Smoke On the Water – Part 1

November 12, 2010 -

John Heald

Megan walked towards me, the soft glow of moonlight radiating off her naked bottom. Her eyes met mine and I knew that it wasn’t Brad or George or Johnny that she wanted……oh no……….I knew that it was me that her heart was beating for. I motioned her to come to me and she walked seductively towards me and soon her naked body was lying next to mine and she knew that she was about to have the best 3 minutes of rumpy pumpy she had ever had. Megan looked at me and then in the most sensuous of voices said……..”ALPHA TEAM, ALPHA TEAM ALPHA TEAM, DECK 0 ENGINE CONTROL ROOM.”

I awoke with a start and it took me a few moments to get rid of the thought of my idol’s bottom and realise what announcement I had just heard. It was 6:05 am and the officer on watch had just called for Alpha Team, the emergency code for our fire squad to go the engine control room. It was 6:05 am, this wasn’t a drill………..oh f**k!

The following is going to be my honest and open account of what happened. It will be the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth because that is what I always write here and this particular blog thingy must be no different. And besides…….that is what our President and CEO Gerry Cahill told me to write when I met with him today and more about that later.  Just bear in mind that the times cited in this blog are all estimates as it has certainly been a long couple of days.

So, there I am. It’s 6:05 am and the bridge have just called for the fire squad and I knew what was about to happen next. And sure enough it did. I farted.

Next the other thing that I knew would happen next did as well, my phone rang and a slightly breathless voice said “John, come to the bridge immediately.”

So I jumped out of bed and decided that “immediately” probably wasn’t a good idea because a) I was in my underpants and b) I had been in the middle of a dream about Megan’s bottom….. if you know what I mean. Anyway, I threw on a T-shirt and a pair of sweat pants little knowing that I wouldn’t be separated from these clothes for the next 24 hours. I had gotten dressed and started my journey to the bridge in the space of maybe 2 minutes after the call had come and all the while my heart began to pound………this wasn’t a drill………….this was the real thing.

Yet, on my way to the bridge the thoughts in my head were that it was a small fire and that within the next few minutes it would all be over. In fact I guess it’s safe to say that even though I had just heard the Alpha Team call that as I approached the bridge I was as unprepared for what awaited as a Frenchman who has been asked to write an essay on the joys of taking a bath.

I opened the door to the bridge to the sound of alarms screaming from the fire station control which were doing battle with the crackle of walkie talkies and the commands of Captain Cupisti. It’s funny that throughout the last few days how certain things have stayed lodged in my memory as clear as crystal while some things have disappeared from my mind totally. One such memory is of Captain Cupisti’s hair. Whenever I see him he looks like he has stepped off the front page of GQ Magazine but as I walked on the bridge his hair looked like he had slept in a crash helmet which he had just taken off.

I stood there not wanting to interfere but making sure I put myself in the captain’s eye line so that he knew I was there as and when needed. Let me try and explain what was happening. The captain had an internal ship’s chart on the table marking off where each fire squad was stationed, where he wanted the cooling down teams and speaking slowly and with authority into the walkie talkie to the fire teams, the chief engineer and the staff captain.

Meanwhile every deck officer was expertly doing what they had to do from checking the radar to assisting with the fire teams and organizing and putting on alert all the respective parties. What is so ironic of course is that just 24 hours earlier this same captain and officers and the same fire teams had done all of this in a simulation for our United States Coast Guard inspection which they passed with flying colours.

Now remember all of what I have described so far has happened in a space of seconds but still I didn’t realise how serious was this until something slapped me in the face as hard as the time I tried to grope Sally Poole’s breasts behind the bike shed at school. At that wakeup call came when I heard our staff captain’s voice come through the walkie talkie and say “There is thick smoke, thick smoke. We can’t see anything. That was when I said a silent “Oh bugger” and our adventures began.

I now realised it was time for me to talk to the guests all of whom would have heard the “Alpha Team” call which was made through the emergency system. Can I just stop here and mention the following just once because I really don’t want to sound like I am patting myself on the bottom and saying well done John. Because I am not. But I do want to mention a few things here about my role in all of this before the story continues.

I have often written that in cases of unexpected occurrences on a cruise ship that it is the cruise director’s job to inform the guests, truthfully at all times and to do so calmly and reassuringly and as often as possible. This is the CD’s role and although it cannot be compared to the people who were currently in the engine room and on the bridge, it is none the less an important one and I can only hope that I managed to achieve the goals I have just described. So, let’s get back to the story shall we and here is the first conversation between the captain and I as best as I can remember.

