(Memoir Excerpt) I had been on the ship for about a month when we pulled into Barcelona.
The ocean was calm, not a cloud in the sky. The sun had just risen quickly in a florescent rose glittery tone. The fresh crisp air promised a golden day. I walked down the boardwalk and saw the lounging cats sprawled out in the sand. Dogs were freely galloping around and birds sitting on the seawall chirping. They were all living harmoniously, coasting on the pleasure of a little sunshine. There were artists along the boardwalk already with paintbrushes in hand, catching this glory on their freshly pulled canvases. I sat down on a stonewall over-looking the beach and sea and sun. Shoes off, sunglasses on, a cigarette in my mouth, I pulled out Sexus by Henry Miller.
The sea was calm now, the waves were small, unlike the past two days.
It all started when left the port at Civitavacchia and began traveling across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Spain. I think we were only a few hours in when the waves started crashing onto the decks and the ship started rocking heavily back and forth. The swell quickly began to get bigger and higher, as deck after deck was roped off.
Not before long, the emergency alarm was ringing. We scrambled to get back to our rooms, get our life jackets on and up to our muster stations. We stuffed into the main auditorium, all of the passengers and crew. We sat murmuring to each when the captain rushed in and held an assembly. The room quickly went silent.
“…we can’t turn back, if we turn the ship, the waves will roll us over. We have to stay head on” his accent was thick.
The waves were so high they were rolling over the top deck of the ship by now.
A few guys scurried in and strapped a TV to the stage with grey duct tape and told everyone to stay in their lifejackets and stay put. I don’t remember what movie they put on. I quickly ducked out.
I saw my friend Paul whiz by, he was the safety officer onboard. He was an older British man that had never been married. We spent a lot of evenings together chatting about life. His white uniform was disheveled and he looked like he hadn’t brushed his hair.
“Hey, is everything okay?” I grabbed his arm.
“We just lost one of the lifeboats, and the gangway has blown off” He kept walking as he spoke.
“What should I do?”
“Go to your room, don’t walk around…” He rushed off before I could hear the rest of his answer.
I couldn’t keep up with him, the ship was rocking so hard and crashing down I would get airborne every few minutes and couldn’t let go of the railing.
As I made my way down to the crew quarters, I saw a few passengers with blood dripping from their heads and one in a neck brace. They were helping each other up the stairs to get to the main room.
“I guess we don’t have to work tonight?” I smirked at my boss who was running by me.
Into my cabin, I jumped up to my top bunk, which was easier than normal, with the giant air pocket that propelled me. I laid on my stomach and stretched my arms out and held onto the wood frame in front of me. Each time we hurled down into another wave, my body would fly up into the air like a soaring superhero as I held on tight.
It went on for almost 36 hours.
The captain held a press conference once we arrived in Barcelona. He waved the weather reports in the air as evidence of why he thought it was safe to pass through. All of the passengers were given an option to fly home. The ship had to stay and restock all of the dishes and items that had been destroyed.
Everyone disembarked with bags in arms and kissed the cement ground outside the ship. Most of the passengers headed to the airport. I went to an Irish pub with a few of my castmates.
It wasn’t until years later that I fully understood the severity of what had happened. It’s that innocence, the naivety, the trusting nature of youth that you have on your side when you’re eighteen…