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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 58: 21 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysMy fate depends ultimately on one propeller and the ability of the engine to turn it non-stop, 24 hours a day, in all weathers, for at least the next six days. The propeller weighs 35 tons, is cast in bronze and has four blades with a diameter of about 27 feet. The engine room area occupies five floors below decks, and the cylinders are three floors high. If noise were enough to drive the ship along I would have no worries. We are given ear-protectors, but I slip them off to feel the sound of so much power. It is just below the limit of aural pain. The chief engineer with his permanently worried look (either because of Benazir Bhutto or the problems with the Sulzer engine) is testing electrical circuits. With his white coat, neat black beard and moustache, obsessive enthusiasm and small frame dwarfed by pumping hissing machinery he reminds me of Willy Wonka in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

From the caves of heavy metal below decks I walk out before lunch to my favourite spot above decks. This is a gallery at the stern, open on three sides, low to the sea, on which are winches and capstans and stanchions of powerful appearance standing like sculptures at some futuristic art gallery. At the stern rail I am only a few feet above the churning propeller and I can happily stand for ages watching it send the water flicking up and flinging back to mark our progress across the Pacific with a green and white gash two or three hundred yards long, above which wheel half a dozen sea-birds, who have followed us for days. Along the sides run swelling waves, massive and unbroken after crossing thousands of miles of open sea, rising sometimes high above my head. With the noise of the engine and the wind, it's a sobering but exhilarating glimpse of power. So easy would it be just to slip through the rail. If I did what would be my chances? There's no one with me. The noise would drown any shouts. How long would it be before my absence was noted? Another half-hour at least. The ship would be fifteen miles away by then and a full turn would take another half-hour. Decide to go to the quieter end of the ship. Today, because of a following wind the bows are almost eerily silent. Like cloisters.

The Table Tennis Competition is hotting up. Nigel Passepartout is now known as Hurricane because of his mercurial style. Sometimes unplayably deadly, other times unable to hit the table. The ball flicks and spins off radiator pipes, shelves, air-conditioning vents and opponents' heads. But win or lose, his approach is pure Welsh passion. Roger, on the other hand, is becoming a cool, calculating opponent, poker-faced and consistent, and now known as the Professor. The man to beat.

There is a bizarre announcement halfway through the evening meal: 'You are reminded that it will be Monday again tomorrow'.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 58
  • Date: 21 November
  • Country/sea: Pacific Ocean
  • Place: Pacific Ocean
  • Book page no: 189

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