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P&O Cruises ~ CANBERRA A Day to Remember

I have just found my ships log from what was to become a legendary cruise onboard S.S. Canberra.

On 11th September 1993 we boarded Canberra in Southampton for a 16 night “Venetian Romance” cruise to Lisbon, Malta, Zakinthos, Loutraki, Trieste, and Palma. But Lisbon had to be missed after we hit a memorable storm in the Bay of Biscay.

I have very vivid memories of that cruise despite it being 18 years ago. The children were only little aged 4, 6 & 8, but seasoned cruisers non the less. For some reason we had strayed from our usual D deck cabin location to a cabin up on B deck aft. Mum and Dad were next door. As we entered the Bay of Biscay it was obvious from early morning that we were going to have a bumpy ride. Despite the Captain advising against going outside, I can remember standing on the aft of A deck and literally being pushed back by the strong winds. Stupid thing to do now I think about it! Moving around the ship became increasingly difficult and the Captain eventually advised that we all should stay in our cabins for our own safety. But being cooped up in a small bunk bedded cabin, with 3 young children, at the aft end of the ship was not my idea of fun. The children started to feel seasick, something that had never bothered them before, so it was time for a walk round. Mum was next door curled up in bed, convinced we were all doomed!

It was like a ghost ship. Nobody was around. Walking around was difficult. Tables and chairs were sliding across the tiled Alice Springs floor, so we retreated to the Playroom. Only the Childrens Officer was in there doing some paperwork, so we settled on the beanbags and put some videos on to keep the kids entertained. The ship was banging and creaking like only Canberra could. Looking out onto the Games Deck the spray from the sea was battering the ships rails. As one of the big waves hit us the ship lurched and the big metal chest that was secured to the wall broke free and went hurlting across the floor towards the Childrens Officer as she sat at her desk. I dont know how, must have been instinct I guess, but the kids Dad could see what was about to happen and jumped over the railing from TV area and pushed the big chest out of the way before it hit the Officers desk. The filing cabinet came off rather worse for wear though!!

We stayed in the playroom for quite a while as it seemed the safest place at the time. When we did venture out it looked like a tornado had swept through some areas of the ship. Alice Springs was a mess. Slot machines had fallen over, tables and chairs all over the place. The Crows Nest had a window blown out. Nanny was not amused when my eldest went and told her how exciting it had all been while she had been laid in her bed. She had missed everything! Funnily enough she just wanted her big orange lifejacket lol. We took the Kids to Childrens afternoon tea in the main restaurant and were asked to just step over and around all the plates and cutlery that was strewn across the floor. Im sure I didnt make do with sandwiches for my Gala Dinner either!

Somewhere, I do have a video tape of the days events that we filmed at the time, so if and when I find it I will get it converted to a viewable format.

Captain Rory Smith was our Captain and from memory I’m pretty sure that Hamish Read was Deputy Captain. I note for the ships log that the Navigators were Roger Bilton, Paul Martin, Dave Bancroft, Chris Bourne, Giles Helmann and Sarah Brenton.

Sarah, of course went on to become P&O’s first female Captain.

The Bridge team produced the following entitled “A Day to Remember” and I note at the end that the general consensus was that we would have to wait another 25 years to experience such weather again. Mmm, they got that wrong, I only had to wait 14 years for my next ‘storm at sea’! I look forward to my 2018 cruise with interest!!


The 12th  September 1993. It is not a day that you will forget easily, and no doubt you will be able to dine out for weeks on the events of that tempestuous twenty four hours. Like the fishermans tales, the story may get better with each passing day, so I felt that you should have the basic facts before you start. They do not need enlarging!!

0600 hrs  Canberra enters the Bay of Biscay to a rising force 6 wind. The ship is steady but the barograph is falling. We have 375 miles to go to clear the Bay of Biscay. By 10.00pm we should be clear of the Bay and on our way to Lisbon.

0800 hrs  The wind continues to rise and the barograph to fall but the ship remains steady. Captain makes sure all of the passengers are awake by broadcasting a warning of “A depression approaching”

1015 hrs  Church service held. Congregation sang the seamans hymn “For Those in Peril on the Sea”

1100 hrs  Seasickness and depressions arrive by the score and people take to the beds. The ship begins to pitch and spray flies across the deck. Speed is being reduced to make the pitching and ship movement less severe.

