Passengers party as phantom of the ship steers rand on course to nowhere
WHEN a cruise liner hits an iceberg it is generally regarded as good form for the captain and his crew to inform the passengers timeously so that they may finish their cocktails, collect favourite pieces of jewellery from their cabins and proceed to the lifeboats.
When the good ship SA Rand hit something a week or so ago nobody was quite sure whether it was an iceberg or another Cuban refugee.
There was a terrible lurching and screams from the engine room and I thought I heard someone yell, "We're going down fast."
So it was strange that the captain and his crew didn't see fit to reassure passengers at the time or to suggest that we prepare for the emergency drill.
As the week wore on the ship began to list badly, but still no word from the bridge, and by last weekend the ship was more level but sitting substantially lower in the water.
Having just watched Der Fliegende Hollander in Pretoria the thought occurred to me that maybe, like the Dutchman's ship in Wagner's opera, the SA Rand was also being sailed by a spectral crew and that if we passengers pushed our way into the chart room we would find nothing but ghastly, skeletal figures drifting aimlessly about.
The irony of the whole situation is that Cap'n Manuel and Bosun Stals had just been at a conference telling everybody how well things were going on board when they heard this sickening thud on the starboard side.
The most likely reason for their silence is that they were completely taken by surprise and didn't know what to do.
The SA Rand is a cumbersome and out-dated vessel.
It drinks fuel and charges its passengers a high price for the dubious pleasure of sailing with her.
In addition, passengers are allowed to take only a small amount of money when they go ashore.
This is to ensure that most of their money remains on board to pay for day-to-day running expenses.
BECAUSE of this strange rule the SA Rand finds it very difficult to attract new passengers, many of whom would prefer to sail with another shipping line.
So, given the circumstances, to run up and down the decks yelling "women and children first" would have caused a rush for the lifeboats and the ship would probably have sunk.
ON THE other hand, to pretend nothing is wrong is fine while everybody is on the lido deck playing quoits, but it becomes a little difficult to persuade them that all is as it should be when they go down to their cabins and find the furniture floating about.
Fortunately, most of the passengers haven't a clue what is going on and their principle concern is that the bars are fully stocked and that lunch is served on time.
Meanwhile, those of us with a little more experience of sailing are eagerly waiting to learn how the captain plans to get us out of this mess.
Last weekend's violent clash between the police and members of People Against Gangsterism and Drugs at Cape Town's Waterfront does nothing to project this country's image as a safe haven for tourists. Foreign tourism is already down on last year, presumably because of our bad image overseas, and we barely managed to attract 1-million tourists last year.
BECAUSE of the relatively high cost of the airfare and the distance, South Africa is not a holiday destination for European backpackers who prefer to hang out around the Greek islands or Prague.
The typical South African visitor is an experienced traveller, demands high standards and has money to spend. The most popular places to visit are game lodges either in or near the Kruger Park, the Garden Route and Cape Town with all its attendant pleasures.
I suspect the majority of foreign visitors spend the greater part of their holiday in Cape Town because it is still seen as one of SA's safer cities.
Johannesburg is at best a stop-over point and has little appeal for foreign visitors who are put off by its squalour and lack of charm. Even with a weak rand it is debatable as to whether South Africa offers good value. For example, you can stay in a castle in Scotland with dinner bed and breakfast for the equivalent of R450.
Perhaps the Minister of Tourism should understand that if we cannot offer safety or value foreign tourists will simply shop elsewhere.