When Birdlife South Africa invited birders to join them on a cruise to Walvis Bay and back on the MSC ‘Opera’, they probably never thought that 1120 would pitch up. Well they did and we were amongst them. No less than 15 Hermanus Bird Club members participated and we left home on Friday the 1st March full of anticipation. This was short-lived when we arrived in Cape Town and saw the queues stretching for a couple of hundred metres as the passengers lined up to present luggage, show tickets, pass through emmigration, get X-rayed and get aboard. each queue was as long as the last and it was a tiring process, which we were relieved to eventually clear.
Our cabin was comfortable, but we wasted no time in getting back on deck when called for a boat drill, after which we all assembled on the top deck for a photo shoot was to be aired on TV that night showing the world’s largest ever gathering of birders (wait for the new Guinness Book of Records).
The weather was good and we all spent a great deal of time on the various decks where there were excellent guides to assist with bird identification. The birds, however, were few and far between and usually several hundred metres away, so it was no easy task for seabird beginners. Luckily there were also good talks by eminent authorities on a wide variety of seabird topics, so there was always something to do. Amongst the speakers was Peter Harrison, who really raised the bar with two outstanding talks on Albatrosses and Penguins.
We spent Sunday in Walvis Bay – once more subjected to endless delays with disembarkation and transport arrangements with local touring companies. They were obviously overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of birders, the like of which they had never experienced, so, whilst they did their best, it was often frustrating for those wanting to get moving.
Monday saw us sailing back south and the weather showed its normal west coast fog and cloud, so it was pretty cold on deck and birding became even more difficult. The Birdlife AGM held that afternoon was thus the beneficiary and the auditorium was filled to capacity, making it the largest quorum ever!
By Tuesday morning we were back at Cape Town and were greeted by the sight of Table Mountain looming out of the mist. This delayed our docking, but eventually the pilot arrived and guided the 60 000 ton vessel safely into the harbour, where we were once again subjected to huge delays in disembarking.
All in all it was an interesting experience, much enhanced by our meeting up with old birding friends, but it was not one that we would consider doing again. There were just too many people (a total of around 2000 passengers) and the service suffered accordingly.