Most cruise ships restrict access to the bridge. In this post-9/11 world, you don't want just anyone traipsing up there and playing with the controls. One would think such restrictions equate a higher level of on-sight security and maybe, just maybe, a higher level of discipline and professionalism. I'm happy to relate that such is not always the case. My first visit to a ship's bridge in an official capacity revealed an entirely different scene than I had predicted. I was ordered to report to the bridge within minutes of signing on as art auctioneer aboard the Wind Surf. As usual, crew and staff are on their own to find such areas.
Luckily the search for Wind Surf’s bridge did not take long. With only three decks of public space, and one clearly labeled Bridge Deck, even as useless a crew member as an art auctioneer could find it proficiently. I approached from an outside deck, nerves growing more taut by the minute. Gathering sign-on paperwork seemed far too trivial a task to be bothering bridge officers. Small ship or not, these men were responsible for the very lives of hundreds of people. Squinting against the glare, I stepped through the wide, open doorway.
The bridge was a long, wide chamber extending the length of Wind Surf’s beam, excluding the outside walkway and bridge wings. To the fore was an entire wall of glass stretching above an entire wall of electronics. The panels were only sparsely populated with gauges and buttons, reminding me of the low-budget bridge set from the original Star Trek. The computers the ship was originally designed around used to fill all those banks, but now could probably fit into an iPhone. The back of the room was uneven with nooks for reading paper charts, if officers were so inclined, and racks of clipboards and duty rosters and maintenance schedules and such. Overall, the bridge was spacious and bright, clean and airy. There was only one man inside. He wore officer’s deck whites, which on the Surf meant a white dress shirt with epaulets over white shorts.
And he had a guitar.
The officer sat upon a stool with his feet propped onto the electronics. He hunched forward and gazed down at his acoustic guitar. Forehead creasing above Oakley sunglasses, he concentrated on placing his fingers properly upon the strings. I stepped up to introduce myself when he suddenly threw his head back and belted out song.
“SHOT THROUGH THE HEART!—AND YOU’RE TO BLAME—darlin’ you give lo-ove... a bad name!”
His guitar thrummed into the opening riff of the Bon Jovi classic. The sound filled the chamber beautifully. I stood there, immobile and listening, astounded the song continued beyond the opening. After several long minutes a slight, handsome man in a stained boiler suit entered from the opposite entrance. He stepped up behind the singer, gave me a smile, and listened along for a moment. Finally he tapped the officer on the shoulder.
The bridge officer, whose name tag read ‘BARNEY’, ceased playing immediately. Barney did not rise, however, but merely craned his head back to look upside-down at his visitor. “We’re done painting the rails,” the newcomer said. “I’ll be in the engine room.”
“Aye aye,” said Barney, even as the other man departed. Then, surprising me even more, Barney informed me, "That was the chief officer."
No, Wind Surf was not like most ships! Good thing she was in port at the time.
Bestselling author of the Cruise Confidential series.