Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Real Life Drama

Look, Lisa and I really enjoy travelling, and we both know that “things happen,” which is all part of the experience, but enough already!

I had hoped to focus my next blog on “good things,” but sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up. So, hang on for yet another adventure in the continuing travels of Lisa and Jimbob.

Today we are still at anchor at Praslin Island. We are not supposed to be here, but we are. The ship was to have departed last evening at 6 pm and cruised overnight to the nearby island of La Digue, arriving at 8 am, but we have not moved an inch. Now get this, the island of La Digue is only about 2 nm from Praslin. In other words, we have been looking at it out our window all along. The Captain announced this morning that the sea conditions and winds at La Digue were potentially dangerous for launching tenders to shore, so instead, he would launch tenders from our current anchorage and they would travel the 2 nm distance in about 30 minutes; seemed fair enough.

We were travelling today in an organized group, and would be the second boat to launch. When the time came, we all marched down the stairs to the launch platform, which is a pier like structure which folds out of the side of the ship. Rather than a nice large tender, which is a catamaran type craft that can hold over 100 people, there was just a small lifeboat bouncing up and down on the waves and slamming into the pier. Boarding the small boat was very difficult. It was going up and down and sideways so violently that just timing the placement of your feet was a task, not to mention the fact that it had a low ceiling so you had to bend down to enter. Passengers were quite literally picked up by the crew and lowered into the boat where we then had to crawl along a center bench to find a place to sit. There were about 40 of us, and the process took a very long time. Finally, we were all stuffed into our little spots, and the boat departed. It was quite rough, but bearable, and we were after all off on an adventure.

Suddenly, I sensed that the engine was slowly being throttled back, which seemed strange – why would we slow down? It kept getting slower and slower, until finally it gasped its last breath and stopped completely. Not to worry, because conveniently sitting right by the engine cover was a coverall-shrouded mechanic, who instantly opened the engine compartment where his tools were already neatly arranged. Wait a minute! How did we “just happen” to have a spare mechanic onboard? That can only mean that they had some known problem with this boat before it was ever sent out into rough water with us in it. Immediately, the boat was enveloped in a strong odor of gasoline-we had a bad fuel leak. The mechanic labored, and people begin to cough and gasp from the fumes until finally the mechanic raised his head and signaled for them to start the engine. I was dumbfounded – why in the world would you potentially introduce a spark into what was an obviously combustible mixture? I don’t know, but the engine coughed, sputtered, and finally started, so all is well that ends well – right?

Wrong! The fuel smell became even stronger, and suddenly the engine fell silent. The mechanic goes back to work, leaning way down into the fume-filled engine compartment. The boat is now rocking pretty-good, and people are trying to make jokes and act unconcerned. When the mechanic surfaces this time he is white as a sheet and clearly getting sick, but he calls for the engine to be started yet again. Again it runs for a very short while, and this time it dies permanently. The poor mechanic leans down once again and does his best, but soon he is vomiting from the fumes and the rocking boat; clearly, he has given up the ghost. He is not the only one who is sick. One by one people succumb to the violent rocking, and we now have about half the boat leaning over the sides sick.

To my surprise, the Silver Wind does not send a tender to assist us until well after all of this had transpired, even though there was a tender sitting at the “pier” as we left the ship. When help finally arrives, pretty much everyone on our little ship is sick and the seas have become very rough. At first the tender attempts to tie up beside us with the intent being to transfer us to the tender, but the seas are so rough, that both ships are constantly bouncing up and down at different rates and banging into each other violently. Some people panic and try to jump onboard the tender, and we came very close to have some serious injuries.

When it was obvious that the transfer idea would not work, the tender then attempted to tow us behind it. It is a miracle that a crew member was not injured in the efforts to secure the tow, but finally we set off in “tow.” I do not understand why they did not just tow us back to the ship, which was in “relatively” calm waters and close by. Instead they set out across the tumultuous waters headed to La Digue. The seas turned into huge swells, and the tow was not going well. As we rose and fell in the high swells, we wallowed back and forth in the wake of the tender; at times running up on the tender so that the tow line went slack, and then falling back as the tow line “snapped” violently. I could not believe it could get worse, but it did. Soon people all over the boat were sobbing or crying openly. Some were praying. Every jerk of the line was as if we had hit a rock, violently shaking the boat. Then everyone was told to get down – the tow rope was starting to break and they were concerned that if it snapped someone could be hurt. The rolls became worse, and each time the crest of the waters crept closer to our sides, occasionally spilling water into the craft. The lady sitting across from Lisa finally became ill and lost her cool. To Lisa’s credit, she turned into a good Lisa “Nightingale,” and helped the poor woman through the worst. Finally, I started to really get addled. I was straining on every wave and bump to keep from hitting the sides of the boat and my entire body was starting to quiver. At one point, I wonder just how much more of this the poor little boat could take, not to mention the toll on my fellow passengers in this nightmare.

Slowly, very slowly, the two tethered boats entered the breakwater and the tempest began to subside. The interior of the little boat was a shambles, covered with towels full of vomit, and used handy-wipes which had been handed out for us to cover our noses with. After docking, people had to literally be carried off the boat. I could walk, but I was so unsteady that I had to just stand a long time to stop from quivering.

This was a really sad experience and completely unnecessary. Whoever made the decision to launch us in a small lifeboat in those sea conditions made a serious error in judgment. Add to that the fact that the boat had a known mechanical deficiency, and it is absolutely inexcusable. I realize that conditions change, and that things happen, but I personally believe this happened because someone made a really bad set of decisions, and I actually wrote a letter to the Captain telling him just that. I doubt that it will do any good, but it makes me feel better.

The scene onshore was confused, and apparently they were getting conflicting instructions from the ship about what to do. In the end, we were allowed to complete our tour of the small, 4 sq mile island, but we had to be back at the pier at noon to catch the commercial ferry over to the island of Praslin. From there, the ship’s tenders would meet us and take us back to our ship. This was because the waves were not so bad from Praslin to the ship. Believe it or not, when we arrived at Praslin, there was no tender to meet us. We had to stand around in the heat for almost 40 minutes for a tender to arrive. When we arrived at the ship, the vessel had a small list – enough so that the “pier” was dipping in and out of the water rather abruptly. Exiting the boat was not an easy task, and just as I did so, the ship rolled and my shoes were covered as water washed over the pier. What a day!

Let me at least tell you about the Island of La Digue. As I mentioned, it is small, very small. Transportation is by ox cart or bicycle. Recently, motorized vehicles had been introduced, but at this time there are 20 ox carts and 20 vehicles – so it is toss up who is winning. We went by the Island’s gas station, which was unlike anything I had seen. They have drums of gasoline, with hand operated pumps on top that the customer operates to pump gas into their vehicle. We visited an old plantation where coconut oil was produced, and then stopped for a cold bottle of water and the beach before returning back to our ship.

I really don’t make this stuff up. I must say this trip has been full of surprises – I wonder what is to come?

No comments: