Smoke On the Water – Part 5

November 15, 2010 -

John Heald

I had been on the bridge for four hours and on my feet for all of it. But a few moments after I had made the announcement that the smoke was dissapissatating and that the cables were no longer on fire my legs suddenly felt heavy and I realised I needed to take my Metmorphin diabetic pill and I needed to pee. And so excusing myself with the Captain who was back on the phone with the beards back in Miami I went down to my cabin. It would be the last time I would see it for the next 16 hours.

The reality of just how bad the situation was had not truly hit home because the bridge has lots of windows of course and the natural daylight had disguised the fact that where there were no windows…………..the ship was as dark as an Ed Wood movie.

I took my pill and checked my sugar level which was higher than normal because I had taken it later than usual and because stress has the same effect on sugar levels as Megan Fox’s bottom has on other parts of my body. I knew I had to get back to the bridge quickly so I went into the bathroom to pee and that’s when I realised that my state room steward Ketut was not going to enjoy cleaning my cabin. There are no windows in my bedroom or bathroom and although I was eventually on target the first few moments I was off the mark like Stevie Wonder shooting a three pointer……..sorry Ketut.

Seriously though the lack of lighting started the worry bells ringing in my head and then when I pressed the flush button and dint hear the usual sunction noise……………….I began to realise that this was far, far from over.

And so I went back to the bridge climbing the stairs from deck 5 to deck 8 and when I got there I was wheezing like an asthmatic hamster trying to pull an elephant on a skateboard. Again, I started to think if I was out of breath climbing three flights how were all the guests going to manage……………how were all the older guests and children going to manage. These thoughts were still diluted with the hope that the engineers would restore the power and everything would be ok but about 30 minutes later I knew I had to say something to the guests.

The Guest Services Desk had a line of people saying that their lights were not working and their toilets not flushing. So I went to the Captain who was on the phone still with the command centre and asked him to interrupt the conversation so we could have one that went like this:

JOHN: CAPTAIN, I AM GOING TO HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THE SERVICES ONBOARD, WE HAVE NO ELEVATORS, NO LIGHTS AND NO POWER AND MOST IMPORTANTLY FOR NOW…………THE TOILETS ARE NOT FLUSHING.

The Captain looked at me with tired blood shot eyes. Claudio is a handsome man and being an Italian man means he has won the lottery of life. Yet as I stood there looking at him I saw a man who was aging by the second. Obviously being fat and British still made him a thousand times better looking than me though.

CAPTAIN: LET ME SPEAK TO THE OFFICE, HOLD ON.

The Captain then related my concerns and asked for permission to do this which of course he got. I will say that even if the beards had said “no, wait and see what happens” I would have respectfully ignored them and done it anyway. I had promised from the start of this that I would tell the truth and I wasn’t going to stop now. But my colleagues in the command center agreed with me but the Captain wanted to do one more thing before I spoke to the guests.

CAPTAIN: JOHN, LET ME CHECK WITH THE CHIEF ENGINEER

The Captain then called on the Walkie Talkie to Chief Engineer Mario.

CAPTAIN: WHATS THE STORY WITH THE POWER AND THE TOILETS ETC

There was silence for a moment and then a voice that sounded like he was about to tell someone that a family member had been killed said “Captain, the main switchboard is finished………………. he paused…………… and then his voice cracking with emotion he said words I will never forget. I cannot give you anything………. nothing…………. no engines, no power…………… everything is finished………… finished…………. finished.”

I will never ever forget the fact that he said the word “finished” three times and each time he said his voice reached new levels of despair. This was his engine room and now it was a dead place, devoid of life and he was taking this very personally indeed.

And so I trudged over to the PA system again and made an announcement that in some ways was as difficult to make as any of the previous ones.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. WELL HERE I AM AGAIN AND LET ME START WITH THE GOOD NEWS. THE SHIP IS SAFE AND IN ABSOLUTELY NO JEOPARDY. YOU ARE SAFE. THERE HAVE BEEN NO INJURIES AT ALL AMONGST GUESTS AND CREW. WE HAVE ONE GUEST WHO WAS VERY WORRIED INDEED, AND OUR MEDICAL STAFF ARE TAKING CARE OF HER AS THEY WILL YOU IF YOU NEED.

