Unforeseen Vacation Extras
“Thank you for coming promptly to your muster station. This is an important safety drill
required by Maritime Law for all passengers. First, I will demonstrate the use of a life jacket…” Our cruise director pointed out how to don the life jacket prior to getting into a life-boat “in the unlikely event that this would become necessary. There is even a light on the jacket that you can turn on, so rescuers can see you at night.”
This image of life-jacketed people bobbing in the ocean was not how I wanted to begin our cruise from New York City to Halifax, Nova Scotia including several ports along the way. In Newport, Rhode Island, our first stop, my husband and I strolled next to the sea on a cliff walk that lead to The Breakers, a mansion of Vanderbilt fame. In Boston we explored Quincy Market with stalls of every kind of lobster imaginable: in the shell to crack and dip in butter, lobster pie, and lobster stew, a creamy confection for which people stood in long lines. During an evening harbor-cruise we delighted in seeing “Old Ironsides” and learning more about Boston’s history, and how Boston was built on filled land. We were amazed at a skyline, no longer recognizable, with new high-rise buildings constructed since we lived there in 1964. With great nostalgia we talked of our memories of Fenway Park, The Freedom Trail where we walked to work daily, and meeting for lunch in Boston Commons.
Acadia Park and Cadillac Mountain in Maine were our next tours from the ship. Beautiful scenery on a cold, grey fall day reminded us of why we live in Colorado: sun almost every day, mild fall weather, and stunning mountain panoramas.
As we sat comfortably for dinner in the dining room, the ship’s captain began talking over the PA system: “I am sorry to inform you that we will not be able to visit Saint John in New Brunswick tomorrow as planned. A tropical storm system is just offshore, and our ship would not be able to withstand the winds and high waves associated with that system. Instead we will head out to sea and plan for our arrival in Halifax the next day as scheduled. No worries, you will have another great sea day, even though I know you will be disappointed to miss the port of Saint John. We are in touch with our weather people, and the directors of all our ships. This decision is best for the safety of passengers and crew.” And finally, the captain warned us that we might feel a little “bumpiness” at night.
Safety! Oh no! Immediately I remembered the muster drill. Was it two or three blasts of the siren indicating all passengers should report to muster stations? How did they know how far out to sea to go to be safe? What about tsunamis, rogue waves, rip tides, side-effect tornadoes? Weather reports can change. Would there be other diverted ships at sea that we might crash into? Why did I watch the Titanic movie?
What should we do when the bumpiness happened? Would that be when the ship was falling over or going down? Run for our life jackets? Jump overboard, feet down, pinching our nose closed as was demonstrated as a “last resort” during the safety drill? I needed more information. How many cruises had the captain taken? Maybe this was his first cruise. Maybe he fell asleep during tropical storm training in a classroom and was totally clueless.
That evening a comedian entertained us. And, of course, his jokes began with sinking ships and storms at sea. Everyone hooted with laughter, except me. Later, in bed, I lay awake worrying that I wouldn’t hear the two (or three?) siren blasts if they sounded because I would be asleep. Finally, after falling into a fitful sleep, suddenly the captain was talking over the PA system. Dawn displayed faint light in our stateroom.
“I am sorry to awaken you so early. We have a very sick patient who needs to be airlifted to the hospital in Halifax. From your stateroom you will see the helicopter arrive. We will be winching the patient up to the helicopter in a basket. If you are in a stateroom on one of the top six floors, please evacuate your stateroom immediately in case the helicopter crashes, a very unlikely occurrence, but the wind is high and visibility poor.”
I thought I was having a nightmare! First, I agonized about our ship sinking in a tropical storm, and then a helicopter crash that would set the ship on fire. Does a burning ship sink? I thought it would. So, which would it be, death by drowning or fire? Despite all my fears, Still, I had enough of my wits about me, to grab my phone to take photos of the helicopter from our stateroom, the best view being when it was leaving the ship!
A week later after our foray into Halifax, back to NYC, and on to Colorado, we unpacked the cold weather clothes, and repacked for warm weather we anticipated in Hilton Head, South Carolina. After a few relaxing days of warm breezes, time on the beach, and at the pool, we noticed on TV that Michael, a category two hurricane was headed in our direction. As it approached the panhandle of Florida this monstrous storm grew to nearly category five. We were glued to the weather station and local news, and we felt deep concern for the people of Florida.
But after landfall, Michael was headed for us. Well, not exactly for us, Rich kept pointing out. We were on the fringes of that dark red band where drastic things would happen. We would be safe, he proclaimed. Our building, though on the beachfront, was made of two to three-foot thick cement designed to withstand a category four hurricane. But what would happen to our floor-to-ceiling windows that faced the beach? Would the very thick black-out draperies stop broken glass from blowing in on us if it came to that? We were on the fifth floor (top) so storm surge most likely wouldn’t reach us. But would the roof blow off, leaving us exposed to the elements and anything being carried in the wind? Guest-Services informed us that they would notify us if we needed to evacuate on the governor’s orders. We would be assigned to a shelter and needed to be prepared to go at a moment’s notice with our medications, water, and bedding. Was I having a bad dream?
Michael approached in the evening. Guest services called saying that we should fill our bathtub with water, be prepared for a night without power and water, and take our deck furniture into our living room. Fill the bathtub with water? For what? I called a friend who lives nearby and asked how a water-filled bathtub would help during a hurricane. Filling the toilet tank to be able to flush she said. Good idea!
I found my two small travel flashlights and went back to the TV. Side effect tornadoes had been spotted nearby. Our screeching cell-phone alarms sounded, and a message followed that told us a spin-off tornado was in the area, that we should get into our bathtub and pull a mattress over us. Wait! The bathtub was filled with water! Two old people couldn’t move a king-size mattress! We sat breathlessly in front of the TV estimating that the tornado was near us, but not touching down. Better to know how far away, we thought, and then, when it was upon us, make a beeline for the interior bathroom without windows. Our cell phone alarms blared again followed by, “Take cover immediately! A tornado is near you!” But the TV showed the tornado still not at our precise location. We continued to watch the weather map.
Finally, the tornado broke up, and we dozed restlessly through a night of high wind howling in the trees outside. Morning arrived with a sun oblivious to the destruction and distraction Michael caused, a sea brown with stirred up sand and silt, and the ground covered with twigs and leaves shaken off in the wind. We never lost power or water and the tornado near us never mounted an assault. We were lucky. Whew! As we emptied our bathtub we thought about how these two vacations had unforeseen extras that in minutes could change lives forever.