(In Tim Yoder’s letter in this issue’s Correspondence column, he mentioned that Norway passengers mused about returning on Cunard’s flagship. Member Jack Sauter did and wrote the following:)

It's the second day out and we're sailing in a sea-borne limbo. In that strange manner unique to ocean travel, we're suspended between two worlds.We've travelled in this great ship before, but in some odd way it still feels as though it's our first time. Perhaps that's because six days ago in the south of France, the thought of being on the QE2 was the furthest thing from our minds.

The September 11th attack on New York City found us in Venice after a thirteen-day cruise to the eastern Mediterranean aboard Crystal Symphony, which ended in this fairy tale city perched in the middle of the sea. On a ferry from Burano, one of the tiny islands in the lagoon, we learn the terrible news about the World Trade Center. Nothing was ever the same after that.

Returning to our hotel, we found the lobby crowded with anxious travelers amid mounds of luggage. Those who planned to leave that day were stuck because all U.S. flights have been canceled. Meanwhile another 40 guests had arrived to replace those who were departing. The crush of people intensified, but perhaps because of what occurred in New York, it was a subdued group. In the end, the hotels did an outstanding job relocating all the stranded guests in other locations, many of them in the outer islands. But it wasn’t easy. It was high season and rooms were at a premium.

From the moment we returned to our room, television claimed our attention, the initial images shocking beyond comprehension. Although these vivid sights registered in the brain, another part of us instinctively rejected them as just another nightmare we'd quickly awaken from. I recalled experiencing this same sensation on November 22nd, 1963.

CNN kept showing the same scenes of devastation but we're mesmerized, unable to break away. It's as though we've formed a pact with God that if we watch long enough, everything will come out right. Except for a few "Oh my Gods," no words pass between us. Finally after a few hours, hunger wins out and we go to eat.

The streets of Venice were unusually subdued. Here and there, people huddled in small groups whispering and crying. With so many New Yorkers among the tourists, it's inevitable that some have family and friends they're anxious about. Telephone connections to anywhere except the immediate area were nearly impossible to make. Uneasiness was evident in every conversation. Our minds were on disconnect along with the phones.

To St Tropez by Automobile

Two days after the attack, we left to drive across Italy to a one-night stop on the Italian Riviera, 60 miles from the French border. We search in vain for English language newspapers, finally settling for Italian and French dailies. It made little difference; it's the photos we want and they had many.

We drove to St.Tropez to spend nine days. Overhearing our English in restaurants, other European tourists came over to express their sorrow or just press their hand in ours; many were in tears. Other travelers from the States, who are always looking for another face from home, raised their search antenna another notch. Nearly every dinner was interrupted by compatriots inquiring "Are you from New York? Have you lost anyone at the Twin Towers? My God, how could this happen?”

American flags blossomed in store windows. At dinner with our old friends Bob and Helene, who've been living here for nearly 50 years, Bob cautioned us not to wear anything identifying ourselves as American.”You never know who's watching you, and France has a huge Moslem population.” I heeded his advice for a day, but after seeing the local outpouring of support for our country, I soon revert to wearing my USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN shirt, and in the evening my tie emblazoned with miniature Old Glories.

The Monday following the attack, we found ourselves in the old town, famished and hunting for a restaurant that will serve us earlier than the usual 8 p.m. Passing the church, we saw a number of people going in and decided to join them. We discovered that there had been a memorial High Mass the day before and tonight was a continuation of the solemn services. After a long sermon in French beseeching our prayers for the victims, the priest addresses the congregation in perfect English. After the service, he conversed with us for five minutes, trying to offer some words of comfort. He’d made many visits to New York City and was especially moved by the tragedy.

Back in our room, Marianne and I were assailed by strong feelings of homesickness. It was not so much that we missed our children (which we did intensely) but that we just wanted to be back where our city was suffering. To us native New Yorkers, there was a powerful communion that's unbreakable. You just have to be there.

