When I was about nine-years-old we did a project about the Titanic at school. This class project managed to infiltrate my dreams and one night I dreamt that I was a passenger on the doomed ship. The story gets better: somehow I had crawled inside my duvet cover trapping myself inside and increasing the fear of being unable to escape. My parents came rushing to my rescue and after much suppressed laughter on their part I was left with a dislike of boats and sailing.
Fast-forward 15 years. Päivi has managed to obtain some cheap cruise tickets to Stockholm and we are heading back out on to the Baltic Sea in just a few days. My phobia of boats isn’t one that paralyses me with fear, I don’t start shaking, sweating or vomiting, I just get an uneasy feeling that seems to be cured with a drop or two of alcohol. Recently it was the nine-year anniversary of the M/S Estonia tragedy and that did not help to ease worries.
Many people don’t understand why I create all this drama before setting sail, I suppose they think I am just craving attention - I mean if I wanted attention would I write about this in my column? Anyway, I have a good friend called Paul who has an irrational fear of flying but is still going to hurtle down the runway and fly to Finland this week; ok, he will cry silently into the in-flight magazine, but he is going to do it.
Five-years ago Paul and I visited Finland for the very first time and to celebrate this anniversary we are sailing to Sweden - hmm. During our first trip together we took care of one another, for example when coming into land at Ivalo airport I mentioned the possibility of ice on the runway and I also convinced him that he should clean the stones after sauna. We explored the country and even travelled to Tallinn and Stockholm…by ferry.
It was during a trip to Helsinki that we decided to jump aboard a ship and head to Sweden’s delightful capital. I informed Paul that boats did not feature in my top three ways to travel but he dismissed this with a ‘what could possibly happen?’ I couldn’t sleep on the way there, so I walked around a deserted ship at 4am watching Sweden come into view. A day was spent walking around Gamla Stan and then we headed back to my nightmare. After being awake for nearly 30-hours my head hit the pillow and I began to dream of a world with no oceans.
“ASA! What’s that noise? Wake up!” My ears were awake before my eyes opened and the sound filled my head; it was as though Neptune was attacking the hull with his trident. I was up and dressed before even realising that I was up and dressed, so we headed up on deck to check out the noise. Waves. Big boring waves. We walked back to the cabin in silence broken only by the occasional static shock zapping our fingers.
Readers, I don’t want you to think that I dislike everything about these ferry cruises because once the initial terror has subsided they are great fun; indulging in the Duty Free, watching fellow passengers trying to dance with the ship’s movement, seeing the face of a middle-aged lady when told Danny will be performing and being envious of people with little beer trolleys.
I suppose there is more to the trip than my fears can justify, so I shall act like a true Englishman and engage that stiff upper lip. Now where did I put those Kronas?
Written in February 2004
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