Jason's wife once worked for Diana Wyndham, a beautiful and eccentric actress. And hard-drinking ex-rocker, Rick Redding, once toured with a band Jason has strong ties to. Now Diana occupies one of the ship's luxury suites, and Rick dwells in the stateroom next door. Between them, they may know more about Jason's secret past than anyone suspects.
Jason narrates hisand the Sapphire'sstory with drama, humor, and a touch of the supernatural as he tries to survive a trial by fire and ice on the journey to Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)|
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Friday, at Sea
It's two in the morning, and I'm wandering the decks.
I do this sometimes, late at night, after I've finished my gig in the TopDeck Lounge. Guitars locked away. Samuel, mopping up the bar, loading the dishwasher with empty glasses. Carla totting up receipts in the alcove off to the side.
It's lovely, having the ship to myself.
We're four hours out of Vancouver, meandering along the darkened, forested shorelines of Georgia Strait, our propellers barely lapping in the water. Killing time, really. We could be there in an hour if the captain so wished.
It's our last night out. The end of a week's sailing to Alaska and back.
We've had our final Bingo and Win-a-Cruise Lottery. And our Farewell Variety Extravaganza in the Showcase Lounge. DJ Pedro's still hosting his Welcome Back to Canada Party in the Disco, but that'll soon be winding down, the last of the diehards straggling back to their cabins, drunk and in no shape to disembark in a few hours' time.
Downstairs, on the crew decks, it's brightly-lit mayhem. All of the passengers' bags and cases have been collected and they're being loaded into wheeled cages for quick offload as soon as we dock at six.
Just ahead, if I lean out over the railing, I can see our sister ship, the Star Amethyst, 92,600 luxury tons, a fivestar hotel on top of a barge, lights ablaze in the night, heading on the same course. She'll berth opposite us at Vancouver's Cruise Ship Terminal.
We're tiny. Only 28,000 tons. And old. But rather unusual. A refurbished ocean liner. One of the last steamships, in fact, still at sea. Passengers pay a premium to sail on Star Sapphire.
I run my hand along her teak railing. It's old, an original fitting, lovingly maintained, polished weekly. Underneath the modern sealant you can still see the weathering from her years on the North Atlantic.
This is her last season. And I'll be sad to see her go. I've worked on board for nearly three years, divided up into six month contracts. It's not quite the end of her life. But it will be a change. When our last run to Alaska's done in September, she'll be retired and sent over to Europe. She's being bought by a consortium of business partners, renovated yet again, and set up as a hotel and casino. StarSea Corporate's been negotiating the terms for the past year. None of us will lose our jobs. We'll be absorbed back into the system. Assignments aboard other StarSea ships. And my lady will live on, with a new lease on life.
With so many other passenger liners sent to the knacker's yard, obsolete, unable to meet safety standards and unappreciated by a demanding market, it's the best possible outcome. And I'm certain she knows it.
I've done my once-around the Outside Promenade. I'm going inside now. I give my favourite place on the railing an affectionate rub. I'm sure that thumb-sized indentation's the result of thousands of others saying goodnight to her, just like me.
Downstairs, in the foyer outside the Atrium Room, I walk past a little display with photos of all the ship's headline entertainers. There's me — Jason Davey — TopDeck Lounge, performing all your vocal and instrumental favourites, 8 till Late. It's a terrible picture. Makes me look like the second-last act in a fifties variety show featuring dancing elephants and fire-eating hoop jugglers.
I'll forgive you for thinking you might be reminded of The Love Boat, that American sitcom from about thirty years ago, where passengers and crew weekly embarked upon romantic adventures and humorous storylines. We have DVDs in the Officers' Club, largely unwatched. And I really hate the theme song. Though if you ask me to sing it this week in TopDeck, I will.
I take one of the forward passenger lifts down. It's nicer than the crew lifts, which are tiny white boxes with open cage doors, so you can see the cut-away steel plates of each of the ship's decks going up as you go down. Passenger lifts have mirrors on their walls, and plush blue carpeting on the floor, and disembodied female voices telling you what deck you're on and please mind the doors.
