Down to the Sea in Ships

Beware the restless sea!

Beware the restless sea!

I’m currently reading two classic accounts of deprivation at sea. The first written by Nova Scotian native Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail around the world alone in the late 1800’s. The second is by Webb Chiles who also took to the ocean at a very tender age to discover the true meaning of hardship.

Both of these men endured unimaginable suffering. There was the heat, then the cold. They were injured but then healed. Every thing they counted on to work eventually broke..and always at the worst possible time. There were many moments when both of them figured that they were probably going to die out there, all alone, under the crushing curl of some random wave. This was truly a test of endurance. Both these souls were pushed to their limits..and beyond. They not only survived but damned if, eventually, they didn’t go right back out there for more.

Now, compare that to what the passengers aboard the powerless cruise ship just went through. In essence, their toilets backed up. Well, I’m simplifying for effect here. Okay, they lost some sleep, were forced to look at raw sewage and missed several dozen hot buffets.

The media, of course, treated this like it was a cataclysmic sinking with all hands lost. This is what we do now. Every story is treated like a BIG story. There are no small stories once you devote your network to blanket coverage. Everyone wants drama. Drama, drama, drama. CNN kept going to their chief medical correspondent hoping he might say that something like the plague was about to break out. To his credit, he downplayed the medical risk. But they kept going back to him almost hoping he’d be more provocative.

People were interviewed when they finally disembarked from this ship as if they had been well and truly tortured. I’ve been on camping excursions that, I’m pretty sure, generated more discomfort.  I once survived for five straight days on nothing but processed cheese spread because torrential downpours meant there was no dry firewood for a camp fire. Mosquitoes made sleep impossible. I don’t know how I made it. Where’s my compensation? Do you know a good lawyer?

The cruise ship passengers did suffer some anxiety after a fire broke out aboard ship. Eventually they were forced to poop in a bag. Not the same bag, for that would have been truly inhuman. There was one woman who required immediate medical care and she was airlifted away. Fair enough. But the others were stuck there and had to tough it out. If you have to recruit people to tough something out don’t make your selection from the cruise ship crowd.

We really are creatures of comfort. Some of us. We forget that much of the world is caught up, day in and day out, in a very real kind of living Hell. There is war and famine and misery beyond comprehension. Some people lose everything they have and everything they may ever have. How they cling to hope is beyond me.  Being towed back to port in a disabled cruise ship does not qualify as a tragedy….or even a terrible tragedy, which is an expression I hear constantly. (All tragic events are terrible. That’s what makes them tragedies.)

I have no doubt that floating around on the SS Fecal Palace was no picnic. There are people who will be traumatized by this and never set foot on a cruise ship again. Others are going right back out there as soon as they can cash the coupons given to them, with apologies, by the cruise line.

But let’s have some context. If we’re ever on a somewhat-less-than ideal cruise together, I hope that you’ll be able to keep your head. I don’t want you running screaming down the corridors in your pj’s.

Just give me one of those energy bars… and pass the poop bag.


10 Responses to “Down to the Sea in Ships”

  1. Ain’t it the truth Dave! I love the J. Slocum voyage where he gets shipwrecked… so he builds another boat and sails away again. That is, as they say, hard core.



  2. hi Dave,

    The only poop bag I carry these days is for my dogs and I’m pretty good at the task if I do say so myself. Don’t worry, you will NEVER see me on a cruise ship. I have crossed the Atlantic four times, 4 weeks in total and I have no desire to board a ship ever again in my lifetime. I was seasick every single day.

    While watching the news coverage about the Fecal Palace as you so aptly named it, I did feel sorry for the passengers but come on……….they weren’t in a life and
    death situation by any means. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but the networks did try and turn it into a tragedy.

    I’ve slept in a tent, on the ground, in Algonquin park when the mercury dropped to 3 degrees one night. That’s Farenheit, not Celsius. We didn’t have any running water in the park for 5 days due to the severe storm that had hit the day before we arrived. Good memories. Would not want to do it again though.

    I read a book about being on the ocean. It was written by Charles Tyng, titled Before The Wind. I can’t remember what it was about but I remember lots of detail about the boat and boat related stuff. Not a chick book at all.

    Yes, we do live in a privileged world. I lived in Indonesia for a year and saw things that made my stomach turn. Maybe too much comfort isn’t a good thing. Maybe we’re just too soft and too whiney for our own good. Maybe I’m just getting old.

    take care,

    • sorry, it was Celsius, not Farenheit. It was still really cold!

    • If you ever want to read a really scary book about single-handed ocean sailing take a look at,’The Godforsaken Sea’. It follows the Vendee-Globe solo race, which is held every four years. Those sailors go from France, south to the Cape of Good Hope and then circumnavigate Antarctica before coming back via Cape Horn in the world’s most dangerous ocean. Apparently the danger is addictive. Not for me.

  3. Dan Cholodylo Says:

    well said as always Dave.

  4. Well put, Dave. The cruise ship misadventure is not a tragedy. Look at that through the lens of Mali or Syria or people devastated from hurricane Sandy. Thanks again for your insight.

  5. Mike Orlando Says:

    I definitely got a kick out of reading this one, Dave. It reminds me of the following conversation had by a Mr. George Costanza and a Mr. Clarence Eldridge…

    “Ahoy, Mr. Eldridge. I understand you were on the Andrea Doria.”
    “Yes, it was a terrifying ordeal.”
    “I tell ya, I hear people really stuff themselves on those cruise ships. The buffet, that’s the real ordeal, huh, Clarence?”
    “We had to abandon ship.”
    “Well, all vacations have to end eventually.”
    “The boat sank.”
    “According to this, it took ten hours. It eased into the water like an old man into a nice warm bath, no offense.”

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