Working midnight buffet, I sensed something was wrong. Ketchup bottles slid to port. All of them, in unison. Any sharp turn was amplified up here on deck 14, but Conquest continued to list further… further…. Silverware bundles tumbled off tables. Then plates. The ship keeled more. Waiters were ordered to the dish room to manually hold up stacks of plates and saucers. Glasses were deemed safe in their washing racks. But it was too late. Sharp crashes cried entire stacks of plates were gone… one… three… a cascade.
And Conquest kept listing.
Simultaneously two dozen ketchup bottles exploded on the tiles. Plates in hundreds shattered everywhere. I tripped over a plastic pitcher crushed open on the floor. In a flash the cream inside streaked fifty feet across the deck. Now I had to hold onto something to avoid falling myself. Then she righted. The chaos audibly lessened, but only for a moment. Conquest righted abruptly: too abruptly. Experienced crew members knew what that meant and abandoned property in favor of protecting themselves. I gripped the buffet as the floor tried to dump me starboard. The cream was still very much alive, a shocking white lightning bolt zigzagging into the dark. Watching the fluid move so violently made me realize there was something much greater to worry about. A waiter was stationed by the pool.
I scrambled over the slanting deck to the stern with great difficulty; to the pizza station, the grill, the pool. A gaping, empty hole was the pool, for all water had already pushed out to sweep across the restaurant before draining en masse to the deck below. The unsecured tables were piled high in a corner, entangled and dripping, legs worked together like the roots of a mangrove. Perched atop and soaked to the skin was a smiling Indonesian waiter.
A close call, but everyone was all right. What had happened?
Conquest had nearly collided with an errant barge while entering the busy mouth of the Mississippi River. A late-night sinking in the vast, black wastes of the ocean, a la Titanic, it was not. But was being ten miles from the unlit, swampy, forested bayou really any better? Because the water was not one degree above freezing didn’t mean a better chance at survival, it meant you’d linger… terrified… struggling… until exhaustion took you down, down to the dark depths.
So should you be scared of ships hitting each other?
No. How many big ship collisions have their been in the last century? In the modern cruising era, only the Andrea Doria—and that was in 1956. In a foggy night near Nantucket she was struck broadside by the MS Stockholm. The Andrea Doria listed so badly that half her lifeboats were unusable. Despite this, her modern ship design was so efficient she remained afloat for eleven hours, allowing all survivors to be safely evacuated. That’s less miracle and more engineering. Miraculous was Linda Morgan. The teenager was sleeping in her cabin with her half-sister when the ships struck. The blow somehow lifted her into the bow of the Stockholm and deposited her safely behind a bulkhead as the ships scraped along each other through the fog. Later, she was found wandering around asking for her mother in her native Spanish, much to the astonishment of the Swedish-speaking crew. Her sister was not so lucky, nor were 45 others directly struck by the collision. But nowadays ships have even more safety features, including zillions of inflatable life rafts that deploy automatically. They don’t need electronics, just physics. They can’t go wrong. Neither can you, if you stay calm. So enjoy your cruise!
By Brian David Bruns, author of national best-seller Cruise Confidential.
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