01.09.1964 - 04.09.1964
Enroute to Singapore - Stabilizers are in and the ship is rolling a lot as we try to make up lost time. They have filled the swimming pool, and passengers stand around gawking as if they had never seen one before. The sun is beaming, an excellent day. The Indian Ocean is like glass, with only the even swell moving the ship. Life is terribly easy at the moment, a wonderful feeling. The food is becoming somewhat monotonous. It is all too spicy and not enough variety in taste. Some clean, plain Australian food would not go amiss. Blast that bloody front tooth of mine! It came out finally in Perth, and I can’t stick it back in again. I think I will wait until India, and have Dr. Kale fix it (free?). I am yet to see a sunset at sea. This is one thing I have looked forward to very much, but it has always been too overcast at sunset. This evening I thought there would be one, but it never fully developed.
Today a complete change has come over the ship and everyone on board, all due to the weather. We are steaming north now of course and the weather is becoming more tropical by the hour. Whereas yesterday people were wearing winter clothes still, today everyone is out on deck in swimming costumes and summer gear. The atmosphere on deck is how I imagine a Riviera atmosphere would be - relaxed, playful, friendly, sunny, with deck chairs and swimming pool, umbrellas and drinks, sunglasses and sunhats, accordion music in the background, and above all, a cosmopolitan harmony. That’s what makes it so exciting to me, complete harmony among all the nationalities on board: Australians, Italians, Greeks, Germans, New Zealanders, English, etc..
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The sun, a huge, shimmering golden circle, is making its final appearance for the day from behind a grey, low bank of cloud. It is huge and brilliant, and rims the surrounding cloud with gold so as to make a regal exit into the sea. The sea is composed and waiting, and when the sun is fully ready he falls with the greatest dignity into her depths. The sea does not murmur, but there is an empty sky. Such is the sun’s daily duty, and so it was today. Full five minutes later the sun comes to life again. The grey cloud thins, the sky glows orange, green, yellow, pink and blue, all light radiating from the point where the sun sank. The black blue sea reflects all these colours. All these colours merge into a deep golden fire. I saw this sunset tonight. It is what I have been waiting for. The first such sunset I have ever experienced. I am watching it still. The blue black and the gold deepen by the minute. There is nothing to clutter it. It is a merging of the elements. The sun, the sea, the sky, the clouds. I am still not satisfied. It has not moved me fully. Perhaps it is the ship in my background. To experience it fully it would be necessary to be alone on the sea. The gold is gone, the day is dead, the night is born.
In two days we have passed from wintry weather into humid tropical conditions. Out on deck it seems difficult to breathe, the air is so full of moisture. We have now left Australia well behind, and tonight we will be passing through the Sunda Strait, between Java and Sumatra. Sometime tomorrow we will be crossing the equator. Trying to forget the people on the ship for a moment, I look out to sea, and everything seems so different and so full. I can imagine World War II battles being fought in these waters, and ships being sunk, and men struggling for their lives in the sea. Not far distant, Java and Sumatra, scenes of Japanese atrocities, and now trouble spots of South-East Asia, teeming millions, and a completely different environment to the one I have lived in. All so very close. The air is different, the horizon is haze, the experience is all so very new.
Tonight I have been sitting out on deck talking frankly to the first interesting person I have met on the ship. At about 12 midnight, lights appeared out to sea, one on the port side, and two on the starboard side. They were Indonesian gunboats following us. After about half an hour they dropped astern.
Off Indonesia - At ten o’clock this morning we had the crossing of the line ceremony, although we are not due to actually cross the equator until later tonight. It was a messy, sloppy affair, and got a little out of hand. Rather a pointless business, but it is traditional. We passed dozens of small Indonesian islands during the day, and occasionally saw a small fishing craft in the distance, only just discernable through binoculars. At four in the afternoon, Ade and I went up to the bridge. The heat and the glare were shocking, but the view and the clean quiet efficiency of the whole set-up made it worthwhile.
The Captain was there, and Ade faked a shot of me apparently being shown something by him, even though I was several feet back from him and a female passenger. Ade wanted me to try the same with him in the shot, but I am not sure whether it will work out.
I went to bed quite early so as to be able to get up at five for our arrival in Singapore tomorrow. We will be crossing the equator late tonight and the day has been steaming hot and humid. The sky and horizon were hazy and I did not enjoy staying out on deck too long. The sunset was quite something, with the islands dotting the sea, and the clouds, creating a beautiful sight. Note: I saw some flying fish from the bridge in the afternoon.
The Lloyd Triestino ship TV (Turbo Vessel) Galileo Galilei, launched in 1961 to commence service in 1963, is now sadly at the bottom of the sea. After a couple of name changes under different owners she became the Sun Vista, and during a cruise in South-East Asian waters she caught fire on the afternoon of 20th May 1999 and sank 9 hours later about 60 miles south of Penang, at a position we would pass close to within the next 48 hours. Fortunately there were no fatalities.
She was a magnificent ship, built for the migrant run between Genoa and Sydney and, in alternate monthly sailings with her sister ship the TV Guglielmo Marconi, carried many thousands of young Australians, such as myself, on her return voyages to Europe during the sixties and seventies.
There was a chilling moment, when I came upon the website www.drmike.smugmug.com which contains a remarkable series of images of the encrusted wreck, lying on its side in 70 metres of water in the Malacca Strait. There were the very wheelhouse windows I am looking out of above, and the starboard side bridge wing and compass, the mirror image of the port side one in the photo with the Captain. It was an eerie feeling.
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