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Christmas at Sea Good, Bad and the Ugly

A year on and I thought it was worth revisiting Christmas past

Capt. Peter Love. Capt. Jock Leferve and Cruise Director Chris Chapman.

We think Santa was Chris Sample. Celebrating Princess Style

Although I spent a few Christmases at sea, for the life of me I cannot remember much about them. I'm pretty sure that it was not the Bucks Fizz for breakfast that was to blame. I do remember that I would try and talk to my Mum over the Christmas period and this was no easy feat as you may well remember. No mobile phones in those days so the only option if you were at sea was a ship to shore radio call. This was made from the radio room, had to be booked in advance and was normally of a three-minute duration and cost almost the equivalent of a week's wages.

Thank you fellow Seadogs
for sharing your stories with us.

David Baumann and fellow officers serve the crew lunch on Canberra

Pant's (Chief Pantryman) and the Goanese crew reciprocate with a

Pour Out in the Goanese mess.

(David fourth from left)

According to David

"Their sole objective always seemed to be to get us as drunk as

possible! I do remember being surprised to see my record player in use there!

It had been "borrowed" to provide the music!"

Phil Williams Recalls.

"Sadly I don’t have any pics, but two years running a bunch of crew members myself included put together Christmas Pantos. Sleeping Beauty one year and Cinderella the next.

It was amazing the number of talented people made up the rank and file crew. Not just performers, but behind the scenes guys too.

Scenery and costumes were made from ‘damaged’ sheets ( well they were when we finished with them)

The fairy tale stories were far removed from our productions. I.e. in Sleeping Beauty, the princess is supposed to get pricked by a spindle…our version had her receiving a running vibrator on a cushion whereby she got pricked! Well, I could go on but just a snippet.

That said they were great fun and really well received by officers and crew alike".

Phil Williams

Oriana 1965-71.


Harry Bonning on how exciting the Purser's Office on Orsova could be over Christmas.

"My first Christmas at sea was on ORSOVA and we were sailing between Auckland and Sydney across the Tasman Sea, about 1200 NM, which is not renowned for smooth crossings, and so it was that for about three days we were buffeted about somewhat. I had been through worse in this stretch of water the previous summer (or winter as it was then down there) but for many passengers, it was their first taste of a ship in rough weather. Many were somewhat green round the gills as they stood in line before my Cashier’s window.

With a full complement of passengers in both classes (we were still a two-class ship then), the bureau was under pressure to get all the documentation completed for arrival in Sydney and the Immigration and Customs officials. Many passengers were disembarking there so different lists and forms were required for them. In addition, we had on board a representative of a Baggage handling company (I forget the name after all this time) who was there to assist the disembarking passengers with the multi-page complicated Australian Customs declaration form.

An amusing aside on this was that on a subsequent similar trip we were told that the complicated Australian Customs Declaration Form had been done away with in favour of an Oral Declaration. All the passenger had to do was fill out this form!

So everyone was busy and surprisingly the Cashiers as well. Everyone wanted to change money from New Zealand Dollars to Australian Dollars. With 1500 passengers there were long queues at both Cashier’s windows, Tourist and First. The demand was so great that on Christmas Day alone I had to balance my safe and pay into the Purser three times to meet the demand. This involved counting thousands of NZ Dollars in cash and traveller's cheques and presenting a balance sheet to the Purser in return for several thousand Australian Dollars. In between I had been designated to read the lesson at the morning service so by the time I returned to my window, the queue was even longer and people were getting impatient.

As a Cashier, no one can help you. You are solely responsible for the money in your possession so no one else is allowed near it, even to help you count it to save time preparing a pay into the Purser.

This was my first Christmas away from home and I suppose I should have missed it, but apart from reading the lesson I hardly had time to think about it. It passed in a haze of banknotes and traveller's cheques. We did not close at lunchtime as would be normal but worked through the afternoon and into the evening to satisfy demand, so it was not until the second sitting in the restaurant that I got to taste my Christmas Dinner, ravenous and having had no lunch, thoroughly exhausted.

A memorable Christmas if not for the best reasons."

John Martin recalls

the crew show on Star Atlantic

"Would you compère the Christmas Crew Show?” asked Rick, the Cruise Director.

We were going to spend the whole of Christmas Day at sea rather than the usual scheduled Tuesday arrival in Nassau on this regular four-day cruise. There was to be no ‘Legends in Concert’ entertainment as the tribute acts had all gone home for the holiday. Instead, there would be a variety of acts put on by sections of the crew.

