Cruising through Bermuda Triangle
Bridgman, MI—When Sharon and I married in 2004, we planned our honeymoon to be on a 13-day Grand Holiday Caribbean Cruise of the Cunard QE2 roundtrip from New York, from Dec. 21, 2004 to Jan. 3, 2005.
We were excited about the itinerary of the cruise, New York to the Caribbean with ports of call in St. Thomas, Grenada, Barbados, Martinique and San Juan, Puerto Rico. We showed the brochure to Sharon's daughter, Laura, who said "You guys will be going right through the Bermuda Triangle!"
I dismissed her comment with imperviousness as I had always believed the idea of there being a real Bermuda Triangle pure poppycock. I only knew where one point of the supposed “triangle” was, Bermuda. I had no idea that the other two points were Puerto Rico and Miami, where with these three points, mysterious happenings had allegedly occurred.
In the late afternoon of Dec. 21, after backing out of Manhattan's Pier 90, QE2 began her journey. During the sail-away party, we took pictures of the Statue of Liberty and felt the power from the world's most powerful merchant marine power plant propel us into the vast Atlantic Ocean.
Our course south followed the east coast for the first day and a half and then headed in a southeastern direction toward the island of St. Thomas where we arrived early on Dec. 24.
On a gorgeous Christmas Eve day, we took an excursion to St. John where we went snorkeling on Trunk Bay, one of the world's most beautiful beaches.
Christmas Day was spent at sea, sailing toward Grenada. After a festive British lunch with Yorkshire pudding, we watched "Miracle On 34th Street" in the ship’s theater.
We then went to afternoon tea in the Queen’s Room and happened to sit next to and meet Rhoda and Mark Auerbach. We became instant friends and Mark told us his story of being an Auschwitz survivor. During our conversation, we learned we were neighbors with adjacent cabins on One Deck (cabins 1075 and 1077).
Throughout the rest of the cruise, the four of us hung out and did everything together.
Our last port of call before heading back to New York was San Juan, Puerto Rico on New Year’s Eve. As we sailed out of San Juan harbor at sunset, the four of us stood on the promenade deck and savored the beautiful horizon we were so peacefully sailing into.
The New Year's celebration in the ship’s show lounge was fantastic and capped off by Captain McNaught leading everyone in "Auld Lang Syne" at the stroke of midnight. After a visit to the midnight buffet, we finally made it back to our cabins about 1:15 a.m.
Sharon and I were in bed talking about how fortunate we were to meet such wonderful friends when, about 1:40 a.m., I noticed the light from the hallway under the door go out. Then suddenly, the air conditioning went off and the soft purring of the ship's drive shafts powering the two giant propellers went silent.
The captain came over the PA and made an announcement confirming the ship had lost power, that they would be working to get it restored, and not to worry as there were no safety concerns.
I tried to reassure Sharon that it was nothing to be worried about, but I began to worry as I had never heard of this happening out of the blue to any ship, let alone the crown jewel of the prestigious British CunardLine. Soon the ship was dead in the water. Then, the deathly silence in our room was broken by the whimpering cries of a woman through the wall. We could tell it was Rhoda.
There was some emergency lighting in the hall, and we opened the door so we could get dressed. Then we went over to Mark and Rhoda's cabin and the door was open. There stood Mark and Rhoda fully dressed with their life jackets on. Rhoda was sobbing and I tried to comfort her by telling her everything would be OK (as if I were experienced at this).
Mark said they were going up to the muster station where lifeboats were loaded.
Although I was quite sure this wouldn't be necessary, I said we would join them. After Sharon and I retrieved our life jackets, the four of us went up the stairway to our appointed muster station. We joined at least two dozen other passengers and stayed huddled together for several minutes trying to be calm but shaking with fear.
About 2:30 a.m., there was an apologetic announcement from the captain, and the lights started coming back on in the corridors. We went back to our cabins where the power was restored. Then, we felt the welcome movement of the ship again.
We slept most of the morning. At lunch, I asked the maître d’ what the cause of the power outage had been. "Was there a power outage? I was asleep!" the maître d’ replied. Subsequent attempts to gain information from staff members were futile.
After returning to Maine, one of my first errands was to the Barnes & Noble non-fiction book section. One book I found on the Bermuda Triangle had a chapter on power outages on ships. I learned there was an area north of Puerto Rico that had an unusual frequency of ships losing power, primarily in November and December.
A couple of weeks later, I had a lunch meeting with my friend and fellow board member in the Mid-Coast Maine Chamber of Commerce, Capt. Robert Winneg, commander of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. During our meeting, I told the captain of the incident on the QE2 that we experienced, and that I previously had been a disbeliever in the Bermuda Triangle.
He told me "Ted, it’s real and you wouldn't believe the stories I know, but I can't share."
This cruise taught me a valuable lesson: not to prejudge things you know nothing about.
Theodore Lewis is the former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a healthcare consulting business in Bridgman, MI. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at email@example.com.