Two days ago I reposted a funny blog about a topic frighteningly familiar to me: the unfathomable secrets of the life below the main deck of a cruise ship, in a sinister little cave called the Officers Bar, which – like most things on a cruise ship – always goes by its abbreviation: the OB. Reading this blog took me right back to my cruise ship days and all of its shenanigans. I do really miss it sometimes. Although I must admit that this happens mostly when my European land life with its eternal self-induced pseudo-crisis finds yet another way to irritate me. It makes me want to call the head office in Seattle, ask for a new assignment at the earliest possible time and be on the first flight out to embark my next vessel. But over the years I’ve come to realize that on the long run, that won’t get me any further on the road to what I’m supposed to be doing on this earth. Even though a cruise ship may not suffer from imaginary pseudo-crisis symptoms, it doesn’t make it any more ‘real’ than land life. A cruise ship may very well be the most unreal place I’ve ever been. It is almost impossible to explain to a ‘land person’ what life at sea is like. People who have worked on a cruise ship will surely agree with me. So I have ultimately given up trying to explain it. Instead, from time to time I will delight my landlubber friends with a baffling anecdote; a true story so insane that I couldn’t possibly have invented it myself. The ‘whale story’ is one those…
On a gorgeous summer day, on our way to Alaska, we were sailing through the passage between Vancouver Island and the west coast of Canada. I was sitting at my desk, where I usually spent close to ten hours of my fourteen-hour workday, enjoying the view through my window – mind you, my window, not my porthole; again, ship people will understand what the privilege of having an actual window does for your morale. Anyway, I was sitting there, when I got a call from the bridge: “Hello Jai, this is Paddy from the bridge. How’s your day going mate? Listen, we’ve spotted a pod of orcas in the distance. Not sure how many, but I’m guessing there are at least six of em. We’ve slightly altered our course and will be passing them on our starboard side in a couple of minutes.”
Are you kidding me? A pod of six killer whales, in the middle of the day, on a sea day, when all of the activities you had so thoughtfully programmed no longer seem to entice the ever growing expectations of your demanding guests? No Event Manager in his sane mind would pass up an opportunity like this to boost the ratings. So I jumped up from my chair, ran to the cupboard and grabbed the PA console to make an announcement.
“A very good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is Jai your Event Manager speaking. I hope you are all enjoying this fabulous summer day out at sea and the majestic views of Vancouver Island. I’ve just received a call from the bridge and they have informed me that they’ve spotted a pod of Killer Whales, at least six of them together. We will be passing them shortly, on the starboard side of the ship. Again, that is the starboard side of the ship, your right hand side, when facing the bow. So quickly grab your cameras, and if you’re not already outside enjoying the sun, I’d say get out on deck right now to get some of the action. That’s all for now, we will back with you at noon for the Captain with his Voice from the Bridge!”
After having gone out to the deck myself, watching the whales and chatting for a while with some of the guests, I made my way back to the office to continue whatever numbing administrative task it was that I was doing before Paddy saved my day (and probably our entire cruise for that matter). As I passed the main staircase and elevator landing in the ship’s atrium next to my office, the elaborately decorated doors of one of the elevators had just opened. Out came an elderly couple, obviously lost, like most of them always are, even up to the last day of the cruise. They were wearing matching outfits, as though they were going on a full two-week fishing expedition, complete with the hats, vests and hiking shoes. The lady was holding on to her husband for dear life, while he was trying to balance the immense weight of the professional telephoto lens on his camera, hanging around his neck.
Being a seasoned veteran in cruise guest psychology, I thought to myself: “Oh shit, these two are looking for the whales… Well, we can really use the ratings, so I might as well ask them if they need anything.” So I smiled and said: “Excuse me sir, ma’am, is there anything I can assist you with?” “Oh yes!” he replied. “Eh… where are the whales!?” she asked, as an excited smile appeared on her face. “Well ma’am, I’m really sorry to inform you that the whales are gone by now. You see, the ship is going close to 18 knots and the announcement was almost half an hour ago, so unfortunately we…” As her smile faded, she interrupted me: “No No! I listened to the message from the guy on the microphone and he said that the whales were on the deck!”
I rest my case. I was stunned, baffled, bewildered, flabbergasted. I mean, in the course of my years at sea I had learned to go really far to make the ratings. But putting six live Killer Whales on the aft Lido Deck, now that’s where I draw the line. I wished them a fabulous afternoon and continued my way to the office.
That evening, after what seemed like the longest Hotel Manager’s meeting ever, changing the show times because of a dancer who had twisted her ankle in a heavily intoxicated state the night before, and resolving a feud between the bridge players and the Rabbi over the meeting space that I had double-booked, I decided it was time for one of my ‘blowout sessions’. A ‘blowout session’ is when I would go out to get some fresh air on the little deck on the forward end of the ship, high up, right underneath the bridge. It had a bridge wing on either side, so you could look out towards the back, along the entire side of the ship. When sailing at full speed out on the open sea, at that height, the wind almost literally blows your brains out.
As I was standing there, watching the beautiful sunset over the passage, all the stress of that day was carried away by the wind. I walked over to the starboard side bridge wing, looking down into the ocean, thinking about my whale incident of that afternoon and having myself a good laugh out loud, all by myself. As a looked up toward the rear of the ship, I was surprised by a gorgeous full moon, hanging right above the stern of the ship, almost touching the deck. I turned around and looked back to the front, where the sunset was still turning the sky above Vancouver Island into a thousand shades of red. I was completely speechless for the second time that day. I had never seen such a mesmerizing sunset and moonrise at the same time. And then, when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any more enchanting, in the distance I heard a couple of faint, but clearly discernable whale blows. I searched the ocean from the ship’s waterline to the horizon and back a couple of times. And then I spotted the pod of Humpback Whales that had just surfaced to get some air. My first instinct was to run to my PA console to make an announcement, but then I thought: “Jai, are you insane? This is your little private moment. Just stand here and appreciate it.” And that’s exactly what I did. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
Besides… making an announcement at that late hour would have led to lots of complaining guests. That in turn would have brought the ratings that we had worked so hard to boost with our morning whale show, right back down.