First cruise was smooth sailing

To commemorate my wife and my 35th anniversary, we embarked on a Canada to New England cruise in late July. As first timers, we were not sure what to expect. We actually set a number of ?firsts? on the trip.

For starters, it was the first time either of us had set foot in Canada. I remember as a kid camping just across the lake from our neighbors to the north. But, when we arrived at Montreal?s Tru?deau International Airport at midnight, it was our inaugural trip into the province of Quebec.

A short time later, we rode the courtesy shuttle to our hotel, a sleek, modern inn a few minutes from the airport. We felt obligated to tip the young driver, considering the fact that he ventured out so late at night or early in the morning, depend?ing upon your perspective.

After discussing our options with the women behind the courtesy desk, we decided the best way to get to the cruise docks the next morning was to return via shuttle to the airport, then hire a taxi to take us to the port.

Despite all the trips my wife and I have tallied in Europe, we have never utilized a taxi. But I had read online earlier that Montreal taxi drivers charge a set fee from the airport to anywhere in the city. So, we lined up for the next available van and became first-time taxi riders.

Unfortunately, we had not had time to go to the ATM, so all we had was U.S. cash on hand. Canadians are happy to accept American money, largely because $1 U.S. is currently worth about $1.30 Canadian. So, when we paid him, he earned about a 25-percent bonus. On top of that, I felt obligated to tip him. Needless to say, he left smiling.

The first stop on the cruise was Quebec City, a beautiful town built on several levels. Despite the rainy weather, we enjoyed strolling through the old section, settled by the French and restored to its historical glory. The trip from Montreal to Quebec City covered 139 nautical miles at an average speed of 9.9 knots. One nautical mile is the equivalent of 1.15 statute miles.

We left Quebec City in the early evening and proceeded toward Charlottetown, Prince Edward Isle. It took two days to cover the 625 nautical miles at an average of 6.2 knots.

It was our first opportunity to spot whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the first time we had ever seen them in the wild. What type were they? Well, you could say we were in the right (whale) place at the right (whale) time. I just happened to look out our door and saw them spume beside the ship.

That night we attended the first gala, requiring more formal attire for dinner. I ordered a rack of lamb and pondered how to attack the meat without showing that it was the first time I had ever eaten this meat.

The five-course meal was also a first for us. We were such rookies, we only ordered three courses. Diners at another table kindly pointed out our faux pas, which we corrected the next evening.

We arrived in Charlotte?town early Tuesday morning. Naturally, we booked an excursion to Anne of Green Gables country, where author Lucy Montgomery penned the famous novel. The beautiful, rolling hills of the countryside and a short visit to the beach awaited us on the tour.

Late in the afternoon, we returned to the Maasdam, our mother ship, and left the port for our next stop, Sydney, Nova Scotia, 219 nautical miles away. Here we left the French influence behind and entered the Scottish world.

Our excursion took us to the fishing village of Bad?deck, where Alexander Graham Bell spent much of his adult life. We came across a local farmers? market, and here I experienced another first. I was discussing oysters with a woman selling them from a fair booth. She invited me to try one, pried it open, and chuckled while I attempted to slurp the raw mollusk from its shell. I was surprised at how fresh it tasted, with very little fishiness, if that?s a real word. She said it had been caught fewer than 24 hours earlier. I can?t imagine an oyster in Wichita being as tasty.

From Sydney, we headed 256 nautical miles toward Halifax, the largest city in Nova Scotia. Joining us onboard were two men from a historic military complex called the Citadel. They were dressed in full Scottish garb to set the stage for our next stop.

The piper played a couple of tunes while the other gentleman told us a bit about the history of the island. He said people often ask him what he wears under his kilt. His reply: socks and shoes. The captain urged our ship forward at 15.8 knots as we rounded the northeastern tip of Nova Scotia.

Halifax is the largest city on the island, boasting 400,000 citizens. It is a modern city with a brand new, $57 million public library, which was more like a Barnes and Noble than a city-owned structure.

Our excursion took us out to Peggy?s Cove, one of the most photographed spots in North America. It was our first day of full sun on the entire trip, and the cove did not disappoint as I watched huge waves crash on the rocky shore.

Nova Scotia time is two hours ahead of Central Time. Our tour guide said Halifax should really be in the next time zone. He also claimed that the eastern-most end of Newfoundland adds an additional 30 minutes to its time. He said if the world were to end at midnight, Newfoundland would disappear 30 minutes early.

That evening, we headed into the North Atlantic, and we were subjected to our first ?rocky? night on the ship. The entertainer that evening was a juggler. As he attempted to time his act with the pitching of the vessel, he climbed his 6-foot-tall unicycle and managed to keep three sharp machetes in the air at once. He said the cruise director always seemed to book him on the roughest night. Fortunately, nobody was harmed during the act.

Our next stop was Bar Harbor, Maine. Again, this was a first-time visit for my wife and me. We anchored a ways offshore, due to the shallowness of the harbor. We took tenders (basically, lifeboats) to the docks, then toured a part of Acadia National Park. Bar Harbor is a beautiful island, and we spent the afternoon walking around the picturesque town.

Our captain, Arno Jutten, informed the passengers that the anchor is not what holds a ship in place; it is the length of chain lying on the bottom of the harbor. Interestingly, when the crew raised the anchor, it had to be lowered again to shake off a large rock that had become lodged on one of the flukes.

We chatted with a crew member who said he had never experienced that issue before. The move was successful on the first try and we cruised out of the harbor.

The final leg of the cruise covered the 187 nautical miles from Bar Harbor to Boston. The total distance for the trip was 1,712 nautical miles at an average speed of 14.5 knots.

You say you want a few more fun facts about the ship? The Maasdam is powered by five diesel generators, two 12-cylinder motors and three eight-cylinder motors. It also has two propulsion motors. The ship burns 56 tons of fuel per day, produces 600 tons of potable water per day, 500 tons of which are used by passengers each day.

The ship weighs in at 55,819 tons and is 719 feet long by 111 feet wide. Its maximum speed is 20.9 knots. There were 1,328 passengers and 579 crew members on board. The Maasdam is not a huge boat as cruise ships go. But one comedian quipped at his show that, though it was not the largest in the Holland America fleet, ?if you stood the ship on its end?all the people would fall out.?

On our final day in Boston, we took a trolley tour of the historic city, then headed across the harbor for a quick look at the USS Constitution, aka ?Old Ironsides.? One of my goals was to step onto the deck of his great warship, and I was able to check that off my bucket list. True, the vessel was in dry dock for repairs, but I am still going to count it.

All in all, this first cruise was great fun. I could easily be convinced to take another one some day. I have never been to Alaska, so that would be another first I think I would really enjoy.

Bob Woelk teaches English and journalism at Hillsboro High School. He can be reached at woelk@embarqmail.com