April 29, 2012

True Blue Riband

Australian-built, Fjord Cat, the world’s fastest commercial vessel. (Wikipedia)

Fastest Across the Atlantic

By Roderick Eime

The Atlantic Crossing between Europe and the United States is the quintessential ocean voyage. Why? Apart from being one of the historically busiest shipping routes in the world, it is chapter one of many of the world’s greatest stories, including the discovery of what is now the United States of America by European navigators.

The great, often treacherous North Atlantic has been fought over and blockaded in wars; such has been its importance to international trade and commerce. From the time of Columbus in 1492, and possibly earlier, seafarers have braved these waters to build civilisations, ship all manner of cargo, smuggle, plunder and wage war. The passage became increasingly important as the great nations expanded their empires and influence, building all-weather vessels specifically for the arduous 3,000 NM ocean voyage.

In the days of sail, a typical eastbound voyage took over three weeks until the introduction of steam in the early 19th century. Steam power allowed vessels to improve their more difficult outward (westbound) time against the Gulf Stream winds and the race to build faster and bigger ships was on.

Normandie Inaugural
In 1935, Arthur Hales, a UK merchant, shipowner and politician instigated the now famous trophy that bears his name for the “Blue Riband”, the fastest westbound journey by a passenger vessel in regular service. The first official recipient was the French liner SS Normandie, which completed her maiden voyage on 29 May at just under 30 knots. Since that time, only two other ocean liners have shared that accolade, the RMS Queen Mary and the purpose-built SS United States, who captured the title with an average speed of 34.5 knots on 15 July 1952 and has held it ever since. This superlative vessel also smashed the eastbound record one week earlier with a stunning 35.59 knots.

Since the retirement of SS United States in 1969, the “Blue Riband” is deemed to have ceased as no regular fast passenger service now exists. However, in the age-old spirit of competition, the Hales Trophy is still awarded for the fastest commercial vessel crossing in either direction.

Serial show-off and entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, did manage to break the record in 1986 by just two hours with his Virgin Atlantic Challenger, but was denied the trophy because his 1440kW speedboat was not a commercial vessel. The same fate was levied against the massively ambitious 45,000kW GE jet-powered Destriero of the Aga Khan which crossed in August 1992 at over 53 knots.

Yet the final word in the Hale Trophy remains with the proud Tasmanian company, Incat, builder of the world’s fastest commercial passenger catamarans. Since 1990, three of the company’s vessels have held the prize, with the current holder, HSC Fjord Cat, the first to cross in less than three days at an average speed of 41.3 knots.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!

April 28, 2012

Atomic Cruising - The NS Savannah story

NS Savannah
by Roderick Eime

A story that seems long lost in the passage of time is the saga of NS Savannah, the world’s first and only nuclear powered cruise ship.

Discounting the re-purposed Russian icebreakers taking adventurers to the North Pole and three purely cargo vessels built around the same time, this technical and political folly was conceived at the height of the Cold War as a showcase for Eisenhower’s so-called “Atoms for Peace” program devised to share the nuclear knowledgebank for altruistic purposes. In other words, propaganda.

As such, the NS Savannah was designed as a multipurpose vessel with a 14,000 ton cargo capacity and luxury cabins for 60 passengers. Her lines were superb and she certainly looked every bit the space-age vessel that would carry the great nation into the future. But almost as soon as construction began in 1959, her shortcomings and flaws became apparent, yet was a star at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

Technically impressive with her 20,000 hp nuclear engine, her top speed was 23 knots and was capable of circling the earth 14 times at 20 knots without refuelling. Despite grandiose intentions and the successful operation of a new type of pressurized water reactor, utilizing low-enriched uranium, the commercial market for such a vessel never materialized.

Named after the similarly innovative SS Savannah, the first steam-powered vessel to cross the Atlantic in 1819, the new nuclear ship would also prove to be far ahead of its time and just as economically disastrous. Costing the best part of US$50million to build and with several million dollars annual running costs coupled to specialised wharf and port requirements, crew training and engineering, the project was never going to be a financial success.

