CHAPTER 9. The Indian Ocean

We had been told that our sea troubles would be over when we got through the Bight, but trouble still followed us after we left Fremantle. All through Tuesday we had rough weather, with a following swell which made the boat most unpleasant. Once more the ladies were in bed, but managed to get up in time for dinner. It was a bad day. No one could play games except for the few hearties and even they did not enjoy them. The swimming pool had to be emptied as it was overflowing with every big roll of the boat.

The next day promised to be a little better. I was up early and found the pool was filled again, so I had a good swim with a few others who were like-minded.

World Tour 1938
swimming pool – Orcades

Every few minutes the boat seemed to strike a couple of extra large waves which caused her to roll to an unpleasant angle. When on deck it was very difficult to keep your feet when such rolls took place, but when swimming in the pool the sensation was entirely different. Instead of thinking the boat was going to roll over it appeared to remain perfectly upright and the water seemed to be running uphill. When I first noticed this queer sensation I stood up in the shallow end of the pool and watched it, but immediately my feet touched the bottom the sensation was reversed and I felt the boat rolling. I then swam in the direction of the mast during a bad roll and to me the mast and ship were quite perpendicular and instead of the surface of the water in the pool trying to remain horizontal, as is actually the case, it appeared to be going upwards at an angle of about 30o. The faculty of balance had been taken for granted for so long that this incident made me realize something of its great value. Of course, when the water rushed from side to side at such an angle the pool could not hold it and consequently went over the top, washed across the deck to the dressing rooms and then came back to the pool like a waterfall. As it was both damaging and dangerous the pool was again emptied and left without water for the rest of the day.

The Ocean was not as rough as the Bight, but because it was a “following sea” it repeatedly got the boat broadside on the crest of a swell, with the result that when it reached the trough, which could not be more than 20 feet down, it would go with a roll to one side and like a pendulum the swing would follow in the opposite direction. In between these heavy rolls there was just sufficient movement to keep some people seasick and to make it difficult to some and interesting to others who walked about the decks.

At lunch time this caused some excitement and amusement. We were at our table and had just finished our soup when one of these big rolls started. There was just a gentle clattering of crockery from every part of the diningroom. Immediately the head water and all the other waiters seemed to know by experience which parts required their special attention and sprang to them with the agility of a cat after a mouse. They knew it might be the start of three or just one big one. On this occasion their fears were not unfounded, for the next one was bigger. Slowly the boat rolled over and as the angle increased so did the clatter of falling dishes, plates, glasses and cutlery, which could not be caught or in some way rescued by passengers and waiters. Then came the unavoidable return and on this occasion it was worse than the last.

Before the waiters had recovered their balance and restored any of the fallen pieces the third one came, which was the worst of all. Plates and dishes of food slid down to the other side of the tables, metal food covers went bowling across the floor. Waiters rushed everywhere, passengers sat tight and held on to the tables as their chairs threatened to tip them out. The clattering, rattling and smashing continued like an earthquake playing havoc in a picture. The head waiter bustled here and there, the waiters gathered up the wreckage with lightning speed and the passengers did not know whether to laugh, cry or vomit. It was both exciting and amusing, notwithstanding that it was so serious. One woman right in front of our table did not have her chair screwed down and when the third roll came just when she was endeavouring to regain her equilibrium after the second, her chair went backwards and she went with it. The head waiter was there in a second and helped her to her feet. The full moon can sometimes be seen in the day time! She was shaken but not hurt and in any case what did she care about the moon?

After the interesting and exciting lunch was over I told the head waiter on my way out that I would bring down my camera for the next meal if he would undertake to stage a similar picture. During the day while the rolling was bad one woman fell down the companion way and broke her wrist and a man fell and dislocated a shoulder.

The next day and the day following brought us into smoother water. The fenders were put down from the tables and the girls began to enjoy their meals. Fortunately, this life does not always bring us exactly what we desire. With the calm water came the heat as we approached the much discussed equator. Therefore, the appetites of all were once more affected, for the heat took the place of the rolling.

The change was almost suddenly made and was undoubtedly according to schedule.

World Tour 1938
Lifeboat drill

Three days out from Fremantle the weather improved, the officers changed from blue to white uniform, ice cream was issued instead of beef tea and those of the passengers who were fortunate in possessing white dinner jackets put them on. During the day more girls appeared in shorts. As Mr. Clark from Christchurch remarked, “It was a competition in itself as to which one could wear the least and show the most.”