NOW THE NOT SO GOOD NEWS IS THAT THIS INCIDENT HAS LEFT US WITH NO POWER. THIS MEANS WE HAVE NO LIGHTING, NO ELEVATORS, NO AIR CONDITIONING, NO PHONES AND THE TOILET SYSTEM IS NOT WORKING. I WILL ALWAYS BE HONEST WITH YOU, EVERYONE, AND I HAVE TO TELL YOU THAT THESE SERVICES WILL NOT BE QUICKLY RETURNED. OUR ENGINEERING TEAM IS WORKING HARD BUT AT THE MOMENT THE SITUATION DOWNSTAIRS IS COMPLICATED TO SAY THE LEAST. I WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE ANNOUNCEMENTS EVERY 30 MINUTES, EVEN IF THERE IS NO NEWS.

I KNOW THIS IS GOING TO BE DIFFICULT BUT LET’S NOT FORGET THE MOST IMPORTANT FACT……….. THE SHIP IS SAFE AND YOU ARE ALL SAFE AND FOR NOW………………. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. I WILL BE BACK SOON.

Then over the next few hours the following things happened……………… and again excuse me for putting this in list form but it is the only way I will remember everything.

1. The Captain was informed by the command centre that the US Coastguard was sending a cutter which would arrive late that evening. I informed the guests of this and how important it was to feel reassured that they were on their way.

2. Approximately one hour after the announcement that the toilet system was not working our housekeeping manager Rudy called to say that people had used the public restrooms on decks 3,4,5 and 9 and that they were no longer in a fit state for public use. The Hotel Director, the Captain and I discussed this and it was decided that we should lock the public restrooms and that I should tell guests that they should have to use their own cabins. The announcement to do so went something like this:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. AS YOU KNOW THE TOILETS ARE NOT WORKING AND BECAUSE THE PUBLIC RESTROOMS HAVE BEEN USED SO MUCH IT HAS BEEN DECIDED THAT WE SHOULD LOCK THEM AS THEY ARE BECOMING A HEALTH HAZZARD. PLEASE THEREFORE USE THE BATHRROMS IN YOUR CABINS. I KNOW THAT THIS MEANS WALKING UP AND DOWN STAIRS AGAIN AND THAT YOUR TOILETS ARE NOT WORKING EITHER AND I WISH I COULD WAVE A MAGIC WAND AND MAKE THINGS BETTER.

Now it was at the conclusion of this announcement that I decided that from now on, every announcement would include some kind of humour………I didn’t think this through at all and as my attempt at humour continued throughout the next few days I had no idea if it was appreciated by the guests but my heart told me I had to do this and therefore every time I spoke to the guests I would try to say something humourous…………..I still don’t know if they appreciated it or not, or if the majority of the guests were looking at the PA system and saying ” will you shut up you fat annoying bastard.”

And so my announcement carried on.

OUR ENGINEERS ARE AS I SAID WORKING HARD, ESPECIALLY WITH THE TOILET SYSTEM AS WE KNOW HOW IMPORTANT THIS BASIC NEED IS……………… AND LET ME TELL YOU OUR ENGINEERS ARE NUMBER ONE………. IN THE NUMBER TWO BUSINESS.

By the way, my apologies to the travel writer of the LA Times who wrote yesterday that my humour was “overboard.”

3. I spoke to my ACDs Stephanie and Marcello on the radio ( not having phones was becoming a royal pain in the arse) and asked them to get all the entertainment staff together and bring them to meet me at the bridge. They all arrived some puffing harder than others having climbed from deck 3 to deck 8. I thanked them for all they had done and encouraged them to walk the corridors and decks and just talk to people, make sure they were ok and if they needed anything to let me know. I was on the bridge……………..they were my eyes and ears.

4. At 10:45am our Food and Beverage Manager came to the bridge and myself, Duncan and Captain Cupisti had a conference because it was time to prepare dinner and with no power there would be no Mongolian Wok, no Burrito Bar, no Pizza, no Grill…………..in fact there would be no hot food at all.
And so I paged all 60 plus chefs and cooks to go to the galley and that’s when they set about making salads and sandwiches for 3299 people. Imagine someone calls you and says “hey Mrs Smith, me and 8 friends will be round in 30 minutes, make us a few sandwiches each would you dear.”

And now imagine telling the Chef that he needed to make at least 9,000 sandwiches and had an hour to do so. First of all he had to get the stores from deck 0 to the galley on deck 4……………with no elevators. Then he had to decide what he could put in the sandwiches and then make 7000 of the buggers. This figure is based on each guest taking two each plus feeding 1200 as well. The Chef was as you can imagine was a wee bit stressed.

