Friday, August 2, 2013

Doing Your Own Thing Isn't Always Best

Subtitle: When Kalik Saved My Life

Once, several years ago, I took my then-fiancee, now lovely bride, on a cruise.  She'd just gone through the tragic loss of a close family member, for one thing, and for another, the cruise line just happened to call me at the right place at the right time with the right price.

I say "right price" because they were incredibly cheap inexpensive tickets.  I think, in fact, that for four days at sea from Port Canaveral to Nassau, Bahamas, and back, the cruise cost only about sixty or seventy dollars a day per person.  Who knew luxurious cruising could be so cheap inexpensive, eh?

As the time marched steadily closer I realized why the cruise tickets were so inexpensive cheap.  Living in Alaska, I was used to moose season, bear season, red (salmon) season, silver (salmon) season, king season, and even mosquito season, but I forgot all about one of the most important seasons of all: hurricane season.  We just didn't have those up there. 

As luck would have it, the storm hit and passed before the boat sailed, but the seas were still choppy as the rather large boat followed the even larger storm out to sea.

By choppy, by the way, I mean stabilizers-don't-do-any-good choppy.  We boarded to find the close-able, liquid proof flexible sacks commonly referred to as "barf bags" taped to every wall in every elevator.  We enjoyed our first evening's show in the ship's theater, watching the dancers bounce-dance bounce-dance bounce-dance down to stage left, and then dance-bounce dance-bounce dance-bounce down to stage right.  Bounce, repeat. We actually had to hold onto our drinks to keep them from slipping off the tables and spilling, in fact.

Whoo-whee, what a hard time that was.

It became disappointing, in fact, as we neared the Bahamas.  Freeport, our first stop, had suffered little, but that was just a quick stop where we got to go downtown to--well, the downtown--and experience a Bahamian market.  Nassau was the stop we were looking forward to, though, because they had snorkeling.

Yay, snorkeling!

There really is nothing quite comparable to swimming along in nice calm fairly shallow water, eyes protected by waterproof goggles, watching the multi-colored sea life toodle along beneath you.  It's peaceful, and it's gorgeous.

Unless you're trying to do it with a broken collarbone and three broken ribs, but that's a whole different story.  I think I'll title that one "Why I Drank Bermuda Out Of Rum" when I get around to writing it.

Anyway, we were really looking forward to snorkeling in the Bahamas, but as we drew close to the port in Nassau they gave us the bad news.  See, cruise ships have this incredible way of raking in lots and lots of money called "shore excursions."  These excursions are overpriced tours of the local attractions, but when you're only likely to hit a place once in your lifetime and you've always wanted to see a particular attraction, the excursion is generally worth the extra price since quality of the experience is overseen by the cruise line.


Anyway, there are several shore excursions in Nassau to go snorkeling.  They're all awesome, from what I hear.  I wouldn't know, because they all closed down on us.  Post-hurricane, don't you know.  Waves, don't you know.  Crushed dreams, don't you know.

Except one, don't you know.  One operator said he'd go ahead and take a group snorkeling.  Yay!  I figured this guy must really know what he's doing.  He must really be into doing his own thing, out away from the beaten path, and he must know someplace special to go.

I was wrong.

The someplace special to go that he knew was down the shipping lane that cuts through Nassau (great big canal, with beautiful mansions lining each side and huge rusty cargo ships in the middle).  Along past Atlantis, he pulled over to the side and cut off the engines.  Time to snorkel!

Eh, what the hell.  I was a swimmer in high school and at West Point too.  Couldn't be that hard to keep afloat with life jacket and all, right?

So, after the safety briefing (which consisted of "stay out of the channel" and "raise your hand if you get in trouble"), I found myself in the water.  I dipped my head down, and hey!  There was a fish!  Granted, it was about twenty feet down, but it was all tropical and pretty and stuff.

I kept my head down for a minute or two, watching my bright little friend darting around in the rocks at the bottom of the channel.  For that moment it was easy to forget that the skies were still overcast and the chill wind of the storm was still whipping.

Just for that moment, though.  I raised my head and glanced back at the boat, which in those few moments had leaped to about a hundred feet away.  At least, I guessed it was a hundred feet or so, because it was difficult to estimate the distance with four and six foot swells violently seesawing both me and the boat. 

Time to swim back, I realized, so I started out with the strongest crawl stroke I could muster.  It's difficult, though, to do the crawl stroke in a life jacket; your shoulders just don't have the room to do what they need to do.  That, and the thing rode up around my neck, which made me miss at least one "turn head now" motion, which in turn caused me to gulp down some yummy tasty saltwater. 


Still, I powered through the strokes as hard as I could, and finally raised my head again.  I'd made about a quarter of the distance.  I switched to my favorite stroke in high school, the breast stroke, since it's much easier to do in a life vest.  It's much harder to do in swells, though.  I got a few more good swigs of ocean water, and then I gave up.

Yes, I gave up.  Dammit, I was on vacation, which is not a good place to die from drowning.  Messy requirements on international remains transport and all....  I waved my hand at the boat.  They saw it, luckily, and after a minute or so one of the (many) ropes they were using to haul the other folks in came free.  It was tossed, and I gleefully (okay, I frantically) grabbed it and held on as they pulled me in to the boat. 

I felt like a king salmon looks after you've fought it all the way in to the bank for an hour.  Ugh.  Just take me. 

Luckily there was beer on the boat.  Kalik is a local Bahamian lager, and it's pretty good.  I had gulped in nearly half of the Atlantic Ocean, though.  Have you ever gotten salt water into your stomach and lungs?  It makes you feel pretty bad like your insides are about to shrivel up and die.  I collapsed onto the seat and barely managed a "muh humm" when Heide asked if I wanted a Kalik.  She (who had managed to snorkel and still swim all the way back in) became my heroine that day, skipping bravely over to the libations counter to buy her lover a beer. 

It was good.

I had another.

It was better.

It was then that I learned that a good solid beer makes an effective counter to the awful feeling you get after swallowing too much sea water.  I also, though, learned that sometimes doing your own thing isn't the best option.  Sometimes it's good to just go with the pack, especially when there's been a hurricane and your life is on the line.


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