Although ungainly and compromised as a functioning cargo vessel, her passenger and public spaces were superb. With accommodation for just 60 guests in fully air-conditioned suites with private facilities, there was certainly a feel of exclusivity and luxury about travelling aboard the NS Savannah. A luxury 100-seat dining room, swimming pool, library and theatre all looked good on the brochure, but her passenger carrying days came to an abrupt end in 1965, just three years into her service life.

From then on, NS Savannah continued as a cargo ship, a role she did not fulfil well due to the many compromises in her design, and she ceased all revenue services in 1971 and has been laid up ever since. Coincidently, when taken out of service, bunker fuel was $20/ton, but with Energy Crisis just months away, fuel quickly rose to $80/ton. Bad timing.

It has been proposed to maintain her as a museum ship and as such NS Savannah was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1991. After a decommissioning cost of over $1million, she now resides at the Canton Marine Terminal in Baltimore awaiting an uncertain fate.

Visit her website at: www.nssavannah.net

April 23, 2012

Struth! Only the British ...

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous, David Ellis says the following are amongst some of the more unusual quotes in British newspapers in recent times.

COMMENTING on a complaint from a Mr. Arthur Purdey about a large gas bill, a spokesman for North West Gas said: "We agree it was rather high for the time of year. It's possible Mr. Purdey has been charged for the gas used up during the explosion that destroyed his house."
(The Daily Telegraph)

POLICE say that a woman arrested for shoplifting was and found to have a whole salami in her underwear.

When asked why, she said it was because she was missing her Italian boyfriend.
(The Manchester Evening News)

IRISH police are being handicapped in a search for a stolen van, because they cannot issue a description.
It's a Special Branch vehicle and they say they don't want the public to know what it looks like.
(The Guardian)

A YOUNG girl who was blown out to sea on a set of inflatable teeth was rescued by a man on an inflatable lobster.

A coast Guard spokesman commented, "This sort of thing is all too common."
(The Times)

AT the height of the gale, the harbourmaster radioed a Coast Guard and asked him to estimate the wind speed.

The Coast Guard replied he was sorry, but he didn't have a gauge - however, if it was any help, the wind had just blown his LandRover off the cliff.
( Aberdeen Evening Express)

Mrs. IRENE Graham of Boscombe delighted the audience with her reminiscence of the German prisoner of war who was sent each week to do her garden.

He was repatriated at the end of 1945, but she recalled: "He'd always seemed a nice friendly chap, but when the crocuses came up in the middle of our lawn in February 1946, they spelt out 'Heil Hitler.'''
( Bournemouth Evening Echo)


David Ellis

WHEN the people of the little island of Saba in the Caribbean's Netherlands Antilles asked authorities in the 1940s for a road to link their scattered farms and hamlets with their tiny port township, officials in The Hague agreed it appeared a reasonable enough request.

But once their team of engineers got there to assess the job, it didn't take them long to realise that Saba was not just any old island. It was a jumbled collection of high and rugged peaks that rose from suicidally tortuous valleys and craggy coastal cliffs, and certainly was not the kind of country you could build a road through – even if the whole island was just eight square kilometres in size.

So on their return to Holland the engineers sent word back to the Sabans: "Nee – a road is impossible."

After digesting this reply, the entrepreneurial Sabans decided that if Holland's top engineers reckoned they couldn't do it, then they would build their road themselves.

A 40-year old carpenter, Joseph Hassel was their main inspiration, and because he knew nothing of road making, enrolled himself in a five year course in the subject… by correspondence.

Then he and Saba's just-1000 other residents planned out their road to villages, isolated farms and communities, and agreed unanimously that every able-bodied man, woman and child would contribute set hours of voluntary road-work every week – armed with little more than picks, shovels, rakes, buckets and spades.

They took and extraordinary twenty-five years to build their concrete masterpiece – the road The Hague engineers said "was impossible."

In most places the tortuous artery rises and falls at up to 35-degrees, and U-turns almost double back over themselves – so that from the sea or air it cuts a similar line to China's Great Wall, and thus is dubbed The Great Road of Saba.

Nearly fifty years after it was opened, the road – that's never been given an official name beyond The Road – links the little port of Fort Bay with its diesel power station, souvenir shop and a couple of dive shops, with The Bottom (the village at the base of the largest mountain,) picturesque Windwardside, Hell's Gate and the airport.

Today there are still just 1600 people live here in delightful gingerbread houses that all have white-washed walls, red tile roofs and green window shutters – enforced by law.