It took a long time to make these sandwiches and when they were finally ready to be put out it was 12:45am and everyone was very, very hungry. Now the galley is on deck 4 and it made no sense to have to carry them all the way to deck 9 and the lido service areas. This proved to be a big mistake on our part as the lines were horrendous and so much so that I had to apologise and explain the complications of the service and I promised we would do better at dinner time because like the idiot, hope sprang eternal that we would have power for dinner and that everyone would be feasting on chocolate melting cake.

Yep………….the reports you heard about lines for food on that Monday lunchtime are absolutely true. We acted on the fly and although the Chef did an amazing job in preparing them our decision not to open the Lido for lunch was a huge mistake…………..but we would get better. And oh yes,
I will talk about food again in part 239.

I had a problem of my own though because I had missed both breakfast and lunch and my sugar levels were now lower than Paris Hilton’s underwear. I knew this because my hands were shaking and my head was pounding………..sure signs of low sugar. The only time I had felt like this and it wasn’t because of low blood sugar levels was after the bollocking my wife Heidi had given me when she caught me looking at www.latvianwomeninstockingsandsuspenders.com.

Yet how was I going to ask for a sandwich when none of the crew had been fed yet. Luckily I found one stick of Twix on the bridge and I am here to admit…………… I stole it. I have no idea who it belonged to and if that person is reading this……… it was me………… I am the thief………….. I was too shy to ask but if I hadn’t eaten it…………. there would have been 260 pounds of British beef on the floor.

It was by the way 2:00pm before we fed the crew and not a single one of them complained. We eventually got sandwiches on the bridge as well at 2:30pm because the Captain insisted that he would not eat until the crew had.

There were lots of decisions to make that Monday afternoon. Some were made between us onboard and some were made by the Miami command centre and yet the one thing we were all waiting for was the one from the Chief Engineer and at 4:15pm he came to the bridge to tell us in person.

His face was as black as coal and his once white overalls looked like they had been washed in a pool of oil and dust. But I will never forget his head. Marco has a wonderful hairless head which now had blue veins pulsating out of it, a true sign of the stress he had been through.

He took the Captain to one side of the bridge and they had a discussion with their backs to Duncan and I. Whatever the Chief Engineer had told the Captain suddenly caused the stress and pent up emotion and the enormous responsibility that had been weighing down on Captain Cupisti’s shoulders, just for a moment got the better of him…………. because he picked up a stool and flung it with all his might against the closet where the ships charts are kept. I watched as one of piece broke off and bounced towards me. Silence ruled the bridge.

We all watched and waited while the Captain stood…………… head bowed. He then turned and picked up the stool, apologizing to all of us in both English and Italian.

He then went and spoke again on the emergency phone to the command centre and we all knew why it wasn’t a good time to be a piece of bridge furniture. The Chief had confirmed that we had no possible way of restoring power to the engines. If we were going to move it wouldn’t be under our own power……………… we needed help………………. and quickly.

It seemed appropriate that as the Captain got off the phone to confirm what was happening that the sun began to set and darkness began to envelop the ship. The command centre had ordered two tugs to come to the vessel and they would tow us like unceremoniously into Ensenada, Mexico where we would arrive sometime late on Wednesday.

The tugs would be here in the wee small hours of the morning and I was going to have to tell the guests.

As I made my way back to the sodding PA system, I picked up the bit that had fallen off the stool after it’s impact with the chart cupboard. I tapped the Captain on the shoulder and placed it in his hand.

“What’s that?” asked the Captain.

I looked at him and said “It’s a stool sample.”

He smiled for the first time in many many hours and job done there……. I went to tell the guests that help was on the way but that tonight was going to be challenging for us all.

Join me tomorrow for the final part of Smoke On The Water.

Goodnight
John

PS – I am here in the UK. I didn’t want to make a big song and dance about flying home because I feel very guilty that I have left the Carnival Splendor as she is. But, I needed to come home because I feel totally washed out. I will be back in the States at the end of the month to film a piece at St Jude Children’s Hospital and for meetings about the Bloggers cruise number 4. It feels wonderful to be home and being with the girls is just what I needed……. although my wife thought it would be bloody hilarious if instead of the Steak and onions I had asked for……….she would serve me something else.

John Eating Spam

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.