Monday, July 25, 2011

That Sinking Feeling

Once again, the Writer's Almanac has inspired the subject of a blog for me. It was on this day that the Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria was struck, off the coast of Nantucket, and eventually sank.

Now, why, you might wonder, is that event of particular note. Well, several reasons. On the larger scale of human events, certainly there were bigger more costly ship sinkings. Obviously, the Titanic is the most famous, at least in terms of lives lost, with 1,517 people perishing. The Andrea Doria had only 46 people die.

Strangely, the Andrea Doria benefited from the lessons learned on the Titanic--to a point. The Andrea Doria was struck by another ship, the Stockholm, in a heavy fog. The impact of the collision resulted in the Andrea Doria listing hard to starboard which rendered the lifeboats on that side unusable. With only half the lifeboats usable, the numbers of passengers who could be rescued using them was greatly diminished. Shamefully, some of the crew fled on the first 3 lifeboats.

However, and here's where the Titanic lessons came into play, there were other ships in the area that immediately set course to assist the crippled ship. These ships included the Ile de France which had passed the site hours earlier. This ship had sufficient capacity to take on the passengers from the stricken ship. The call to abandon ship came 30 minutes into the accident, and the ship sank eleven hours after being struck.

As Wikipedia notes, the sinking of the Andrea Doria was "the last major transatlantic passenger vessel to sink before aircraft became the preferred method of travel."

So what? you might be thinking. When this story was first in the news, I was riveted with the details. Our family was one of those ocean-traveling families. With my parents doing mission work in southern Africa, which they first went to in 1946, we had to get across the Atlantic Ocean, somehow. The very first time, we went by plane which is standard now, but very unusual then. After that trip, we crossed the Atlantic in 1954 to return to the U.S., then again in 1955 to return to Africa.

So, crossing the Atlantic was something with which I had familiarity, when I first learned of the Andrea Doria sinking. It did not instill great confidence in me. The only thing I really feared crossing the ocean was the prospect that the ship could sink. It didn't help matters when on one ocean crossing the ship we were on showed a movie "Run Silent, Run Deep" about submarines preying on ships.

Sure, it was great fun to cross the Atlantic in a huge ship, such as the Queen Elizabeth I (as we did). And the time spent on shipboard was a wonderful way for missionaries heading home to decompress. But, the prospect of another ocean liner striking the ship we were on did not thrill me.

When I returned* to the U.S. for the final time in 1959, we once again crossed by ship--a ship called the African Enterprise. I even found photos of it on the Internet--shown below--which completely matched my memory of the ship. The photo of the ship's main lounge really brought back memories for there was a piano there (seen on the left in the photo) on which the ship's doctor--an Italian opera lover--played the Triumphal March from Aida JUST as we steamed past the Statue of Liberty into New York harbor.

Ah, the days of passengers crossing the Atlantic are long gone--at least in the commercial sense. There are, of course, luxury tour which do take passengers around the world. But, mostly now, people go on short jaunt cruises which are nothing like an ocean crossing.

What has not changed, of course, is the prospect of a ship sinking. Sadly, such catastrophes are still happening (as this summer's news attests), and lives are lost.
*My parents returned to southern Africa in 1960, while I stayed in the U.S. to continue my high school education.


Anvilcloud said...

Those crossings should be good memories for you and your family. Could you actually cross by ship on one of your trips to London? Is such a thing even a possibility? I know the cost would be horrific -- just wondering about the possibility.

KGMom said...

AC--my understanding is that a transatlantic crossing now is only an occasional special deal. For example, when the Queen Elizabeth 2 was launched, they did a transatlantic crossing.
What we were on, of course, was a regular run back and forth for the various Cunard liners.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

MY friend Lynne wants for us to go to South Africa for a vacation. I know you have plans to go some day soon. I am trying to convince her to go on the St Helena mail boat from England, stopping at Ascension Island and St Helena Island. This might be a memorable way for you and your husband to travel to South Africa.

KGMom said...

Philip--oh, the St. Helena Mail Boat sounds wonderful.
I am still a fan of ship travel. We took a cruise about 5 years ago, and it was a pale imitation of a true transatlantic crossing.

NCmountainwoman said...

My mother-in-law loved ships. For many years she took the transatlantic crossing from New York to Southampton. A couple of days later, she returned to New York aboard the same ship (I think it was the QE II). She never wanted to see the sights, just live in the luxury of the ship. It was the grand life she was "meant" to have but unfortunately did not receive.

KGMom said...

NC--Really? Interesting that she took ocean voyages as a way to live a life of luxury.

Nance said...

Unique memories! I'm a reluctant, but fairly frequent, flyer. I've always thought I would love to take an Atlantic crossing cruise, that I would fare far better. Unlikely, now, but a dream I hold to fondly.

Anonymous said...

I can still remember lying on the living room floor with our small town newspaper in front of me, reading about that tragedy.

Ginnie said...

You have some very colorful memories. For some reason I've never wanted to travel by water but it did look very appealing in the old days.

Climenheise said...

I have the certificate presented to me by Neptune when we crossed the equator on the Union Castle. It is on my bulletin board in my office, a reminder that the denizens of the deep are bound to help this non-swimmer if he is ever cast adrift at sea!