A voyage is better than a cruise, where you actually go somewhere rather than sign on for a seagoing hop on – hop off version of If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. It’s a journey with an end, such as crossing the Atlantic.
I did this a while back on Cunard’s QE2, a Clyde-built express that once crossed Southampton to New York in three days, 20 hours at an average speed of 30 knots, but in its second life as a cruise ship took six days, in my case New York to Southampton, getting me to London for one of the first Eurostar runs under the newly-opened Channel Tunnel to Paris, and then Concorde back to New York. It was indeed, as they say, the only way to go, and then some.
But what was on my mind as I arrived in Southampton on a mild September day this year was not only the satisfaction of adding the return journey to my logbook, it was the thought of sailing west across the Atlantic in the wake of Columbus, the Pilgrim Fathers, waves of migrants, Atlantic convoys battling on amid U-boats, and of course the Titanic.
Here was food for thought, and with four sea days ahead, time for a book or two, and as it happened, a good read acquired at our first port. There was also the very important matter of the vessel, the Silver Muse, which departed Southampton in the evening.
It was, and is, the newest ship in the Silversea fleet, a marvel of design and comfort for 600 lucky people. When it comes to being afloat, they don’t get any better than this.
The next morning, just 165 nautical miles to the west, we were at Falmouth in Cornwall. Some passengers went off to visit Land’s End while others strolled the town’s long shopping street, which in days gone by would have seen the homes of ship captains and inns where emigrants heading for the new world waited for passage.
Falmouth became a busy place in 1688 when appointed England’s Royal Mail packet station, from where mail, goods and bullion (all in ‘packets’) as well as passengers left on fast, lightly-armed ships to faraway territories. Hence the term packet ships.
It all changed in 1850 when steamships were able to get to London in almost any weather, leaving Falmouth to become a sleepy town on a beautiful coast with, here and there, the homes of writers and artists.
David Cornwell, better known as John le Carré, is one of them, which probably explains why I was able to buy a signed copy of his new novel, A Legacy of Spies, in Falmouth…
Words David Wishart / Photography Courtesy of Genevieve Balthazard, Silversea and Shutterstock