Listening to music helps. Among the tapes that I had with me was a live Boston Pops concert which ends with the orchestra and the entire audience singing "God Bless America." Lonely for the Big Apple and 3,000 miles away, the Berlin lyrics perfectly expressed our feelings.

On BBC, the other English language channel, the air was filled with analysts trying to explain the mysteries of Islam and give viewers a crash course in Middle Eastern politics and religion. Oil was barely mentioned, and yet it's the root cause of all this turmoil. It's mind-boggling to think that an extreme faction in a country as poverty-stricken and remote as Afghanistan would try to humble the greatest power in the world, and pretty much succeed. I remember we felt the same way about Japan in December 1941. From Airline to Ship

On the 18th, our concierge suggested that in view of the airline chaos, it would be prudent to reconfirm our flight home from Paris on the 27th. We gave him our tickets and soon discovered that getting home was not going to be easy. Delta was not confirming any flights for the foreseeable future.

Ordinarily, an extended stay in St.Tropez or Paris would not be a hardship, but Marianne was scheduled for major ear surgery on October 2d, an appointment that had been months in the making. We called other airlines but were met with the same response.

In late September, many cruise ships head for the United States, re-positioning for the winter Caribbean. Although we discovered that no cruise ship could get us back by the 2d, QE2 was sailing westbound on the 22d, returning to Boston (New York is closed) on the 28th.

But unfortunately, the ship was fully booked with a long waiting list. Then we remembered that Pisa Travel in New York had arranged our Crystal cruise in the Mediterranean. We called them and our luck changed. We learn that Nancy had been employed by Cunard's New York office for many years. She brought us up on her computer and finds that we're very old customers. She said she cannot promise anything, but that she’d call back in a couple of hours.

Returning to our hotel after dinner, good news: We have a cabin! Nancy quickly ascertained our dining preference and then suggested that since the bus to Southampton and the ship leave London at 11 A.M. Saturday morning (three days away), we should arrive the previous day. Learning that we have a 1 P.M. flight from Nice to Heathrow, Nancy booked a car and driver to take us from the airport to Victoria Hotel, located right next to the bus terminal. Then she called Cunard and booked us onto the bus. We had found our Guardian Angel.

We canceled our last days in St.Tropez and our hotel offers to drive us to Nice Airport, about two hours away. Our flight from Nice to London, as well as Heathrow Airport, was nearly empty on a Friday afternoon, which told us the effect the attack has had. Checking in to the Victoria Hotel we didn’t bother unpacking. It had been a busy day.

We found that most of our fellow bus passengers were scheduled to fly home but had opted to sail instead. The route to Southampton was straight as an arrow with little to see. We made good time, though it took more than an hour to board because of enhanced security. In the cabin we opened a bottle of wine from Nancy. We needed it.

Queen Elizabeth 2 was filled to capacity. One officer told me that they could have filled another ship if one had been available. Watching all the passengers queue up to embark, I was reminded of the photos I've seen of crossings in September 1939, when Americans tried desperately to get home, some sleeping in the public rooms. Now, we're headed into danger, not away from it. No one knows quite what to expect when we arrive in Boston.

Sailing down the Solent, everyone spoke to his neighbor. One friendly couple pointed out Cowes, a yachting center, another Queen Victoria's Osborne House. There seemed to be a universal feeling of relief that we were on our way. Very few passengers left the deck until a lifeboat drill was announced, an exercise taken very seriously.

The crossing was very smooth for that time of year. Except for one morning, we were blessed with sunshine and mostly clear skies. Of the 1,900 passengers aboard, most were British. We made many friends; once they learned we were from New York, the ice was broken.

Aside from the first and last night, evening clothes were de rigueur at dinner. Fortunately, we had the proper attire because of our earlier Mediterranean cruise. I had a white dinner jacket, a bit out of place for September on the North Atlantic, but it posed no problem. Our dining companions were a delight. Nancy seated us at a table for eight, which included senior officers every night. We were joined by the Hotel Manager, the Purser and later, some pretty girls from the Concierge and the Passenger Relations Department.

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 deadlights.

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


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