In Joy Still Felt —Eclipse Cruise

Isaac Asimov

[In Joy Still Felt]
…On June 21, I visited her [Janet] in an ordinary hospital room. She was no longer comatose (though still without much memory), and I was so relieved I could scarcely endure my happiness.

Paul Esserman said to me, "You'll be going on the cruise, then?"

"Not on your life,"I said. "I'm not leaving her in the hospital."

Paul said, in his soft way, "I'm afraid you'll have to, Isaac. Doctor's orders."

"But I can't."

"It's all she talks about —how she spoiled the cruise for you and now you won't see a total eclipse. We've got to keep her calm and relaxed and we can only do that if you go on the cruise."

So I called Phil Sigler and said I would go after all, and he sounded as though I had restored him to life. I told him that the condition was that arrangements be made to have me call Janet at the hospital from the ship every day. He promised (and kept that promise).


On June 22, 1973, I got on the ship. Marcy Sigler, Phil's vivacious and good-looking wife, came to the apartment house to make sure I was coming and personally saw me on board.

The ship was the Canberra which was much larger than the Statendam. Among the notables on board were two of the astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Scott Carpenter. With Scott was his clever young wife, Maria. Also present were Walter Sullivan, Frank Branley of the Hayden Planetarium, and George Hamilton of the Fels Planetarium in Philadelphia.

Unlike the Statendam cruise, this one was filled to capacity. There were twenty-five hundred passengers aboard, all involved with the eclipse, and I think the only empty bed on the ship was one of the two in my room, the one that Janet was to have occupied.

There were seven at our table: the Carpenters, the Sullivans, the Branleys, and myself. Janet was to have made the eighth, but her chair remained empty throughout the trip.

It was a hectic table, for I had to keep my mind off Janet, and I did it by a constant running fire of conversation, jokes, and double-entendres. The others naturally rose to the occasion, particularly Maria Carpenter, so that the table was by far the noisiest in the place.

For that matter, I kept the whole cruise in a continual state of excitement, for I was in an overflowing state of effervescence.

I gave four talks on the history of astronomy —all of them off the cuff, but using my book The Universe as raw material. I gave each of them twice, since otherwise there was no possibility of reaching the entire audience.

I was also part of a seminar at one point, and during the course of it, I said, "At the table where I'm sitting—and as luck would have it, I was placed at the nosiest table on the ship…"

Walter Sullivan, who was also part of the seminar, stared at me in horror as I said that, and cried out, indignantly, "But Isaac, you're the one who makes it noisy."

"Ah," I said, "that explains it. I wondered why I was always at the noisiest table wherever I go."

At another point during that seminar someone in the audience asked me if I had read an article on tachyons in Saturday Review, and with great satisfaction I was able to reply, "Read it, sir? I wrote it."

Neil Armstrong was at the next table, and he had the most charming ten-year-old son, intelligent, lively, freckle-faced.…

One time at dinner, the young Armstrong boy came over and said, "Listen! What word has the letter combination XYZXYZX?"

We had been playing word games, but this one stopped us cold. For some ten minutes, an absolute silence hung over the table as all seven of us tried to think of a seven-letter word with that pattern of letters. I thought of "Sensens," the trade name of a preparation sold to mask bad breath in my youth, rather like "Tic-Tac" today. That was a proper noun, however.

Finally, I decided to go through the alphabet and see if I could think of the word by a systematic search through my mind. I began with A and instantly the word popped into my head.

And just as instantly, I threw up my hands and shrieked, "ALFALFA!!!" The scream resounded through the large dining room and the whole enormous room fell silent. (The Armstrong youngster said he was thinking of entente, but I told him that was French and "alfalfa" was much better)


…I put my time to good use by writing a fifteenth Black Widowers story, "The Iron Gem," onboard ship. I eventually sold it to EQMM, and it appeared in the July 1974 issue under the title "A Chip of the Black Stone."


