Life is but a SeaDream

Old bottles of madeira … richly flavoured and seductive.
Old bottles of madeira … richly flavoured and seductive.

On the sad occasion of the death of rugby league, turf and travel writer Malcolm Andrews, John Rozentals retells the story of a voyage on SeaDream I, on which he met Malcolm, and explains why the company prefers to call it yachting rather than cruising. Some of the personnel may have changed but the ambience of SeaDream hasn’t. The pictures were taken by Sandra Burn White.

The late, great, often inflammatory Australian food writer Richard Beckett (aka Sam Orr) once warned his readers to never eat in a restaurant that revolved or floated.

He’d obviously not experienced a voyage on a vessel such as SeaDream I, which truly is a three-toque restaurant spoiling its fortunate passengers while sailing through some of the world’s most desirable waters.

So much so that Captain Bjarne Smorawski is indeed one of shipping’s odd fish. Odd, simply because he happily concedes top billing on SeaDream I to somebody else.

That somebody else is, of course, his executive chef, Gilles de Cambourg, who works long and tirelessly with his team to present passengers with three extraordinary meals a day — and, for those not overly concerned with weight gain, also delectable snacks in between.

Gilles de Cambourg … works long and tirelessly with his team to present passengers with three extraordinary meals a day.

Gilles de Cambourg … works long and tirelessly with his team to present passengers with three extraordinary meals a day.

Here’s an example of the treats presented during a nine-course degustation dinner: l’oeuf poule au caviar surprise; steamed lobster on marinated king crab tartar with orange dressing and herb phyllo crisp; cappuccino of pumpkin soup with fresh tarragon and roasted pumpkin seeds; peach-and-champagne sorbet; pan-fried sea bass fillet with grilled zucchini, wild-mushroom risotto and truffle-and-olive-oil jus; chateaubriand of beef with gaufrette napoleon potato, green asparagus and sauce pays d’auge; warm morbier cheese on brioche bread with caramelised nuts and flavoured honey; white chocolate soufflé with Bailey’s ice cream; homemade petits-four and chocolate.

All in small portions, of course, and a meal so well balanced that there was never any feeling of gluttony.

One of Gilles’ renowned partners in the kitchen is Garfield Anderson, a Scottish pastry chef, affectionately known as “the pound a day man” for the sweet treats he prepares in exuberant abundance.

Madeira … for me, a mystical rocky island.

Madeira … for me, a mystical rocky island.

The complimentary “pouring wines” are good enough and varied enough for most passengers to not bother with the well selected and well priced wine list.

SeaDream I and its sister ship SeaDream II are tiny vessels in a world of cruising where some ships boast “neighbourhoods”. They both accommodate just 112 passengers in staterooms that all have ocean views through either picture windows or twin portholes, and that all boast queen beds and separate sitting area.

There are 95 crew. Service is immediate, attentive, very personal but never obtrusive. On-board attractions include a small swimming pool, golf simulator, a spa clinic, a suitably understated casino, a piano bar and the Top of the Yacht Bar, where many gather regularly for an ale of two.

It’s very easy to see why some of the guests regard the ship itself as their destination, and plenty on board have sailed with SeaDream previously and are regarded by staff as old and firm friends.

For us, though, the ports of call were equally important and appealing. Boarding in Malaga — a southern Spanish city with fascinating history, great-value cafés and bistros, and a wonderful market — was a breeze. It seemed just minutes before we were in the lounge with a welcoming glass of bubbly and having our shoulders massaged.

The late Malcom Andrews … at his favourite spot, SeaDream’s Top of the Yacht Bar. With him is media-contingent leader David Ellis.

The late Malcom Andrews … at his favourite spot, SeaDream’s Top of the Yacht Bar. With him is media-contingent leader David Ellis.

The first stop was on Morocco’s Atlantic coast — Tangiers, with its winding streets and fabled Kasbah enclave. But it was the next port of call for an overnight stop that I had really lusted over. The Portuguese island of Madeira has long held an almost mythical status for me. How could this isolated, rocky Atlantic outcrop produce such richly flavoured and seductive wine?

It didn’t disappoint, neither in its breathtaking beauty nor in the quality of some 15 wines presented to us in a pre-arranged tasting at Blandy’s Wine Lodge. Surprisingly, the oldest wine, from the 1920 vintage, is still available for purchase, though you’ll need a lot of Euros to take a bottle with you.

It’s an enchanting island, full mainly of friendly, hard-working farmers who regularly have to cart their precious soil back up the steep slopes after heavy rain.

Time for treats on SeaDream.

Time for treats on SeaDream.

Then it’s on to three of Spain’s Canary Islands — La Palma, where we took an excursion to the extinct volcano in Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente; the tiny La Gomera and its quaint town of San Sebastian; and the much larger Tenerife, where Captain Phillip’s First Fleet made their first replenishing stop after leaving England for Australia.

It’s an island unfairly maligned, I think, for being little more than a holiday and retirement retreat for English people with enough money to chase the sun, and, sure, there’s plenty of evidence for that on its southern shores.

But its capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the old Puerto de la Cruz and the old university town of San Cristobel de la Laguna are genuinely interesting destinations on just about any basis.

The epitome of luxury … a stateroom on SeaDream I.

The epitome of luxury … a stateroom on SeaDream I.

It’s also where we leave SeaDream I, which is continuing on a repositioning voyage to the Caribbean, and it is a slightly gut-wrenching separation from a vessel that has become a real home for us and many of whose staff have become first-name friends.

So now to shed some of the pounds gained and to ponder what Sam Orr would have made of the experience. Having shared a drink or two or three with him, I have a feeling that SeaDream I is something that he would have enjoyed — floating or not.

Vale Malcolm. You were a good one. Malcolm died peacefully on October 10 in Wauchope Hospital.

John Rozentals and Sandra Burn White were guests of SeaDream Yacht Club.