Cruise Ship Workers Share Wild Behind The Scenes Stories

Cruise Ship Workers Share Wild Behind The Scenes Stories

I can’t say I am the biggest fan of cruises. You spend your money to get crammed inside a floating hotel with thousands of other people where you hope everything goes right. In fact, even if you have been on a cruise and nothing bad happened, I hate to break it to you, but something bad did happen. They just kept it a secret from you. Don’t believe me? Well we asked a bunch of cruise workers what were some of the worst things to ever happen on board that the passengers never found out about and oh boy, did they deliver.

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36. Happy Hour Is A Good Time To  Find The Nearest Lifeboat, Just In Case

One story that comes to mind was the first time sailing out of the yard for this gigantic ship. The ship can hold about 4,500 passengers, she’s a big girl, and has 5 or 6 massive engines to power her. I was working aboard, but I wasn't part of the technical crew.

About 3 hours into the sail, I heard a loud thump and massive vibrations all around. I was in an empty restaurant and saw plates and cups crashing to the ground from the vibrations. My first thought is to always see how the crew reacts, if they are calm, you can stay calm..if they freak out , you better start moving. I could see some concern but they continued on with their business, so I followed their lead and continued doing my work too.

About 3-4 hours after that another loud thump and even more vibrations ....then silence. After speaking with a few other crew members, I found out we lost 2 engines on the initial incident, and now we just lost the rest. Whatever the reason, we lost complete propulsion and this beast of a ship was going to go wherever the ocean wanted it to.

Passengers were notified that we will be running late but to continue having fun and drinks were on the house, no other info was given (smart to avoid panic).

About 12 hours later a helicopter was seen (early AM hours) above us dropping down crates of engine parts, and a short time after that, we had propulsion again....and passengers had no idea why we were delayed and didn’t seem to care.

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35. The Show Must Come To An Abrupt End

I was playing a production show (guitar) was standing on stage with a wireless unit alone to play Purple Rain, and then all of a sudden the house lights came on and the curtains closed. Everyone in the audience looked at me, and I ran off the stage. Turns out a sewage pipe burst backstage and there was poo everywhere. The show was canceled and the passengers didn't find out why.

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34. The Boys In The Band

I played in the show band for a ship once. We were in Belize and supposed to be back on the boat by 6PM sharp, as we were leaving port at 6:30. Most of the band is stumbling back to the dock at about 5:30 when [Music Director] gets a call.

MD: Hello?

[As he's listening, his face drops, turns white, and then begins to boil red.]

MD: What?? Don't say a word. I'm on my way!

Before any of us can ask what happened, MD takes off in a full sprint out of the docking area.

The band mostly tended to hang out together, but on this particular day [Keyboard Player] wasn't with us. KP was a notorious partier and often liked to drink and be reckless. Not knowing how else to help, the rest of us boarded, went through security, and informed the security guys that MD just took off and neither he nor KP had made it back yet.

We headed down to the crew bar for more drinks, and to wait out MD and KP. 6 o'clock came. Then 6:30. Then 6:40, and the ship hadn't moved yet. This was pretty strange, seeing as the crew waits for no one. If you're not boarded by 6, you're staying on your own. Finally, the ship starts to depart at 6:45. and we catch MD rolling into the crew bar.

It turns out, KP tried to buy a bit of powder from an undercover cop in Belize. Yeah. So MD went to the station, bailed him out, and they just walked. Again, I'm completely fuzzy on the details, but I do know that security, hotel operations, and the passengers never found out exactly why they were late, and KP stayed on ship every time we made port in Belize from then on. Oh, and he also paid for all of our drinks for a month. 

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33. Just Be Glad They Aren’t Running Vista

All of the computer systems run on Windows 7, including all of the automation in the machinery space, security system, fire detection system etc.. When Windows updates it will restart the computers, as it does with a normal desktop, unfortunately it can also take out every computer at the same time and we're flying blind until it finishes.

People may be more worried to hear that there is a hole in the hull yet they're actually fairly common occurrences in older ships and easily plugged.