We had 44 different nationalities serving on the ship. It appeared that groups from different countries were keen to demonstrate their thespian skills, dance routines and musical talents for our passengers, some of them in their national costume. As Rick and Andrea, the Social Hostess were going to be involved in some of the acts he needed a separate compère.

Bringing together the crew who would be leading some of the community singing as part of the show. Here on Christmas Eve with Eric on piano. Adam (photographer), Debbie (hairdresser), Chris (manicurist), Kate and Kathy (Assistant Pursers)

To demonstrate the international flavour of our crew I decided it would be rather nice to thank each act and wish them a Merry Christmas in their own language. Greek for the ship’s deck and engine officers (Sas efcharistó, Kalá Christoúgenna), Tagalog for our Filipino catering crew (Salamat, Maligayang Pasko), Spanish for some our Costa Rican restaurant staff (Gracias. Feliz Navidad), plus Polish for others (Dziękuję. Wesołych Świąt), Indonesian for a group of accommodation personnel (Terima kasih, Selamat Natal), Hindi for the Indian Deck crew, Urdu for the Pakistani engine room hands in their smart pagri turbans with their fan-shaped cockades, and even Welsh for our Purser’s staff who had nearly all been recruited by a Cardiff agency (Diolch, Nadolig Llawen). It took a bit of practice to get the pronunciations right!

Despite being low on families for this four-day cruise the Disney characters were still on board, who did a hilarious routine to a backing track. A contingent of Caribbean crew had managed to persuade a Nassau steel band to loan them a set of drums for a trip, and we had familiar Christmas songs and carols beaten out for us.

The show ended with 80 crew spread around the show lounge which had been plunged into the dark, all waving red glow sticks singing ‘We are the World’.

Shaw Savill's Northern Star has a Christmas to forget.

Jamie Brandane recalls the bitter details.

Anyway, thought I would tell you about our terrible Christmas Cruise in 1972 - Christmas Day not so memorable, but the whole experience was unbelievable.

Our Christmas Cruise Extravaganza on ss Northern Star was from Southampton, Lisbon, Agadir, Funchal, Las Palmas and back to Southampton.

On sailing day, after we had embarked 1400 Christmas revellers, we were informed from the bridge, our sailing was delayed about 6 hours due to mechanical problems (Northern Star was renowned for boiler issues, all her short career of 14 years). As hours passed, it became clear we would not be sailing that evening, and with help of THE Purser and Shaw Savill agents, HM Customs agreed and we were allowed to open the ship's bars, and entertainment by the professionals was allowed to happen as if we were at sea. The condition was that no passengers or crew were allowed to land, so in effect, we were at sea. Passengers enjoyed the first night's entertainment as scheduled in the Daily Programme. From memory, I am sure all the drinks were complimentary, so many passengers went to town, and a had a great time, alongside at Southampton!

The next day, the programme continued as if we were all 'at sea' except for outdoor activities with the cold wintry weather, so no deck sports or pool activities. As the day progressed, there was still no firm time for sailing, as our engines were still not repaired. Recall our agents Harland & Wolff' vehicles on the wharf, and an army of specialists had boarded the ship. It had become a creeping delay with one departure time, replaced by another, and eventually, we sailed about 30 hours late.

Our first port of call, Lisbon, was cancelled because we were so late, and recall on Christmas Day, we had 'scenic cruising' of the Canary Islands, as no time to stop! Passengers enjoyed the festivities of Christmas on board and everyone had a good time.

We arrived at Agadir, Morocco, on schedule, but it was anchorage port, and we had to ferry all the passengers ashore by ships lifeboats, which was not a problem except the transit time was a good 40 minutes as anchored a long way from the wharf, so time-consuming to get passengers ashore in time for shore excursions. The Pursers set up a base on the wharf, and because of the heat, we had a complimentary cool drinks station for passengers. After the coaches departed for the day trip, it was relatively quiet for the pursers and officers manning the boats. When the coaches arrived back at the wharf about 4 pm, the deck department informed us the wind had come up and the seas were quite choppy and too dangerous to take passengers back to the ship. On consultation with shore agents, it was decided and arranged for all passengers to be taken to hotels for complimentary evening meals, refreshments at own cost. We utilised the excursions coaches to run shuttle service, to and from hotels. Another lengthy delay ensued, and it was to be 11 pm before we started to take passengers back to the ship, the last boat carrying a wheelchair passenger, arriving back on board about 1 am.

