The Cruise from Hell that Made America

Cruises are great. My wife and children have been on several of them. I’ve never been on a cruise from hell, however. There have been several of them in the past few years. While my wife and I were on a cruise in the Western Caribbean out of Galveston, we got news of the January 2012 cruise ship in Tuscany, Italy, that toppled onto its side and left the 4200 aboard with no cruise and 32 dead and 64 injured.

Let’s not forget the Titanic that on its “maiden voyage in 1912 . . . sank into the icy water, killing more than 1,500 of its 2,200 passengers and crew.” Maybe that’s where the phase “a cold day in hell” came from.

America watched in unbelief as they followed the limping cruise ship return from a four-day Caribbean cruise that became “an eight-day nightmare when an engine fire left the ship floating in the Gulf of Mexico without power, air-conditioning, or a working septic system.”

Let me tell you about another “cruise,” a 66-day crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a ship built for carrying cargo that I suspect few of today’s cruisers could ever make.

Take a trip with your children to Plymouth, Massachusetts where you can take a tour of the Mayflower. You’ll get some idea of their travel arrangements. An argument could be made that if these intrepid “cruisers” hadn’t made that voyage in that cramped and smelly ship, we wouldn’t be here.

I don’t want to make light of an expensive cruise gone bad, but a little historical perspective is good for the soul.

There were 102 men, women, and 30 children (11 girls and 19 boys) passengers on the Mayflower. Their “cruise” took 66 days to complete. This didn’t take into account that the first ship they were on, the Speedwell (affectionately called the “Leakwell”), and they had to return to London and board another ship, the Mayflower. “Because of the delay caused by the leaky Speedwell, the Mayflower had to cross the Atlantic at the height of storm season. As a result, the journey was horribly unpleasant. Many of the passengers were so seasick they could scarcely get up, and the waves were so rough that one ‘Stranger’ was swept overboard and drowned.” The following is taken from Mayflower Voyage:

  • With nearly 130 people on board, including the crew, the living conditions were very difficult. Each family was allotted a very confined amount of space for personal belongings.
  • Some of the families built smaller “cabins,” using simple wooden dividers to provide a small amount of privacy.
  • The first half of the voyage went fairly smoothly, the only major problem was sea-sickness.
  • The second half of the voyage was terrible. They encountered a number of Atlantic storms, very rough seas and were nearly shipwrecked.
  • The immigrants took some live animals on the journey including dogs, sheep, goats and poultry. The animals were kept in pens on the main decks.
  • The voyagers mostly slept and lived in thin walled cabins with low-ceilings. Any person over five feet tall would not be able to stand up straight.
  • Food rations were issued daily and food was cooked for a group at a time.
  • Many of the voyagers suffered from scurvy and other diseases.
  • There was no water for washing clothes – the voyagers had to wear the same clothes throughout the voyage. Their clothes became dirty and were often ripped but there was nothing they could do until they reached the New World.
  • The voyagers drank beer and wine. Beer was thought to be safer to drink than water. (Kind of like today’s cruises.)
  • The passengers spent most of their time, below decks.
  • When the weather was good they went on the top deck, bad weather and rough seas could result in people being thrown overboard
  • There were no toilets on the ship. Wooden “chamber pot” buckets were used as toilets.
  • Daily meals consisted of Salt fish, hard tack, salt beef, and cheese.
  • Life on board the ship was not pleasant. It was monotonous, cramped and boring. Many suffered with seasickness throughout the whole voyage.

There was no one to meet the beleaguered travelers. No homes to go back to. No place to shower. They had left everything to embark on an adventure that would make America.