Day 1 Home to Portsmouth and on the Ship

After an hour contacting the electricity board for some domestic project, I squeezed my bags into Bertha's metal panniers, filled up the oil and the vodka bottles that I have strapped on the back and prepared to set sail. Unfortunately an earlier event with my GPS meant that it had forgotten its bluetooth relationship with my earphones so I had to unmount and retreat indoors to the instruction leaflet and start afresh and then fiddle about as I rode out of Cambridge before I could hear any directions.

Its 133 miles from home to the Brittany Ferries terminal in Portsmouth. There was little traffic on the road from Cambridge to the A1 but the M25 involved queuing for much of the time I was on it, thankfully turning off for the A3, leaving another jam behind, to find my Little Chef I remember from my last trip, now renovated with smart red upholstery but still serving tea and scones for less than £5. Another stop for petrol and by the time I arrived at the terminal I was just waved through and up onto the boat without even a chance to stop and remove my super efficient earplugs so had no idea what anyone was telling me. Luckily everyone is well trained in exaggerated arm movements and I squeezed up about an inch behind another BMW or similar adventure bike with ABR magazine stickers and hard core luggage. Up on deck, a gnarled and bearded Spanish biker attempted to engage me in banter as we gazed down on the last cars and trucks driving on below. I realised – we both realised – that there is a great gulf between Spanish and English. I think he asked me some questions about my trip but I gazed at him completely uncomprehending. In the end I understood something, that its two hours ride from Santander, where we arrive, and his home town on the coast. He gave me a sticker of his motorcycle club and told me they had a website. Porstmouth harbour I retreated to sundeck 6, the deck where the dog owners have to stow their annoying dogs and have them ticked off by a Frenchman with a clipboard. 'Name?', 'You mean our name or the dogs'?' Eventually we left 25 minutes late and I watched beautiful old Portsmouth (home to one of my dear old schoolfriends) pass by in the late afternoon sun as we sailed out into the sea, the green and bizarre Isle of Wight out on the right hand side (is that port or starboard?) as we sailed further out. One day perhaps we will all wake up and the Isle of Wight will have disappeared in the night. There will just be one of those slight inclines of the head, as if to say 'well, that's just one of those things'.

Finally I got into my cabin (the delay was to get the slow moving cleaners off the boat). This is one of the smaller cabins I've had, on the inside, so no view of the sea passing. Now I just need to wait till the children have all gone to bed and make my way up to find something to eat...

Inside cabin on the Pont Aven Brittany Ferries

I ventured out to choose generous paella, overflowing with huge prawns and a small bottle of white wine followed by another glass of wine and a couple of cigarettes on the cooling breezy deck in the dark, while the first live act in the bar started, a young woman in a black dress and too much make up sang to a recorded synthesised track, and remaining small children ran in circles and screamed up above. Others watched English football on large screens high up on the walls. So this is life on a cruise ship.

Pont Aven

Now I'm back in my cabin with Seven Pillars of Wisdom. T E lawrence is discussing the Arab encampment by night above the town of Wejh. 'Life in Wejh was interesting', the chapter starts. Getting the bikes off the boat will be interesting. There's a mass of them and most of us will have to push our bikes backwards to drive them up the ramp into Santander. Day 2 Breakfast on board is good, strong coffee, pain au chocolat, fruit juice and healthy cereal all for £6. Eating on Stenna or DFDS to Holland or Esbjerg is to be avoided, either because it is poor quality or is very expensive. I spent the morning sitting up on the sunny side of the deck reading, at a measured pace so as not to run out of it, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. With such a large number of cabins and cars that drove on, I wonder where all the people are. Breakfast, lunch and dinner has set me back £30 in total. My campsite for tonight is about 30 miles southwest from the port so should be easy to get to, with hopefully a bar still open for a beer and some provisions.