So I have been meaning to start this blog for awhile now, probably a few years at least, and I have made several promises to various friends and colleagues on numerous occasions that I write one…but I have never got around to it up until now!
Many of you who know me know that I travel quite a bit…which is probably a bit of an understatement! As an academic I travel for conferences and seminars and I also like to travel for holidays. However, around four years ago I started to give lectures on board cruise ships. As my research focuses on the evolution and eruption of the Sun’s magnetic field the main topic of my lectures is Astronomy. One of the first questions I get asked is how did I end up giving lectures on cruise ships? Well, back in 2015 when I was working towards my PhD, my supervisor was invited on board a solar eclipse and northern lights cruise. Unfortunately, she had prior commitments and couldn’t make it so she suggested I went in her place. I had a wonderful cruise (a story for another time) and I have been on several cruises since then giving lectures.
Most recently, I joined the MS Braemar, my first and favourite ship, for a cruise that sailed to the Greek Islands, setting sail from Southampton and calling at Spain and Malta along the way. We docked at several Greek Islands and ports (Crete, Rhodes, Syros, Patras, Katakolon, and Kefalonia) and also sailed through the Corinth Canal. The cruise has just got back to Southampton after I disembarked and flew home from Kefalonia last week.
Now I must admit before I got on this cruise I had never heard of the Corinth Canal and was most excited about the hot weather and the Greek cuisine however, after a few days of being on board I realised that this was quite an interesting cruise. It had been sold out a couple of years in advance (rumour on board has it that it sold out in 2 days) and there was a hub of excitement among the passengers. It wasn’t until talking to some of the passengers and also listening to the lecture given by the Captain that I realised that this cruise was going to make history. We were going to be the largest ship to ever to sail through the Corinth Canal! This may not sound like a big deal but considering the width of the canal is 24 m and the MS Braemar is 22.5 m wide it starts to sound slightly more exciting!
Now up until this point the largest ship to sail through was actually the sistership of the MS Braemar, which was originally called the Crown Jewel but is now known as the Celestyal Nefelli. However, we would break this record as back in 2009 the Braemar was taken into dry dock and lengthened. The Captain, with the assistance of two Greek pilots and a tugboat, was going to attempt to squeeze the Braemar through the canal. In fact, I am certain there was a lot of pressure on the Captain’s shoulders as he was the one who researched and visited the canal a few years prior to determine whether this would actually be possible.
Before we attempted this we were told that if anything went wrong the ship wouldn’t sink as the canal isn’t deep enough (good to know). As the conditions had to be perfect there were seven alternative itineraries planned for the cruise to make sure we would make it through. We also wanted to make sure that it was possible as there is another cruise on the Braemar that will sail through the Corinth Canal in 2021. The canal itself opened in 1893 and is 3 miles long. It isn’t wide enough for most cruiseships hence it is mainly used by tourists passing through on smaller ships.
Luckily for us the conditions were perfect, in fact it was a beautifully sunny day with very little wind. The Captain with the help of the two pilots managed to make it through quicker than previously thought and most importantly unscathed in around an hour and a half. During the transit we were so close to the canal that that passengers could touch the trees on the side of the canal. In fact, the ship collected rather a lot of foliage as it passed through the canal we were that close. We also managed to disturb the wildlife, which were minding their own business until we came along. There were quite a few locals either side watching this spectacle, among those was a very happy looking dog wagging its tail. A time lapse was made on board and there was also some footage taken with a drone, which you can find here:
As for the rest of the cruise I met some extremely interesting and talented individuals (as usual), including a few familiar faces that I have cruised with before. We spent most of our time wandering around the ports grabbing food, watching the evening shows, or miserably failing at the 10 o’clock quiz in the Coral Club!
Anyway, this is my last trip for a while (probably until February) but it has been an extremely busy year travel wise. In the mean time I’ll try and write about some past adventures so watch this space!