We had big plans for the day. A beach day at Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, CocoCay. We were told that the ship had to anchor offshore and tenders (small boats) would be taking us to the island. We should have smelled trouble right then and there.
When we got up in the morning the weather was beautiful. The sun was glistening off the water. We donned swimsuits, flip flops and hats. We slathered on sunscreen and mosquito repellent (that whole Zika virus thing). We packed more sunscreen and more repellent. We were ready.
There was a process for getting two thousand people off a big boat on to a bunch of small boats. Tender tickets. Our fate that morning was to draw Tender #12.
When our number was called we got on the tender and made the 5 minute trip to the island without incident. But…what happened to the sun? The skies darkened and it started raining buckets. About 30 of us had already gotten off the boat and dashed for shelter. Others stayed on the boat. We all waited for what we hoped would be a quick storm to pass through. But nothing was quick and nothing was passing. In fact, it was getting darker and rainier. After about 30 minutes of standing around, we were herded back on to the tender we’d just stepped out of.
Back into the tender, and the trip back to the ship was rough. Choppy water, waves slopping in over the sides.
An angry sea indeed. The tender finally pulled up alongside the ship, but was bouncing up and down so violently that the crew was unable to secure the ropes and lower the gangplank. A couple of times they got us tied up and then the ropes tangled and we were once again unattached to the ship. Finally, after about 20 minutes they got us tied up and lowered the gangplank. They rushed a few people onto the ship and then held everyone else back. Moments later, the rope tying up the boat came loose, and the gangplank separated from the tender and fell into the water, attached to the ship on the other end by just a few ropes. [INSERT DRAMATIC MUSIC HERE].
Everyone on the tender gasped in unison. Well, mostly in unison. Some people were a little slow on the uptake and had to be reminded we were in a life threatening situation and gasping was not just expected, but the polite thing to do. Seated next to me was a man with a Chihuahua tucked into a bag, just its head poking out. That dog looked at me, and I looked at that dog, and we telepathically reassured each other. Or something like that. I looked around and saw some children I thought perhaps should be sacrificed before the dog, if it came right down to it.
I realized I should do what any sane person would do in this situation; take out my iPhone and video the action. And many others were doing exactly that. But honestly, I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my phone to the waves that were slopping over the sides. And we were sliding around quite a bit, trying to hold on as the boat was thrown around. Nope, I was prepared to go down with my phone still in its little Ziploc bag.
BTW, Dan and I had not been able to get seats together so we were separated by two rows. He kept looking back at me and smiling helpfully. It was clear he thought this was a fine adventure. I resolved to kill him if we got out of this thing alive.
Meanwhile, we made at least another six attempts at tying up to the ship again, each starting with crashing directly into the ship, and each ending badly. The crew would get us tied and everyone would cheer. The rope would come loose and everyone would say “aaaaaaahhhhhh”. Women screamed. Children cried. The dog yawned. I clutched my beach bag, staring straight ahead, trying desperately not to get sick. Also, I may have forgotten to mention that I needed to pee. Badly.
So that is how more than two hours passed with us stuck on the high seas in a tiny boat with 200 other frightened people. I was impressed that no one panicked, which kept the kids calm. I smiled and told a terrified little girl that this whole thing was totally normal. Happens all the time! She stared daggers at me, not buying my story whatsoever. Fine. At least the dog still believed in me. As far as I could tell.
Finally, the boat backed away from the ship and started puttering around. We weren’t sure what was happening, but as it turns out we were going over to the other side of the ship to try and tie up on what we could only hope was the calmer side. Ropes flew, gangplanks dangled. At long, long last, we were secured to the side of the ship. The gangplank was far from steady and crew were hurrying us along across it. Dan was trying to help me and I guess sort of cut in front of a woman who was outraged and said “what ever happened to women and children first?” We were in a hurry, but not so much that I didn’t take a moment to turn around and glare at her. And not just any old glare, I mustered up my patented ice cold, born to kill glare. Then I turned around and scurried off the boat and into the first bathroom I could find, because of that whole thing of needing to pee for more than two hours. Then I went to check on the dog. And Dan, I guess. Both were fine.
What you should know is that this is the true to life telling of our adventure that day, but around the ship, the tale grew taller. The boat nearly capsized! Two children were lost at sea but they saved the dog! You know, the usual. Many experts were also born that day. Mostly men of course, men who knew exactly what should have been done and where things went wrong. Men who had never done more than commandeer a row boat on a calm lake suddenly knew plenty about ropes and mooring and other nautical type stuff.
We calmed down. We bemoaned the fact that we had missed lunch. We went up to the pool since we already had bathing suits and hats and sun screen and mosquito repellent. And as I was floating around in the pool, grateful that we were safely back on the ship, I heard some men laughing behind me. I heard what they were saying and had a good chuckle myself…
Royal Caribbean generously loaned us beach towels in port but we were responsible for bringing them back or we would be charged $25 per towel. Folks had gotten into the habit of holding on to the damn towels. So here’s what the men said; they said that in Tender #12, when things were at the absolute worst, brave men were clinging to their towels. But not their wives. Wives, they reasoned, could be replaced, possibly even during the course of the cruise. But towels? Nope. Nobody was going to be stuck with that $25 fee.
So we lived through it, had a few chuckles, missed an entire beach day. But We The People Of Tender #12, The Brave Souls Of Tender #12, The Rugged Survivors Of Tender #12, The Brave Dog Of Tender #12; we know what it’s like to get salt water in our eyes and stare at the horizon so as not to puke. We know.