Travelling On The Water – It’s All About The People

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If you’ve ever travelled by ship – whether a luxury cruise, an expedition voyage, or a wind powered sailing ship – you’ll know the journey is about so much more than the destination…

A trip to honour his father

Leslie Seymour was on a pilgrimage to Sable Island when I met him on board a One Ocean Expeditions voyage around the Maritimes of Canada. He was there specifically to visit the island where his father had been shipwrecked and stranded in 1942.

Leslie’s father, Richard, was in the navy and his ship had been torpedoed by a German U-Boat. He and 12 other sailors miraculously survived and drifted in, amongst the wreckage, to Sable Island off the coast of Nova Scotia. This is a tiny strip of sand around 42km long and only a kilometre wide. Over 350 ships have been wrecked there in the last 400 years – it’s a veritable grave-yard of ship carcasses. 

Richard and his fellow sailors found a refuge hut and 11 of them managed to survive three months before they were rescued.  What did they eat and drink? Fortunately, Sable Island has a freshwater lens below it, so water was relatively easy to come by, and there are 1000s of grey seals and a few hundred wild horses…

Experiencing travel through different senses

Sailing around Cape Horn at the very tip of South America, on board the Via Australis I met two Canadian couples whose company I thoroughly enjoyed for the week. Although all four of them were fascinating to chat with, I am going to talk about Arlene.

Arlene was almost entirely blind and, at first, I struggled to understand why she would choose to travel. For me, not being able to see the beauty of the landscape, or the incredible wildlife, or the people and their culture, would diminish the trip. But Arlene taught me otherwise.

Her husband would describe what he was seeing, and she would create the pictures in her mind. But it wasn’t all about what her proxy eyes could ‘see’ – it was also about the sounds, the smells, the feelings, and she said, very importantly, the movements she made herself.

For example, while walking down the gangway to board a zodiac, Arlene was able to experience this and enjoy it as she could feel the gangway move, understand the step from the ship to the zodiac, feel the different movement of the zodiac going faster or slower, and the spray in her face.  All of this was part of the travel experience for her and allowed her to enjoy the activities as much as a sighted person. An inspiring lady who taught me that my eyes are not the only way to enjoy travel.

A record breaker

January 1st in the Antarctic – and Noah Strycker is starting his Big Year, attempting the break the world record for the most bird species seen in one year. I met him on board a One Ocean Expeditions ship visiting the southern polar region. Noah was the ornithologist on board and from this trip he was heading off around the world to spot as many birds as possible. What he didn’t know about identifying birds wasn’t really worth knowing; he could see a dark spot above the water and immediately identify it.

I interviewed him for PASSION for the PLANET and Birdwatch magazine and followed his journey that year – celebrating when he broke the world record by seeing 6,042 different bird species in 12 months.  You can read about his year, starting in the Antarctic, in his book ‘Birding without Borders’.

Trying the local smoke

On a cruise along the Nile we stopped at all the important tourist sites; the temples of Edfu, Kom Ombo and Abu Simbel. We learnt about the history and watched the wildlife around our boat. And I got to know our local guide Achmed. One evening after dinner, Achmed snuck me off the boat to try the local pastime of smoking a shisha waterpipe. He took me to a café he knew where the locals hang out and ordered the large silver waterpipe – allowing me to choose the ‘flavour’ – I opted for apple. There we sat, sharing a pipe and chatting; for that hour I was truly a local.

A life choice I will never know

The American Eagle is one of a number of schooners that sail the coast of Maine, their tall masts and giant sails billowing in the wind, the sound of the waves lapping against the hull, the creaking of the ropes, the cries of the gulls overhead and the feel of sun on your face – it was on this idyllic trip that I met two ladies who took me under their wings.

Each year they do this trip together – they know the ship, the crew, Captain John and are greeted as old friends.  We hung out together for much of our time on board sharing life stories and laughing at each other’s funny tales.

On the second day, one of them confided in me that she was a nun – something she preferred not to mention to the other passengers as, in her experience, people treated her differently once they knew. Over the next days she told me stories of her life in the convent, her calling to the sisterhood, and the day she defied her superiors and evacuated all the children from the convent school. This is the closest I will probably ever get to understanding the life of a lady who was called to dedicate her life to her God.

Travelling by ship is not just a great way to see new places, to reach land that is often inaccessible, to see wildlife from the water – it is also about the people you meet who can open your eyes and change your thinking as much as the landscapes, nature and culture you chose when you booked your trip.


One Ocean Expeditions

Sable Island Parks Canada


The Maine Windjammer Association

American Eagle

Noah Strycker:

Cape Breton Island:


Chantal Cooke is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster and co-founder of PASSION for the PLANET. Chantal is passionate about tourism being used as a force for good.  You can follow her adventures on Facebook and Twitter @chantalcooke and on Instagram @Chantaldcooke

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