And old-timers will recall how, before The Road was built, to get from their wharf to their homes they used a series of ladders with over 900 steps from sea level to link with mountain walking tracks and trails to their farms, homes, shops and businesses.

Everything from groceries to furniture and farm goods was hauled-in (and out) via these ladders and tracks, including with the help of dozens of locals, a local musician's full-size grand piano.

Saba gets around 25,000 visitors a year who either come by ferry, a few small cruise-ships, or by air… although you've need of a stout stomach if flying in: once again when told it would be impossible to build an airport on the island, the Sabans simply said "No" to "Nee," carved the top off one of their hills, pushed it into the sea, and laid a runway across it.

The Sabans don't encourage large cruise ships for fear of damaging their environment and being "over-run by gawkers," and happily point out that, anyway, they've no beaches, no duty-free shops, and virtually no transport beyond the few taxi-vans.

But they do have some of the Caribbean's most spectacular diving, extraordinary scenery, quaint little stores selling hand-made souvenirs and exceptional lace goods, a museum in a 160-year old house, little cafés with wonderful island/Dutch cuisine including mouth-watering local lobsters and "Dutch Tea" (Heineken Beer)… and the opportunity to climb 1064 steps to take-in the kaleidoscopic vista from the highest peak.   

There are also a few small hotels and guest houses – and if they're all booked out, Saba Police Station's two cells have never housed a prisoner so the entrepreneurial police officers have turned these into an emergency peak-season Bed and Breakfast.

See travel agents about Caribbean Island ferry services to Saba and small holiday vessels like the 112-passenger SeaDream I and SeaDream II (www.seadream.com) that visit as part of Caribbean itineraries from November to April.   



[] MOUNTAINOUS with The Road zippered to 35-degree hillsides and U-turns that almost double-back on themselves.

[] AN easier section of The Road.

[] PICTURESQUE mountain community not seeking "to be over-run by gawkers" from big cruise ships.

[] SABA's Police Station: its two cells double as a B&B in peak season.

[] ONE of the few cruise ships to visit Saba, SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream II is welcome with an average of just 100 guests.

(Photos: David Ellis)


April 17, 2012

Calling Captain Catastrophe

by Roderick Eime

Captain E J Smith, heroic master of the Titanic
With two high profile cruise ship incidents this year, albeit 100 years apart, attention naturally falls on the captains. Maritime tradition dictates that the master is the last to leave a stricken vessel, an edict reinforced by an age-old honour.

Inline images 2
Shame on you.Captain Francesco Schettino
 The celebrated captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, who forgot his glasses and steered his ships onto rocks then "fell" into a lifeboat as hundreds of his panicked passengers tried to abandon ship without a prior emergency drill, will be remembered as Cowardly Captain Catastrophe. Conversely, the 62-y-o Captain Edward Smith of the White Star Line knew he would never make it off the Titanic alive and died after supervising the evacuation, many say, as a chivalrous hero. But what of other famous captains of calamity? Could any rival these two for extreme contrast?

RMS Lusitania is torpedoed but Capt. Turner remains on the bridge
No Reprieve: Even though Captain William Turner valiantly stayed at the helm as the torpedoed RMS Lusitania rapidly sank on 7 May 1915, he was admonished by the media for not going down with the other 1198 souls.

Captain Yiannis Avranas "You can stay if you want"
Cowardice under fire: In 2005 I sailed aboard the icebreaker, Kapitan Khlebnikov, and struck up a conversation with one of the crew. She had abandoned ship twice in her short career, the first time being the famous MTS Oceanos, which sank after an engine room explosion off South Africa in 1991. Greek Captain Yiannis Avranas, scampered with his officers in a lifeboat leaving half the ship's passengers to fend for themselves. The last passengers were saved by the band's guitarist and a magician. At the subsequent inquiry, he famously stated, "When I give the order abandon ship, it doesn't matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people want to stay, they can stay." Avranas is still a captain today.

Captain William Knight. An inquiry did not blame him for the loss of SS Yongala
Bad call skipper: Also 100 years ago, Australia's Titanic, the SS Yongala, disappeared without trace in a cyclone. Should Captain William Knight have anchored in safety instead of the fateful decision to steam on to Townsville? Yep.