The lift stops on Deck 5, Baja, and the door slides open. For no apparent reason, as there's no one waiting to get on. But then ... I smell something. It's only a tiny whiff. Electrical. Scorched wires. That smell you can taste in the back of your throat.
This is not good.
I'm off the lift and hunting for the source. Tracking it forward ... There. Showcase Lounge. There's a haze in front of me, and it's being fed by little tendrils, wisps of smoke snaking out from underneath the closed doors.
It takes a second or two to hit home. And then — panic.
Fire Alarm. Where? Where?
Found it. Pull down hard on the bar. Silent alarm. But there's an audible up on the Bridge and a red flashing light on the Fire Panel. Next — next — next —
I'm not good at this. I'm the last person this should be happening to. I'm trying to remember the Drill.
Small fire: make one attempt to put it out with an extinguisher.
I don't think it's a small fire. And I'm not going to check.
If smoke's coming from under a door ... leave it alone. Close the Fire Door.
I disengage the locks that keep the heavy Fire Doors open on both sides of the Lounge. Slam them shut, isolating the bow from the rest of the ship.
Evacuate the area.
There's no one to evacuate. It's two in the morning. Our passengers are all in bed. Asleep.
Wait for the Evaluation Team.
I wait. Coughing. Heart beating. Cold sweat, fighting the need, the absolute primordial fight-or-flight need, to run away and be as far away as possible. Finally, the Bridge responds. It's only twenty or thirty seconds since I turned in the alarm. It feels like half an hour.
I hear four Big Ben bongs over the PA, and then the matter-of-fact voice of the Watch Officer with the coded announcement that means Emergency: "Your attention please. This is the Bridge. Evaluation Team to Baja Deck, Deck 5, Showcase Lounge, port side. I'll repeat, Evaluation Team, please, to Baja Deck, Deck 5, Showcase Lounge, port side. Thank you."
We invent dire disasters each week for Crew Drills. We go through our paces. We practice responses till they're automatic. But Drills are one thing. Real fires don't follow handbooks. I want to be anywhere but here.
Wait for the Evaluation Team.
They've got security cameras in Showcase. They can see what's behind those doors. I have to stay to tell them what I know. I'm counting the seconds.
Stay calm. You are in no immediate danger.
There's a fire raging out of control ten feet away from me and I'm meant to believe I'm in no immediate danger.
Two minutes. Here they come, arriving from three directions at once. Chief Purser, Safety, Security, Engineers, Bridge Officers. All with radios. A ten-second assessment and the Safety Officer's relaying orders and Chief Purser's on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
"Forget about Crew Alert," he says, to me. "This is a GES."
A full-scale GES is what we practice with the passengers each week before Sailaway. It involves lifejackets and serious thought. It's not the signal to abandon ship. But it might as well be. Bells are ringing. Seven short, one long. Passengers are coming out in their pyjamas. There's panic. Confusion. They can see the smoke. They can smell it. They know it's not a Drill.
Chief Purser's shouting at them to go to their muster stations. He wishes he was already there himself.
"Upstairs! Everybody upstairs. Muster Stations on Promenade Deck. Now!"
In a well-planned paper emergency, passengers are organized, by location, in the public rooms. From there, they can be led out in an orderly fashion to the lifeboats. In a well-planned paper emergency, there is no chaos. There is no panic. But the area around the forward stairwell's rapidly deteriorating into chaos. Passengers are crowding onto the stairs, clutching their lifejackets. Passengers are pushing forward, trying to run.
I'm paralyzed. My legs won't move. Chief Purser gives me a push. "Off to your Muster Duties. Go!"
Every member of the ship's company has a function to perform in an emergency. Contract musicians are crew. No different from cabin stewards and bartenders. I'm away at last. Relieved. Afraid. My throat and lungs are beginning to hurt. I'm fighting that fight-or-flight panic again. And the bells have stopped.