Fires happen occasionally. The most terrifying was a crankcase explosion. The fire suppression systems are good at extinguishing them quickly enough though so they're not even a concern to the crew, unless Windows is updating at the time.

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32. The Long Play

We were stuck in the locks of Amsterdam for over 4 hrs and no indication of what's going on, after a few hours had passed the captain came on the PA system and the reason we didn't leave was because there was a live mine from WW2 1km from the front of the ship

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31. Protocol? Smhotocol!

When a brand new ship is built they have to go through what’s called Sea Trials. This is a full systems check for multiple reasons, biggest ones being safety, emissions, and engine/navigation testing. This happens without passengers, and a lot of stuff breaks usually.

They will list the ship (lean it all the way to one side) as hard as they can and hold position while doing a circle or figure eight pattern in the water. I had a ~600lb wine cooler (fully stocked) fall face down about 12” away from me while installing a PC at a bar. It sounded like a stick of dynamite exploding from the pressure of all the bottles hitting and simultaneously breaking.

I froze staring at it and as I started to come out of the initial shock, four security crew members came running around the corner, no one else around except me and about $10k in broken wine (and the cooler wasn’t cheap either). I just stuck my hands in the air, and slowly exited the scene.

I’m pretty sure if I was standing one foot to the right it wouldn’t have been pretty for me. Found out the yard workers forgot to bolt it down (as per protocol), oops.

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30. Well At Least They Had A Good Time

Used to work on cruise ships. Generally we leave ports of call around 4 or 5, never really staying later than that due to port regulations.

One night, we had a Surprise Late-Night at a port. All the passengers and most of the crew had a wonderful time. It was a Port of Call with a very active nightlife.

I was part of the last groups coming back to the ship and noticed a few men in scuba suits entering and leaving the water. Large machinery and the water off the stern of the ship sporadically lighting up. Almost like someone was welding underwater.

A few days later I was in the mess hall and heard that the ship underwent heavy maintenance to repair an area taking on water.


29. Good Timing For A Bad Time

A cruise ship I worked on had just had a refit in dry dock, with brand new furnishings. They had hung a giant chandelier over the main lobby/atrium which was actually installed by a company that doesn't do work for cruise ships.

The result: they used the wrong size fixing bolts that were unable to take the force of the ship's movement. (Imagine a swaying 2-tonne chandelier crashing onto the atrium deck at approximately 2 in the morning. Luckily it happened at the time that it did, as they hold all the events there during the day, such as cocktail parties, fashion shows, art auctions etc. This would have caused fatalities if the timing were different!

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28. Lucky You Found Them -- Those Rafts Are NOT Safe

One of the craziest things to happen was when we found immigrants from Cuba floating on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. We had to bring them all on board and keep them in the crew area until the coast guard came to get them. We basically told guests they would be off the ship by morning, but people were freaking out. The coast guard came in the middle of the night and then they were gone.

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27. Pretty Bad Behavior For A 12-Year-Old

I was friends with the youth staff on board. Early in one week, they had this 12-year-old kid come to them. The problem is 12 is not 13 and absolutely can not join the teens' group. Insurance thing. He's 12 but 6'1". Parents get mad, leave their younger daughter but the 12-year-old declines playing in the kids' group. During that vacation, that 12-year-old was arrested for attempted assault of a 30-year-old and a few other things.

The youth staff I worked with were both relieved and freaking out. "What if we had let him in the teen group?" An uncle stayed with the younger sister on board while the parents stayed behind to deal with their son.

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26. It Was Absolute Pandemonium!

I was working the overnight shift at the front desk. The ship's emergency alarm goes off at midnight while we are at sea. This is the one that means passengers must go to their emergency muster stations and is only used in extreme emergencies.

From what I heard, the crew decks were absolute mayhem, including crew members seen running down the crew halls in their underwear trying to get back to their cabins to get in their emergency gear. Crew members were literally preparing lifeboats in case the captain ordered an abandon ship.

