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Fish on the Verandah

Aboard the Silver Wind
September 30, 2007

One morning we were chatting with the receptionist at the Front Desk when her phone rang. She answered it, looked puzzled, and finally broke in: "Sir, I can't understand what you're saying, you're laughing so much." Finally he was able to control himself enough that she was able to tell us that he found a flying fish on his verandah, and he wanted to notify the chef!

So we went onto our verandah to check out the aerial activity. It takes a while to learn the correct terminology; just when we had become accustomed to referring to a room as a cabin or a stateroom on other cruise lines, we learned it was a suite on Silversea. And what we thought was a balcony is actually a verandah, and note the "h."

Actually we didn't start out in a verandah suite. The forty-percent booking discount entitled us to a standard room, er, suite, which had a picture window that spanned the end wall. All Silversea accommodations are suites, which are at least fifty percent larger than standard staterooms on other cruise lines. However, as we headed south, we began to notice that the air conditioning, which had initially been able to maintain any temperature desired, was failing to keep up with the heat. We also noticed that temperatures in public areas were also climbing, and I finally called the Front Desk to seek a remedy.

Soon a malodorous bug-eyed technician in blue coveralls arrived with a digital thermometer. I explained the situation while he checked the temperature of the air outlet, which he did not show us – further evidence that the cooling was inadequate. When I finished, he asked: "So is everything OK now?" I suddenly realized that as a member of the Italian crew that didn't normally deal with the public, he probably didn't understand most of what I said.

So I called the Front Desk again and asked to speak to the Hotel Director – when you think about it, a cruise ship really is a floating hotel. After a moment, the receptionist said she'd have him call me back. Suspicious that I was being put off, I asked if he really would, and she said, yes, it was just that all four of his lines were busy. So maybe I wasn't the only one reporting problems. And he did call back within five minutes. I told him our concern that with most of the cruise remaining, something needed to be done. He said he understood our situation; in fact, his office was warm also. He said they were currently re-balancing various air ducts, but if things hadn't improved in an hour to call back and they'd move us to a suite in a cooler zone.

When we returned to our suite an hour later and there had been no change, I realized that I had neglected to ask for his phone number, which was not in the phone book. However, he had anticipated what the result would be, because when I again called the receptionist, she said she had key cards to our new suite and we didn't need to repack, they'd move us when we were ready. We were fortunate that the ship wasn't entirely booked, unlike most of those on which we've recently sailed, and we were even more fortunate that our new home was a mid-ship verandah suite, a two-category upgrade. The mid-ship advantage is that there is less pitching movement than further fore or aft. Plus we were now on the starboard side, which would be in the shade when we headed west across the Atlantic.

By the way, it seems that the appealing notion that the word POSH originally came from the cabins desired by Brits as they sailed to and from colonies to the east – Port Out, Starboard Home – unfortunately cannot be documented.

Meanwhile, the lectures in the Parisian Lounge became even more popular, particularly in the lower, cooler, areas nearest the stage. The captain, however, stonewalled, announcing that the air conditioning was performing at full capacity and that some problems were caused by people leaving open their verandah doors! He didn't, however, claim that the system was fully operational, and our verandah door, at least, was not only very difficult to open but it also swung shut by itself when we released it. Of course, there is not much that can be done in the middle of the ocean if the necessary spare parts are not at hand. Perhaps they would be waiting by the time we arrived in Barbados – in Lisbon, we saw engine parts being loaded aboard, suggesting that they are experienced in repairs at sea.

Since we were not continuing on the next leg, to Ft. Lauderdale, we'll never know if and when things returned to normal.

Betty Lou said she was glad that I handled the situation, because she was so uncomfortably warm that she might have gone ballistic. Perhaps she wasn't the only one; when we later bumped into the Hotel Manager and thanked him for acting so promptly, he thanked us for being so understanding! And he did so several more times, including when we departed! We had gotten to know the couple in the adjacent suite and told them they should also complain about the ineffective air conditioning. Their response was that they'd certainly write it up on their final comments card!

That reminded me of an incident nearly thirty years ago on our first trip around Great Britain. Perusing the menu of a London restaurant, I noticed that one of the choices was Aberdeen Angus steak. During the previous two weeks I'd had more than one steak that could only charitably be called even "chewy," so I asked if it was tender. Oh yes, the waiter assured me. When it turned out not to be, I said I'd like to order something else. He was aghast, insisting that I come back to the kitchen so he could show me their fine Scottish cuts of beef! I initially resisted, but Betty Lou persuaded me that it might be the only way to calm him down – also, Betty Lou is always interested in visiting kitchens. So we followed him to the back, viewed the selection, and, although they were a beautiful red, there was no discernible marbling; no doubt the reason for the toughness. He relented, and the pork substitute was fine.

Back home, I told the story to my Department Head, who was British, and I said the waiter had acted as if no one had ever sent something back. He said it could be true – the typical Brit would keep a stiff upper lip and go home and kick the dog. However, even if this is true, it doesn't explain our neighbors, who were Aussies. (Also, my British readers can inform me if this proclivity is no longer true.)

But I digress. Back to the finny aerialists.

Occasionally we would spot a silvery fish, similar to a large sardine (about nine inches long), spooked by the bow wave, erupt from the depths and skim above the waves, diaphanous wings flashing, until it splashed back below the surface. None came to visit us on our verandah, though.

The next morning I came out earlier, and saw more of the same, then a group of eight or ten, and suddenly a flock of perhaps fifty all heading in the same direction! (Somehow "school" seems inappropriate when they're soaring through the air.) Maybe it was rush hour and they were heading off to work. Of course, I didn't have my camera, and after I brought it out, things returned to normal.

Several more mornings I returned to try to capture their pictures, but their sudden appearance was so unpredictable and their flight so brief, that most are small white blurs on a blue backdrop. As an example, this is my best shot – at least you can glimpse a "wing."

Fortunately, I was able to locate a photograph on the Internet by someone who had a more powerful telephoto lens, and perhaps also better reflexes, to show what they looked like,

and a drawing that shows more detail and gives an idea of what a flock looks like.

I learned that their "flight" is actually a glide, aided by two pairs of fins that look like wings when they're extended. Like an aircraft, the front pair has a greater "wingspan" than the rear. Their flight is normally to escape predators, of which a ship must seem a particularly threatening example. Swimming close to the surface, they accelerate to escape-velocity with their fins furled, spreading them when they emerge, with their tail still propelling them ever faster.

And my eyes didn't deceive me, they can "flap their wings." Eventually, the tail also leaves the water, and the speed of their 50 to 150 foot flight can reach 35 mph. Since the ship itself was moving in the other direction at about 20 mph, it is no wonder that I had difficulty photographing them!

A travel guide in the Silver Wind's library noted that the flying fish is the symbol of Barbados, which was our destination, and that they are a delicacy served there. Unfortunately, verifying that claim will have to wait for another trip.

© Copyright 2008 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved

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