The Art of Dark Leaving

It could equally well be titled ‘The dark art of departure’, I suppose, but, in this case, it’s not the act but the leaving which is dark…

At the time of writing, we are about to leave Sydney, aboard a cruise ship: the Royal Caribbean ‘Solstice’.

We’ve never been on a cruise ship before.  It is only happening because two years ago, we booked a short cruise to the Norwegian Fjords which was cancelled at the last minute by the cruise company. We were due to depart the weekend after our main workshop of the Silent Eye’s year – the Spring event in Derbyshire. The timing was perfect; such events are very demanding, and the idea of a restful break in the glorious surroundings of Norway seemed perfect. In grim fashion, the man paid to break the bad news to us said that, basically, not enough people had died… Cruising, he explained, generally appeals to an older audience, and the organising companies have to take a statistical prediction as to how many cancellations they will get, due to severe ill health or death. Knowing this did little to help our mood, but Bernie soon found us a flight and hotel in the Mexican Yucatan, which enabled us, in consolation, to see the Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza – a life-changing event I recorded at the time under the blog heading ‘Unexpected Shaman’.

We were compensated for the cost of the holiday and all consequent expenses: hotel in Southhampton, car parks and sundries… and… offered an additional free cruise of the same value anywhere in the world. We did query that there might be nothing to stop Celebrity Cruises from doing this to us again, but the man assured us we now had a direct link to him and that he would ensure that our next cruise definitely took place

So here we are….

Here is Sydney, a very lovely and friendly city. And only our second ever trip to Australia, where our son and daughter in law, both doctors, are bringing up their two young girls. We don’t get to see the grandchildren very often, and it’s hard to be a real part of their lives, but such a trip gives us the chance to be with them, play and laugh and fill the short but intense few days with the real, instead of the largely-artificial world of the ‘Skype’ or ‘Facetime’ call.

It occurred to us that we had the chance to combine the two; that we could fly to Sydney (instead of Adelaide, where they live) and then do our cruise, ending it with a flight to join them on a more local holiday. So the plans were made, and we are about to embark on a twelve-day sailing to New Zealand, ending in a flight from Auckland (where Bernie has a close school friend) to Adelaide to meet up with the family.

These few days in Sydney, following a flight from Manchester with a stopover in wonderful Singapore, have not been sufficient to scratch the surface of this city; but there is a compensating factor. The greatest attraction of Sydney is its harbour – or, properly its harbours, as the waterways are a vast complex linking the many nearby towns that supply it with many its daytime working population. The ferry terminal was allowed to be constructed right in the heart of the city; and show off these massive ships to perfection…

Now, we are on ours and, after a lengthy check-in, we are finally sitting, unpacked, on our balcony, looking down from a great height onto the very heart of Sydney. It’s a photographer’s dream, and my little iPhone has served me well in such situations before. Additionally, and, I like to think as some sort of karmic compensation, the sun is beginning to set, flooding the harbour with golden light.

We can feel the throbbing hum of the engines beginning their departure preparation. Then there is the most ‘perfect’ noise I have ever heard, as the Captain of the vessel gives the five minute warning signal. It intense, rather than just loud; it is a specially tuned sound that sounds like it comes from ‘the Gods’. I’m convinced that a few minutes of it, done as therapy, would drive any sense of depression from a soul… not that we are in the least depressed; but it carries that kind of ‘trumpet of hope’ feeling. Images of the Tarot card ‘The Last Judgement’ spring to mind… Whatever you were doing before it, you won’t be doing now.

In response, and to show their defiance of this leviathan of the high seas, a dozen of the smaller (but very fast) local ferries scurry off their piers to get their hard-working passengers away before the idlers on the ‘Solstice’ begin their holiday. A boating fury to rival Henley on Thames ensures the then, with the earth-shaking second warning blast, the giant begins to slide, backwards, away from the key. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the early Star Trek films, but, for their time they had masterly sequences of the Enterprise leaving the orbital terminal very, very slowly, before building up to ‘warp speed’ somewhere safely away from the Earth.

The slow initial departure of the ship Solstice is just like that, and about a million souls on Sydney’s Circular Quay are watching and smiling in the golden evening light.

We can hear very little. With perfect timing, our steward has entered the cabin and presented us with an ice-bucket holding our complimentary bottle of champagne and two flutes. I can’t resist taking it out to the balcony and popping the cork – discretely – allowing us to toast the lovely city to which we are now saying goodbye. We may be back, but you never know. It’s a long way from home and we hate leaving our beloved cat and dog for so long.

With the minimum of fuss, the huge ship slides into the main channel, still backwards. Then it begins to turn, bringing the Bay Bridge into full view. The light is now photographically perfect and I take as many shots as the rotating angle will allow. Then the vibration of the engines becomes even more purposeful and the Solstice begins to accelerate towards the open sea-still a full two miles distant.

We navigate the twists and turns of the widening estuaries, then comes a wonderful moment as the pilot boat comes right into the back of the cruise ship, nearly disappearing from sight.

When the Pilot boat reappears, the pilot has been transferred back to his home vessel and the smaller craft pulls away with a wave and set of lighted signals. As he falls behind the ship gathers speed toward the open sea… and adventure.

It’s time to have our first dinner on board. With one last wave we say goodbye to Sydney. Next stop Melbourne, then on to New Zealand for what we hope will be the trip of a lifetime.

©Stephen Tanham

Steve Tanham is a director of tbe Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not for profit organisation that provides distance learning courses for the deepening of self understanding.

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