Captains, Cochin and Crops

Oliviera Fernandes private home in Goa.

By Carla Sue Broecker

We have been aboard the Seven Seas Voyager since before the beginning of the year. Last week, I briefly mentioned the ship’s delightful captain, Felice Patruno, who left for a vacation back in Southern Italy. We hated to see him leave the ship.

His family has vineyards in the Puglia region of the country. At the age of 16, he saw a billboard of a sailor dressed in his formal white uniform looking through binoculars toward the horizon. The caption read, “Come to sea, and you will visit the world.” His family disagreed but he persisted, and at age 16 he went to the Nautical Academy.

57’ tall rock statue of Lord Gomateshwara in Mangalore, India.

His first opportunity to set sail came about when he was offered a job as a deckhand on a small cargo vessel.

His duties included swabbing the decks, washing the pots and pans in the galley and cleaning the captain’s quarters. His first night at sea was a “baptism by fire” in the notoriously stormy Gulf of Lion in the Mediterranean Sea. After a severe bout of seasickness, Felice found his “sea legs” and never looked back.

After a stint at Carnival where he learned the passenger cruise industry, he oversaw the construction for the Costa Atlantica, the Carnival Spirit and the Carnival Pride in Helsinki. With a desire to transition to the luxury cruise market, Capt. Patruno joined Regent Seven Seas in 2009. The rest is history.

Capt. Daniel Green, whom we have known for a long time, was the ship’s master when we boarded in December. When he went on vacation, Capt. Patruno came aboard. Now, Capt. Green is back and was heartily welcomed when he came aboard. He is from Sweden and went to sea like Capt. Patruno at the tender age of 16 on cargo ships as an O/S (ordinary seaman). He moved up to the rank of able bodied seaman working on ferries between Sweden and Finland. He attended the Maritime Academy in Kalmar. After years of working on ships as a third and second officer, he finally graduated. From there, with a captain’s degree and watch-keeping license under his belt, it was time to see the world.

His first cruise ship was the Radisson Diamond, a catamaran we loved when we took it through the Panama Canal to Costa Rica and again in the Baltic. Since then, he has mastered all the ships in the Regent fleet but the new Explorer. He has a beautiful wife and young son, both of whom were on board with us in January.

Now, back to sailing. When we left Phuket, our last stop in Thailand, we had two days at sea. The first was the Andaman Sea and the second was the Bay of Bengal, not that you could tell one from the other.

Our next stop was to be Galle in Sri Lanka. However, weather gave us a sea that was too rough to be able to anchor and tender ashore. Capt. Green made the wise call that it was too dangerous to transfer guests to the ship’s tenders safely. So, we moved on to Colombo, Sri Lanka and got there early. It is a place we have visited several times and like very much.

One of the highlights of Colombo is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It was first established in 1975 with seven orphan elephants. Today, some of the original orphans have grandchildren born in the same location where there are now more than 80 elephants.

Working as a conservation and educational center rather than as a strictly tourist attraction, the orphanage has a captive breeding program and believes that the free movement of the herd provides a healthier environment. There is a nearby river and we got to see a lot of the herd bathing and playing in the water.

When we said goodbye to Sri Lanka, we began an extended visit to India starting with Cochin a.k.a. Kochi. Our literature said the name came from the Chinese, who have a heavy presence there. Evidence of the Chinese influence came from the fact that Cochin is the only place outside of China where the peculiar Chinese fishing nets are found. We got to see them in action on our shore excursion, which began at St. Francis Church.

Fish caught in Chinese fishing nets for sale in Cochin Market.

The church was built in 1503 and is believed to be the oldest European church in India. Its simple, plain white interior is striking and peaceful.

Next, we took a long walk along the shore to see the fishing nets. We had seen them on our sail into Cochin, but this was an opportunity to get up close and really understand how they work. The nets function as enormous scoops located on the beach, which are on a lever system that lowers them to the bottom of the water. Then, when the fishermen know that the tides are bringing in the fish, they are raised and catch many different kinds of fish at one time.

The fish are then sorted right there on the shore, and an informal fish market goes into business for willing customers. No fish could be any fresher.

Our coach then took us to visit the Mattancherry Palace, built by the Portuguese in 1555 and later renovated by the Dutch. Many of its walls are covered by beautiful but faded murals. The word “palace” may be an overstatement in our parlance, but it was interesting. From there, we walked to Jew Street (that is really the name) to do some souvenir shopping and have a photo stop visit to the Paradesi Synagogue, which was closed.

Back at the ship, it was great to recover from the high heat and humidity with a gin and tonic and a sail-away.

Bright and early the next morning, we sailed into Mangalore, India. It is a busy, slightly chaotic town but charming. The shore excursion choice of the day took us to Karkala town, which is over an hour away. The purpose was to start off the day with a visit to the Monolith Rock Statue of Lord Gomateshwara. This trip definitely tested our endurance. The 57-foot-tall statue is located on a hill and to really see it, you need to climb up 212 uneven steps. The view of the statue and the breathtaking scenery surrounding the hill was worth it. And the climb down all 212 uneven steps wasn’t so bad if you held on to the rickety railing.

Back on the coach, we headed off to Soans Farm, and what a charming delight that turned out to be. Our host at the farm was none other than Dr. L. C. Soans and various members of his family. Dr. Soans is Indian but is from Montana of all places.

The farm was initially started in 1926 by Swiss and German missionaries to develop the hilly area into a place for useful cultivation. Now that it is owned and managed by Dr. Soans and his family, it has developed into a large center of innovative horticulture, growing over 30 different fruit crops.

St. Francis Church built in 1503 in Cochin, India.

Upon arrival, we were treated to a generous glass of the best pineapple juice I’ve ever had. Dr. Soans proudly announced to anyone listening that there were “no preservatives, sugar, artificial sweeteners or colors. Just pineapple juice.” It was icy cold and we loved it. Other crops grown include coconuts, cashew nuts, mangoes, breadfruit, jackfruit, pepper, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.

Our visit to the farm included a walk through part of the cultivated area and interesting explanations of the peculiar growing habits of each crop.

The day ended with a drive to the Moodbidri community and a visit to the Thousand Pillared Temple. It was really an interesting and lovely place. However, I am not sure there are really a thousand pillars because I lost count, so I took their word for it

The next day, we docked at Goa in India. We drove for 90 minutes to visit a basilica and a cathedral. Then, we visited a gigantic flower and fruit market. Finally, we went to a private home to meet the family and have refreshments.

We’re off to Bombay and Mumbai next week. VT