There are few really negative things about the cruise experience, other than the fact that it has to end, I guess. Sure, you might cite unpleasant passengers, and some of the shows might not be to your taste. The same could be true about the food, or even elements of the service.
But these are individual things and, for every hater, another ninety nine fellow voyagers are probably very happy with those self same things. Yet if there’s one thing that gets up the back of just about every passenger on any cruise, it’s the mandatory lifeboat drill held before sailing.
The drill is, without doubt, the boil on cruising’s otherwise beautifully sculpted backside. A dentist’s drill would probably elicit less in the way of agonised groans. Passengers loathe it and, truth be told, so do the crew. They know that the passengers would rather be anywhere than there, and that they need an inordinate amount of goading, chiding and coaxing just to get many just to participate at all. For the crew, boat drill is no fun whatsoever.
I have no credibility to lose here, because I have to admit to finding the drill as monumental a pain as anybody else. Yet I always make myself go because, better than most, I know just how and why it came to be so damned necessary. There is no excuse for anyone to miss boat drill and, as a maritime historian, I have fewer excuses than anybody.
Of course, over it all there still hangs the long, ghastly shadow of the Titanic.
When that ship had to be abandoned in mid Atlantic, the evacuation- carried through with a kind of ruthless, desperate haste- was so badly botched that there were almost five hundred empty seats in the boats that did get away. Most of those employed as boat crews did not even know how to hold an oar, much less row with one.
The sinking of the Titanic hit home like a hydrogen bomb, and resulted in a whole raft of new legislation that followed in its wake. One of the first was an across the board diktat of boats for all on board, and a mandatory boat drill at the start of each voyage, so that passengers and crew alike know exactly where to head in the event of an emergency. This was the genesis of the lifeboat drill that we love to hate to this day.
if you’re wondering why the drill emphasises that you should use the stairs, and not the lifts in the events of an emergency, that goes back to the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, when screaming passengers were trapped in lifts stalled between decks as the water overwhelmed them. Sobering stuff, for sure.
No towels to be left on balconies? This one is down to a fire that started on a passenger balcony aboard the Star Princess a few years ago that did quite horrific damage to that ship.
And if ever you needed to be reminded just how important the drill still is, you only have to remember the ghastly charade of the Costa Concordia last year. Only calm weather and the ship’s (very) close proximity to land prevented a far more horrific loss of life. Thirty-two was more than enough.
So, next time you- like me- stop and think that there’s no good reason to endure yet another lifeboat drill, just remind yourself that there are, in fact, at least thirty-two. Truth.