Lost At Sea is part 5 and the end of my series of posts on my cruise to nowhere.
Read Part 1 here: Cruisenecks
And read Part 2 here: Cannibal Isles
And read Part 3 here: The Doldrums
Lastly, please read Part 4 here: Cruise Ships Turned Away From Ports
It sounds like an explosion. It rocks the ship. My eyes widen.
By this time, I have fallen into the trust and acceptance that the cruise line will just take care of the passengers no matter what happens. So, I don’t panic, even though I just felt an explosion on a cruise ship lost at sea.
“Uh, did you hear that?” says my partner.
“Of course I fucking heard that. It shook the ship. What the hell could have happened?”
Again, another explosive impact rocks the entire ship.
Cruise ships are huge. How huge?
The vessel I am currently aboard has a gross tonnage of 93,502 and measures 7,500 DWT. The cruise ship is 294.13 metres (965 ft 0 in) long overall and 63.5 m (208 ft 4 in) between perpendiculars with a beam of 32.2 m (105 ft 8 in) and a draught of 8.6 m (28 ft 3 in).
What the hell could possibly create that kind of vibration on a ship of this size? We’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Did we hit another ship? Run over a submerged container? Blow out an engine? There are no icebergs this far south…
There’s a groaning noise coming from deep within the ship. Something is definitely not right.
I throw on my clothes.
“Where are you going?” asks my partner.
“To see if it would behoove us to jump the fuck off.” comes my response.
He stays in bed. I walk out into the hallway. A few passengers have their stateroom doors open looking around a little bewildered. When they see me going to check they shrug and close their doors. Far be it from the crowd to be seen as though they care.
I think about how long it would take a ship of this size to sink as I bounce down the stairs to deck 7 and outside. I’m able to immediately ascertain that we are no lower in the water. I’m also able to see that we have slowed considerably, and that there is a wobble.
I run to the back of the ship as it’s the only place I can see anything about the internal working of the ship, and look out into the inky blackness of the sea. Immediately I see it.
We are running on one propeller.
Only one whitewater trail behind us. Cutting diagonally through the waves whereas before we were parallel.
“Holy fucking shit.” I say, to no one. No one is outside. No one but me has come to investigate this.
I watch the churn from the propeller for a moment and contemplate the meaning of this. Then I use some of my precious internet time to contact my friend who is a mechanical engineer who fixes jet engines. I send him the photo I took of a photo of the propeller when my partner won the captain’s hat and we went to the bridge viewing area to fake pictures of him piloting the ship, and the make and model. Ask him what this means for us.
It’s the middle of the night where I am, but during the day where he is, and so his answer comes back quickly.
“There’s no way to fix that without putting the ship into dry dock, which would require a complete disembark.” he responds.
I grin. It sinks in.
All those hot Balkan engineers… Sure, maybe we hit a container while lost at sea that took out one of our propellers. But also, maybe one of those no-nonsense nerds threw a giant wrench into it knowing that we’re currently lost at sea with no prospects of getting off. Knowing that the ship ahead of us has been refused, and that this would be perfect timing to change our odds. Maybe this is sabotage. I’ll never know.
Again, there is nothing I can do. The lack of power annoys me. I go back inside. Walk around the ship. Traipse through the casino. Put a fiver into the slots and lose it.
Everyone is acting normally. No one seems to have noticed. Again, I am baffled. We can apparently do a 180 or lose half our propulsion and yet still, the average passenger just doesn’t give a rat’s ass.
The next morning I go down to the atrium for my now daily ritual of a Starbucks soy mocha, Sudoku, and a crossword puzzle. I’ve spoken to the barista before and realized that she hears everything and sees everything, so I ask her straight out.
“What happened last night?”
She looks around, not wanting to answer me. Then she leans over the counter and whispers.
“We lost a propeller.”
“Yeah, I thought so. You can see it at the back of the ship.”
“We’re using the side propulsion that they use for docking to keep us on a straight course.” She admits. “It’s reduced our speed by 10 nautical mph”.
“It’ll take us at least an extra day to get to Hawaii on that, huh?”
“Yup.” she says, as she adds an extra, free shot of espresso to my mocha.
More than proving my resilience at dealing with emergency situations, this cruise has proven my ability to gain trust and make friends where it matters.
And so, lost at sea, we limp along northeast towards the Hawaiian islands.
No announcement is ever made about our propeller. If ya noticed, great. If not, why stir the pot?
I rush to the bridge viewing room to see whether people up there have changed their tune and are acting any differently. I find it closed. No way to see the photo of the propeller that we have lost, anymore, or any of the specs of the ship that we are on, or the bridge itself.