1200 hrs  Captain considers having lunch but decides against it.

1215 hrs  Having missed his lunch the Captain decides to cheer passengers up by broadcasting the weather situation and forecast. Fails dismally except for a hearty few who venture out on deck against best advise. Wind is now severe storm force 11 with a rapidly rising sea and swell. Open decks declared out of bounds. Entrances roped off.

1400 hrs  Wind is now at its strongest at storm force 12 with winds constantly in excess of 65 knots. Ship is proceeding very slowly, just maintaining steerage way, to ride out the storm. All passengers requested to stay in public rooms or their cabins. Canberra pitching to very high seas and 45ft swells.

1500 hrs  Spray and occasional green seas break over the bow. Ship riding conditions very well. Many passengers do not think so! Doctor very busy! Other ships hove to all round the Bay of Biscay. Seeing the gyrations of the other ships, bridge team very happy to be on Canberra.

1615 hrs  four life rafts washed overboard. Fifth liferaft inflates, flies over the starboard bridge wing (much to the surprise of all on the bridge!) and lands on the Observation Deck. Whilst doing so the lines become tangled in the rigging and it bends the top mast. Not to worry, Canberra can now fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Chief Officer battles with liferaft which wants to join the other four overside. Chief Officer wins. Liferaft retrieved.

1700 hrs  At last the wind is decreasing to a mere force 10. Being hove to for hours has delayed the ship to such an extent that the Lisbon call not possible and Canberra will, when conditions allow, proceed directly to Malta. Galley staff are cooking Gala Dinner and opening two sandwich bars for those who will not make the restaurants. Demand expected to be high!

2100 hrs  Ship is clear of the Bay of Biscay, eight and a half hours behind schedule, somewhat battered and salt stained, but safe.

It was generally agreed by a number of “old Salts and Jack Tars” that it was at least 25 years since they had seen the seas like those experienced on 12th September 1993. The general consensus was that with one every quarter century we shall be retired when the next one comes and someone else can have the pleasure of delaing with it.

Bad as it was, and having through fate, been forced to experience the storm, you could not have been in a better ship to do so…. The White Whale …….CANBERRA

Signed – Sarah Brenton, Navigator


  • Sam
    Posted November 15, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I was on this cruise too.

    I very surreal an amusing day – I was only 10 at the time!

    • Post Author
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 11:45 am

      You must have used the playroom at the same time as my three children! Can you recall the name of the Childrens Officer? She was always onboard when my kids were little but her name escapes us. There were some very amusing entries for the childrens fancy dress competition that year too.
      I take it the rough sea didnt scare you then?

      J x

  • Sam
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    No I don’t remember her name sadly. I used to avoid the kids club as much as I was allowed. Though when I was 4, I did win the fancy dress competition. I went as as a Century as the Century Bar. My sister went as the Crows Nest and my brother as what was then The Peacock Room (later Neptunes).

    • Gill Fields
      Posted March 21, 2014 at 12:05 am

      Have left a comment on this page – the Children’s Hostess on that memorable cruise was me! Happy days! Kind Regards
      Gill Fields

  • Steve
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    The two who we remember were Margaret Pyle (she was the senior hostess) I think she was from Wales.The younger hostess was called Gill but I forget her surname. Martine was one of the asistants and she often took the night nursery>

    • Gill Fields
      Posted March 21, 2014 at 12:06 am

      so pleased to be remembered as the “younger one”!!! I won’t tell Margaret!!! Kind Regards – Gill

  • Mike Lowe
    Posted March 12, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    I was a 4th Engineer on that cruise i remember that passage it was mayhem….

    And the sewage systems couldnt keep up with all the puking going on……

  • Gill Fields
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    That was me! I was the Children’s Hostess that nearly got run over by the hefty cabinet which broke loose! I’m still in touch with Margaret Pile. They were happy days – I loved my time at sea! Gill Fields

  • Jane
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    Gill lovely to hear from you! I have many happy memories of cruises on Canberra when the children were little. And Mike, your story made me smile : ) I can imagine the after effects lol


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