The ship loomed up; it did not look as fragile as when I had first seen it from the shore. We drew alongside a flat barge and were marshalled across one by one. A metal step ladder was dropped down from the ship and we were guided on to its bottom rung. It swayed a little but it was relatively easy to get up on board and through the smallest of water tight doors and into the foyer of the ship.
At once everything was different. I was in a hotel. Wall to wall carpeting, atmospheric lighting, a reception desk and a whole heap of crew in uniform keen to get our lifejackets off and move us away from the entrance where more passengers were trying to get through.
I was directed over to the reception desk and checked off against the manifest. I had the luxury of a 2 person cabin to myself and was handed some keys and shown up one deck. My big red suitcase was just behind the door and I busied myself with some unpacking. As ever, if I stay more than one night I like to unpack and spread out. I was impressed by the ergonomics of the cabin. Just to my left was a small cubicle that contained a wash basin and toilet and a shower with curtain. The whole floor was part of the shower and it drained in one corner. Beyond to the left was a small wardrobe and then my single bed, with the top bunk folded away. At the far end by the porthole was a small desk with a few drawers and a locker and a chair. Everything was chunky and solid. The drawers and doors on the furniture closed with a satisfying clunk, the bed had a small lip to stop you falling out in the night.
The RMS had been built in 1989 to replace a much older ship and the decor had a feel of that age – coming out of the drabness of the 1980s but still with a slight simplicity that was neither as delicate as Art Deco nor as clean as more modern interiors. It also had a slight smell that you get on so many forms of transportation or in many hotels. It was clean but you could see that efforts were made to eliminate all evidence of the previous occupiers and sometimes this meant a level of disinfectant did not smell homely.
I was excited and keen to try out everything. The simple heating mechanism said HOT COLD and you pushed a lever from one side to the other to make it work. I was to find out just how simple this was when I went to the engine room on one trip. There was a radio dial attached to the wall that picked up short wave, but the effect of having one of the largest short wave transmitting stations in the world just a few miles away on Ascension meant that all I could hear at present was static.