Captain Byron Voutsinas appeals to some higher power.

Women and children last: In 1965, young Captain Byron Voutsinas was in command of the aging 5000 ton steamer, Yarmouth Castle. Voutsinas's action in time of dire need is possibly the greatest act of maritime cowardice in recent times. A raging fire broke out while the stately old vessel was sailing from Miami to Nassau. Luckily rescue ships arrived on the scene quickly, but they first found Voutsinas, his officers and just four passengers in a half-full life boat. The remaining 370 passengers and 170 crew were fighting for their lives aboard the doomed vessel. While there later emerged many acts of bravery among his crew, there were no heroic citations for Voutsinas and his senior officers. The final death toll was 90 and new Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) laws were enacted as a result.

Prinzessin Victoria Luise prostrate on the rocks

Ultimate chivalry: The Germans take a dim view to captains who lose their ships, especially through negligence. The world's first purpose-built cruise ship, the luxurious Prinzessin Victoria Luise, ran onto rocks near Kingston harbour in 1906 after the master, Captain Brunswig, misread a lighthouse beacon. All passengers were safely evacuated, but as an ultimate act of honour, Brunswig calmly retreated to his stateroom and shot himself.

Your Choice – Bangers and Mash, or Snail Porridge

THE GUIDEBOOKS will tell you that Bray, about an hour's drive west of London, is the archetypal English rural village.

It's all about little thatched cottages, a cricket ground on which they've thwacked the leather since 1798, a parish church dating back to 1293, and a pub where King Charles II would dally with his mistress Nell Gwynn for whom he had arranged convenient  accommodation in nearby Windsor.

But Bray is anything than your run-of-the-mill English village, and you need to be more than well-heeled to even contemplate owning so much as a cottage here, never mind berthing the boat at the local marina on the River Thames.
Expatriate Aussie Rolf Harris lives in Bray, as does former TV talk-show host Sir Michael Parkinson, Elton John lives just upstream and is sometimes seen dining in Bray, and so too Natalie Imbruglia.
And well they might, for Bray has suddenly found itself the gastronomic capital of Britain.
Now before you start chortling that one of the shortest books in the world is "A Treasury of English Cooking," we should point out that one Heston Blumenthal is the latest to make Bray his home, and if others can cook up a storm, he can cook up a tornado.

Back in the 1980s Blumenthal, who actually grew up a stone's throw from Bray, taught himself to be a chef by studying French cookery books... just as many of us taught ourselves the basics of the kitchen with Margaret Fulton's Cook Book.
The difference is that he ended up one of the best chefs in the world, and  opened The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray in 1995. Within five years he had won himself no less than three Michelin stars.
And in 2006, his Fat Duck was named Best Restaurant in the World, beating out El Bulli, a restaurant in a remote village north of Barcelona, while Frommers, the famous travel guide, named The Fat Duck one of the world's "must-visit" food and wine establishments.

Yet it's a quite unpretentious building, and inside simply a large square with white-walls, wooden beams holding up the ceiling, and a bare floor.

But look more closely outside and it can be almost garlanded with Rollers and Jaguars and their uniformed chauffeurs, together with a smattering of Ferraris and Beamers.

It's the menu, of course, that accounts for the fact that you have to book months in advance, although you can be excused for wondering how Heston dreamed up some of the dishes on that menu.
And the "Tasting Menu" will put you back 180 pounds (around AU$275 per head) – before you even look at the wine list or consider the "optional" 12.5 per cent service charge.
Amongst some of Heston Blumenthal's creations are a Pommery mustard ice cream accompanied by red cabbage gazpacho, roast foie gras with barberry, braised konbu (seaweed harvested off Japan and Korea) and crab biscuit, or his hugely popular snail porridge with Iberico Bellota ham and shaved fennel…
There's also a more homely pork loin pot roast that comes with a gratin of truffled macaroni, or how about salmon poached in licorice gel and artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise and golden trout roe?
Or a saddle of venison with beetroot soubise and risotto of spelt and umbles… yes, umbles, the 14th century offal dish that gave its name to the expression "eating humble pie," and of which British diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in July 1663 "Mrs Turner did bring us an Umble-pie hot out of her oven, (it was) extraordinarily good."
But Heston Blumenthal's success also brought its problems. Where to put the many movers and shakers wanting to sample his culinary delights, but unable to get into The Fat Duck?
His answer was to buy the village's two pubs, although to the consternation of many locals. After all it was at one, The Crown that King Charles II would dally with Nell Gwynn. This was British heritage he was possibly interfering with if he changed the structure of The Crown…
But their fears were soon allayed. Heston made few changes, added some of his own creations to the pubs' menus, and maintained such traditional British pub fare as bangers and mash, and fish and chips… with the Heston Blumenthal touch, of course. 