Shaw Savill Officers

don't let it get them down.

The next port of call, was Funchal, Madeira, on 31 December, where we arrived 4 hours late, so all day shore excursions were curtailed and we managed to fit in a 4-hour afternoon trip for everyone booked onshore excursions. In Funchal, traditionally there is a magnificent fireworks display to welcome in the New Year, normally the cruise ships move off the berth between 8 pm and 10 pm and anchor off the port to view the display, but unfortunately, the wharf handlers and port authority, insisted all ships move off much earlier, and we had to lie at anchor for several hours before midnight celebrations.

Our final port of the cruise was Las Palmas, Canary Islands, where we arrived several hours late, and once again, day excursions were curtailed and offered afternoon trips only.

All shore excursions, at that time, were sold at the Pursers Office, so we had mighty job on our hands to refund for cancelled Lisbon, and day excursions at Madeira and Las Palmas. It was truly a nightmare!

A group of 'mutineers' congregated in the Forward Lounge, and were very vocal, demanding the Company refund part or all of their cruise fare. Seem to recall P&O's Canberra had a similar bad Christmas experience in the Caribbean, and our ringleader of the mutineers told us P&O had refunded their cruise. ( no idea if this was true, and cannot recall whether Shaw Savill offered refunds or discounts on future cruise) .

The foregoing is as I remember, but perhaps other crew who read this may have a different point of view or different facts. Almost 50 years later, it's difficult to remember the actual chain of events, but this is the gist of our Christmas Cruise, 1972 - which was a disaster for the Company and, indeed, for the Pursers, and all other crew who faced a barrage of complaints from these passengers.

And finally, the Pantomine Elephant

"From my Oriana Diary, dated December 1963"

(by kind permission of Commander Nicholas Messinger RNR

The deck crowd had been busy since leaving Melbourne, making a pantomime elephant from canvas and scraps of material, and a colourful blanket, loaned by the ‘queen mother’ herself. All it needed was a tinsel tail and a willing volunteer to play the back-end.

‘You’re fuck-all use on the bridge Messinger, find a tail and report to the children’s nursery at noon, sharp.’ After a couple of practice runs with the Second Officer, living up to his reputation for farting, in the front end, I was all set to unleash myself on the unsuspecting passengers. Since leaving Fremantle, they had proved to be a merry crowd, particularly back aft in tourist class, which was really buzzing with lots of young people, and a lively disco scene.

I packed the newly painted elephant trousers, with their lovely white toenails and heavy duty braces, in a cardboard box, and set off for the bosun’s store in good time, on Christmas morning. I located a length of twine but no tinsel. Then it occurred to me that the stewardesses lived close by, and were certain to have loads of the stuff; which they did.

Fortified with a considerable amount of festive brandy and dry ginger, I stepped into the costume, to be much admired by the ladies, who kindly adorned my behind with a most lavish, long, tinsel bedecked tail. Leaving the stewardesses with the cries of ‘Good luck, Butch!’ ringing in my ears, I realised I still had a good ten minutes before the children’s party, and, clutching my fine new tail, I sank into a deckchair…… and promptly fell asleep.

It was just before one o’clock when I awoke, slightly groggy and somewhat befuddled as I headed for the first-class ballroom, where I remembered the elephant was due to make a grand entrance, to the delight of seven hundred passengers, children, and ship’s staff. Parading once round the dance-floor, with the ship’s social hostess, scantly attired in a harem costume, leading, the children would be allowed to ‘feed’ the elephant sticky buns, which he would grip with his trunk, before placing them inside a basket, which was dangling from his neck, inside the costume. To my horror, my arrival was greeted by the sight and sound of almost a hundred children, screaming and pelting the poor half-elephant with the buns, some of which were sticking to his head and ears.

"You bastard!’ screamed the Captain, ‘you’ve fucking well ruined Christmas!’ Confined once again to my cabin, I ate a solitary Christmas dinner, while my cabin mate and fellow cadet was enjoying himself at Oriana’s lavish gala night party. Every half-hour or so, the Fourth Officer would come down from the bridge, and peer into the cabin, just to make sure I had not absconded. There were so many beautiful Aussie girls onboard, and there I was, on my own and badly hung-over - and on Christmas day of all days......."

Wishing you all a

Very Happy Christmas

and a Healthy 2023

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