On June 28, we docked at the Canary Islands, and I got off the ship and walked around a bit. I didn't take any tours largely because I have a besetting fear of somehow not getting back to the ship on time and having it leave without me. In fact, when we stopped off Dakar on July 1, I didn't get off the ship at all. I could, however, see the coast from shipboard, and it was a strange feeling to know that I was gazing at Africa. …


On June 30, it was eclipse time. A sandstorm over the Sahara produced a windblown sand haze in the sky and there were clouds besides. The Canberra, however, managed to find a place where there was a hole in the cloud cover, and all over the decks of the ship, tripods and telescopes and cameras had sprung up overnight like a growth of weeds. I was one of the few without equipment of any kind.

The sight of the total eclipse was wonderful, There were two things that were unexpected. The eclipsed Sun, with its corona spectacularly visible, looked smaller than I expected, and at total eclipse, it did not seem to be night but, rather, twilight.

I was excited enough to be shouting wildly at the moment of eclipse. There were people there with tape recorders, and I was allowed, afterward, to listen to the deathless prose that issued from my lips.

One exclamation was, "Yes, that's it. That's it. That's the way it's supposed to look," as though I were congratulating the cosmic director who was running the show.

The other, when the brighter stars began to be visible was, "That proves it. The stars do shine in the daytime. "

To me, the most exciting split second was the reappearance of the Sun. For five minutes of totality we waited and then at the western edge of the Sun there was a flash of light. The "diamond ring" effect lasted for a bare moment. The blaze broadened, and in two seconds one could not look at the Sun anymore.

The whole thing was a spectacular success. Now, if anyone ever asked me to write a description of a total eclipse, as Look had asked me to do, four years before, I would be an experienced person in the field.


[Isaac Asimov aboard the Canberra] Yet there was something that was, for me, an even more exciting moment.

There were musicians onboard ship who were arranging an amateur musical show in honor of the Fourth, and I went up to watch rehearsals. At one point, I couldn't help but sing along in a very low voice. It wasn't low enough.

Someone came up and said in surprise, "Do you sing baritone?"

"Of course," I said. (The surprise was natural. My speaking voice tends to be tenor.)

"Sing this, then," he said, and thrust a piece of sheet music into my hands. Apparently he thought I could read music.

I put it away and said, "Tell me the words and play the music."

He played it on the piano and sang it after a fashion. Then he said, "Now you."

I sang it while he held his breath to see if I could make the high note —which I reached effortlessly—and thereafter I was part of the rehearsals—and was full of stage fright.

On July 4, we put on our show, and finally I sang "Dear one, the world is waiting for the sunrise…" to thunderous applause and considerable surprise. Many people thought I was mouthing the words while it was being sung on a record player.

On July 7, there was another show, and I not only sang "Dear one," but also "Old Man River" as an encore. Then when they wanted still more, I rebelled, and said I did not want to sing baritone anymore, but would sing tenor. I sang "Venezuela" (which I had heard in Chester's Zunbarg, twenty-five years before) at the top of my range.

That was really a triumph, I sang both baritone and tenor to the same audience on the same evening and did it well each time. It's a good thing I'm a compulsive writer. Otherwise, wild horses wouldn't have kept me out of show business.


We docked in New York at 9:30A.M. on Sunday, July 8, 1973. The Siglers arranged to have customs go through my baggage onboard ship, but when I tried to get off I was stopped. No one would be allowed to disembark, I was told, till all the baggage was removed, and that would take hours. I tried to explain that I was carrying my own baggage and that it had already been checked by customs and that I had a piece of paper to prove it.…I got my baggage and marched off the ship…presented my paper to the customs people, and got a taxi.


As a result of the cruise I wrote two F & SF articles, my 183rd and 184th, entitled "The Eclipse and I" and "The Dance of the Luminaries."

Web site: — Canberra's Voyage to Darkness — African Eclipse Cruise

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