In August I went on my first cruise, Belle & Sebastian‘s Boaty Weekender. I’d never been on a cruise before. I was, at best, ambivalent about cruises. On the one hand, I have something an anthropological curiosity which in the past has compelled me to check out renaissance faires, Civil War reenactments, a Star Trek convention, and even a professional sports match. On the other hand, they had the appearance, in my mind, of being pollution-spewing, floating retirement homes.
My grandfather, without elaborating, recommended that I take a cruise. Then again, he also recommended that I move to Costa Rica to build a canal to rival Panama‘s, or invent a superconductive power plant, or design a stealth-seeking missile. We did not necessarily share many dreams. None of my travel fantasies, for example, have every involved disembarking from a ship, buying an “I ❤ fill-in-the-blank” keychain, and then scuttling back on board before heading off to the next tourist zone.
My grandfather and I enjoy some of the same things. He was a great lover of buffets — for the record, his favorite was the one found an establishment called The Phonecian in Arizona. Cruise ships have buffets — not that the lure of eating at buffets is enough to influence my vacation plans. There’s also the fact that cruises are probably the closest I will get to fulfilling my Edwardian fantasy of taking an ocean liner across the Atlantic. When Belle & Sebastian announced that they were organizing a cruise on which many bands I like would be playing, I began researching Mediterranean cruisewear.
The Boaty Weekender line-up included several acts that I have previously seen live (Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Teenage Fanclub, Tracyanne & Danny, the Vaselines, and Yo La Tengo), one that I like but hadn’t previously seen (Buzzcocks), quite a few with whom I was prior to the cruise mostly unfamiliar (Alvvays, Campfire Social, Django Django, Elisabeth Elektra, Hinds, Honeyblood, Japanese Breakfast, Kelly Lee Owens, Nilüfer Yanya, Wet Look, Whyte Horses, and Wojtek the Bear), and just one that I don’t like (Mogwai). Naturally, I made a playlist of all of them (minus Mogwai) and listened to it in the months leading up to a few days on the Mediterranean and reading Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence.
My partner and I spent several days in Barcelona before boarding the cruise ship, which traveled from the Catalonian capital to Cagliari and back. On the day of departure, we took a taxi to the port and followed Teenage Fanclub up the gangway, most of whom were wearing dark suits. I, on the other hand, wore a white linen jacket, linen shirt, and Panama hat, which seemed more sensible given the not inconsiderable heat and early hour. As I looked around, though, I noticed that most of my fellow passengers were dressed as if it was casual day at a laundromat — in baseball caps, T-shirts, and shorts. And here I had actually worried beforehand about not having a stroller to wear to the scheduled “cocktail hour + dress to impress” event.
Not only was it less formal than I expected, but it was also much more international. A map shown in our cabin’s television revealed that cruisegoers came from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Germany, Ecuador, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. Nametags revealed that most of the ship’s crew were from either Indonesia or the Philippines although I also saw the flags of India, Jamaica, South Africa, and elsewhere. The bands came from various places, too. Scotland, naturally, was well-represented. Kelly Lee Owens and Campfire Social are from Wales, though, Hinds are from Spain, Buzzcocks are from Manchester, Alvvays are from Canada, and Yo La Tengo is from New Jersey. OK, so there weren’t any performers from Asia or South America — I’ll probably have to organize my own (carbon neutral) band cruise to achieve that.
The food, although less international than the passengers, was mostly quite good, I thought — if heavy on the starch and carbohydrates. Somehow, in four short days, I managed to gain back all the weight I’d lost walking around Barcelona — and then some. I have to strike a sour note about one thing, though, more out of amazement than resentment. The coffee was shockingly terrible. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would quite possibly not have guessed it was coffee were it not brown and had it not come out of a machine labeled coffee. So I stuck, for the most part, to tea… well, tea and booze.
I’d expected beforehand to spend much of my time reading and playing soccer. Instead, however, I was kept busy and exhausted running back and forth between venues, trying to squeeze in meals and gin-soaked power naps whenever able. All of the new-to-me bands were really great. Buzzcocks, even without Pete Shelley (who died last December), were revelatory (despite drummer Danny Farrant‘s joking recommendation to me that I “skip them — they’re rubbish!”). To be honest, I got a bit sick of them working at Amoeba. There, Singles Going Steady is played with such regularity that I suspect those who choose the in-store music are following the Jim Jones playbook. Seeing the songs performed live really affirmed for me the luster of their songwriting and the band’s significance.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of acts that — despite my best efforts — I managed to miss.
Given the surprising strenuousness of vacationing on a boat, some of my cherished moments those few that involved downtime. Our room was portal-less and so, when the lights were off, completely dark. I had forgotten how much I liked The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which was playing on a continuous loop, and which I, therefore, watched in out-of-sequence installments. I think its a bit silly even for some Wes Anderson fans but when I was a child of eleven, I began working with a scuba and sail shop. My co-workers were pretty… rough, including as they did a fellow child who’d been in juvie for (I think) two years, an ex-con, a biker, and a heat-packing Star Trek obsessive. Or rivals, over at Captain Nemo’s Dive Shop, were led by a respectable married man named Dwain — definitely more of an Alistair Hennessey than Steve Zissou.
By the time we disembarked in Cagliari, a city whose hilly streets I’d intended to tirelessly explore, the beach seemed like a more attractive option and I spent most of my stay floating in the bath-warm waters at the beach. After the cruise ship returned to Barcelona, I dragged myself to a hotel room, drew the blackout curtains closed, and passed out.
I made a short documentary about the experience. It was shot on my phone so the sound and video aren’t great — but hopefully, it manages to convey a sense of what my experience aboard the Boaty Weekender was like.
Oh, and if (like me) you’re concerned about the carbon emissions which result from cruise and airplane travel, please consider donating money to companies that engage in carbon offsetting that is designed to repair climate damage. Two non-profits to consider include atmosfair or myclimate. Both offer carbon offsetting calculators and options.