Notes from a cruise ship. Three.
By Gerry.
Published: November 21, 2008
Updated: November 21, 2008

We have passed out of the canal and so entered the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea.

The Ariadne is the first cruise ship I have been on, but I cannot imagine anything better. It has a cinema where the latest films are shown. There is a small theatre where various acts perform. There is a ballroom where the orchestra play; this is the most popular place. I thought I had forgotten how to dance! The small orchestra is superb. There is a well-equipped library, a computer room and a sauna. One of the swimming pools is indoor and heated, the large one is open and towards the back of the boat. This pool area can be covered to accept any helicopter landings if required. People can eat and drink all day if they wish (I think some folks do) there is also of course the medical centre and the fitness area.

I enjoy the sauna---there are three sessions, Ladies, Gents, and mixed.
I always go in the mixed---the conversation is much better.

While I was pushing Lorna round the decks, she told me that her husband is hoping to drop in on a short visit during the next couple of days. He will come by helicopter. His name is Mathew Actually Darton. Yes ‘Actually,’ you read that right.

I knew an ‘Air Commodore Actually’ when in the Royal Airforce. Air Commodore is equal to Lieutenant General in the army, quite a substantive rank. When this guy visited Air Force establishments, his rank demanded the full works, Guard of honour with fixed bayonets, and full band. The guard was always warned that if spoken to, they should never answer ‘well actually’ there was always some plonker who did, and who found himself in deep water.

Lorna was going to introduce me to her husband and I had to be sure of not falling into the same trap. The more I thought it impossible---the more I imagined myself doing it.

We have sailed about one hundred and twenty miles down between the Egyptian Eastern desert and the Sinai desert after leaving Suez, and at the tip of the Sinai peninsula we sailed into the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba.

Lawrence, you will remember, intended to take Aqaba from the Turks by the landward side, no easy task. He managed to raise enough money to pay for his mercenary Arab army and did just that. It should be remembered though that the Turks after being softened up by British gunboats from the gulf, decided it would be prudent to leave the town having heard that 'Mr Lawrence' was on his way. Aqaba fell without a shot being fired from Lawrence. He then went on to do another epic desert journey crossing the Sinai to Cairo. No marked routes then of course like there is now.

I was staying in Taba on the Red Sea when the Iraqi conflict started. Taba is on Egypt's side of the gulf. Our hotel was exactly opposite the Jordan/Saudi border. The coming conflict was known about before my holiday. Many people had cancelled because of the proximity to Iraq. The offer was too good to refuse though. Two people all-inclusive five star hotel for the price of one. Security was tight in Egypt but once at the hotel it was okay. There were about thirty people there; the hotel could cater for five hundred. If you saw the film ‘The Shining’ you can imagine what it was like to be in a very large, nearly empty hotel. The attention and food was superb, the weather glorious, and the Red Sea magnificent. There were riots in Cairo, but we had no major problems at Taba, all guests had to stay within the hotel complex though.

We sailed on into the Red Sea proper and had about one thousand miles to cruise to get to the Gulf of Aden. This journey would be between Africa on our right and Asia on our left. Then into the Indian Ocean and on into the Arabian Sea.

Sir Mathew Actually Darton, arrived by helicopter as Lorna had stated. It seemed that all on board knew that the owner of the ship was arriving and there was an air of excitement. About two hours after arriving I was summonsed by Davros to Lady Darton’s suite. She was in one of the executive suites; it made my cabin look like a hutch. The captain was already there and it was he who introduced me to Sir Mathew Actually Darton. After my ‘pleased to meet you sir,’ he responded ‘we can do without the sir. If you call my wife Lorna, then Mathew is fine for me’. Mathew wanted to thank me personally for my help in the medical room and offering future help if necessary. I told him that it was really no problem to me and I was pleased to help. He was going on a trip to Medina and Mecca for a couple of days with Andreas, and asked me if I would care to join them. I was of course delighted, what an opportunity. This was his, and the captain’s thank you to me for my help.

Mathew had been doing some business in Sharm el Sheikh and had chartered the helicopter from there. He had set up the itinerary before leaving Sharm and had the necessary departments pass it. That evening at dinner tongues were wagging a bit more---the owner of the Ariadne was on board and dining with the captain; and I was sat between him and Lady Darton who had joined the captain’s table for the first time.

The Ariadne was anchored off Jiddah about forty miles from Mecca. Passengers could disembark and visit Mecca and Medina but would have to go by road. The ship had been turned over to the second-in-command and because Graham had come along, medical coverage for the ship had been arranged via the hospital at Jiddah. It was about one hundred miles to Medina; take-off to landing took the helicopter just over fifty-five minutes. A good way to travel.

Medina is perhaps the second most important place for Muslims outside Mecca. It has a population of about half a million people. It is the burial site of Mohammed and his daughter Fatima and also the Caliphs Umar and Abu Bakr. It also houses the world’s main Islamic University. The white mosque of Medina can be seen from outer space. We spent the day taking in the sites of this charming city and retired to a magnificent hotel at about five. We were to have another half day in Medina before the hundred and fifty mile spin down to Mecca. We had a very interesting time looking round Medina.
(I will be writing about Medina and Mecca in more detail in my book.)

The captain and Graham were in frequent contact with the ship throughout the day---Graham’s wife was still on board and had been able to deal with a couple of minor medical problems, so there were no worries.

We had a very nice relaxing evening on shore. After a few drinks when tongues were a bit looser, Mathew told us that his title was Lord Darton. The title had been passed down over many years. He wasn’t keen on being called Lord, much preferring Sir, and only then when it suited him. He worked a lot in the USA but also around the Middle East. His main residence was in Greece but he had others scattered about, but strangely not in the UK. He seemed a thoroughly nice guy and I suspected from his manner that he was very philanthropic; a snob he certainly was not. ‘Nicos Andronis’ was the business name he used for his shipping business.

We each spoke a little about ourselves in turn, and Mathew proved to be a good listener. He showed interest in my working life, my Royal air force service, and what I had been doing since retirement. Graham had matured tremendously since our hospital days, and I found out things about him that I hadn’t known before. Mathew told us quite a bit about himself, He was obviously a very rich man, but had worked very hard and took many risks along the way. I admired the man very much.

The next morning we had an early start and were looking forward with some anticipation to our trip down to Mecca, which was not now too far off...