To the Ship

This entry is part 9 of 25 in the series Cruising With the Mothers
It has been a long time since we’ve seen a foot of snow here in New Hampshire, but not quite long enough. It isn’t even winter yet…

Somehow, her answer did not make me feel the least bit better. I did some quick calculations in my head. “Well, if it turns out that there is no bus, I’ll need to know about it no later that 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. That is the latest I could leave here, get down to pick you up and still make it to the dock before they leave without us.”
“Oh, don’t be silly, Chester. Who taught you to be such a worrywart?”

“Certainly not my side of the family,” I said. “It must have been Kris.”

“Is Kris there? I need to talk about some girl stuff – I’m not sure what to wear. Is it going to be cold, cool, warm or hot? How dressy do I need to be? I’ve been going through my closet and everything is so…”

“Hang on,” I said. “I can’t help you with girl stuff.” I fetched Kris and handed her the phone. “See if you can talk her out of taking the bus.”

I went back about my business, and about an hour later Kris tracked me down.

“I can’t believe you’re making her take the bus,” she said with a half-smile.

“You couldn’t change her mind either, huh?”


“Is the clothing thing all straightened out?” I asked.

“She’s all set, but now I don’t know what to wear.”

“Call my mother back and ask her for some advice.”

One day during the week before the cruise, people at work started looking at me in an odd way. Finally, a coworker said, “What’s wrong with your eye?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Your left eye. It’s kinda like drooping or something.”

My eye did feel a little strange. “I don’t know – must be allergies,” I said.

I don’t spend much time looking in the mirror, but I made a beeline for the men’s room and studied my reflection. The eyelid was definitely drooping.

When I got home, I pointed it out to Kris. “Look at my eye.”

“Yeah, I told you last Saturday when you came in from grilling dinner. Your eye was all puffy and I said that it looked like you must be allergic to something.” A faint bell went off in my head. “It looks worse now. Are you going to go to the doctor?” Kris asked.

“No way. Not now. I’d never go to the doctor right before a cruise – it could spoil the whole thing,” I said. “If it’s an allergy, it’ll be there when we get back. If it’s serious, I’d rather not know before the trip. It would kind of put a damper on things, don’t you think? I might not even be able to go.”

“Does it bother you?”

“A little, I guess – but it doesn’t hurt or anything like that.” I promptly put the matter aside.

I took the day off from work on the Friday before departure, but avoided packing until the evening. Instead, I spent the day reading about our destinations and fiddling around. With early dinner at 5:30 and muster at 4:15, arranging a sail away gathering had been difficult. Just days before, I had finally settled on a plan and communicated it to the participants on the roll call. In an attempt to accommodate everyone, I had arranged a complex two-phase sail away party in the Crow’s Nest Lounge – phase 1 before muster drill, and phase 2 afterward. Those who could actually stay for the sail away were invited to join us to, in my words, “watch the Boston skyline and harbor islands recede into the hazy distance – maybe even catch a glimpse of New Hampshire’s White Mountains silhouetted by the approaching sunset.” The White Mountains got their name from early seafarers. Viewed from offshore, they emit a brilliant white sparkle in the sunlight. Some thought the mountains to be snow-covered year-round. Others thought they were strewn with precious diamonds. When explorers eventually reached the summits, they found neither snow nor diamonds – just granite boulders peppered with reflective, and valueless, minerals.

Around noon, I checked the cruise website. There was suddenly all sorts of new information, including a complete set of daily schedules. Something in the Saturday schedule caused me to make an urgent post to the APHC Chatterbox forum:


Per the APHC cruise site today, there will be a “Bon Voyage Party with GK and the Sodals” on the Lido Deck, beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Also, early dinner seating will be at 6:00 p.m. on the first night (not 5:30), and late seating will be at 8:30 (not 8:00).

In view of the above, we need to change the plans for our little get together a wee bit – let’s meet in the Crow’s Nest lounge from 3:15 p.m. until the muster drill at about 4:15. The scheduled second phase of “Chatterbox Cafe @ Sea” (4:45-?) will be cancelled (postponed?) in favor of GK’s bash.

