AS I write these notes, Nautica is edging its way a mile or so off the hilly South African coast between Durban and Port Elizabeth.
The sea is officially described as ‘very rough’, and the swell soars along at more than 20 feet.
The constant pitching and periodic sudden shudders have been enough to subdue most passengers. But at seven o’clock in the morning, with the sun still quite low, the scene is one of spectacular beauty.
We motor along under an almost cloudless sky, close enough to shore to observe the continuous string of towns and villages in a landscape that is green and treeless. Regular bursts of spray arc away from the ship’s bow, each shower offering a transient rainbow.
Makes it bloody hard to type, though; fingers bouncing off keys.
Coming into Durban's narrow channel two days ago, in seas almost as hostile as those this morning, the pilot was helicoptered to the ship and rappelled to the upper deck in a remarkable act of flying and seamanship.
Durban, one of Africa’s busiest seaports and the capital of Natal state, is a hollowed out city. Whites and wealthy Africans live in verdant suburbs on the periphere of the main town and they shop in malls as glistening as any you will find in Dubai or Sydney.
However, in the old commercial centre near the port where I walked for a couple of hours yesterday, an infusion of steroids returning some capability to my back, once resplendent buildings – public offices, hotels, museums, department stores – are in an advanced state of decrepitude comparable to my own.
Many of these buildings, like the town centre itself, have been hollowed out, their former fine trappings gone.
That said, the footpaths teem with noise and colour - small street stalls, girls wanting to braid your hair, sellers of lottery tickets, touts for the honking mini-buses and thousands of people who seem happy enough with the Africanisation of this part of town.
This impression may be superficial, though. It wasn’t so happy in April, when the city centre was locked down as police battled to contain a mob attacking foreign-owned businesses in the street where we walked yesterday.
Ethiopian shopkeepers said they were terrified and begged for help as their shops were stoned, death threats made and tyres set alight.
Dennis Bloem of the People’s Party said that “if looting and xenophobic violence are not nipped in the bud all of South Africa will suffer.
"Violence and looting are becoming deeply embedded amongst many people who feel economically excluded,” he said. “Today‚ it is the foreign-owned shops. Tomorrow it will be shops and businesses owned by fellow South Africans.
“Our institutions of state and all private sector role players must act collectively and urgently to deal with the problems manifesting themselves in our townships."
Expectations that were so high when Nelson Mandela led his country to freedom have been dashed by the twin realities of governance failures and corruption.
Now where have I heard this story before?
Meanwhile, outside the cabin window, the sea in beginning to subside, the hills are still green and the sky clear and blue. A string quartet plays Bach on the ship’s PA. The ache in my back has eased. In my floating bubble, all is content.