In the end, it was realized that the alarm only sounded in crew areas while passengers slept soundly in their cabins completely oblivious. As it turns out, someone on the bridge forgot to silence a silly alarm, which resulted in the alarm going off by accident. Why it is designed that way, who knows.

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25. Kaboom!

One time the cleaners got the bags mixed up and threw a full bag of aerosol cans in the incinerator.

The bang was loud enough to wake a 2000 person ship. It actually mangled and bent the cast iron incinerator chamber, but didn’t fully burst it.

The safety officer said it was a miracle it didn’t breach the iron and sink the ship. We were somewhere between Philly and Bermuda when it happened.

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24. How’s That For A Severance Package?

I interviewed for a job as a sound engineer on a cruise ship but I turned down the gig eventually. They said the standard rule was If you get fired they drop you off at the next stop no matter where it is and you’re on your own for getting back home. That was the policy.

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23. Even On Ships, Windows Will Try To Ruin Your Day

I was IT Officer onboard (now Senior). On my, I think, 3rd contract or so we had a complete meltdown of our datacenter. Everything stopped working. PMS (Hotel management system), POS (Point of sales), of course, all the file shares, email etc.

It took us 3 days, and a lot of luck (and I am talking a really a big chunk of luck) to get everything up and running again.

Our front of the house staff handled the situation amazingly, everyone who usually relies on emails from external came afterward to thank us for the downtime and asked if we couldn't do that more often (sure...)

Our guests didn't notice a thing that basically the whole operation needed for the hotel side of our ship was affected and every system was down.

This didn't affect any bridge or engine equipment, as it is completely separated from the environment that we in IT are handling.

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22. Did They Get To Stop At Alcatraz?

We were sailing from Hawaii to San Francisco to dry dock and make repairs to our ship when a propellor stopped working a day and a half into what should have only been 7 days at sea, so it added a day and a half to the voyage. People were panicking. Everyone thought we were going to run out of food until the captain reminded everyone we had enough food for a month at sea, and if it was any longer, some perishables might spoil, but they could fly in supplies in an emergency if needed. We arrived in San Francisco with no more delays. Anticlimactic, I know.

On a side note, watching a giant cruise ship getting lifted out of the water to dry dock is pretty surreal. Also, sailing under the Golden Gate bridge and looking up from the 13th deck was super cool. I was hoping the whole time we were going to clear it. It was probably only about 50 feet above my head.

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21. How Did Everyone Not Notice An Entire Extra Stop?

While we were crossing the Atlantic, leaving the Mediterranean and heading for the Caribbean, an older passenger got badly ill. So much so that we had to detour and hand him off near Bermuda.

Obviously, his family and friends knew, but the detour went unnoticed by the rest of the passengers.

Also, the casino manager got wasted in Venice, missed the ship, and caught up in Santorini. He somehow managed to board before the ship set sail.



20. Why Would You Store All Of It Under A Water Line? You Madman!

A water pipe burst in a storeroom and soaked ALL of the spare toilet paper. This was on day 2 of a 14-day voyage to Antarctica. The cabin stewards had to swap around rolls of paper between "low use" and "high use" guest cabins and it came right down the wire. None of the guests found out or realized. Now toilet paper is hidden in every cabin instead of a centralized location.

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19. Pirates!

Somebody shot at the navigation bridge of the ship from the shore on my last ship, the bullet bounced off and hit my colleague on the hand (no real damage but it scares the crap out of her, ended up going home for a few weeks). While we waited for the local police to come on and investigate and take statements, guests were told we were delaying the departure to take on freshwater. I'm still shocked that never leaked out.

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18. Teenage Angst, The Bane Of All Vacations

A family came on. They had a teenage son, who was not interested in the cruise. As soon as the family got to their room, he jumped off his balcony (which is insanely dangerous). They fished him out, and the family got kicked off the ship.

Another fact, there is a small jail-like area, called a brig. On my ship, it was on the crew floor, and it had a one-way mirror. Usually, it was used for wasted or disruptive passengers. We once had an entertainer find out his ex was coming on the ship. That made him a little stabby, so they put him in the brig until the next port.