Hope to see some of you during our abbreviated gathering.


Somehow, I doubted that many people would see that post, as most were probably already heading out the door. So despite my best efforts, the sail away party would most likley be a bust. Oh well… I printed out the nametags and some signs anyway.

Cruise preparation and packing time decrease radically with experience. It took us three full and active months to get ready for our first cruise. This time, we waited until after dinner on the eve of the cruise to begin preparing. I spent about three hours collecting and packing electronic gear, tools and other miscellaneous necessities, followed by about 20 minutes attending to clothing. Kris and I operated in unison, like a well-oiled machine. We piled everything up neatly, stuffed it into ziplock bags, hauled the suitcases out of storage and dusted them off. Before the late newscast, the suitcases were packed and lined up by the door, ready to go.

“You’d better put some plastic bags over the suitcases,” said Kris as we admired our handiwork.

“Why?” I asked.

Kris nodded in the direction of the two dogs, who were watching the activity with concern. “They know something is going on, and they probably know it doesn’t involve them. They might decide to leave their mark.” She said.

I wouldn’t put it past them, recalling the time my suitcase triggered the nitrate detection system at Logan airport. The security personnel questioned me at length about fertilizer exposure. The best explanation I could offer was that I’d put some grub killer on the lawn once. It wasn’t until later that the most likely source occurred to me. “I’ll put the luggage in the garage,” I said. With the luggage stored safely, we drifted off to sleep – visions of whitecaps danced in our heads…

Kris can’t seem to stay in bed past 5:00 a.m. these days, but I have no such trouble. By the time I rolled out of bed and strolled into the kitchen for coffee at 8:30, Kris was ready for lunch.

“Let’s get to the ship really early,” Kris said.

“We can’t board until about 11:30,” I said. “What’s the rush?”

“We can go to the buffet,” she answered. “I’m trying not to eat, because I want to be really hungry when we get there.”

“What time is your mother supposed to be here?” I asked.

“About 9:00.”

“Good. We’ll leave here at about 10:15.”

“Why not 10:00?” Kris asked.

“I want to give my mother some extra time in case she needs to call.” The dogs started going bananas, which indicated the arrival of Pat.

We recruited sons Ryan and Wells, secured the overexcited dogs and went down to the driveway to transfer luggage to our car.

Midnight Buffet items available at

“What great shirts!” said Pat as we came into view. I’d had a pair of t-shirts made for me and Kris – they read What Time Is the Midnight Buffet? “Do I get one?” she asked.

“I’m sorry – I only got two,” I said. I blew it…

“What’s the matter with your eye?” asked Pat.

“Your daughter hit me,” I said.

“I did not!” said Kris.

“Now, now…I know you wouldn’t do that, dear.” Pat knew I was joking, but this eye thing was drawing entirely too much attention. I hoped I wasn’t going to scare people.

“I think it makes him look like Jack Nicholson in The Shining,” said Kris.

I cast an evil grin…

The next hour was spent leaving instructions for the boys. Wells would be traveling to Connecticut to spend half the week with my father, at which time my sister would take over. Ryan was in charge of keeping the pets alive.

We left the house at 10:07:30 – compromise is important. After a stop for gas, we joined the moderate stream of traffic heading for Boston. I listened to Click and Clack (Car Talk) on the radio, while the girls chatted up the cruise. Kris prepared her mother for every step of the process that we’d go through to board – in minute detail. I caught parts of the conversation as I drove about ten miles-an-hour slower than usual – no need for any disasters this morning…

“Did you put your luggage tags on? He’ll drop us off and park the car…they’ll take our luggage, but keep your carry-on…do you have your ticket?…better make sure…passport?…we’ll check in at the desk…get your room card…do you have a credit card?…if they want to take our picture, keep walking…”

I gathered that Pat was fully prepared. As we neared Boston, I asked Kris to read the directions to the port. This was only my second time negotiating Boston’s infamous “Big Dig.” Since its recent opening, the city has become an unfamiliar place again – thirty years of Boston navigational skills rendered worthless overnight. The transformation is remarkable.

