“Did we hit an iceberg?”
Melanie had jumped out of the bed and wad in the middle of throwing on warm clothes, and considering what she could take, that constituted as little as possible.
I was less panicked because I suspected it was just an unscheduled evacuation drill, but I quickly and quietly dressed. I didn’t have much to carry.
“I doubt it. This might be a re-enaction of the Titanic voyage, but hitting an iceberg is not one of the things on the list.”
“Stupid hour of the morning to be running a drill, though.”
She wasn’t wrong. Three in the morning wasn’t my idea of a good time for a drill.”
“I told you going on a Titanic cruise was a bad idea. The very name is cursed.” It had been a battle talking her into coming on it with me, even right up to walking up the gangway.
The ship was almost an exact replica of the Titanic, except this one didn’t have the faulty bulkheads. It was not unsinkable, but it would take a lot more than an iceberg.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
Dragged out of bed, still half asleep, disheveled. She looked utterly adorable.
“As I’ll ever be. After this, no more ships. It’s dry land and airplanes after this.”
We joined the throng of passengers heading up to the main deck. There were two thousand plus on the ship. At least there were enough lifeboats for everybody this time.
Everyone was as bewildered as we were, except there were snippets of conversations from others trying to make sense of it.
“I’m sure I heard a thump, then we slowed down,” said one.
“We started turning, or at least I thought we were. I had the oddest sensation,” said another.
“We were definitely turning,” another agreed.
I thought back to the timeline, of what I could remember lying in bed, still trying to get to sleep. There was more going on than just trying to relax after a very long yes, that was plagued with extreme difficulties that had sent the company to the brink.
Then, last night, before the cruise ball, I got the email I’d been dreading. The company had shut its doors, and everyone was now redundant.
On top of our own financial problems with Melanie getting ill and unable to work for nearly a year, it could be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.
I did hear a thump, but there was something that reverberated through the hull. Yes, it seemed like the ship had slowed down, and yes it might have turned, but ships were always changing course.
I knew that from standing at the stern and watching the wake we left behind, and it was never straight.
But I don’t think any of us realized, as we came up on deck that the ship had stopped, nor that it was as still and calm as it was.
I would have said it was unnatural. Even surreal. Enough that hush went over those who had arrived on deck, where if anyone spoke it was in a whisper.
It was dark, very dark in the distance, the moon behind us, spreading a surreal bluish tinge over the ship.
We were utterly alone.
The silence was shattered by a male voice through a handheld loudspeaker, “please move quickly and orderly to your designated lifeboat area.”
A glance up and down this side of the ship saw two crew members by each boat, adding authenticity 5o the fact we might be leaving the ship.
Melanie and I were on the other side and took the shortcut through the cabin. One part of it was a huge saloon where some of the passengers were sitting, having a drink, tea, and coffee, treating the evacuation as though it was an optional distraction.
The fact they were sitting in their life jackets was the only concession to acknowledging there was a drill.
And it was not yet an order to abandon ship.
Coming out to the throng of people assembling beside their boats, there were two things I was looking for; whether the sip was listing, fore or any, port or starboard, and it was not, or whether there was smoke, that the ship was on fire. It was not.
Why had we stopped?
What had happened?
I saw the first officer, a man called Briggs, after a turn at the Captain’s table, when the Captain delegated the first officer to take his place. He was taciturn at best, but he looked more animated now, three crewmen and a junior fighter in tow heading towards the bow.
“Excuse me,” I said as he was striding past us.
I thought he would ignore me, but he stopped, turned, and saw me.
“Wolverhampton, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Can you tell me what’s happening?”
It was clear he was of two minds to speak about it. “It’s just a precaution. We’re having a minor difficulty in the bow, nothing to worry about. There will be an announcement soon. Just wait by your boat.”
“Are we sinking?” Someone else asked.
Emphatic. Decisive. Reassuring.
Enough chit-chat with the passengers, he continued on his way to the bow.
We stood on the deck until dawn exploded on the horizon, and light slowly seeped from that point, until a surreal orange glow surrounded up.
Regular updates told us that, firstly, the steerage machinery had broken down and was being prepared, that we could not move with steerage.
Then, a minor mishap had seen the anchors dropped and the retractor motors break down, and these too were in the process of being repaired.
No one could understand why we needed to be on deck for these two mishaps to be overcome, since they didn’t seem to be life-threatening. In fact, about a quarter of the passengers, tired if strafing around, had gone back inside.
Melanie wanted to as well, but a premonition of a pending disaster had come over me when we came on deck. I don’t why or where it came from, but suddenly it was like I was trapped, and drowning. When I told Melanie, she admitted she had the same sort of feel, but for a different reason.
And suddenly she said, “We’re in big trouble, aren’t we? I think you just got the email from your company, didn’t you?”
But, as it happened, I didn’t have time to respond. There was a huge explosion at the big and we could feel the tremor of the ships shake, like a death throe.
“This can’t be happening,” I heard a voice behind me say.
I didn’t realize at that meant until a few minutes later there was very load creaking and groaning, the sound of rending metal, and then a gentle lurch, followed by a slight dip at the bow end
We were taking water.
Five minutes later we got the order, “Abandon ship!”
Melanie summed it up succinctly, “just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it does.” Then, once we were on the lifeboat and moving away from the ship, “If we survive this, we can survive anything.”
A look and a squeeze of the hand told me, it might have been the worst week of my life, but it was also going to be the best.
© Charles Heath 2022