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17. Don’t Eat The Crab Dip!

A pipe burst and flooded the kitchens. It was a waste pipe so we had to throw everything out and get a sanitation company to meet us at our next port and go out and buy all new inventory. We gave out vouchers for food but if we had been further from the port that would have been awful.

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16. Like A Rubber Ducky In A Bathtub

I was a cruise ship worker for a few years and on a route between two cities, there was a really bad storm. So a few minutes after the passengers got off, the storm got so rough that the ship was ripped off the docks and drifted out to sea. Because it takes quite a while to start up the engines it took some time until we got back to the harbor. Not really dangerous, but if it had happened while the passengers were boarding it could have gone badly.

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15. Shhhh… It’s A Secret Explosion!

Our engine room had an explosion. We were prepared for a possible abandon the ship signal. They didn’t tell the crew what happened. The ship just stopped in the middle of the Ocean. Then we're told we are heading back to port. My friend worked in the engine room and told me about the explosion. It was very hush-hush. To this day only a selected few know what really happened.

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14. Sometimes You Just Gotta Go

I used to be a crew member, and one time a guy working at the front desk jumped overboard after a crew party. He was found a few hours later by the coast guard, and everybody was asked to be discreet in order to keep the cruise running smoothly. Everything was fine until the captain came on the PA and said we were delayed because a crew member jumped overboard. Then the madness begins, rumors appear out of nowhere, and the rest of the cruise was pretty much guests asking what happened the whole time.

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13. Gotta Make Your Money Somehow, Right?

I know some cruise ships make their employees pay for the internet. I was talking with some crew and they were asking about current events and politics because they're almost cut off because of how expensive internet access is

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12. A Little Chilly For My Tastes

My husband and I went on the Oriana to the top of Norway for our honeymoon this February/March. Thoroughly recommend. But when we were in Alta, around 70° North, it was -15 during the day and got down to -27 both nights we were there. Pretty cold! In fact, so cold that the poor old girl had her pipes freeze, the electrics go out (they were cooking lunch in the dark using torches!).

Captain Grey even said later that he'd checked Oriana's logs and she'd never endured colder than -10 in Alta before then. Then worse as we were heading back south and hit the North Atlantic current... which was -6 and ended up melting all those frozen pipes. Some flights of stairs and a little mini buffet were closed because of water damage and they said on disembarkation 'if you're a plumber, please stay!'

My housemate's sister works for Carnival and mentioned to me they'd had an emergency meeting about Oriana's predicament!

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11. Routine Fire In My Cabin

I haven't worked on a cruise, but I did go on a Disney cruise in February. Anyway, a small electrical fire broke out in a cabin down the hall from us. It's jolting being woken up on a cruise by a general alarm so I opening the cabin door to see a crewman sprinting down the hall with a fire extinguisher. The ship's captain quickly walked past as well, with a couple of officers flanking him. A few minutes later they had crew stationed throughout the ship's halls, explaining to everyone what had happened and that everything was fine. The family that had been in the cabin got moved elsewhere and at the next port, it seemed like they brought in extra people to clean the floor to remove the smell (it was mild anyway).

Fires on ships are scary, and the response is always immediate and probably proportionally larger than it needs to be. My father was a firefighter on his cruiser when he was in the Navy, and he had similar stories. Ships don't mess around when it comes to fire.

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10. Fish Out Of Water

My sister worked on one for a few years, people did eventually find out, but they use code words over the PA system for various "events" that can happen. A guy got into a fight with his family and jumped. The ship circled back and used spotlights from their stage shows to look in the water. They could hear screaming briefly but the guy was never spotted. These were shark waters as well, so he either drowned or was eaten or a bit of both.

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9. I Need To Go Now!

One of the waiters had to go to the backroom really bad but it was during the dinner rush so the supervisor told him to wait. He ended up running out of the restaurant and pooping his pants on the way out leaving a trail behind him. However, the guests definitely found out about that one.

