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DaCruzNut

A SEA OF MEMORIES - Part 9

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9 - BON VOYAGE TO A REAL LADY…

There is a reason that I have devoted much of my chronicle discussing the Britanis. In addition to the personal bond I developed with her, and she truly was very special to me, she was the epitome of the typical ocean liner/cruise ship of her day, in every way. As a result, most of my discussion of shipboard life on the Britanis would be appropriate for so many others, including, but not limited to, the Dolphin IV, Emerald Seas, Caribe I (now, the Regal Empress), Mardi Gras, and most of the ships up until the Holiday.

I was lucky enough to have sailed on the Britanis over a dozen times. My last voyage was only a few weeks before she sailed off onto her final voyage. Her final voyage was a short trip; from Miami to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; only a few hundred miles away. There, this dignified lady was converted to serve as as a floating military barracks for the overcrowded base. A shameful end for such a noble ship. But, that wasn’t how it ended…

This wasn’t the first time she had served the military. She had served as a troop carrier, in World War Two, and it was during this time that she became a heroine, and, at the same time, made history.

While serving in her in her military capacity, she had an anti-aircraft gun mounted at the stern, where the pool deck would eventually be located. At one point, she came under attack, by an enemy plane. As the plane got closer to the ship, it was shot down by one of her gunners, and she became the only cruise ship, ever, to have brought down an enemy aircraft.

I was fortunate enough to be aboard her when she performed another act of heroism!

The last day of the cruise, a day at sea, is supposed to be a quiet, tranquil, lazy day with no cares and no worries. We were sailing from Cozumel, home to Miami. It was a perfect day at sea, with blue skies, bright sun and calm seas. It was a day to wind down, and enjoy, for one last time, the sun and the sea and the breezes. No cares; no worries; no excitement. A day to relax, and chill out.

This particular day started out just as normal as could be. It was just after lunch, and I was relaxing on the Lido Deck, reading. The Britanis Five was ‘on stage, entertaining us with excellent renditions of island music. It was a welcome change from the Mariachi’s who, also, entertained on this 5-night Miami/Cozumel/Key West run. It was a perfect afternoon. The sun was bright, in a blue sky; the temperature nice and warm and there was a beautiful breeze. Of course, there was always a breeze on the stern pool deck.

We were headed northeast, through the Straights of Florida, that 90-mile wide body of water that connects the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and the Atlantic, and which, barely, separates Cuba from Key West. Suddenly, the entire ship was bustling and buzzing; word flying through the ship as quickly as the desserts fly off the Midnight Buffet. “Rafters….they’ve spotted some rafters and we’re heading back to get them….must be Cubans…â€Ââ€Ânah, could be Haitians…â€Ââ€Âno, too close to Cuba….â€Â

When you live in Miami, you tend to become complacent about Cuban rafters. They come ashore so frequently that you don’t give it a second thought. They arrive, they are processed and, usually within twenty-four hours, they are released to waiting relatives.

It just seems like a simple process. It didn’t seem like such a big deal, until that incredible day.

As I looked out, I saw that, surely enough, our wake was clearly forming an arc, and we were, unquestionably, turning, sharply, to port. By now, many of the passengers had lined up, along the rail, and I joined them. I was upset that I had stopped bringing my binoculars on our cruises. But, they were bulky, and heavy, and, even when I had brought them, seldom used them. Now, peering out, and seeing nothing, I promised myself that I would buy an inexpensive pair of small, lightweight, travel binoculars, and bring them on every cruise. I, later, kept that promise, love my new binoculars and use them all the time.

Unfortunately, without them, I could see nothing. I thought I saw a small, black, spot, very far away, appearing, and disappearing, and reappearing, but I wasn’t sure.

By now, almost everyone on the ship, passengers and crew, were leaning over the portside railings, trying to get a glimpse of the impending rescue. The ship developed a decided list to that side. It seemed like it took forever, and many miles, to make our circle. In actuality, it did take close to an hour. If only sidethrusters had been invented, then.

