Three weeks at sea, and back we were at the other side of the Atlantic, heading for Houston, Texas.
My first husband was in the Merchant Navy, and I spent three years travelling with him as a ‘supernumerary’ – that’s basically someone who is surplus to requirements. On my second trip we’d flown out to New York, sailed down to South Africa – and here we are coming back to the States.
We have an image of what a place is like before we get there. And what we think of a place is coloured very much by how closely it resembles what we thought it would be like.
Our first US port was Houston, Texas. All I knew about Houston was the Apollo Space Program – and all I knew about Texas was what I’d picked up from watching Dallas. I was expecting astronauts and/or oil men, basically. Houston, therefore, was a disappointment.
And then up the East Coast of the US we went – New Orleans, further up the Mississippi to Baton Rouge, then round the Florida panhandle to Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, Newport News, Baltimore, New York.
New Orleans was amazing – Bourbon Street, a buggy ride, the French Quarter with all those balconies, the Natchez, the Mississippi River, gumbo. This was an innocent New Orleans, long before Hurricane Katrina.
New York was something else entirely. It turns out that everything I’d ever heard about New York was true. It was fast-paced and sassy and dirty and swanky. We were berthed once again at Brooklyn Number One Wharf, literally under the Brooklyn Bridge – so Manhattan was just, well, there. We went up the Empire State Building and I took a photo of the World Trade Centre from the top.
This was 20 years before 9/11 – but the reason we went up the Empire State Building was because we couldn’t get up the World Trade Centre, due to it being closed following a terrorist threat.
I ate my first ever MacDonalds. It was 1981 – all we had in England back then were Wimpy Bars – and even they were a bit thin on the ground in South Devon!
It took us about two weeks to get all the way up the coast from Houston to New York. A hectic round of arriving into port, working cargo, going up the road (always making sure I was back before the ship was due to sail – we didn’t want a repeat of Fiji…), sailing on to the next port and doing it all over again.
And then we were off again, back across the Atlantic to South Africa.
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