The balance of our group was made up of four Scots: a married couple and two women about 45 who've been friends since childhood. Conversation was lively, the food and service outstanding.
Ocean Liner Magic at Work
Tradition is the hallmark of ocean liner travel, and the ship's daily agenda has hardly changed from
our initial trans-Atlantic voyage together in 1959. In fact, the routine would make a passenger from 1920’s Mauretania feel at home. This comforting reassurance acted as a balm on our bruised psyches. Even the time changes, so disorienting aloft, passed without disrupting anyone's sleep. If one were looking for quiet contemplation, QE2 boasts what is no doubt the best-stocked library afloat with deep, soft chairs that invite you to curl up.
Preoccupation about meals predominated. Breakfast was anything from juice, toast and coffee to a
six-course English meal fit for a lumberjack. When the weather was pleasant, one ate out on deck. Lunch
continued for two and a half hours and could be partaken in three different locations. For homesick
Americans hamburgers, franks and pizza were also available. Just in case you might somehow still have
been suffering from hunger pangs, there was a full-fledged British tea served at 4 P.M. with sandwiches and cakes. Ice cream, yogurt and cookies were available next to the pool for most of the day, coffee and tea likewise.
The evening menu was varied--always six courses with attentive service. Although assigned to the
Mauretania dining room, lowest on the totem pole, the presentation and quality would rank among the best
restaurants in Manhattan. The changing senior officers made each evening meal unique. Besides being
engaging, they proved an inexhaustible source of information. They even mentioned that we'd shortly pass
close to Titanic but quickly added that there were no icebergs this time of year!
To offset all those calories, I maintained my regimen of walking three miles a day. As QE2 was
cranking out 26-plus knots, it was akin to walking into the teeth of a gale going forward and just the
opposite coming back aft.
One day out of Southampton, the ship lost its satellite TV reception. Our only news was a two-page
condensed version of the International Herald Tribune. Without the constant interruption of TV, we had our first chance to digest the full impact of what had happened. Apart from some forced jollity, the ship was fairly quiet, with most passengers content to find solace in conversation or be left alone with their thoughts. The evening shows were rarely full.
Watching the broad Atlantic swells from a deck chair, time takes on another dimension. Nearly
every deck-chaired neighbor initiated a conversation, which invariably touched on September 11th. All
conversations inevitably contained the phrase, "Before (or after) the Trade Center attack, I did such and such."
Despite the gorgeous weather, which allowed me to swim nearly every day in the outdoor pool,
there was an unspoken wish that we hurry up and get to Boston. Everyone realized that the struggle ahead
would be like no other in memory. Would the terrorists strike again, and if so where? Was any place safe
any more? We'd never had to face this terrible uncertainty. It paralleled the unsettling wait for a medical diagnosis--only this time all of America was sitting nervously in the Waiting Room.
As an unmistakable British icon, did we make a prime target? I tried to allay fellow passengers’ fears by pointing out that the terrorists were probably looking for bigger fish. And hitting a moving ship from the air is one of the most difficult feats to accomplish.
More reassuring than my words were the actions of the Captain and the officers who constantly
held drills for the crew. Watertight doors were tested every few hours and alarm bells brought crew
members hurrying to their posts. Department heads stood by checking their efficiency. I felt as though I
were back in the Navy where drills were taken very seriously.
Marianne was more than a little concerned about the location of our cabin--amidships on the lowest
deck with a porthole. When the ocean kicked up the second day out, our sea view was often obscured by
breaking waves, the porthole resembling a clothes washer! Near the end of our voyage, we skirted the
effects of a hurricane that was churning off Bermuda and all the ports on our deck were secured by steel
But when we ran into some deep swells and the ship started to resemble a seesaw, our cabin was
the perfect place to be. On my morning walk I sometimes felt as if I were walking uphill! I saw no one ill, but plenty of patches appeared above the ears. They seemed to work.
At one of the numerous cocktail parties, we meet Captain Ron Warwick. We recalled him from a
Bermuda cruise from 1998. With his ramrod posture and short gray beard, he seemed a Captain straight out
of Central Casting, an appearance and calm demeanor that added another layer of security to our passage.
