Black Watch (III) - Cruise to Nowhere
My and my dad's second Fred Olsen cruise of the year was the repositioning of Black Watch from Liverpool to Southampton where she would meet Balmoral before setting off on a winter world cruise.  We booked cabin 3100 (F grade), which is an L-shaped twin aft, with the bed by the porthole converted into a sofa.  There was a coach transfer option for £20 per person, so we booked that as it worked well in 2017 when I joined Boudicca for a similar cruise.  This would be my second cruise on Black Watch and she'd undergone several internal changes since then.  My last time aboard, however, was with the late journalist Steve Read, the month before he died.  He had never done a Fred and looked forward to something when he went unexpectedly, so returning was bittersweet.  On the 4th October, I received notification of a two category upgrade so we would now be in 4086.

So it was time for my dad to return to the city of his birth just to leave it!  Unlike other cruise lines, Fred don't give you coach transfer info on the ticket.  They didn't even say which terminal in Southampton we'd be at.  The confirmation just has "Southampton Port", which is no help.  My friend, Mick Burch, who works at the port, confirmed my guess of City, since that's where we caught it for Boudicca in Liverpool.  Our taxi driver asked the bloke at Dock Gate 10 but he had no idea about any coach.  Thankfully, there was a lady from Intercruises waiting in her car for everyone.  She had to call someone to open up the waiting room.  There were several complaints about the lack of info, with some going to Mayflower Terminal instead due to seeing Ventura there.  The coach arrived and was the same company as 2017, AC-Travel of Fareham.  There were supposed to be 25 but two didn't turn up.  Our departure time was 8.15am but we left late as we waited for them.

Our comfort break was at the Hilton Park Services on the M6 for 45 minutes, returning by 12pm.  We just went to get a drink then were back on the coach before the heavens opened.  Typically, people cannot tell the time.  We arrived just after 2pm.  We were told to take our luggage with us, which was more than Fred had.  The check-in queue was horrendous!  According to one of the port staff, all the coaches came at once.  Quite a few, including us, has mobility problems but there was no dedicated desk  Once we finally reached the front, a nice lady called Anne put us on the minibus to the ship.  This meant skipping security scanning and the boarding photo.  The driver knew this area, having been at Marchwood in his service days, so he and my dad had a good natter before we boarded the ship.

We found our cabin, which was pretty easy.  It had taken an hour from arrival to a sit down on the bed.  This was my fourth time on Black Watch, but only second cruise.  Each time I set foot on her, something had changed, so I'd need to get my bearings.  We'd missed lunch and dinner was at 7pm, one sitting.  I did a bit of exploring before 4pm muster.  Sailaway was 5pm but the port were closing their cruising season with music from the dockside and a short firework display.  It rained on and off so my dad stayed on deck 9 chatting to the photographer and others.  Shopping then dinner.  We had our photos taken outside the Glentanar by the photographer my dad had been talking to, since we'd missed the boarding one.  After dinner, we went to the pub.  Since the last time I had been onboard was visiting with the late journalist, Steve Read who died a month later, I raised a glass to him.  Supper Club, which was Italian, and then a long awaited bed!

The 11th was a sea day and also Remembrance Sunday.  The cabin had been bloody freezing all night despite the heating on full.  The bed and pillows sooooooo comfy though.  We went to the Glentanar for breakfast so I could have the only thing I'd get up on a sea day for - the fabulous Fred Jalapeño omelette!  I was glad it was fleet wide.  For some reason, it and the rest of my order came on separate plates, whereas on Braemar it had been one.  So the waiter, after being bewildered, asked if I wanted him to put the rest on the plate.  Well, duh!  It would go cold otherwise.  It had been bouncy during the night and seemed to have increased.  There was a service in the Neptune Lounge to commemorate 100 years since the end of World War I.  I had met the vicar on deck the day before and he had told me about it and what to expect.  There would be a wreath thrown into the sea made from bread.  Afterwards, an Interdenominational church service.  We weren't allowed to go on the deck for the wreath ceremony, which pissed off a few people.  While my dad stayed in the cabin, I went walkies.  The Captain came on, saying force 6.  Lunch in the Glentanar.  The maintenance man came to fix the heater in the afternoon and it was lovely and warm at last!  Nap before dinner then a stroll around the deck afterwards.  Bed since it was an early start.

Up early to get Ventura and Balmoral arriving.  I wish it had been Balmoral passing us to go to Mayflower Terminal.  Met my Facebook friend Mick Burch by Reception, who was doing assistance.  It was self-disembarkation but unless you were at the show, you wouldn't know you could have assistance.  Breakfast in the Glentanar.  They don't want you out of the cabins until 8pm at the latest, and begin breakfast at 6.30pm so you could leave your stuff in the cabin.  Cruise and Maritime take note!  Boot off began at 7.30am and was an hour.  We decided to go as soon as they said.
That was that.  A nice little getaway and my dad enjoyed being back on Fred while I was happy being back on that ship.  She was the first Fred I had set foot on when I visited in 2005 so I have a very soft spot for her.  Apart from the lack of coach info, plus not being told we had to handle our own luggage, it was a very enjoyable trip and I can't wait for the next one in 2020!

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© Patricia Dempsey 10th-12th November 2018
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