MORE ABOUT PASSENGERS

How the passengers view their trips on a cruise depends in large part upon their expectations, and their attitude towards the adventure they are undertaking. Travel is a subjective thing. Nobody can experience the same place in the same way, and other people can not have the same trip experience as related by someone who took the trip at a different time. For that reason, you should keep an open mind, and not expect to have the same experience someone else had when making the same trip.

How the passengers relate to the crew are important. Some of my fellow captains are wary of passengers. Freight does not talk, but passengers do. Most passengers today are retired and have a lot of time on their hands. Some of them use this time to report in detail to the ship owners every detail of their trip. This is disconcerting to the officers, who do not wish their bosses ashore to have detailed reports about their shortcomings. If an engineer comes out of the engine room to fix their bathroom, and he has on dirty clothes, he does not wish that fact to be reported to the president of the company. Passengers should use forums such as this to tell about their trips. Letters to management should be reserved only for the most serious of problems. Today web sites like tripadvisor.com or cruisecritic.com allow passengers to report their experiences to other interested people and do not require a response from management. 

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At sea on the starboard bridge wing 1990
 
In one of my earlier trips with Lykes, I was a Chief Mate. We had only three passengers, one of whom was Jim, a writer of detective novels. He would stay in his cabin for days at a time writing. The Captain started drinking heavily when we reached the Far East. After sailing from Singapore for Jakarta, we were in restricted waters. The Captain went to the bridge at the request of the watch officer to assist in heavy traffic. The Captain, a portly gentleman, fell down on his back, and was unable to right himself. He wallowed around like an inverted turtle. I was called to the bridge by the second officer, who really needed help with navigating and with the disabled Captain. I was in the middle of a game of bridge with the passengers. Jim went to the bridge with me, and while I took over the "con" Jim picked up the Captain and carried him below to his bunk. He was a real lifesaver, and a gentleman as well. He never reported this to Lykes.

On that trip the passengers saved us from another difficult situation. This was in 1974, and we had a load of U.S. Aid cargo, about 7000 tons of rice, for Saigon. When we arrived off Cape St. Jacques, the mouth of the Saigon River, the company heard reports of the fall of Da Nang and other cities to the North Vietnamese. If we had entered Saigon, we would have witnessed the fall of that city to the North Vietnamese. Thanks in part to having passengers aboard, we were diverted to Singapore to unload the rice. Other ships that did enter about that time had to sail quickly with about 10,000 "passengers" each, the refugees leaving the country. They had to stay aboard ship for days before they could be settled in other countries. A ship has food, water, and sewage capacity for only about 40 or 50 people, so that it was a logistic nightmare for the crews of those ships. Officers and crew were not only navigating under difficult circumstances, but were taking care of births, deaths, funerals, murders, disarming violent people, etc. On board ship we have to be our own firemen, doctors, and police, jobs that we have only limited training and experience in handling.

One of my nicer trips, my second to last trip, in 1994, was aboard the Letitia Lykes. I knew that our days were numbered, our subsidy was to expire in 1995. American flag carriers were re-flagging to countries like Singapore, Cyprus, Panama, and Liberia to avoid high labor costs, insurance costs, and taxes. For that reason I decided to go with the passengers on shore excursions. We visited the Pyramids of Giza, sailed on the Nile, took a Mercedes taxi from Ploce to Dubrovnik, Croatia, during the Bosnia conflict. We enjoyed the port of Durres, Albania, and took a trip to Tirrana. I was not able to visit Jerusalem with them when we called at Ashdod. Prior to this I usually stayed near the ship while in port. I never like to go ashore on sailing day. Now that container ships have replaced almost all break bulk ships, it is difficult to find a ship that has a port call of more than a day.