[] THE Fat Duck – has been named Best Restaurant in the World.

[] HESTON BLUMENTHAL: taught himself to cook by reading French cookbooks.

[] SPECIALTY of the house, Snail Porridge.

[] HOME-MADE Whisky Gums to finish…

[] WHERE you'll find Heston Blumenthal's secrets exposed: The Fat Duck Cookbook


(Photos: The Fat Duck Cookbook and Heston Blumenthal)



April 16, 2012

Struth! Art Carnival is a Body of Work

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says it's anyone's guess what you may find at this year's Australian Body Art Carnivale that will be held on May 12 an 13 at Eumundi on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

Australia's premier body art event, the Carnivale is a colourful and creative festival experience for all ages, and with entry for visitors free.

The Carnivale attracts artists and spectators from across Australia and overseas to Eumundi, that's 15-minutes from Noosa and around an hour north of Brisbane.

Event Manager Danielle Taylor says the Carnivale is centred on competitions in full body art (temporary paint – not tattoo) and face painting, but also includes competitions and exhibitions in wearable art, vehicle art and photography.

"As the name suggests, the Australian Body Art Carnivale certainly has a strong focus on body art in its many and varied forms – from the more readily seen face painting right through to full body painting in the categories of brush and sponge, airbrush and special effects," she says. 

"For members of the public, it's an event like nothing they've seen before as human canvases take shape right before them.

"While we will have experienced body and make-up artists competing, many entrants in previous Carnivales had never before painted on a body – they simply used their artistic flair to work on a very different canvas … the human body."

The competition's theme for this year is "Under the Sea", with artists competing for over $12,000 in cash and prizes.

There'll also be street performers, buskers and bands, craft workshops, and a Saturday Night Gala Event (ticketed.) Visit www.australianbodyart.com.au for more information.

April 09, 2012

Struth! There's Mud on Yer bum

 IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says you wouldn't want to be a hotelier at Boryeong in Korea in July – that's when 150,000 revellers descend on this town on the country's Yellow Sea Coast 200km south of Seoul to wallow like, well, pigs in mud.

Mud found on the flood plains around the town's Daecheon beach has long been famous for its cosmetic properties, and in 1998 local tourism officials decided to go beyond just promoting the stuff in jars and tubes for visitors to take home. They trucked it to the beach area to launch their first slap-up Mud Festival, which proved such a hoot it's been held every year since.

Between July 14 and 22 this year you can wallow in all the medicinal values of Boryeong mud with such events as mud facials, mud hair rinses, mud surfing, mud wrestling, mud sliding, a Mud King competition and a Miss Mud competion, a Human Pyramid (or should that be Pyramud?) contest, a mud cavalry battle, mud canoeing – and at night, wallow back in the pools of mud to watch fireworks.

Then when it's all over, go back to your hotel and those nice crispy white sheets…

Pity the poor housekeepers – and what would your Mudder say?

(Photo: Wikimedia)                                                    

Having the Mob Around at Your Wedding

David Ellis

IT seems that getting married in a drive-through chapel with a queue of others in open-top Cadillacs, maybe having an Elvis look-alike escort you down the aisle, or even being driven into church on His and Her's Harley Davidsons, is no longer good enough in Las Vegas – America's capital of where Everything's Possible.

The newest thing when tying the knot here, is to do so in a heritage-listed building that was once the venue for US Federal Government hearings into "The Mob," and in which you can get married in the courtroom that saw a procession of America's Who's Who of murder, drugs, bootlegging, stand-over tactics and illegal gambling dragged through to give evidence.

