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Opinion: Finding yourself at sea with a hurricane threatening

By Stephen Knight

This column is being written on Thursday, September 14 at 9 a.m. The primary subject is going to be Hurricane Lee, which has to be subject numero uno. It is rare that a hurricane wanders up our way, so it is big news in all its aspects: where will it make landfall, how powerful will it be when it does, how are all the states and provinces in its potential path preparing for it, etc., etc.

If this intro begs the question “Well, yeah, but isn’t he watching the coverage?,” the answer is no, because my wife Cathy and I are on the cruise ship Vista. And three days ago, the ship was in St. John’s, Newfoundland, right in the “cone of uncertainty” of the potential path of Hurricane Lee at that time.

The wall-to-wall coverage that is spawned when hurricanes visit New England rarely touches on the impact such a storm has on those at sea, ultimately the most vulnerable and dangerous place to be in such circumstances. Anyone who has seen the excellent movie adaptation of the novel “Perfect Storm” is provided with a gripping illustration of the terror visited on anyone in the middle of such weather. So, I thought it might be interesting to relate how Oceania Cruise Line, and all cruise lines, for that matter, are affected by these storms and the measures that they take to avoid them at all costs by telling you about the impact on our ship as an example.

A little background is in order: New England, the Maritime Provinces of Canada and the St. Lawrence River are huge cruise ship destinations in September and October, for obvious reasons. Ours is one of dozens of ships plying these waters right now, so not only is avoiding the storm a critical element, but so is finding a safe port to ride out the weather while making sure the ship is at its last destination on time because one cruise will end for the passengers on board and another new complement of passengers will be boarding on the same day. Not being at the final port on time is a logistics and public relations nightmare to be avoided at all costs.

Newfoundland is the farthest eastern point in North America, with Montreal 1,800 located miles from here, as an example. As for Vista, we have four more ports still on our itinerary: St. John, New Brunswick, Bar Harbor, ME, Boston, MA, and Newport, RI, before we reach New York on Sunday the 17. Plus a full day at sea to reach New Brunswick.

Our ship captain comes on the ship-wide public address system. Normally, we only hear from him at noon when he gives the ship’s position and the weather, so when he comes on at another time, it’s never good. As, currently, Lee in predicted to arrive on Friday or Saturday in downeast Maine or the Maritimes, the goal is to get as far west as possible well before then.

The itinerary he lays out is: St. John on Tuesday as scheduled, then straight to New York, arriving Friday the 15 at 6 a.m.  We will be west of the hurricane, will avoid any rough seas, and our berth on the west side of Manhattan is available two days early. And, of prime importance, the ship is where it needs to be for the passenger swap, so the travel plans for thousands are undisrupted — the ultimate goal.

This is an expensive decision, but one that a cruise line will always make. Safety really is their first concern, but passenger comfort also ranks high. Being on a ship in rough weather is a miserable experience. In any kind of real storm, it’s way worse, as people get injured moving about the ship and, in the worst cases, furniture and anything else not secured to the deck goes flying.

Cruise lines go to great lengths to make the experience of being on one of their ships as carefree and relaxing as a day at the beach. On the giant ships, you can hardly tell you’re actually at sea. It’s an incredibly complex business, with probably the most challenging logistics imaginable.

The decision that Oceania Cruise Line made regarding our cruise is the last thing they thought they’d have to make. A hurricane in New England? Really? Hundreds of Oceania employees are hard at work dealing with the circumstances right now, and we passengers won’t be inconvenienced one bit. As people whose career was in logistics, we find that an impressive performance.

We hope you stayed safe during Hurricane Lee. We certainly were. Thanks, Oceania Cruises.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.









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