• Mike Defede

What I Learned from Being on a Sinking Ship - The Finale

If you haven’t read the first two installments of this series, turn back now. Seriously, you’ll be lost. Go here first and here second.


Lesson 5: “People are there when you need them”

There we were, calmly waiting with orange lifejackets on for rescue of some form. We look so happy in that photo. It’s a keeper. But nothing lasts.

The shouts started from the upper decks in the back of the boat. At our lower level, we had no idea to brace for impact. It turns out, you don’t need to see the cliff to figure out your boat floated into one. Thinking back now, it really should have been worse, like people flying over the railing, but it wasn’t. Startling yes, but more of a nudge than a crash. Unfortunately, a nudge when people are already in crisis mode is sometimes all it takes. “What are they doing?” “They can’t get the power on!” “We should swim for it?” “If there is no power, how are they pumping water out?” Welcome panic, my old friend. But the islanders would come through.


It really was like a scene from a movie when the 20 fishing and ferry boats rounded the corner into the little bay. Cheers went up in near unison. Help had arrived. Each boat pulled up beside the dying vessel to take on its share. For the smaller boats, there was such a height difference that many people needed to climb a rope ladder down the side onto an awaiting deck. Amanda and I were on the last boat. The Ship sunk had a bit more by then, so the crew laid a board down to a small ferry’s second deck. Foot over foot to safety, we walked the plank off the ship and across the water, onto what had become our dry escape.


Last to get off, last to get to the island. Something felt off. We didn’t know till later a dad and daughter were missing. The head counting and waiting till after dark was strangely boring after the panic, only the site of the tugboat pulling away our injured vessel breaking the monotony. After hours, it was getting cold and everyone was getting hungry. Again, the islanders came through. Around 10PM till 1AM, restaurants opened. People returned to work so we could have a meal, hospitality, and a warm place to wait. As we boarded the newly arrived ship at 2AM, each of us was handed a bottle of wine courtesy of the local Government. This included the loosely supervised high school students on what must have been an international field trip.


Life Lesson #1: Don’t give teenagers a bottle of wine

To say we were tired is an insult to the weary. I laid my head down just as I heard outside my door, “Hey anyone got a corkscrew?” “Nah man just break it open.” Crash. Laughter. “Drink it! Just don’t cut yourself.” Others must have liked that idea. Crash Crash Crash. “Yes! Best ship sinking ever!” Judging by the hallway the next day, it must have been a great party.


Back to Lesson 5: “People are there when you need them”

We land in Athens. It’s Good Friday in Greece, which means very few stores are open and those that are would be closing in two hours. We have passports, a camera, 300 Euros given to us by the ship’s owner, and yesterday’s clothes. Among other things a toothbrush and some deodorant would be nice. Taxi to the downtown area took up a precious 45 minutes. Places are closing early. We haggled with a street merchant over a carry-on bag (which fell apart in 6 months). We didn’t have much money and didn’t know when we’d be able to get more. Now let’s find the basics. First one: Closed. Next: Nope only sells knickknacks and cheap sunglasses. Next: Candy store, then bank, uh-oh. 20 minutes left. We’ll have to split up to get stuff before an early flight to Cairo the next morning. We walk into a huge store electronics. Nope. Amanda sees stairs down and goes for them. This is our last chance. Halfway down the stairs Amanda stopped, sat down on the stairs, and started tearing up. We had managed to find the Greek version of a Target. Everything we needed was in that store.


Three clerks spot this strange scene of us seated on the steps. They ask if we are okay. We tell them we were on the boat. They’ve seen the news. They spring into action.


I still have the toiletry bag and pants they stuffed into my new cheap suitcase. Toothbrushes, makeup, shirts, a straw hat?, underwear and on and on till after closing time. It seemed like half the store was in the act. I sure wish I’d have bought a bigger bag.


From the fishing captains, to the waiters and cooks, to the retail workers, people saw a need and stepped in. A cook could have ignored the phone call at midnight, or the store manager could have shown us out to start the holiday, but people don’t. They rise.


The Ending: After an ordeal, people seek what they know.

I don’t remember the rest of that night. The next day we landed in Cairo. We had a million things planned. Instead we went to the closest thing we could find to home: Hard Rock Café Cairo for a hamburger and a Bud Light.


That’s it. It is certainly a trip we’ll never forget. And no, we’ve never taken another cruise. If you only remember one thing just don’t forget, if you give a teenager wine, they’ll want a corkscrew to go with it. (You parents out there will get that joke.) Thanks for reading!

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