And the man whose idea was to turn this abandoned building into a museum of American crime, with weddings on the side, is Oscar B. Goodman, the one-time defence attorney for many of those who made up "The Mob." So while this place is officially the National Museum of Organised Crime and Law Enforcement, it's also known simply as The Mob Museum.

After working all those years representing some of America's worst of the worst, Mr Goodman then went on to serve for a term as Mayor of Las Vegas, again proving that here everything is possible – while the President of the Museum's board also has all the right qualifications, but from the other side of the table to defence attorney Oscar Goodman: she is former FBI Special Agent-in-Charge, Ellen Knowlton who spent 24 years in the service.

It was Mr Goodman's flamboyancy – when he was Mayor of Las Vegas he would often turn up at official events with a couple of 'Vegas showgirls clinging to each arm, and a martini glass in hand – that got The Mob Museum up and running.

How? He coaxed $40-odd million from the Las Vegas City Council and the Nevada and US Governments, who all agreed it was a worthy cause.

And now that it's open, the one-time mayor even performs some of those out-of-the-ordinary weddings – as well as renewals of vows – himself, afterwards entertaining bridal parties and guests with tales of his years defending America's crime heavyweights.

As well, deferring to his love of publicity, Mr Goodman chose an appropriate date for the opening of The Mob Museum earlier this year: February 14 – the 83rd anniversary of Chicago's infamous Valentine's Day murders.

And some of those who now choose to get married in The Mob Museum do so in front of the very Valentine's Day wall before which seven mobsters were machine-gunned by look-alike police officers in 1929 on the orders of mobster Al Capone.

Yes, Mr Goodman managed to actually acquire the very Chicago wall (we did say earlier that everything is possible in 'Vegas,) that came complete with it's circa-1929 bullet holes, each conveniently highlighted in red for best photo opportunities.

And in the foyer of the museum is a confronting black and white photo about half the size of an outdoor billboard. It's simply a toe with a white tag tied to it reading: "Homicide. Benjamin Siegel. 810 Linden. Beverly Hills" – Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel being the gangster portrayed by Warren Beatty in the movie Bugsy about how the Mob took over Las Vegas.

Amongst the many other displays are whiskey kegs from the Prohibition era, FBI wiretaps made while President John F Kennedy was in office, the barber's chair in which Albert Anastasia, head of so-called "Murder Inc" was gunned down in 1957, and a page from the ledger of Meyer Lansky (The Mob's accountant and gambling racketeer) detailing how to cheat the taxman – and fellow Mobsters too when convenient.

There are also galleries of gruesome photographs devoted to some of the Mob's most infamous murder hits, and not for the squeamish.

And you can join a "police line-up" for a souvenir photo with Mob characters, and to understand the psyche of some of these thugs, observe some of their quotes on the museum walls, including:

  • "You can get much further with a kind word and a gun, than you can with a kind word alone" – Al 'Scarface' Capone.
  • "We only kill each other" Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel.
  • "There's no such thing as good money or bad money.  There's just money" – Charlie 'Lucky' Luciano.




[] THE Mob Museum – Las Vegas latest in off-beat attractions.

[] THE Courtroom that witnessed a cavalcade of America's crime heavyweights…  now just the place to get happily married.

[] OR happily marry here in front of Chicago's Valentine's Day Murders wall.

[] ONE of the weapons recovered after the Valentine's Day Murders.

[] THE barber's chair in with Albert Anastasia, head of "Murder Inc" was gunned down.

(Images: The Mob Museum and Jeff Green)



STRUTH ! Airline Pranks Parents

IN his continuing search for the more weird, whacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says Canadian low-cost airline WestJet was inundated with calls from potential customers from across the country – and Media from around the world – when it announced a new concept in flying.

It said in a Press Statement that it's new program would provide dedicated sections of its aircraft for adults-only, and a "VIP area in which kids would be looked after by a "Kargo Kids Kounsellor" with plenty of toys and a state-of-the-art feed trough so that kids could run, play, scream and eat all they want.

"This would enable parents and other adults to enjoy hassle-free flying in the dedicated adults-only areas of their aircraft," the statement said.

And while WestJet's switchboard went into almost meltdown as operators handled thousands of calls from potential joyous passengers seeking a child-free flying environment, it's Vice President Communications, Richard Bartrem fielded calls from Media world-wide.

