This was the smoothest trip to Holyhead ever, I thought.
I thought too soon.
The problems started the second we boarded the boat. Both girls were overwhelmed by the noise. Heidi was bawling her eyes out, as chains clanged, dogs howled and the engine roared; the port staff yelled their instructions over our heads. Ava looked at me, eyes wide as saucers...
"Carry me, Mama." Balancing a scared almost two-year-old on one arm, and everything I thought we'd need for the journey on the other, we locked up the car and headed up to the deck. Quiet music, a light and airy deck, and the din of voices welcomed us. I breathed a sigh of relief.
We quickly found a table and set ourselves up. The wide ocean stretched out before us. Boats are my favourite form of travel. Ava can roam and we can enjoy the scenery. I sat down and fed Heidi her dinner as the ominous words were spoken over the loudspeaker...
"We're going to hit some pretty rough weather for the first 25 minutes or so... Then things will calm down and be significantly different."
That word 'significantly' should have set the alarm bells off in my head,
I have never experienced a crossing like it.
Within 10 minutes, my Norwegian Sea-faring husband who is NEVER sea-sick was totally incapacitated. The ship rocked, throwing us from one side to the other. Moving was near impossible. I strapped Heidi back into her car seat and wedged her between the seat back and the table and lifted Ava onto my lap. Those walking around danced the same steps...
Step, step, step, grab - and then in the opposite direction... Step, step, step, grab.
A man and his daughter were flung across the table, missing Dave's head, laid down on the table, by inches. Looking up, I saw a sea of grey faces as the crew were thrown around us with rubbish bag in one hand, sick bags in the other.
"mama, I need the toilet..."
Our one-year-old, freshly toilet trained daughter was asking me to take her to the toilet; the opposite corner of the deck.
I took a deep breath, grabbed Ava's hand and set Dave's hand on Heidi's car seat. He couldn't even look up...
"Just hold her tight," I said.
Ava and I danced the same familiar dance across the deck...
Step, step, step, grab.
Step, step, step, grab.
We made it to the toilets and I quickly ushered Ava into a cubicle. I couldn't avoid her hearing the sounds of the women retching around us, but I could protect her from the sight! She sat on the toilet, clinging onto a metal bar on the wall for dear life, while I was forced to sit on the cubicle floor. I couldn't even get enough balance to stand anymore.
When she was finished, we headed out. I lodged her and myself in the toilet door as the ship lurched forwards. An almighty crash and smashing. Ava looked up at me, "Mama?"
I knew we had about 3 seconds to get back to the main cabin before the boat lurched back in the other direction. I picked her up and ran through the door, throwing myself down against the wall in the cabin just in time for the boat to lurch in the opposite direction. I could see the fear starting to build on Ava's face and I knew I had to keep it lighthearted, but there was no way we were going to get back to Dave and Heidi.
We sat and waited a few minutes. The sound of vomiting all around us, bodies slumped across tables and grey, grey, grey faces. The view outside switched every three seconds... One second we were staring into a grey sky, and the next, the deep blue ocean beneath us. I thought of Heidi, strapped in her car seat and I knew if she was distressed, dave was in no position to help her.
"OK, Ava... We've got to get back to Papa and Heidi..."
I knew there was only one way we could get safely there, and I asked myself whether I was prepared to look ridiculous. I consoled myself with the fact that I was with a one-year-old... perhaps we could get away with it!
"... we're going to crawl."
Ava, of course, thought this was the best thing ever!
We crawled between rows of chairs and tables... The few people on the boat who were still with it clapped and cheered us on until we finally made it. I stood and ran the last three metres, Ava in arms, and we threw ourselves back into our seats. I grabbed Heidi and pulled them both in. The boat was crashing violently by this stage. Ava was scared and Heidi was crying...
"Let's sing!" I said... anything to distract them!
We sang and sang; their tense little bodies gradually relaxing and their frowns fading and gradually, gradually, we noticed that the rolls weren't as violent, the waves further apart. Dave looked up... He had been head down for around 45 minutes...
"Is it over?" he asked.
We relaxed into the final 45 minutes of the journey, chatting to a family behind us and watching the sport on the TV. As we sailed, I reflected on the journey and thought of those Titanic mothers 100 years ago... clearly our situation was NOTHING compared to theirs, but I wondered how they had coped... Had they also gone into auto-pilot, not having the time to process what was going on, or to get scared themselves because they knew, knew they needed to appear calm and collected for their children? I can't imagine how horrific it must have been. However rough the sea, I knew we were never in any real danger... They didn't have that assurance.
We made it to Dublin in one piece and drove the rest of the journey - slightly less eventful I'm pleased to report!
I think it's fair to say I'll not be forgetting that journey in a hurry!