"Your attention, please, this is the Bridge. Fire party and boundary cooling party to the Showcase Lounge, Baja Deck, Deck 5, port side, forward stairway."
Fuck. It's spreading.
"Your attention, please, this is the Captain. This is an announcement to all passengers and crew. What you've just heard is the General Emergency Signal. Would all passengers and crew please collect their lifejackets, dress warmly, take all necessities, and proceed now to your muster stations. I apologize for the lateness of the hour and the inconvenience. This is a precautionary measure only, at this time. Again, I'll repeat, this is Captain Callico ..."
I'm trying to get down the crew stairs to my cabin, which is on A Deck, one below the last passenger deck, Caribe. They've shut down the ship's ventilators. It's hot and airless in this stairwell and I'm battling other crewmembers who're desperate to get topside with their lifejackets.
Finally. A Deck. My cabin. My home. I run cold water in the sink and splash it into my mouth and eyes and over my face. I grab my lifejacket and pull on my crew baseball cap. I hook my laminated picture ID and safety instruction card off the magnet clip beside my bed.
"Your attention, please. This is the Bridge."
I lean my head against my open cabin door, heart pounding.
"Zone parties to Fire Zone #1, Baja Deck, Deck 5. Zone Commander, Zone 1, evacuate Deck 5."
Jesus fucking Christ. I'm out of here. I'm in the corridor. Nearly colliding with Chris, from the Engine Room, in his white boiler suit, and DJ Pedro from the Disco.
"They'll be handing out free cruise certificates from now until next Christmas over this one," Pedro says, cynically. "See you on Twitter."
"That's not funny," I tell him, slinging my lifejacket over my shoulder.
My assigned post is Deck 7, Promenade, aft Atrium Room entrance. I'm there to help look after the passengers who use it as their Muster Station. I'm not happy being above the fire, even though it's at the forward end of the ship. I'm trying not to let my fear show. But at least the fire crew's there, fighting it. And we've had reassuring announcements from the Captain, keeping us all informed about what's apparently happening. And we're close to civilization. Not out in open water. The shoreline is near. I could swim there if I had to.
"Don't let those belts trail on the floor," I tell a passenger, who's become a one-man tripping hazard with his lifejacket.
One of the Pursers is here with me. His name's Quentin and he's new to the ship. He came aboard last month. Before that, he was on the Amethyst. Which has a spotless safety record.
"I suppose now is not the time to inquire whether you've had prior experience at this sort of thing?"
I cinch the belts of my lifejacket tight around my chest and waist. My adrenaline's still surging, and my throat and lungs are aching from the smoke I've breathed in. I cough it up. Tastes awful. Passengers are looking at me. I smell like the fire.
"Not with a real fire on a ship, no."
"I suspect I'll be relying heavily upon your expertise in the fine art of abandoning a vessel at sea, as I've never actually bothered to learn how to swim."
He makes me smile.
"Where do I go? Help me — where do I go?"
She's appeared from nowhere, woken from sleep, lifejacket on, tapes trailing. Elderly, unsure. She clutches my arm, her confused eyes filled with panic.
"You're here," I say, gently. "This is Muster Station Number Two."
But she's frozen, incapable of moving or thinking clearly. "Are we sinking? Did we hit something?"
"It's just a small fire," Quentin says, trying to be reassuring. "Nothing to worry about."
Wrong, wrong words.
"A fire? Oh God. Oh my God."
I take her hand. It's clammy and shaky. I help her inside, and to a chair which is occupied by an eleven-year-old boy I've grown to dislike all week.
"If you wouldn't mind giving up your seat ..." I suggest, after he proves to be immobile as well as unobservant, his nose buried, as it is, in Nintendo.
He looks to his dad — who's more concerned with keeping Facebook updated — and then to his mum — who responds begrudgingly.