The far-away smudge started to take shape, and we continued our loop. The raft, and its occupants, were very, very tiny in a vast ocean. Even as we got closer, and closer, I was stunned by how tiny this vessel, carrying its three, desperate, passengers was. A few inner-tubes, some discarded lumber, and some rope… How desperate they must have been to have risked their lives on a contrivance that looked about as seaworthy as….well, inner tubes and lumber, held together by worn ripe.

alt text

A “typical†raft used by Cuban refugees….

They finally were close enough to make out details. Two men and one woman on a “raft†that was about eight-by-eight. I thought the woman appeared to be pregnant, but I will never know for sure. What I do know is that they were very lucky to have been spotted by us. Sad to say, many of the rafters who leave the Cuban shores are never heard from again.

The raft bobbed in the six-to-eight foot seas, and it was a difficult task to get the raft and the ship close enough to secure the craft to the ship. Finally, the raft was close enough so that a rope could be thrown to the rafters. It took several tries, but one of the men grabbed the rope, and hung on for dear life. The two men on the raft tugged on one end of the rope, while a number of crew members hauled in the other. After an eternity, the tiny craft was, finally, secured to the ship. A ladder rope was dropped from an opening on the port side of the ship, and the crew members helped the rafters aboard. Their last act was to cut the raft loose.

All through the entire operation, all of the passengers were cheering, and shouting, and applauding and, generally, going nuts. As the rafters made it aboard, we all, spontaneously, broke out into singing, “God bless America; land that I love……â€Â

We never saw the rafters again. They spent the rest of the day in the crew’s quarters, and ate in the crew’s mess. The evening after the rescue, our waiter, at dinner, told us they were fine. They had relatives in Miami, and felt like they were headed home. Perhaps they were….

The next morning, we were in Miami, and, my guess, is than I.N.S. took them to the Krome Avenue Detention Center, for processing. In most cases, they would be released within 24 hours. However, I’m not sure how our “wet foot/dry foot policy†works in cases of rafters picked up at sea, by a cruise ship.

Anyway, it was an unusual cruise and an experience that I will never forget. One that still gives me goosebumps every time I think about it. Yes, God bless America,,,,,

A few years following the raft incident, and subsequent to her stint at Guantanamo, I was surfing the net, and, quite accidentally, found pictures someone had taken of the her at Berth 26, at the Tampa port. She had been renamed the Belofin, but was destined never to sail again.

She had been sold to an investment group, named AG Belofin Investments of Liechtenstein, which had purchased her with the intention of turning her into a hotel, in San Francisco, similar to the Queen Mary, in San Diego. They had covered the name, “Britanis,†on the stern of the ship, with white paint, and had painted the name, “Belofin I.†She looked to be in pretty decent shape, for a woman her age, but would definitely need full refurbishing. It was a little sad, looking at those pictures, but not nearly as sad as what was to come.

A few months later, I came upon a news story which said that the plans

to turn an old ship, the Belofin I, into a hotel had fallen through, and

she was going to be towed to a scarp yard. However, while being towed,

she began to take on water and she sank. The article had a link, to

some pictures of her sinking.

I clicked onto the link; the photos began to download; and, feeling very

foolish, felt a tear running down my cheek. I tried to tell myself that

she was better off at the bottom of the sea, that was the home she loved, than as a toaster or soda can. But it wasn’t much comfort.

alt text

While that thought offered little solace, I decided to look at things a different way. I took a thought from on of my favorite movie lines, “It wasn’t the airplanes that got Kong, it was beauty killed the beast,†and decided that it wasn’t the Britanis that sank, it was the Belofin I that went down.â€Â

(If you missed any of the preceding chapters, and wish to “catch up,†you can click on the links below….)

Part 1 – Introduction;

http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4349

Part 2 – Onto The Ship; Out To Sea

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4443]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4443

Part 3 – First, there’s The Food

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4395]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4395

Part 4 – Shooting The Dice

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4443]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4443

Part 5 – Places To Visit; People To See

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4459]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4459

Part 6 – Catching Cruise Fever

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4534]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4534

Part 7 – A Love Affair at Sea

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4578]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4578

Part 8 – Apollo Wasn’t Just A Greek God

[url=http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4604]http://www.cruisecrazies.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=4604

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