Survival training is an amusing label for watching a few videos on watertight doors and garbage separation, followed by quizzes on how many kilojoules of energy each survivor on a life raft was allocated per day. Still, the films are far from boring. These are shockers reminiscent of what I saw on graduation day at my high school driving class. ‘Blood Flows Red on the Highway’ becomes ‘Blood Flows Red on the High Seas.’ There were simulations of sinking ships and drowning people more intense than even James Cameron’s Titanic. Even better, fires burned the unwary, crowds trampled the weak, and pirates attacked everybody. My personal favorite was the watertight door slicing a cow’s leg in two.
After the gore fest we were led up to the open deck on the bow of Majesty of the Seas, which was brutally exposed to the tropical heat of May in Key West. A bright orange life raft waited upon the humming deck. Steps led up to a platform before its opening. Atop it waited a Dutch officer.
“Working at sea and serving our guests is a wonderful privilege, and it is earned by keeping their safety first and foremost on our minds. Here, you are not a cabin steward or a waiter or a singer or a cook: you are crew who safeguard the lives of our guests. That means lowering lifeboats and directing panicked people, it means man overboard training. It may even mean fighting pirates.”
Aha! Mild-mannered art dealer by day, pirate-smashing crime fighter by night. I always wanted to be a superhero. I’m cool with tights.
“Each of you will be certified as ‘personnel nominated to assist passengers in emergency situations’ according to the training objectives of the International Maritime Organization, Resolution A770. This includes basic first aid, survival craft basics, fire fighting skills, and human relationships training. Now, everyone into the raft!”
Excepting only me and one Jamaican lady, the crew was entirely Asian. More and more bodies disappeared into the raft, like the old clowns-fitting-in-the-funny car gag. The officer kept me outside, however. This allowed me to review the life raft. It was a shockingly large thing, considering how it compressed so snugly into keg-sized canisters. The base was two thick black rubber tubes bent into octagonal shape, the top a highly visible orange tent.
Grunts and complaints and waves of heat rose from inside. The officer glanced down emotionlessly at the squirming mass of flesh below him. “Tomorrow this raft could save your life!” he shouted. “Imagine this raft rocking at sea for unending hours under the hot sun.” Someone yelled back, “It is under the hot sun!”
The officer continued, “This raft holds twenty-four crew and guests. There are currently only twenty-three crew inside. How does it feel?” Angry mutterings and cynical jokes answered him. “That is correct, it is difficult to fit you all in.”
I was motioned to approach. I leaned forward and reviewed the inside nervously. Bodies were like sardines in a can. Those people crammed at the sides were neatly arranged, but the middle was a mosh pit. “I said this is for crew and guests,” he emphasized. “Now, what is the difference between each of you and the average American?”
Alarm bells went off in my mind when the officer placed his foot on my behind. “About one hundred pounds!”
I was launched into the air. Through the whistling wind I heard someone cry, “Ahh! Big Mac attack!” I landed onto the bodies with a crunch. Talk about a dramatic entrance!
By Brian David Bruns
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