I WAS one of the first people to celebrate the dawn of the new Millennium and one of the few still standing seven hours later when the sun rose over the International Date Line on January 1, 2000.
I was aboard the Norwegian Star with 750 other passengers who had chosen to stand under a tropical sky atop a dark ocean on the last day of the 20th century.
As the clock ticked towards midnight on December 31, 1999 the good ship had arrived at the junction of the International Date Line and the Tropic of Capricorn, a very significant position for the flagship of the Norwegian Capricorn Line.
The countdown began and on the stroke of 12, fireworks exploded above the pool deck where we were dancing in our fancy dress gear, lighting up banners that spelled out the word ‘Millennium’.
At the ship’s stern, where the crew had gathered to celebrate, more fireworks crackled and the words ‘Welcome 2000’ lit up the sky as streamers were thrown and an explosion of confetti rained down on us.
At midnight our Greek captain, Konstantinos Fafalios, had positioned the ship so the bow was pointing east and the stern west, with the vessel straddling the International Date Line.
Those of us partying around the pool were in the new century and new Millennium and those at the bow were still experiencing 1999.
We could walk from stern to bow and turn back time.
We remained in that position for half an hour until Captain Fafalios announced that the strong winds and the southwesterly swell were making conditions far too uncomfortable for we 21st century revellers.
He switched on the engines and for the next few hours we cruised up and down the Date Line for a distance of 30 nautical miles, returning to the junction with the Tropic of Capricorn at 06.47 hours to witness the first sunrise of 2000.
How could we be sure that we were really where he said we were and not just anywhere on that deep, black ocean?
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) – that’s how – quite the fancy, new fangled feature in 1999.
Captain Fafalios insisted the ship’s GPS was 100 per cent accurate and several of the more nautically inclined passengers (including two retired Qantas pilots) had brought along their own devices to make sure we didn’t stray too far from the Date Line.
The previous day we had called at Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, which was bragging about being the “the first country in the world to enter the 21st century”.
Countries, islands and cities were claiming to be “the first” of their kind to greet the Millennium.
While Tonga was laying its claims, Chatham Island, much further south and part of New Zealand, was boasting about being the first landmass, while Gisborne in New Zealand said it was the first city and Sydney was declaring itself the first “capital city”.
But we passengers on the good ship Norwegian Star were more than happy to be among the first people anywhere in the world to enter the 21st century.
Just for the pundits Captain Fafalios declared we were positioned on the actual Date Line.
We were exactly 172 degrees and 30 minutes west, a good 500 nautical miles away from the 180-degree meridian.
Those who study atlases will know that the Date Line leaves the 180-degree meridian and ‘bumps out’ towards the east for several thousands of miles, from just about the 5-degree parallel of latitude to the 50-degree parallel where it rejoins the 180-degree meridian.
While a couple of other cruise ships had enticed passengers by claiming they would spend New Year’s Eve at the Date Line, our ship’s managing director Sarina Bratton said her competitors were only venturing as far east as the 180 meridian.
But we’ll never really know for sure. Out there in the dead of night as the clock struck 12, ours was the only ship in sight and we passengers were partying like it was (still) 1999.
The next morning, after just two hours sleep and frighteningly loud wake-up call, I raced out on deck to catch the first rays of the sun over the Date Line.
I was still wearing my fancy dress garb, a glittering silver outfit, silver wig and sash that declared I was ‘Doris Dateline’, when I bumped into a few other souls who had stayed up all night and looked the worse for wear.
There was a Red Indian chief, an Elvis impersonator (naturally) and a man dressed as Captain Cook.
Together we staggered towards the bar for the Bloody Mary heart starters that were on offer.
Postscript: Unfortunately Norwegian Capricorn Line is no longer in existence. However the Norwegian Star is now the MS Albatros and cruises for Germany-based company Phoenix Reisen. The ship was originally launched as the Royal Viking Sea in 1973, as part of the Royal Viking Line.
Published in Cruise Passenger Magazine, January 2000.