It was about 20:30 hr, or 8:30 pm, as we say. The long line of vehicles, the “Blue Whale” among them, crept slowly onto the enormous ferry and were directed to their tight parking spots. 18-wheelers, or lories as they are called in Europe, were packed in so close by these expert drivers that one could barely squeeze between them. Peter maneuvered the “Blue Whale,” their five-ton Mercedes home on wheels, into position, and we all piled out and up the long metal stairs to the upper deck. Everything we needed for the cruise had to come with us as this would be the last time we could visit the van until loading off the ferry.
Having done this before, Karen claimed a grouping of deck chairs under a large covered area that would become our encampment on the vessel. There were probably cabin rooms available where most people spent the voyage, but we never saw one. A few other people were also claiming space under the sheltered area. Donna and Karen were deep in conversation, catching up. Peter and I talked for a bit, but he was ready to catch some sleep. I think he had driven all day to get there on time.
And We’re Off!
The big ferry’s deep whistle blew, and we began to move away from the port. Among the other passengers, Donna, Karen, Peter, Jade, and I stood at the railing waving goodbye to the shore like a scene from an old movie. The whistle would blow a few more times, and soon we headed out to sea, beginning our two-day cruise.
I wandered off from our group to investigate our surroundings. There was a very nice bar/lounge toward the ferry’s bow with a small stage, and a couple of mic stands off to the side. A big-screen television hung high under the ceiling. I was alone, nobody was tending the bar yet. While brightly lit, the lounge still looked like it could be a nice place to pass the time. Most of the chairs were stacked in one corner of the lounge.
I wandered both port and starboard, which was the side closest to our encampment. Not much to see except the sea. It was beautiful in the moonlight. The water rolled like small hills, constantly shifting and changing in gentle swells. The ferry would rise and fall with the ever-changing landscape. I went back to hang out with the ladies and baby Jade who were preparing our deckchairs into makeshift beds.
As is typical for me, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out. I only awoke for a few minutes in the night and listened to what seemed a near silence with only the low hum of the engines and the water lightly splashing as the ferry cut its way across the Aegean Sea toward Rhodes.
Stopover in Rhodes
The following morning, the sky was blue, and the waters were calm as we cruised along. By noon, we had arrived at Rhodes, where we could all go ashore for an hour or two. It wasn’t enough time to really explore, but it was enough time to go to the open-air market. The market was as exotic as you might imagine, with fresh fruit, vegetables, and vibrant-colored clothing. After short browsing the available items, we bought some fruit, bread, cheese, and veggies and returned to the ferry.
We made a little luncheon feast as we left the port of Rhodes. Four-year-old, Jade was clever and could entertain herself and all of us, so the day passed quickly. Peter and I played guitars learning each other’s songs while the ladies explored the ferry. As large as this vessel was, it can seem pretty small once you’ve made the rounds a few times. We all enjoyed the sea air and the endless horizon of the sea. The sunset reflecting off the water was magnificent as the day became evening.
It wasn’t long before the wind picked up, and the waves became wilder, tossing the ferry up and down and up and down. Rain began to pelt the ferry in gusts. Donna and Jade didn’t take it too well as they held onto the railing and lost their dinner over the side of the bouncing ferry, bonding in their seasickness. I tried to comfort them to no avail. “We’re fine. Leave us to it.” Donna said.
I made my way to the lounge to see what was happening there. It was still pretty much empty except for the bartender, who was holding on as the boat heaved to and fro. I looked up at the big-screen television and burst out laughing. The movie that was playing was “Robinson Crusoe,” just at the moment when the violent storm was shipwrecking him. “That’s perfect,” I said to the bartender, who was not particularly amused.
Our ferry lunged starboard. The ship on the television was broken in half, with poor Mr. Crusoe doing his best to survive the dreadful storm. Our ferry rocked the port side, and on the television, Mr. Crusoe was tossed into the sea. We continued to rock back and forth for a while, even as Mr. Crusoe washed up on shore. I returned to the encampment and tucked the girls into their makeshift beds. The storm eventually calmed down, and we all nodded off as the waves rocked us to sleep.
Landing in Israel
The dawn broke, and the sun shone on the lightly waved waters. Everybody felt much better after the wild and stormy night. We were certainly all ready to be on dry land again, and it wouldn’t be long before we arrived at the port of Haifa. Watching with anticipation as the ferry drew closer, reversing engines and docking stern, lowering the vast ramp, we were then allowed to return to the “Blue Whale.” They asked that only the driver was in the vehicle and said that we could exit via a passenger ramp which we did.
The very instant my foot touched Israel soil… (to be continued)