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Like in any big city, few stars can be seen at night on a cruise ship. Even if sailing black waters with black sky far from mankind, the ships themselves blast so much light pollution that you see nothing but black. It’s just like how stars are not visible from the surface of the moon. I pondered this while at the stern rail, as aft, port, and starboard were impenetrable black. Far beyond the bow, however, the orange glow of oil refineries illuminated the swamps of Louisiana. We were nearing the mouth of the Mississippi River and occasional navigation beacons of red and green popped through the broken surface of the sea. “What happens if I fall overboard?” a man had asked me earlier. It was such a common question that my answer had become habit. “The ship will stop and a boat will pick you up.” But this was only half true. I gazed into the wake of the ship and watched the brown water churn. The waves looked very small indeed from the top decks. If the hundred-plus foot fall did not kill the passenger, he would disappear in the gargantuan swells. Fortunately, it is unlikely modern azipod propellers would chop him into chum. Safety training was very clear in the case of a man overboard: throw a life-ring first, then call the bridge. People assume the life-ring is simply a flotation device, but it is in fact much more. A person’s head will disappear from sight within seconds from the deck of a big ship. After throwing a life ring we were trained to grab someone, anyone, to physically point at the swimmer and not stop until he’s found, no matter how long it takes. That physical act of pointing is paramount, for even if aware of the swimmer, he’ll be lost in less than one minute at sea. But at night? And if no one sees you fall? Goodbye. That very cruise someone had, in fact, gone overboard. Rumors of how and why among the crew and guests were rampant. The leading story among passengers was that two honeymooners were arguing and there was a push. Crew thought differently. Another suicide, most agreed. For suicides were not so rare on cruise ships. More than a few folks intentionally spent their every last penny on a final week of wild abandon and, late on the final night, jumped overboard. What better way to ensure no one will rescue you? How many people are looking aft of a ship at 3AM? It is possible to survive such falls, but unlikely unless you’re a fighter. Though statistically utterly insignificant, unexplained deaths on a cruise ship do happen. Because most occur in international waters, reporting obligations and behavior are decidedly less than altruistic. Cruise lines invariably fudge reporting, because people read headlines, not articles. Whether it’s a suicide or not matters little to critics, who pounce upon any hint of cruise line recklessness. Even if it is a suicide, days can pass before verification from land-based authorities, even with the presence of a note. By then, sensational headlines can blow things wildly out of proportion. On that cruise, nobody knew for certain what happened. An investigation was resolved somewhere on land, as was always the case. The only fact the crew knew for sure was that the man was never found until he washed up on the Gulf Coast several days later. I focused on a floating piece of flotsam and watched it disappear into the night. It was lost to the blackness within fifteen seconds. By Brian David Bruns, author of national best-seller Cruise Confidential. Pics of the people and places I blog about are on my website and FB pages, join me! www.BrianDavidBruns.com https://www.facebook.com/BrianDavidBruns Discover life below the waterline, where dozens of nationalities combine in ways none could have ever imagined. Strange cabins mates, strange food, strange ports, and strange ways (not to mention strange guests!). From the author of national best-seller Cruise Confidential comes the memories, the dramas, and most of all the laughs, of a job unlike anything else in the world. We enjoy vacation. They live adventure.
If your ship sinks and you’re stranded, without food or water, with only an open boat and your own resources, can you stay alive? Sure! This was proven in rather dramatic fashion by Frenchman Alain Bombard, who believed people could survive such trials. On October, 19, 1953 he voluntarily set off from the Canary Islands to cross the Atlantic in a 15 foot rubber boat. He intended to make it to the West Indies. Not a scrap of food. Not a drop of water. Just his clothes and an inflatable cushion. Bombard believed that shipwreck survivors died drinking seawater simply because they waited too long to do so. From the time he set off, he drank 1.5 pints (.71 liters) of seawater every day. He supplemented this with water squeezed from fish caught with a makeshift harpoon. Gross? Yes. But not as bad as the raw plankton he swallowed. He would trail a cloth through the sea to capture the microscopic organisms, figuring if they could keep a whale alive, then he’d have no problem. Unlike a whale, which can gobble zillions of the stuff with one big mouthful, he struggled to get one or two teaspoons of it a day. After twenty days of this self-induced torture, he broke out in a painful rash. But he wasn’t dead. Not that the sea didn’t try. A storm within days of setting out nearly wrecked his little rubber boat. His sail ripped and the spare was blown away entirely. More distressing still was what else it blew away: his inflatable cushion. Knowing he could live without food and water, but not without a comfortable posterior, Bombard secured his craft with a sea anchor and jumped overboard after it. While he was diving, he discovered to his horror that the sea anchor was not working. This parachute-like device was tied to the boat and left to drag in the ocean, thus keeping the craft nearby. Without it, the current was sweeping the boat hopelessly out of reach. Luckily the sea anchor fixed itself—it had been caught in its own mooring line—and he was able to haul himself back aboard. Strangely, whether he retrieved the cushion or not was never revealed. Weeks passed, but Alain Bombard did not die. He survived off of seawater, plankton, and whatever raw fish he could catch at the surface. On day 53 he hailed a passing ship to ask his position. Sadly, he had another 600 miles to go before reaching his intended destination. He seriously considered giving up, for had he not already vindicated his supposition that man could survive on sea water? After a meal on the ship, his spirits were revived, however, and he voluntarily returned to his little rubber boat. On Christmas Eve he reached Barbados, having sailed more than 2,750 miles (4425 kilometers) in 65 days. He lost 56 pounds (25 kilograms), but was otherwise fine. And that was in an open boat with nothing. If your cruise ship goes down and you’re in a life raft, it has a roof. That makes a huge difference. Also, life rafts are equipped with emergency rations of food and water, and even fishing kits. Most importantly of all, however, is that modern life rafts have radio transponders. You won’t have to wait months. Probably not even days. The moral of the story? If your ship goes down, don’t panic. Be awesome. You absolutely have it in you. It's just gonna taste really bad. By Brian David Bruns, author of national best-seller Cruise Confidential. Pics of the people and places I blog about are on my website and FB pages, join me! www.BrianDavidBruns.com https://www.facebook.com/BrianDavidBruns