I must admit to having neglected this space horribly in the last two months. One of the new nurses called me on it... apparently she reads my blog regularly. So to all of you that I have left hanging, I'm sorry. Life happened and I'm still re-learning how to balance my time in this place. A day can feel like a week and yet I blink and somehow I've been on the ship for 11 weeks!
I'm not going to reiterate all the changes, since that seems to be my theme each time I write a blog. And I'm not going to go into detail about South Africa yet, because that really deserves it's own blog.
On September 13th, we set sail from Gran Canaria Spain, to Cape Town South Africa. In total, that was the furthest sail that this ship has ever travelled in one trip since it became the Africa Mercy. September 29th we arrived to our destination, grateful to feel solid ground beneath our feet. The first 13 days of the sail were pretty much idyllic. Calm seas and a following wind, warm sunny days spent on the bow whenever I could make it out there, fresh food that somehow lasted most of the sail... it was FUN! We had activities planned every night, and filled our weekends with things like a Dutch Blitz tournament for a friend's birthday.
I worked hard with the engineering team, helping with repair work that included removing the "dome" ceiling in reception where we vacuumed out piles of accumulated dust, replaced insulation and re-insulated pipes. The plumbers replaced leaky pipes and there was way to much work involving ladders that we had to balance on and buckets that needed to be held and moved to catch the dripping pipes as we swayed. We finished up before things got too rough.
Somewhere about a week into the sail, there was one lunchtime where the captain announced that we were in one of the few spots along the way where your shadow will be DIRECTLY beneath you. The sun was literally in the middle of the sky and there was no angle to shadows. It's really hard to get it in a picture, but here's my attempt...
Sunsets from the bow were spectacular...
And then we got close to the rough currents and wilder weather around South Africa. Our typical sail includes seas that make the ship tilt to around 5-10 degrees, with occasional times as much as 12-15 degrees. This last weekend included a few times where we were up to 22 degrees, and resulted in a lot of things moving that hadn't moved in years (or ever), and some damage. Happily no major injuries. We re-tied things and did our best to be cautious, and the galley crew didn't cook for a day or two, instead serving things that didn't need much prep work. We made the most of it and moved things like worship on the bow inside to the international lounge.
We arrived safe and enjoyed almost three weeks in South Africa where more crew joined us. And then... we set sail for Tamatave, Madagascar.
We had plenty of warning that this was going to be a rough sail, in part because of currents, and in part because of the weather system that was chasing us.
I have almost no pictures from this sail. It was rough, rainy, and windy for a majority of the sail. We had multiple days where we were almost always around 10-16 degree rocking. There were a few large rolls that had some serious damage, including a broken cappucino maker (in our starbucks cafe which has since been fixed), broken bread slicer and broken meat slicer. There's some debate on what degree those rolls were, no one had a true measurement (beyond poorly calibrated iPhones that stated up to 33degrees which is doubtful), though it was at least 25 degrees on one roll. Even the captain admitted to being unable to stand up in the shower for most of the sail, if that gives you an idea of how rough it was. There were several days with no hot food. I may have required daily naps to make it through, but the seasickness medicine I was on kept me going (if drowsy). We had nursing orientation through the sail for all 40 some nurses currently on board, which if nothing else has gotten me excited for this field service to get moving!
Early this morning just before 7am the captain announced that the pilot would be boarding soon, so I pried myself out of bed to enjoy the (calm) sail into the harbour.
As we got closer, I took a few pictures of the coastal areas we were close to (that are likely part of the city), and it does remind me strongly of a west african city, with some differences in infrastructure.
Once we finally approached our (first) dock, the first part of the gangway was lowered into position.
It's a nice dock, that appears to have been freshly paved for the ceremonies around our arrival, including the visit of the President and his kicking off the "Year of the Volunteer" in Madagascar. We will move to a nearby dock on Monday and that's where we'll stay for the rest of the field service.
There was plenty of media presence, including an absolutely fascinating drone camera that flew around taking pictures (or video?) of the ship as we sailed in and tied down.
The advance team was eagerly awaiting our arrival, and were able to board soon after we were safely tied down.
The rest of the day has been full of ceremonies (one at the dock and another in the town centre that some of us were shuttled to) to celebrate the year of the volunteer. We also had a 2 hour meeting this evening where the advance team explained the miracles they accomplished in 6 weeks, and we were given a short lesson on safety and culture to prepare us to enjoy our freedom tomorrow.
Over the moon to have finally arrived! More stories and pictures another time. But it's bedtime now, and I think I'll need to explore a bit tomorrow!