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8. How Did You Not Know

I was a passenger and was talking with one of the crew members late at night. He told me that on an earlier cruise someone had died in a hot tub the first night out of port and people didn’t know for hours. He managed to stay propped up and his sunglasses helped hide it. Several passengers entered the hot tub during the time and assumed he was antisocial for whatever reason. The crew discovered him when they were closing the pool area for the night. They moved the body downstairs to the morgue. None of the passengers except the guy’s family found out about it.

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7. Not A Big Fan

A passenger went missing and nobody could find him for a couple days. It turns out he committed suicide in the fan room so everyone had been sucking dead guy air for a while. We definitely kept that one under wraps.

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6. Saying Goodbye At Sea

I currently work for a cruise line onshore. I have assisted people who want to bury their loved ones at sea. Obviously, the bodies have to have been cremated and the ashes have to be in a biodegradable container.

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5. My Sister, Not Me

I was on the Costa Serena in January 2012. Just cruising around the Mediterranean. Woke up one morning and ALL of the crew and wait staff at breakfast were stone-cold and depressed looking. They made us do an extra lifeboat drill that morning, to all of our confusion. Found out later that day that our sister ship, the Concordia, sank overnight but didn't have many other details.

My now-wife wasn't on the trip and didn't know the exact name of the ship I was on and found out before us. She was terrified till the next morning when I could get on to the ship's internet-connected computer.

We also found out the crew was especially depressed because a lot of them had family on the other ship and very little information.

Took a few days, but things got back to fairly normal. I just remembered doing lifeboat drills and thinking they were a waste of time...learned that lesson.

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4. Tipsy Over The Edge

Well, all the passengers found out, but on a QM2 transatlantic crossing, one of the kitchen staff drank too much one night and fell overboard in the North Atlantic. The ship basically found out the next morning when the first mate kept calling on the ship-wide intercom for him to go to his post.

That afternoon, the captain announced what happened and that the ship was turning around, with the help of 3 nearby merchant ships, try to search for him. Of course, it was foggy and you couldn't see 100yds but just about everyone was on the railings with binoculars trying to search for the poor guy. A wedding even stopped onboard, the whole party out looking once the announcement came that we were in the search area.

After (shockingly) nothing was found, the concierge desk set up a multinational-currency donation box to send to his family back in Chile. There were 4 days left in the trip at that point and every day that box was stuffed to capacity. I hope it helped them.

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3. One Of Those Crazy “Rogue Waves” Huh?

Our ship officers got a call from a ship of a completely different cruise line, off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico. They found one of our passengers floating in the ocean. He wasn't even near the shore at all, just floating in open water. He was alive and perfectly fine.

They reviewed the security footage, and in the middle of the night, this guy was wasted on Deck 5. H could be seen holding his phone, dancing to music by himself. He then climbed onto one of the lifeboats and did a RUNNING JUMP into the ocean. He left his phone on top of the lifeboat. His body was so fluid from drinking that he wasn't injured when he hit the water. The cruise ship spotted him and rescued him. His family didn't know he was missing because he had booked a separate room.

This guy told the news that a rogue wave pushed him off the side of the ship. He was on Deck 5, so the wave would have been over 40 feet tall…

Don't know what happened after that. The entire crew was talking about it for weeks before it hit the news, though.


2. No, You Can’t Save Him

The ship just arrived in Whittier, Alaska (the port for Anchorage) and an elderly passenger dropped dead while walking down the gangway. A conflict ensues between the port security and the ship's medical team. The port security didn't want the ship's medical team to get involved because it technically happened off the ship and the local authorities had jurisdiction. There really was no saving the guy but the ship's medical team at least wanted to try but the local authorities wouldn't even allow the chief medical officer to start CPR.

The coroner had a ~6-hour ETA so the port authorities bagged up the body and stuffed it in an x-ray machine storage container in port (guarded by local police) until the coroner could arrive to take the body to Anchorage. The wife of the deceased continued on to finish the vacation for the 7-day rail trip to Denali (it was a 14-day trip, 7 days at sea, 7 days’ scenic rail trip). My understanding was the cruise line comped her entire vacation, arranged for the remains to be returned home at no cost to her and provided a personal escort/assistant for the remainder of her vacation.

