As I look out at the grey winter weather, I remember that this time 44 years ago I was enjoying the balmy air of the Pacific.

S. and I had, with great persistance, managed to get jobs on the Bergensfjord the, then, flag ship of the Norwegian  America Line. She was a cabin stewardess. I had started as stewardess to the Captain and senior officers, but due to one of the stewardesses going off sick in  New York I was now a “bath Stewardess”  This is not as exotic as it sounds as it merely meant I serviced the four public bathrooms and made sure that those who preferred a bath tub to a shower had a time slot for using them. It gave me a lot more free time when we came to land. As I had free time on board I also looked after the many plants on board. This gave me a free run of the ship, so long as I had my large watering can in my hand! I became very adept at balancing two glasses of cocktail inside my empty can, so that even the hawkeyed Chief Stewardess never guessed.

We left Oslo on January 6th 1966, crossed a stormy Atlantic with 800 crossing passengers, spent a few days in New York whilst the ship was restocked, boarded 400 wealthy cruise passengers,  and then left the cold North on January 19th and 36 hours later we were in the warm climate of the Bahamas and sailing through the Caribbean for the journey of a lifetime. This was a time when Cuba was very suspicious of foreign shipping coming to close and we were shadowed by a Cuban warship until we were safely past!

January 24th we arrived at the Isthmus of Panama and passed through the magnificent Panama Canal which took about 9 hours. Nearly everyone spent as much of the day as possible on deck, marvelling at the wonderful lock system as we climbed up to the lake on top and then down to Pacific level at Balboa, which is the port for Panama City.

Next day we reached the Galapagos Islands. In those days we were not allowed to land, but we cruised in the ship’s tenders, close enough to see the amazing bird and animal life, seals, penguins, giant crabs and lizards, which had so inspired Darwin. 

On January 26th we crossed the Equator and enjoyed the ceremony when Father Neptune came aboard and presented us with our certificates.

Next stop was the beautiful Moorea Island, said to be the inspiration for Bali Hi. It was my idea of the perfect tropical island, beautiful beaches, luxuriant greenery and the gentle scent of the tropical flowers over all. I felt as though I was on a film set and half expected the cast of South Pacific or the Admirable Crichton to appear!

We were welcomed by the very friendly islanders who had arranged a feast for us, pig wrapped in banana leaves and slow roasted in an earth pit oven. Even though this was a commercial arrangement, it felt more like being invited to a family gathering.

Next day we docked in Tahiti. This was much more commercialised. There were stalls lined up along the quayside selling the usual grass skirts, shell necklaces etc. as well as stalls selling rather luridly coloured drinks and food. A friend of S.’s aunt met us and drove us round the island. I did not find it as beautiful as Moorea, but some of the boys in the crew obviously did as four went missing! Three eventually came back, but one stayed. Echoes of the mutineers from the Bounty. 🙂

We had a short visit to Bora Bora, another unspoilt island then, where we watched a stone fishing ceremony,  all very simple and natural. Over the years this has been developed into a spa tourist resort!

We should have landed in Raratonga, the largest of the Cook Islands,  two days later, but unfortunately they had had an epidemic of something, so a select party of them came aboard and sang and danced for us. Afterwards one of the dancers came to stand by me and we started to chat. She said something about being tired because she had been up all night, suddenly I guessed that she was a nurse and a bond was forged. Before she left we had exchanged addresses and she had presented her lei and her floral head dress to me and I felt as though I had known her for years! We kept up a correspondence for many years afterwards and then it stopped so I don’t know whether she died or just lost interest.

On the 10th February we crossed the International Date Line and I received another certificate, this time from Father Time, so I suppose, technically I have been to the East even though I did it by sailing West, if you see what I mean.:)

In Tonga it was all a bit subdued, sadly, as they were in mourning for the lovely Queen Salote. The large smiling lady who had wowed the crowds at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

The last of the islands we visited was Fiji. It was very funny as we sailed in and we were greeted by the police band, very resplendent in their white skirts and red tunics. They were playing “Rule Britannia “. Think of it, we were on a Norwegian boat crewed by mainly Scandinavians, (we were only the only 3 Brits) with American passengers!

I enjoyed Fiji, the dancing display, the fire walker and the mock battle, but most of all the shops. I bought lovely silk saris for myself, a moonstone pendant for my mother and gaudy shirts for my brother and my dad. This cruise was turning into a giant shopping fest!

When we left Fiji we were en route for Auckland where I was looking forward  to visiting the friends I had said goodbye to 4 years earlier.