Years ago for a summer I worked on the Rosslare/Cherbourg ferry and while conditions on board were decidedly rough, I just loved the sea. Even as a young man I often drove on a winter's afternoon to the empty car parks by beaches to sit and stare at the atlantic ocean pounding our shores. It was pleasing and hypnotic.
But flying became the norm so my acquaintance with ships and the sea ended. The argument for jets was the high speed and low cost with which you could get to your destination. London, we were told, was only an hour away. That's partially true. From the moment you begin galloping down the runway in Cork to the moment the wheels touch the tarmac in London is only one hour. But you have to get to your local airport first and where I am, that's a half hour minimum in light traffic. Then you have to be at the airport two hours before take-off, so you can bank on at least two and a half hours before your fabled one hour flying time. At the other end, the maze that is Heathrow, can take a further hour to negotiate before you are once again in fresh air. That folks is four-and-a-half hours, everything running smoothly.
OK, it is still quick by comparison to the alternative eighteen-hour sea journey that then drops you in Wales for the train to London. But somehow, air travel has lost its romance. It's a chore now and an unnecessarily intrusive one at that. But booked on a cruise last week around Norway, I still had to fly to Copenhagen and though it wasn't the worst of flights, I'd nearly swear the plane landed in Germany and we walked the rest of the way. The distance from where we parked and where the main building was must surely have been measured in miles.
And then there was the cruise ship. Seeing it the first time it looked like a gigantic white cliff wall rising up to the sky. Embarkation was a pleasant ceremony that included complimentary drinks and a friendly chat outlining all we needed to know. The cabin was on the twelfth floor via a fast lift and the view from the balcony was awesome indeed. As the ship slipped its moorings we were sitting down to dinner on the 13th floor beside a full-sized window to the world. By the time it was tramping up the Danish coast, we were on high stools toasting our good fortune. The big ship covered many sea miles as we slept soundly in a massive double bed that night. All of the next day as we ate and drank to our hearts content and explored the nooks and crannies, the ship made progress up the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian coasts. We were nearing our destination as we finished up watching the floor show that night and hit the sack again. At 0600 hrs, the following morning, herself called out to me from the balcony saying, "Jesus! You've got to see this." We had slipped effortlessly in Geiranger Fjord and the sight that greeted me took my breath away. I could drool on about that on its own forever.
Point being though, at 0800 hrs, that morning over breakfast, as we gazed out the cafeteria window, the ship berthed in paradise. Think of that gentle berthing procedure in the light of a modern airport landing. There's just no comparison. We had traveled several hundred miles in comfort and style on a flat calm sea and had arrived in a remote place that no airport could ever be built. And I had the sight of the heart-lifting ocean all of that time. I do not have the superlatives to do it justice. If I could afford it, I would never plant my sorry ass on a jet again. I would confine my destinations to those that could be reached by sea and to hell with the other.
There were no luggage weight limitations, no rip-off prices on board, no climbing over other passengers to go for a piss and no claustrophobia either. It was, as the saying goes, plain sailing. You could lace into the hooch with wild abandon and nobody cared. No-one gave you that admonishing stare when you ordered a second. You could get up and walk around and go out in the fresh air too any time on the journey. Terrorism as a concept never once entered the head. I have no recollection on the seven day voyage to five different ports in three different countries of ever having my passport checked after the first occasion. In fact it was tucked up in the cabin safe. I had it checked in Dublin airport and again in Copenhagen airport in one morning before setting out. I wasn't asked if I had packed my own bags after I left the airport and boarded the ship. And the staff all smiled and said hallo upon eye contact of any kind.
The flying boats may have signaled the end of the great liners in the fifties but sixty years later, I believe they will make a comeback for all of the above reasons and many more to boot. The sheer peace and joy of travel by sea far outweighs the benefits of the supposed cheap fast air travel in my books.