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1. Turns Out The Gulf and the Bering Sea Are Different Bodies of Water

I was on a small cruise ship (about 50-200 passengers range) and we were running in the south Alaskan waters. Our ship's chief mate just left for another job so we had a new guy who came from running ships to the oil rigs in the Gulf. This was the first night with this new chief who was supposedly a "highly qualified captain."

It was right in the middle of the night, probably about 1-3 am. It was mid-fall and an overcast night so it was very dark.

There are two deckhands that work the night shift and we stand watch on the bridge every other hour. We mostly just stand there and look out the window with binoculars. That's pretty much it. Just look out the window. We were not really allowed to do much else. Sure we could watch the instruments but it was a small bridge so we were pretty much stuck on the left side with one radar screen and spotlight controls for the small spotlight. The chart, the big radar, AIS, GPS and chart plotter were all on the other side where the watch officer was. We were lookouts, a second set of eyes and had nothing to do with the navigation or control of the ship.

We were cruising through this area that had a few small islands and a few larger islands. I was on bridge watch but it was right at the end of the hour so I had just been relieved. Luckily, because I still had my night vision, I was still hanging out on the bridge just chatting with my relief and this new chief mate.

That's when I saw what looked like a shadow on the water, it was extending left from an island. Something about it didn't look right so I kinda did something a little out of character for our role as deckhands and jumped over to the big spotlight and flicked it on. That's when we saw, just a few boat lengths in front of the ship a rock and gravel shoal. It was low tide and this big long shoal was just smack dab in front of us.

This new chief mate cranked it hard over and luckily we missed it. It did rock the boat quite a bit and we all just stood there in shock. Lucky nothing more came of it other than a hard turn. Thank god it was the last hour this new chief mate was on watch and thank god I was relieved from bridge watch. Apparently, it was was a very quiet and very awkward hour with that guy.

An hour later, after my turn doing safety rounds, laundry, and engine room checks, etc, I return to the bridge at the same time our longtime first mate is coming on office watch. The new chief mate leaves and me and my partner start telling the story of what just happened. He is only on watch for 2 hours before the captain comes on watch and he tells us we need to tell the captain what happened. So two hours later we are on the bridge again telling the captain.

The next day was thankfully a port day. The captain asked both me and my partner to write down what happened and then we could go on shore leave. This means now the chief mate is going to know we tattled to the captain and he can, from experience, make our life a nightmare.

So we go on shore leave, have fun for an hour or two and come back to the boat dreading our next watch with this guy. Well... turns out the new guy is gone, and a replacement will meet us via seaplane the next day. He was fired that day and sent packing. It turns out all he was doing all night was following the GPS plots. Those are guides, not actual tracks one should follow without using the radar, charts and all the other aids to navigation we have. This dummy was just following a line and doing no proper navigation at all. He wasn't even marking the chart or logbook properly, just copying what the GPS said. Apparently, that's all he had ever done in the open waters of the gulf, just follow a line so that's all he did in the tight and confined waters of Alaska.

What's odd is that the captain was not on watch with this new guy. He just let him take the watch without training. Pretty unusual because he wouldn't even let the old and very experienced first mate dock by himself.

My partner and I received safety awards later that year but we were asked to not tell anyone why. It wasn't until the end of the season we told the rest of the crew. It would have been a VERY different night had I not seen that shoal.

Sometimes I think about the things that could have gone wrong. What if I had just left the bridge instead of staying to chat, my partner didn't have night vision yet so he would not have seen it. What if my relief had shown up late, or early, what if the island and not flicked on the light? So many things could have gone wrong and who knows how it would have turned out. Would it just have been a collision with a soft sandbar and some paperwork, or would we have hit hard rock and torn the bottom open drowning most of the crew asleep in their underwater rooms? SO many little variables and any one of them could have changed the conversation was a little different? What if I had just thought that shadow was just from the trees on the little outcome.

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