Two days out of Boston, a large aircraft appeared overhead. After what had happened in New
York, its first sight was anything but reassuring but the bridge informed us that it was an American military plane keeping an eye on us.
Being used to cruise ships that loaf along at ten knots, we were delighted to see this grand old lady
kick up her heels and maintain 26 to 28 knots day after day. Compared to the latest cruise ships, she might seems a bit dated to some, but she's the last of the true North Atlantic liners and very secure in her element. She also looks like a ship--not a block of flats—and rides like a dream.
Some friends have often asked me if I get bored being locked in a ship for a week without touching
port. Actually, it was just the opposite. Aboard Crystal Symphony, we called at a port nearly every day. But getting up at 6:30 or 7 a.m. to wolf down breakfast and board a tour bus isn't my idea of a vacation. For me, the best part of travel is making new friends and I can't think of a better arena to accomplish this than a traditional Atlantic crossing.
One of my favorite pastimes was just plain ocean watching. The sea is always the same, yet always
different, deep blue one hour and green the next. The changing light spread stars across the shimmering
texture. Whitecaps were the icing in this limitless environment, sometimes turbulent, sometimes placid, and all the while encompassing an ethereal beauty like nothing else in the world. When the sky filled with gorgeous clouds, the combination was unbeatable; and the sunsets at sea were breathtaking.
With patience and a good pair of binoculars, one can experience an unique pleasure of ship
travel--charting the curvature of the earth. One morning I thought I had focused on a small sailing vessel, but as each minute passed, that mast became a superstructure, and finally a white cruise ship.
I once read where some Polynesian peoples believed that if one looks hard enough, the face of God
can be found on the surface of the sea. Perhaps that's why I'm so entranced with this most heavenly and
mysterious of all things on earth.
We soon discovered that we were not alone on this vast body of water, and it was comforting to
have company. Since these were regular North Atlantic tracks, we encountered tankers and freighters, as
well as the occasional cruise ship. One afternoon, I thought I had sighted an aircraft carrier, but it was too hazy to be sure. As we approached the Grand Banks, we saw scores of fishing boats, many quite small. We
wondered how they fared in rough weather and recalled that popular book and movie The Perfect Storm.
On the afternoon of the fifth day, we sighted land. At first we thought Nova Scotia, but no, it was
Boston! We slowed down to just a few knots to embark the immigration people and then idled along at five
knots with Boston’s skyline in view.
The last night was filled with goodbye kisses and exchanged addresses. Packed suitcases crowded
the corridors, signaling more than anything that our great voyage was coming to an end.
Early next morning, Boston harbor was filled with gleaming white cruise ships, reminiscent of Fort
Lauderdale or Miami. Coast Guard powerboats, mounting manned machine guns, scurried about. We'd
returned to a new and frightening world.
The bus drive south was an unbroken panorama of American flags: Red, white and blue highways!
It was as if we'd turned the clock back to World War II. To our great surprise, the departure curb at
LaGuardia was completely empty on a Friday afternoon at 5 p.m.! This reflected the quantum change since
we departed New York on August 25th, a month and a world ago. Our daughter Karen soon arrived and
loaded our luggage in her car.
I've been home for nearly a week and the effects of that dark day have not worn off. Marianne
surgery was successful, thank God, and that was a welcome distraction. I resumed my three-mile morning
walks and it helped clear away the cobwebs. At first, it seems strange not to be leaning into a 40-mile-an-
hour wind along the Boat Deck.
(Our thanks to Jack Sauter for the above.)
I'd like to believe that my life is returning to normal, but I sometimes wonder if anything will ever
be normal again. One morning, my walk takes me to the top of a hill where I'm treated to a spectacular
view of the Manhattan skyline silhouetted against a brilliant autumn sky. There's a deep gash in that
familiar contour that some say will take years to fill.
But in the end I'm afraid that there's a deeper gash in our hearts that may never heal.
Jack Sauter October 2001