Kris read from the directions. “On the expressway downtown, inside the Liberty Tunnel, take Exit #23, Purchase Street. At the top of the ramp, go to the traffic signal, and turn left onto Seaport Boulevard. Continue on Seaport Boulevard to the fifth traffic light…”

“Whoa! One step at a time.” We crossed the spectacular new Zakim Bridge over the Charles River and immediately plunged under ground. “I hope this is the Liberty Tunnel,” I said. At least the exit numbers were in the ballpark.

“There – exit 23,” said Kris. I veered to the right. “Left at the end, then left on Seaport Boulevard.” Piece of cake… We passed the Trade Center and its docks, where I’d dined on the QE2 back in the 80s when it was used as a floating hotel for a trade show – my first time on a ship. I thought this would be where we’d find Maasdam, but there wasn’t a ship of any sort in sight.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Go to the fifth traffic light.”

I counted lights as we drove down the wide and totally deserted boulevard. “Is that supposed to be just the working lights, or all of them?” I asked. Four of the first five were dark. I paused at the fifth one, though it did not direct me to stop, or go for that matter. “Now what?” The city must have gotten a great deal on traffic lights. Many more marched off into the distance, most unlit.

“Continue straight into the Boston Marine Industrial Park,” said Kris.

I saw nothing of the sort. “Do you see it?” I asked.

Kris and Pat both looked around. “Nope,” said Kris. “Why don’t you ask someone?”

Kris knows full well that I would never, ever do such a thing, but this time I had a compelling reason beyond stubbornness. “Because there isn’t anybody to ask,” I said. “Seagulls can’t talk.”

A taxi came up from behind at high speed and passed us on the left. The cab then swerved sharply to the right across three empty lanes, squealed around the corner on to a side street and disappeared in a cloud of blue smoke. “Stop that cab and ask the driver,” said Kris.

“When in doubt, just keep going,” I thought – so I did. We continued straight ahead for many blocks, eventually arriving at a “T” intersection protected by a stop sign. “Can you read the rest of the directions please?” I asked.

“…go to the end where you take a right onto Tide Street, and an immediate left onto Drydock Avenue. Follow Drydock Avenue as it turns right at the end of the Boston Design Center. Turn right again onto Black Falcon Avenue.”

We were at Tide Street – which I took as a good sign – but a utility crew blocked the road, preventing a right turn. I took a left.

“Shouldn’t we be able to see the ship?” asked Pat. “I thought it was a big one. I hope it’s a big one…”

“Hang on,” I said. “We’ve got to be close.” I circled around to the right, hoping to meet up with the correct road, and entered a canyon between two five-story industrial buildings. A few hundred feet ahead, I could see some busses, taxis and best of all, people with luggage. “Here we are.”

“I still don’t see the ship,” said Kris. “Are you sure this is the right place? Do you think maybe the ship isn’t even here yet? What will they do with us if the ship isn’t here? I’m hungry…”

I pulled up to the curb. A sign read Black Falcon Cruise Terminal. “Yup. This is the place. Everybody out.”

I stepped on to the sidewalk and scanned the front of the building. Several people sat on benches watching the activity. None of them looked familiar. We hauled the suitcases out of the car and stacked them up. “I’ll go park the car. Find my mother and I’ll be right back,” I said to Kris.

“I’ll guard the suitcases,” said Pat with determination. What a team.

There was a parking garage around the corner. The special rate for cruisers allowed me to park the car for the whole week for an amount just slightly more than it takes to cover four hours of parking downtown. In less than five minutes, I was walking back toward the terminal. The bow of a ship projected beyond the end of the building. Maasdam.

I rounded the corner and approached the terminal. As I got closer, I could feel my eye twitch and droop a little more. Kris and Pat were right where I’d left them – just the two of them next to the pile of luggage. I felt the urge to call out, but waited until I was within a comfortable speaking distance.

“No mom, huh? I knew it.”

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