Crossing the Atlantic Ocean – Part 2

By the time we came to America, my sister and I were seasoned seafarers.

This was our third voyage as we had already been to the Middle East and Australia. We knew all the boat terms like port, starboard, anchor, aft, stern, rolling, pitching etc. We were fluent in 3 languages (English, Bengali and Hindi) and also knew a few words from other Indian languages depending on who we were interacting on the ship. We also knew how to manipulate the crew members to do things that our parents wouldn’t allow us to do. That included visiting the engine room, freezers, going to the dock during cargo loading and unloading and riding a forklift to name a few.

The most dreaded part of the day was to sit at the dinner table and be at our best behavior (think The Sound of Music!).

To avoid any surprises, we befriended the purser who was in charge of deciding the dinner menu. Every morning we would visit him before he could start typing on his typewriter and make sure that the menu did not include ‘split pea soup’! Dinner was served on a long table covered with white linen. The Captain would sit at the head and the Chief Engineer (my Father) and the Chief Office on either side along with their families. At times there would be some water sprinkled on the table cloth to ‘hold’ a glass or plate during rolling.

We had just crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and was in the Atlantic Ocean when we noticed more than normal amount of water on the table cloth. Dinner included more solids and items without gravy. Also, the ship seemed very unstable.

We were used to rolling (moving side to side) and pitching (front to back) but this was something different. It moved in both directions. My father told us the name but I don’t remember it anymore. We lost him last year, so I have no way of knowing it unless one of his friends read this and lets me know. By the time we came back to our room, someone had already come in and ‘fixed’ the moving items. This included tying the fridge with a rope so it would not open. In general, all the furniture is fixed to the ground anyway except for a couple of chairs.

Even those chairs were tied up. There was not a single item in our cabin that was loose. Since there was only one bed, my parents slept on it while the two of us slept on the carpet. We felt like riding a roller coaster all night. I do not recall how many days this lasted but it seemed like eternity. We only ate cheese sandwiches, cookies and crackers and watched the waves from our portholes. They were very dark and high enough to reach our rooms.

As children, we never realize what our parents do to protect us from all evils. 

Now I know it took the entire crew of the ship to navigate us out of that dangerous storm. After a few days we saw ‘land’. We were told it was the Miami Beach. Our first port was Savannah, Georgia. We stopped there for a couple of days and went to New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Montreal and Duluth. 

Crossing the Great Lakes is another story….

P.S. For my Ohio friends: If you want to see how a cargo ship in the 1970s looked like, please visit the museum in Cleveland. They have one at the dock.

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