And everyone – potential passengers and Media alike – who rang, was told to look at the date of WestJet's announcement for this service that so many had so-long wished and prayed for.

It was April 1.


Fractious Young Officer Unsung Titanic Hero

David Ellis

A TRAVEL writer mate, Malcolm Andrews has just published a ripper of a book about a little-known Australian adventurer, Sir Hubert Wilkins who amongst other things was a war hero, explorer, the first person to fly over both polar icecaps,   only member of the Australian media ever to win a military medal for gallantry, and for good measure a secret agent at different times for both Britain and the United States.

Malcolm called it Hubert Who? because to most people, even a half-century after his death, the extraordinary Sir Hubert Wilkins is still a virtual unknown.

And having finished that book*, maybe Malcolm could now turn his attention to another work he could title Harold Who? Not about an Australian, but an at-times fractious Welsh Fifth Officer aboard the Titanic who famously told his boss, the Chairman of the ship's owners White Star Line who was onboard the fatal sailing, that he was interfering with rescue operations and "to go to hell," ordered a young man out of a lifeboat at gunpoint to make way for women and children, and commanded the only lifeboat to return to the site of the sinking to collect a second boatload of floundering male passengers.

And yet for all this, like Sir Hubert Wilkins, little known is really known of this Welshman, Harold Lowe – although the 1997 movie Titanic did (incorrectly) portray him rescuing a female First Class passenger from a door floating in the ocean.

Harold Godfrey Lowe was born in North Wales in November 1882, and when his father told him he was to be apprenticed to a local businessman, the 14 year old  showed his rebellious spirit and ran away to join the merchant navy as a Ship's Boy. His ambitious nature saw him gain his Second Mate's Certificate ten years later, and at just 29 years of age, his Master's Certificate.

He joined White Star Line in 1911 serving on its Belgic and Tropic before joining Titanic for her ill-fated maiden voyage.

At 8pm on April 14 1912, four nights after Titanic had sailed from Southampton, Harold Lowe retired to bed and was soon in a deep sleep, not even waking when she hit the Atlantic iceberg. He told a subsequent enquiry "we do not have much sleep, and when we sleep, we die."

When he did wake and realised what was happening, Lowe grabbed his revolver and ran to the deck where he had his altercation with the Chairman of the White Star Line, before assisting in getting women and children into a lifeboat and climbing aboard himself.

Realising there was a young man hidden amongst the women, Lowe pointed his pistol in the fellow's face and said "for God's sake be a man, we've women and children to save." The crying young man left the lifeboat, and when a second tried to get aboard Lowe physically threw him back onto the deck, where he was set upon by angry other male passengers.

As his lifeboat was being lowered, Lowe was forced to fire three shots over the side as even more men tried to rush it, and when it hit the water he quickly ordered his crew to row to where several other lifeboats had gathered 150m away. Taking on an extraordinary role in the 2am darkness, Harold Lowe then organised the redistribution of passengers on the lifeboats so that eventually his was empty but for himself and crew.

After Titanic finally slipped into the depths, Lowe moved cautiously towards the site fearing his lifeboat would be capsized by passengers he could hear screaming in the water. He held off until most of the sickening cries had subsided and eventually rescued just four men, one of whom died soon after being taken aboard.

Lowe's lifeboat was picked up by the vessel Carpathia, and on his return home he was presented with a gold watch before 1,300 of his townspeople.

But at a subsequent American Senate Inquiry, when called to give evidence Harold Lowe again showed the fractious side of his nature when a Senator asked if "he knew what an iceberg was composed of?"

Lowe shrugged and replied: "Ice, I suppose, sir."

Harold Lowe died in 1944 aged 61 from hypertension.

(* Hubert Who? is published by ABC Books.)





[] THE Titanic sails out of Southampton on her ill-fated maiden voyage.

[] FIFTH Officer Harold Lowe.

[] TITANIC lifeboat (with mast) with Fifth Officer Harold Lowe at the tiller, an historic photo taken from aboard rescue ship Carpathia.

[] ONLY officers to survive the Titanic sinking: l-to-r Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, Second Officer Charles Lightoller, Third Officer Herbert Pittman (seated,) Fourth Officer Joseph Boxall.

(Images: Wikimedia and White Star Line Library)





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