Valdosta Daily Times

February 22, 2013

Of ships and hardships


The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Our nation’s history and lore are built on the stories of men, women and children sailing across oceans to reach American shores.

From Christopher Columbus’ misguided belief that he discovered a new route to the West Indies to the Pilgrims’ arrival on the Mayflower to the tragedy of Africans being brought to the New World in chains to the huddled masses arriving on Ellis Island, American history is writ large with the hardships endured at sea.

These journeys lasted weeks, even months. People often stayed together in steerage. They contracted illnesses. Without benefit of 21st century meteorological capabilities, they endured sudden storms. Many died en route and were buried at sea. Ships sank to the bottom of the ocean.

But even more survived these hardships. For good or bad, they traveled from the life they knew to the unknown in a new nation.

Many modern Americans are the descendants of such sturdy souls, but it’s hard recalling this history based on the histrionics of those passengers trapped a few days at sea aboard the disabled luxury cruise liner Carnival Triumph.

For five days, the cruise ship’s 4,200 passengers and crew were adrift without electrical power or working toilets. It certainly sounded like a miserable journey for folks expecting a sunny pleasure cruise.

And there’s the rub. The cruise ship passengers were not expecting a perilous journey for a new life in a new land. They took a vacation. Some of the passengers likely saved for months or even years to take a dream cruise. They had a reasonable expectation that their dreams would come true.

Given our modern times, they had a reasonable expectation that the cruise line would have contingency plans better than being slowly tugged ashore over a period of days on a powerless vessel.

Though miserable, no one died aboard the ship, but what if this situation occurred in the midst of hurricane season? What would have been the cruise line’s response if the ship had been adrift in the path of a Hurricane Sandy or a Hurricane Katrina?

These and other questions must be asked, but this instance should also remind us that there are no guarantees in life. When we seek adventure, we may find real adventure.

If such adventure diverts our pleasurable and comfortable plans, we should recall the travels of our ancestors who took far more harrowing sea journeys at a time when the only electricity was lightning perilously flashing across a stormy sky.