"Sure," the kid says, with an arrogant laugh. "Here you go, Granny."
He kicks the chair at us, and sits on the floor, engrossed once more by Pokémon.
"You need to wait here until you're given further instructions," I tell the frightened lady, wishing I didn't have to leave her at the mercy of Laughing Boy and his parents. But Joannie, one of the other Pursers, will be around soon to keep an eye on her. I go back to my post at the door, and Quentin.
"They warned me this ship was an accident waiting to happen," he says, nervously.
"My colleagues aboard the Amethyst. She's an antique, they said. Things happen. Fires. Breakdowns. Her fuel lines pack up in the middle of the night and her generators go dark. She was in dry-dock for a week four months ago — one of her boilers exploded. Killed three engineers."
"I know," I tell him.
It happened while I was on my break. Sally — the Captain's Secretary — emailed me all the details. It was horrific.
"Hi, guys." It's Jemima Vickers. Our Cruise Director. My boss.
"Deck 7, Promenade, aft starboard pax stairway, clear," she says, into her radio.
"Is it within your powers to tell us what's actually happening?" Quentin asks.
"There's a lot of smoke, but it's mostly just on Baja. The fire's out."
Jemima's from Melbourne. I love her accent. And the fact that she lets me call her Vicks. With utter affection. And my stress levels just went down about 200%.
"It's out. They had to hack away part of the ceiling. And it smells pretty foul down there. At least it happened at the end of the bloody cruise. There'd be hell to pay if we'd cancelled La Gran Stupenda and Her Unfailing Knives."
She has me smiling again.
"So we won't be abandoning ship," Quentin says. He seems almost disappointed.
"No, love. Not this time."
I can feel my legs beginning to shake. All of me, actually.
Jemima gives me a hug. "You did all right here."
And she goes inside.
The worst of it's the smoke, which has crept insidiously into everything aft of the fire on Baja. Passengers will be issued apologies and credit vouchers. On the whole, we seem to have come out of it OK.
I'm reading Twitter now, before I try to get a few hours' sleep.
Crew were lovely, so professional. No panic. Just like Lifeboat Drill.
I thought we'd have to abandon ship. Engines stopped. We were very very frightened.
OH forgot his meds but officer wouldn't let him go back to cabin. Was most annoyed. Will definitely complain to cruise line.
We're underway, at full speed, towards Vancouver. I never want to go through anything like this again. Ever. There's nowhere to run if your ship's on fire. And it's not the flames that'll kill you.
It's the smoke.CHAPTER 2
She's disguised, masked head to foot in layers of transparent white gauze, gliding towards me, silent. I'm expecting emptiness when her arms embrace me, the weightlessness of eternity. But there's warmth. And gentleness. And an unexpected sense of touch. And her scent.
She draws me into the folds of gauze. I part the layers, searching for her face. But I never see it ... she never lets me. Her lips touch mine, the tip of her tongue. I will myself motionless, wanting her but not daring to move. If I do, I will find only emptiness. She'll disappear.
She's making love to me, slowly, tantalizingly. Teasing me. Her fingers tracing pathways down my chest, lingering ...
"Jason! Morning! Turnaround!"
It's Quentin, on a break, banging on my cabin door.
My dream vanishes in a flutter of scented white netting.
"What time is it?"
"Eight-fifteen," Quentin says, helpfully, through the door.
"Rise and shine."
"You're entirely welcome," Quentin says, and I can hear the humour in his voice.
The Purser's Desk is on Deck 6, Aloha, Forward, and the Entrance Hall is full of passengers anxious to get off. This, in spite of the fact they've been told to wait in their cabins. Or the public rooms. Or anywhere except the Entrance Hall on Deck 6, Aloha, Forward.
But they've got tours to join and flights to catch. And after last night's events, they're hyped up and tense. They're standing around in restless little groups, wearing the same clothes they came aboard in last Saturday, talking, texting, tweeting.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cold Play"
Copyright © 2012 Winona Kent.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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