CAPTAIN: JOHN, TELL THE GUESTS WE HAVE LOTS OF SMOKE IN THE ENGINE ROOM AND THAT WE ARE INVESTIGATING.

JOHN: CAPTAIN, WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO DO THIS THROUGH THE EMERGENCY SYSTEM

CAPTAIN: YES

And so I pressed the dreaded button number one on the PA system which apart from when we conduct the rehearsal safety briefing on embarkation day is a button that no cruise director ever likes to use because usually it means if you are that you are in the sh*t.

6:20am

Ladies and Gentlemen. My sincere apologies for waking you up but as you may have heard we have just used an Alpha Team call which is the alert for our fire teams to attend. At this moment the captain has informed me that there is lots of smoke in part of the aft engine room on deck 0. (A side note: I told the guests this in case they thought the engine room may be close to guests’ cabins which of course it isn’t.). Please would all guests remain in their cabins while we investigate and regardless of if there is any more information I will return in 5 minutes with an update. Please don’t worry and I promise I will keep you informed.

I made this announcement as calmly as possible and “breathing” the words so not to sound anxious at all, even though I was.

During the next five minutes it became more and more obvious that this was a serious situation. I positioned myself closely to the captain so I could hear firsthand what was happening and so that he wouldn’t have to worry about if I had understood or not. As promised 5 minutes later and five minutes later after that I repeated my first announcement and told them there was still nothing further to report and highlighted the “Please don’t worry” bit again. I had nothing new to report but as I had promised the guests I wasn’t going to leave them in the dark (although later they would be) and kept talking to them as much as I could.

The next announcement though wasn’t for the guests ……..it was for the crew……….and in my 24 years at sea it was the first time I had ever had to do so. Here’s what happened.

6:45am

CAPTAIN: JOHN, WE NEED TO SEND THE CREW TO THEIR GENERAL EMERGENCY STATIONS

I looked into my friend Claudio’s eyes and I could see the worry that was there but also the strong conviction that he had no choice.

JOHN: UNDERSTOOD CAPTAIN……CREW TO THEIR GENERAL EMERGENCY STATIONS.

When a crew member gets on a ship, whatever his or her position onboard, before they are bar waiters or dancers or photographers or stateroom stewards………each and every crew member is a sailor whose primary task is the safety of the guests and themselves. Each of us has a station or assignment to go to and all are well trained in what needs to be done. And so with a lump in my throat, I made the following announcement.

JOHN: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SAY IS ONLY FOR OUR CREW MEMBERS AND I PROMISE IS MERELY A PRECAUTION SO PLEASE DO NOT WORRY AND TRY TO STAY  CALM.

CREW – I NEED YOU ALL TO PLEASE NOW GO TO YOUR GENERAL EMERGENCY STATIONS. WE HAVE OUR ALPHA TEAMS INVESTIGATING A SITUATION IN THE ENGINE ROOM AND AT THIS TIME THE CAPTAIN NEEDS YOUR HELP.

PLEASE GO TO YOUR STATIONS. WE HAVE REHEARSED THIS TIME AND TIME AGAIN HAVEN’T WE? SO LET’S DO WHAT WE HAVE TO DO IN A CALM AND PROFESSIONAL WAY.  ALL CREW TO THEIR GENERAL EMERGENCY STATIONS.

I should point out here that you may have noticed that I have not used the word fire. I heard that one or two guests had told the media that I had never used the word fire. This is not true. I was going to say this is bollocks but I won’t.

However, at this point I had not used the “F” word because the reports from the engine room were that all the teams could see was thick white smoke……no flames…… just thick white smoke. And those words had been repeated to me by the captain when he had me make announcements. He used the word “smoke” not “fire” and so those were the words I had repeated to the guests.

So now the crew were at their emergency stations and when I say the crew I mean every single crew member went immediately because the Carnival crew are brilliant and…..they are not Greek and thus in the lifeboats before the guests.

During the next 10 minutes I kept talking to the guests reminding them to stay in their cabins and did my best to keep them calm. I also spoke to the crew, telling them to remember their training and to also stay calm. And they did, both the guests and the crew did exactly what I asked of them and meanwhile I waited for the captain to tell me what was next. And what was next was that the smoke was so intense and so thick that even with breathing apparatus on the teams could not get close to the source.

I looked at Captain Cupisti………….he looked back at me and shook his head slightly …………… and that’s when I ruined a really good pair of underpants.

Part 2 to follow soon.

John

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.

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