In the Suburbs / A confirmed landlubber
Updated 6:26 pm, Thursday, January 19, 2012
Close friends from Fairfield and Trumbull rave about cruises they've taken and keep urging us to get on the gangplank. One friend recently completed a holiday cruise from Bayonne, N.J., to the Bahamas with their kids and grandkid and shared how much there is to do aboard ship, how wonderful the food is and how much they relaxed. Friends have traveled to Alaska and the Mediterranean, describing a luxury they could never experience any other way. For our friends, a cruise is one step away from heaven.
They just about had us convinced to try at least a short cruise sometime in the next few years -- that was until last weekend, when heaven got a little too close and the Costa Cruises, Costa Concordia luxury liner ran aground off the Tuscan coast with 4,200 passengers onboard.
The New York Times called it "a chaotic and confusing scene that reminded passengers of the Titanic." By the way, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is in April.
As details of the tragedy emerged, I called our friends and said, "Thanks but no thanks to cruising ... in this lifetime." I don't own any wash-and-wear suits, my wife is afraid of heights, especially on a ship that could be lying on its side even in shallow water; and sharing a lifeboat with 200 panicked passengers is hardly luxurious.
As we watched the coverage of the Costa Concordia tragedy, we were horrified by videos shot by passengers that captured the chaos that engulfed the ship. There appeared to be no organized evacuation effort.
Then there was the speculation that this tragedy was due to human error and the ship had no business being so close to the shallow waters near the island of Giglio. Allegedly, the captain tried to get as close to the island as possible but it capsized as the ship was reaching the port.
By Tuesday, 20 passengers still were unaccounted for and the death toll was rising. I was mortified to hear that the captain had been sitting safely in a lifeboat during the rescue effort, while crew members and passengers were left to complete a very dangerous evacuation.
To be clear about where the ship should have been sailing, the media had lined up several experts who stated that the jagged rocks and other obstacles near Giglio were simply no place for a luxury liner. And later, when the barnacles settle, I'm sure that shipbuilders and engineers will add their opinions about what really caused this tragedy. By then, of course, the lawsuits will be pummeling Costa's parent company, Carnival Cruise Lines.
My wife and I haven't taken an overnight cruise. We've taken exactly one vacation on water, and it was years ago. Married just a few years, on a whim we took a cruise from Milwaukee to Ludington, Mich., on a lake ferry.
I'll spare you the details, but it was a rough crossing. I had warned my wife that it was a bad idea to have breakfast before we sailed -- the trip was five hours -- but she assured me she would be fine. The restaurant was packed, and why not? We were still at the dock.
I just had a little water and some toast and still spent the first two hours feeling nauseous and hanging over one of the decks. My wife seemed to be gone forever to the washroom, and when she finally returned, her coloring was bright green.
I never thought that such a large ship could be buffeted around so badly. By the time we docked, a large group of passengers were hanging over the decks, and I'm sure they hoped the almighty would take them quickly. We were never so happy to get back into our car.
More recently we've taken the Bridgeport ferry across the Sound to Port Jefferson on warm summer days and found the 90-minute trip to be just enough. Fortunately, we've never hit rough waters.
While I've been assured by our friends that ocean cruises are generally smooth as glass, I still wonder. Even our Trumbull friends admitted that on their recent cruise, the seas were a little choppier than on others.
And if this latest tragedy is any indication of how quickly a disaster can strike, I now have some real concerns about safety aboard one of these floating palaces. Granted, the Costa Concordia accident was the first disaster like this in many years, but it certainly made me think twice about cruising and illustrated how ill-prepared a captain and crew may be for the unexpected.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.