Friday, April 19, 2013

The Sea as a Playground

So, you took a cruise.  Knowing the good record of the major cruise lines, chances are that nothing happened save that you wore yourself out on the dance floor and put on three pounds at the buffet.  You enjoyed picturesque vistas of lovely islands and sunsets and lost some but not all of your money in the casino.  You took a thousand digital photos for your loved ones to admire and in general had a terrific time.

Alternatively, your cruise ship had a major engine room fire that caused a general loss of electricity, food and sewage service throughout the vessel, which then drifted dead in the water off the coast of Mexico for several days.  No lights.  No AC.  No toilets.

Or your vessel struck the rocks off a tiny Italian island and rolled onto her beam-ends, drowning dozens of your fellow passengers and leaving you to swim ashore while--apparently--your Captain took more comfortable passage.  Hey, at least she capsized onto the rocks--a few hundred yards further out and she'd have rolled completely over, killing thousands. Including you.

Or a fitting carried away below decks and the entire South Atlantic tried to come in.  By the time you realized that anything was wrong the ship had taken a severe list--and the crew had abandoned ship, leaving one of the entertainment staff to send a distress call and arrange your rescue before the ship herself succumbed. 

Perhaps your great-grandparents also enjoyed a pleasant, tranquil transatlantic voyage.  Or perhaps they didn't... 

Okay, so you signed up for the adventure of a lifetime.  Just remember that not all adventures are pleasant, and that the sea can be a cruel and unforgiving playground.  Those of us who regularly work on great waters know this all too well; a sea voyage can be uncomfortable, unpleasant, and even dangerous, and a ship--no matter how elegant and solid she may seem--is simply a steel shell filled with machinery that can break down, flammable materials ready and willing to combust, stores of food and water that may or may not be of the highest quality, and--lest we forget--many, many representatives of that frail, fickle, and unpredictable herd called humanity.  Many of them in the crew.

There is no such thing as "safety".  It is a myth, a fiction, a phantom that we seek but can never achieve.  We can expend enormous energies in an attempt to make a vessel, an automobile, an airliner more safe, we can in fact go a great distance toward achieving that goal--but we will never, ever fulfill the dream.  People make mistakes.  Ships founder.  Shit happens.

So book your cruise, make sure your passport is up to date, and pack your bags.  Plan on having  a great time aboard that floating hotel.  But make sure you pay attention to the safety briefings, watch carefully as that crewman demonstrates how to fasten your life-jacket, and learn the emergency exits from your assigned deck and common areas.  Do this first; the casino, dining room or cabaret will wait a few minutes.

And if the worst should happen--as has happened before and is statistically certain to happen again--keep calm, make your way to your emergency station, and follow instructions.  Take care of your loved ones and yourself, and do your best to survive while the sea does her best to kill you.

You can always call your lawyer and get interviewed by CNN later.

Caveat Emptor

P.S.  Trust an Old Sailor: NEVER put on a life-jacket inside the "skin" of the ship.  Wait until you get out on deck.  Too many people have been trapped inside a sinking vessel when she rolled over, the deck became the overhead, and their life-jacket buoyantly pinned them to it.

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