I alert the press. Various powerful humans. My parents lived in Hawaii for 15 years. My father writes a letter to his former congressperson begging them to let us disembark. The press is fascinated with our story. Lost at sea and the ship is dysfunctional. It makes the US news nationwide.
The slight wobble continues. If I were not already acclimated to sea travel I’m sure it would be a bother. Instead it’s a reminder of our fate.
With all the posting and contact with the outside world I’ve had, it’s still a shock when a note comes back from one of my high school lovers.
“My parents are on the same cruise as you.” he says. He contacts them on my behalf and arranges a meeting.
I meet his mother in the forward lounge that overlooks the front of the ship. There’s a dance lesson going on in the main area of this lounge. She and I sit at the side and sip water, neither of us partaking in the rampant alcohol consumption that has taken over the ship.
She tells me of her stress and anxiety at my hand. The first time my high school lover ever stayed out late was because of me. She remembers well waiting up on him that night, while he was likely making out with me through his braces and rubber bands. For her, this was a far more disquieting experience than being lost at sea on a cruise ship. I apologize to her. She waives it off. It was a rite of passage for both her and her son.
Small world, innit?
She and her husband have been on many cruises, and many on this cruise line. I’m impressed at their calm. She explains to me the reason that she loves cruises at her age, and it echos my reverence for those of age who travel this way.
I have to applaud anyone in their old age who gets on a cruise instead of staying home. Yes, they may be less than ambulant, and maybe never able to disembark at any stop – but that makes it even more impressive. Instead of being locked in their home in front of the TV they’ve decided to see the world in the only way they can.
The environmental impact of cruises? Who the fuck cares. The world is here for us to use it. It’s not like over the coming years people don’t stop giving a rat’s ass about environmentalism at the hand of SARS-CoV-2 and turn that judgment of consumption towards those they deem as personally responsible for an increase of death. As though people dying doesn’t help the environment.
Worshippers of Thanatos, the environmentalists. Cured by the angel Cornelius who inhabits SARS-CoV-2.
On that note, the ship, thankfully, does not run out of water. My partner and I keep placing orders for it. Case after case of Just Water. Environmentally sourced and packaged. The ship may have run out of arugula and mainstream, bottom shelf alcohol – but they have not run out of tasty water, thankfully.
Days go by. I watch the sea and clouds. I never take this for granted. It is beautiful as no other view could possibly be.
At this point we are all very used to being lost at sea. We’ve acclimated. There are people among us that wish we would never land. What do we have to look forward to? Lockdown?
It’s the day before we are scheduled to arrive at the port in Honolulu and we still have no assurance that we’ll be able to disembark. I decide to use $60 to buy a double shot of mezcal from the best bar on the ship, in the same space where I met with my high school friend’s mom, and sit there sipping it while overlooking the sea and the seemingly continuous dance classes that take place in the same room.
During my ritualistic consumption of alcohol, the captain comes on for an announcement. This is rare and usually left up to the lackey – Cruise Director Dan. An announcement from the captain himself elicits a “shhhhhh” from all the passengers. The dance classes roll to a stop, the music is cut.
He announces that we will indeed be allowed to get off the ship in Honolulu. Describes the process.
The process? We limp our way into the port and dock. Immigration officers board. We are called to one of the dining rooms in segmented groups of people. Told to bring our passports and our identity cards issued by the cruise line at our allotted time.
We all follow orders. I mean, what other choice do we have? Don’t we want to get off?
And so I line up with all the others, in a crowd outside the room where the masked immigration officers stand in their dark blue law enforcement uniforms. Here we are instructed to open our passports and parade past them. Distanced. One-by-one. With six feet between us and them.
I unfold my passport and hold up my cruise card and walk past the officers. They don’t look up. When I reach the other end of the room there’s a cruise ship employee there to put a sticker on my cruise ship card. This is my first, but not last, taste of immigration during the era of SARS-CoV-2. No one cares and none of the usual procedures are followed. The officers are far more concerned with their own health than verifying my citizenship.
We sit at port for over 24 hours.
Finally I have the kind of internet it takes to work, and so I catch up on my job, which has thankfully retained me despite this.
We are separated into groups and assigned a color and number. Told to pack. I receive Pink 2, which I find pleasing. I pack and remove all the beautiful collage I have made within my stateroom.
Slowly and out of order, with many delays, groups are called for disembark. Eventually my group is called. We’re told we have to have masks to board the plane.