I started the day with cream trousers, but when I found so many men wearing the much cooler shorts I went to the shop and bought a pair for 7/6d. and immediately joined the fashion. There is not the slightest doubt the girls can show the men how to dress, for with only a pair of shorts, a silk shirt and a pair of shoes I felt much cooler and consequently enjoyed the deck games much more.

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Games deck – Orcades

These games had been going since we first joined the boat, but from Fremantle they had been organised by a special committee. As we had to pay 50/- for entrance fees for the three of us we all did our best to get value for the money. Lo and Elizabeth dropped out after the first few days as the games were completed under the sudden death principle and one loss meant that you were out. I managed to get to the semi-final for the mixed doubles in the deck quoits and was then beaten there, having to play just after a tropical downpour when the decks were wet. The carpet golf is still going, but I do not expect to last much longer.

Before I left New Zealand I had been advised to get some white shoes with leather soles, as the rubber soles were hard on the feet when going through the tropics. Two days before leaving Wellington I had asked another friend about this, as he had recently come back from a trip to England. He told me the rubber was satisfactory and consequently I brought my bowler’s shoes which were very comfortable on the bowling green. I soon found that the first man was right and my feet were getting very sore through wearing the rubber. I then went to the shop and bought a pair of white shoes with leather soles for 7/11d. And these, of course, were just the correct thing and gave me comfort. Such points as these are valuable to note when making a trip across the equator.

My tropical garb was also very convenient. I can dress in the morning in about 5 seconds. As I sleep with only my pyjama coat on me it is a very quick and easy process to slip that off, put on my shirt and shorts and then step into my shoes. There was more to this than at first meets the eye, for there were several baths to have during the day and easy dressing was essential.

World Tour 1938
swimming pool – Orcades

The first dip was in the pool in the morning. This pool was a popular place on this part of the voyage. It was also interesting to watch the higher temperature of the water come up on the board each morning. In Fremantle it was 68o and every day since it has been getting higher until today it has reached 84o and we are now exactly one hour from the equator. If you have been playing games before lunch you want a shower before your meal. You have a longer cold bath before dinner and then a final shower before going to bed. The cost of a private bathroom seems high when you are making arrangements in a cold climate, but it is a very different matter when you are travelling in the tropics. It is here that the bath is most appreciated.

Also, when we entered the air-conditioned diningroom in Sydney it was just something which was very nice, whereas the lounge and the library, which were also air-conditioned, were considered to be only another good selling point. In the tropics it was a real treat to go down to the cool diningroom. Even if you did not feel much like a meal when upon deck or in your room you had your appetite aroused by the fresh, cool atmosphere of the diningroom when you got there. Likewise, to sit in the library and read in a nice easy chair with a temperature of about 60o while it was 90o outside or 100o in the sun, was something which had to be actually experienced to be properly appreciated.

World Tour 1938
Cocktail lounge – Orcades

We have now passed the equator and it gets hotter each day. It is difficult to keep dry and impossible to keep cool. Even with my single garments I get wet with perspiration. I sleep in a pyjama coat with a thin sheet over me. The two windows in my cabin are open wide so that as much air as possible can get in, but of course it is not cool air which might usually be expected from the ocean. At the moment I am in my pyjamas writing after having had a long “cold” bath trying to get cool to dress for dinner, but the water is not cold as we know it and is more like a luke warm bath.

The last few days have upset my photography. I completed a film I had started in Fremantle and then developed it in the ordinary way. As I had purchased special chemicals for the hot weather when I was in Hobart I thought everything would be alright. However, on this occasion when the film was developed it just melted off the celluloid. Those taken in Western Australia are lost, but the others taken on board can be obtained again later. I then tried another film of some boat pictures which were not very important and on this occasion I arranged to use ice water. They finished satisfactorily and I thought my troubles were over, but when the completed films were hung up to dry they melted once more. I will now have to give up the developing until after I leave the tropics.

Yesterday, the day we crossed the equator, I was taken into the kitchen by the chief steward and it gave me a good idea of what those cooks and kitchen hands have to endure in the hot weather. As that is another part of my story which is coming later I will not say any more now.

As we reach port in the morning, to-day, 12th April, has been a very busy one for the passengers, including ourselves. All the public writing tables (and there are scores of them) have been occupied in writing letters to be posted to-night. I have already purchased 6/- worth of stamps for this mail and it would appear that more will have to be bought. We are fortunate in having a writing table in our own room and consequently I am able to write my diary or letters to my friends at any time of the day or night without fear of interruption.

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