, more businesspeople, a Florida realtor, and renewed acquaintance with one of the entertainment stars, Dominic Ferris, a sensationally gifted pianist and singer. Another new meeting has been with wonderful Australian singer Emily Anne Garth.

Meanwhile, mahjong is rife, bridge serious, a choir has started up as have a few other ventures. April Fools’ Day began with the Herald, the onboard daily events guide, that had this entry for 8.30 am –

“​​​Naked Over-70s Trampoline Tournament DECK 11”

The Stowaway – you’ll remember Millie came on board during a storm as we left Broome, to great interest. Well, she stayed with us until Bali, because she had been used to human contact since late 2022. She was eventually placed on an open crew deck and protected, and necessarily handed over to quarantine officers in Bali. The Parks and Wildlife Service in the Kimberley and Native Animal Rescue in Broome are in touch with Indonesian officials negotiating Millie’s return as an educational animal.

Seabourn Sojourn leaving Fremantle, 20 March 2023

We hope that all turns out well as we now go into West Java and yet another cultural experience.

* By Brian Stoddart. You’ll find more feature articles by Brian Stoddart, including his last despatch from the Sojourn titled The Stowaway, right here!

While you’re here –

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