Before arriving in Australia, I traveled to India and SE Asia, and I have with me a pollution mask which I wear. No one yet cares that it has ports for exhale, which of course make it useless for preventing me from transmitting the virus to others. It takes at least six months for airlines and other officials to catch on to this and ban these masks with ports from flights.
The feeling of exiting the cruise ship is indescribable. Sure, maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome, but maybe it’s that I’m walking off of a safe space into an unprecedented reality. Part of me wants to remain lost at sea forever, but all I care about at this point are my 80 year old parents, with whom I am desperate to be with and protect. Within the next two years both of them die.
Neither of them from SARS-CoV-2.
We exit the ship into the cruise ship port, which is covered with high-value printed signs spouting CDC propaganda.
“Keep Calm And Wash Your Hands”
On our way out they point a surface thermometer at our foreheads as some sort of formality. I am introduced to sanitation theater at the level it exists on land. I try to keep a straight face.
Chartered tour group buses have been hired to take us all in groups to the Honolulu airport. We don’t go through the airport itself. The buses take us directly to the tarmac, stopping outside of the airplanes that have been chartered to take us to various destinations. Most of them will take us to Los Angeles. A few to Vancouver. Mine is LA, which makes me happy as I came up in Los Angeles and lived there for fifteen years.
Knowing I’ll be in LA during this I look into the prices to hire a lamborghini for the half day I will have in Los Angeles. The prices have been jacked and it’s gone from maybe $700 to over $2000. Still regret this. The freeways were empty. It would have been worth it, but perhaps I am still shell shocked from being lost at sea, and so I don’t do it.
As our buses pull in, all I see are police.
There are hundreds of masked law enforcement officers standing on the tarmac. I’ve never seen so many different agencies in one place at the same time. Police. Sheriffs. Homeland Security. Immigration officers. Airport security. All in weird clutches standing around joking with each other. I don’t see any female officers. Just a group of chonky men with guns standing around in their various uniforms.
We are barred from getting off the buses when we get there and sit on the tarmac watching them slowly disembark people in “socially distanced” groups based on their order of arrival.
I look out the window and see a bus empty onto the tarmac. One of the last passengers gets off with a large backpack on his shoulders. I can tell just by looking at him that he is not USAmerican. He notes the giant horde of law enforcement and panics, immediately reversing his steps to return to the bus.
Despite my coolness with this whole experience, it is of course traumatizing to a large group of our passengers. We’ve just been lost at sea for a month. No one can blame anyone for panicking. But of course, this is USAmerica. They do blame him. In force.
Seven sheriffs run towards the man and tackle him to the ground, pinning him with his head at an awkward angle. His female partner, bless her, has the presence of mind to pull out her phone and video this. Shoving her way to the center to get a better shot despite the sheriffs’ attempt to keep her away. I can see through the window of the bus that she is screaming at them. I can see it’s not in English. It doesn’t matter. Within seconds a squad car with lights and siren blaring pulls up and they are both squeezed into it with alacrity.
Everyone on my bus gasps. We aren’t ready for this. We’ve just been catered to and pampered for a month despite choosing to go on a cruise at an inopportune time. No one is ready for the reality of US law enforcement. We all get off the bus, humble, silently, walking with heads down the few steps to the stairs of the chartered plane.
The plane takes us to Los Angeles. This is my first introduction to air travel during the era of SARS-CoV-2. Nothing is served on the plane. There is no interaction between us and the flight attendants. Instead, as we all board – they perform what for me is the signature move of travel during these times.
“Have a nice flight!” they repeat as they hand us each one individually wrapped sanitary wipe as we board.
I’ll never get over this as the weirdest fucking thing that Covid has wrought.
The flight is celebratory yet somber. I’ve never seen Los Angeles air as clean as it was on that descent. When we arrive in Los Angeles there are shuttles to pick us up on the tarmac. They deposit us outside of LAX near whatever section we might be flying on according to whatever information we’ve provided.
No passports are checked. There are non-US-citizens on the plane that have definitely not officially cleared immigration in any more detailed way than walking through that room we all did with our passports held high in a way that the officers couldn’t possibly see what country they represented.
Again, my first, but not last taste of the normal immigration and travel rules being tossed in the trash at the hand of SARS-CoV-2.
My partner and I have a flight to Denver the next day that we’ve declared to the cruise line. We’re deposited outside LAX in front of Terminal 1 which handles these domestic flights despite that we have to stay overnight in an airport hotel. And that is goodbye. The cruise line officially wipes its hands of any responsibility.
From here, we could go anywhere, if we so pleased…
Lost at sea. On land.
This is Part Five of my tale of being Lost At Sea