Day 102

Woke up to a little rolling and gray skies and got upstairs for breakfast. We sat with Trish and Jeff at their “usual” table. Near 10am, we made our plan for the morning. I was going to Terry’s story time and Pat was heading to the Pool Deck for the regular 3-month mandatory safety drill for all crew. They had to watch and listen to the instructions and techniques for inflating a life raft in the pool. All 343 crew were in attendance on deck 11, even though some of them don’t participate in the muster drills. Four crew members trained in lifeboat apparatus demonstrated how a barrel is untied, dropped in the water, and opened to release the raft, which automatically inflates. They then helped each other get into the raft and showed all the emergency supplies that are in it. It was very informative.

This morning was the Battle of the River Plate in 1939 over the German battleship, Graf Spee. Its top speed was 32 mph and it could outrun and outgun anything on the ocean. It was in the Atlantic in 1936-39 off of Spain during its civil war, sinking merchant ships in the South Atlantic quite regularly during October through early December 1939. Three British cruisers spotted the Graf Spee and battled, heavily damaging one which left the area. Not sure why the Graf Spee didn’t finish off the other two ships. It had bigger guns and longer range. The Graf Spee headed to neutral Uruguay with apparently some armament and fuel tank damage. The British blockaded the harbor waiting for it to come out. Under international law, a warring nation cannot remain in a neutral country for more than 24 hours. This issue played in the media for days. If the ship stayed, it would be impounded and, if it left, it would fight through the naval blockade.  Captain Landsdorff released all but 40 of his crew and, on December 17, 1939, sailed it out of the harbor and scuttled the ship. All the crew were taken to Buenos Aires and a few days later the captain wrote a letter apologizing before killing himself.

I ran off next to a ping pong tournament while Pat returned to take notes on the destination speaker, Mike Scott, and the highlights of Uruguay. Montevideo and Punta del Este are situated on the Rio de la Plata, almost across the water from Buenos Aires, Argentina. The countries call it a river(Rio), but it really is an estuary that drains water from the Rio Panrana. Uruguay is a stable, democratic, and prosperous country of 3.4 million people, but is the second smallest country in South America, just slightly bigger than Florida. The Spanish, Portuguese (from Brazil), and British at some point in history claimed this land until 1828, when Uruguay became independent. About a hundred years of turbulence followed until modern democratic leader, Vasques, was elected president in 1999. Term limits are 5 years, so in 2009 Mujica replaced him, but in 2014, Vasques was able to be re-elected (just can’t serve 2 consecutive terms) and is the current president.

Montevideo is a modern city of 1.3 million people that has pretty beaches, the Plaza Indepenzia, the anchor of the Graf Spee, port markets, theatre, museum of history (free), and Parliament house are some of the sites to be visited. We will be here in a few days.

After lunch, Mac returned to ping pong to play Harris, and Gabriel just for fun, while I made a South American gaucho card with Julie. We both finished in time for Don’s afternoon talk on the “Arctic- The Least Known Ocean.” More than four million people live above the Arctic Circle; it is the smallest and shallowest of the world’s oceans; it contains 22% of the world’s continental shelf (less than 500′); it has the lowest salinity; and is an arid region, with less annual precipitation than Phoenix, AZ. There is active contention for rights to this area. Every country bordering the Arctic claims its Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 miles; Russia, Norway, Sweden, Greenland (Denmark), Finland, and U.S. The Arctic contains 30% of the world’s natural gas and 15% of its oil; but it is far too costly to extract. The famed northwest passage is ice free in the summer as well as the northern route over Russia. The ice pack is shrinking and the drifting cool water has the potential of cooling the warm Gulf Stream current and bringing cooler weather to Europe.

We did well in mensa (5 daily brain-teaser questions), but didn’t place in trivia. Flutist, Viviana, performed a before dinner show and did a super job. She began with a medley of songs from Fiddler on the Roof, then moved onto the Celine Dion Titanic song (I can’t remember the title), the theme song from Pirates of the Caribbean, and other wonderful tunes. She has a huge variety of flutes, and played songs on all of them- a jade flute from China, a Polynesian flute that is played by your nose, not your mouth, a flute that doubles as a cane, a tiny flute made from an animal bone, etc. She was a dynamic and thoroughly enjoyable entertainer.

We ordered room service for supper tonight, so that we would be finished in time to go on deck at 8:30 for some star-gazing. The clouds had diminished somewhat, so stars were shining and the crescent moon was quite bright. Some of the deck lights were shut off so that the skies would be more visible. Safety officer Sergei and environmental officer Vlad demonstrated and explained navigational instruments sextant and astrolabe. We were able to see the Southern Cross, Orion, Leo, and Canis Minor. It was a bit windy, so we all had jackets on. A group of about 20 were on deck for about an hour. Sergei and Vlad answered any questions folks had. It was fun.

We turn our clocks back another hour tonight so we will be on Uruguay time and only one hour ahead of east coast time. We should be able to facetime our grandkids easily tomorrow, plus it will be Saturday and they will be near home.

Yours in travel,

Pat & Mac