MY SAGA RUBY ‘EAST COAST USA CRUISE’
7th May - 10th June 2006
Firstly I'd like to thank the directors of ACWS Limited for the opportunity to join the above cruise as guest speaker for its first stage (7th May-26th May). It was a hugely enjoyable experience, if accompanied by a certain level of stress at various times! Unfortunately I was unable to take advantage of the offer to take my wife Caroline, also an ACWS member, due to the short notice and work commitments (it was not easy for me to take 3 weeks of work and would have been impossible to get the full 5 weeks)
The Saga Ruby is small for a cruise ship, carrying around 400 passengers. All are over 50 and many are retired, with an average age of around 70. I found the passengers friendly and the crew (mostly from the Philippines) most attentive and helpful. As it was the first cruise of this type however there were a few problems with the organisation.
Most difficult was the short time for preparation and uncertainty about many lectures we would give. Initially we were told they were held on the 10 sea days with no time in harbour, so I began work on 10 talks, a quite intimidating workload. Our appointment was only confirmed around 6 weeks before departure, when we found 6 lectures were needed. It wasn't clear until I was on board whether there were facilities for powerpoint (there were) which made planning harder. However, my remit was to base presentations on my collection of replica weapons, uniforms and equipment (thanks to those who kindly lent me items of kit). This required clearance to take weapons on board, which was only received shortly before departure, again causing difficulty in planning. It was necessary to send my kit to the ship by carrier (cost £217 which I hope to reclaim) and to pay for rail travel and overnight accommodation in Southampton. Unfortunately Saga twice omitted to unload my kit and I did not get it all back for nearly 2 months, causing me to miss an event and some freelance work and a great deal of worry as I tried to find out what was going on.
Although asked to speak on the Civil War, the speakers agreed it would be difficult to produce a schedule which would not overlap too much and that it would be wise to speak on other aspects American history, to which the cruise organiser had no objection.
The Ruby sailed from Southampton on the 7th calling at the following ports: Falmouth, Hamilton (Bermuda), Nassau (Bahamas), Freeport (Bahamas), Miami, Port Canaveral, Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington and Baltimore on the 26th. I disembarked here, arrangements having been made to fly me home from Boston on that day.
I was accompanied as a speaker by Professor David Fitzpatrick, a member of the Civil War Round Table (Liz Burke and partner of ACWS and another member of the Round Table took the second leg). Because of unusually stormy weather during the first 5 days the schedules were altered, so that we only had time to deliver 5 lectures. To compensate, and in response to the interest which many of the passengers had shown in my material, I scheduled a handling session later in the cruise. My final program was as follows:
‘THE REDCOATS ARE COMING’: BRITISH SOLDIERS IN AMERICA
An overview of the British presence from the Jamestown settlement to the establishment of the Dominion of Canada.
‘THE SHOT HEARD ROUND THE WORLD’: THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
Covering the French and Indian Wars, the War of Independence and the creation of the United States.
‘BUCKSKIN AND BLANKET DAYS’: MOUNTAIN MEN IN THE WEST
Covering the Lewis and Clark expedition, the trappers who followed them and their role in Westward expansion.
‘THE PRAIRIE WAS ON FIRE’: THE CIVIL WAR IN THE INDIAN TERRITORY
Covering this little known aspect of the Civil War, when even the Native American Tribes were divided amongst themselves.
‘FROM FLINTLOCK TO GATLING GUN’: FIREARMS OF THE CIVIL WAR
Covering the development of small arms during the 19th century and their tactical use in the Civil War.
In which I made available for closer inspection uniforms, clothing, accoutrements and weapons about which passengers had expressed interest.
David spoke on ‘The War of 1812’, ‘Origins of the Civil War’, ‘An Overview of the Civil War’, ‘Fort Sumter’ and ‘The Military Technology of the Civil War’.
Our styles were very different, David taking a very academic view as opposed to my ‘other ranks hands on’ approach involving the use of props, but served to complement each other well. I believe that the speakers on the second leg had a similar mix. All the lectures were well attended and received. Initially they were held in the ship’s cinema (which incidentally ran a very good program including a selection of classic ACW films) but this proved to be too small as the audiences could be 150 plus! After this we were moved to the main ballroom, a more comfortable space. In addition (which no one had informed us of and did cause some worries over matters of copyright etc,) each lecture was videoed and shown on the ships internal TV system throughout the following day for those who'd not been able to see it.
The audience included many people with an interest and knowledge of American military history, as was to be expected from a cruise of this nature. Because of the age range it also included a large number who had seen military service and were keen to discuss military matters (these included a WW2submariner who was travelling to lay a wreath for the crew of the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley).It was very gratifying that the audiences did not decline and that people even turned out when the sea was particularly rough. Indeed, the interest continued after the talks and we were frequently asked to discuss them and other military matters at other times. In fact, it seemed to me that this was perhaps one of the most important parts of the cruise.
The standard of accommodation was excellent - my cabin was a double with plenty of wardrobe space (just as well in view of the amount of kit I had with me!) and a higher class than some of the paying passengers, with bathroom, porthole view, TV/DVD player and the services of a steward. The quality (and quantity) of the food was amazing, absolutely first class-it was, as one of the entertainers on our table described it, like the eating Olympics. (As a guest speaker, you are rated as ‘supercargo’, treated partly as crew, partly as passenger and placed on a table for set meals with other entertainers and the like. This made for a very interesting mix!). Likewise the entertainment on board was varied and professional.
Apart from the preparation and delivery of talks, we were free to take part in all shipboard activities and the trips ashore. In port, we could either do our own thing or join in the organised excursions, which cost extra but were generally pretty good value. These ranged from Civil and Revolutionary War sites to alligator spotting in the bayous and sitting on beaches in the Bahamas. It was also possible to volunteer to go as a guide, which I did on several occasions-the good news, you got the trip for free, the bad news, you had to wear a Saga sweatshirt (fortunately they never had any in my size) and hand round the mints and Werners’ originals!
I'd like to mention some things which anyone doing this should bear in mind:
You are very much a Saga employee while on board and are subject to strict rules of behaviour, having signed a contract to that effect. In a worst case scenario, this provides for abandoning you at the nearest port leaving you to bear the expense of your own way home. It includes such matters as sobriety and appropriate dress (there are 3 orders of dress for different times and functions, e.g. dinner jackets for formal occasions and whilst it would be possible to avoid these, it would detract from the overall experience). The passenger always comes first and it is vital to remember that-you are effectively on show and available as soon as you set foot out of your cabin and must be prepared to act accordingly, no matter how inconvenient it may be.
You are on board as an entertainer and must be capable of presenting your material in a professional manner.
You are in any case representing the ACWS and should act accordingly.
In conclusion, it was an unforgettable experience, but one which took a lot of hard work!
J.D.Spencer, Co.E 1st Tennessee
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Spring 2007