“Will this be the ship that carries you away?”
It’s a question my grandfather asked as a boy in Ireland. An uncle surnamed Morrison had sailed away to America to make his fortune. When he came back, rich enough to be able to afford passage on fine large ship, he erected a cairn of stones on the road between Greencastle to Moville, paced off the length of the ship, and erected another cairn of stones. Ireland’s blue laws required that a person be a “confirmed traveler” to be able to buy a drink on a Sunday. Confirmation as a traveler was achieved by traveling 3 miles. Each Sunday after mass Greencastle and Moville, which are three miles apart, exchanged populations. Before there was the Sunday drive there was the Sunday hike, the kids tagging along listening to Uncle Morrison talk about his fine big ship and pacing off the ship’s length with him, from stone cairn to stone cairn. After school my grandfather sat on the shores of Lough Foyle watching ships sail out of Derry, around Inishowen Head and into the North Atlantic asking: “Will this be the ship that carries me away?” until the day when, at age 13 he got on one of those ships and ran away to sea.
When I was a kid my grandfather and I sat on the fire escape of his third floor walkup cold water flat in Jersey City and watched the ships sailing past the Statue of Liberty. He taught me to recognize the livery colors on the ships’ funnels. Red white and blue for United States Lines, yellow, green and white for Holland America, red and black for Cunard, buff and black for White Star. White Star had merged with Cunard more than a decade before I was born but the old White Star ships still carried her livery. My grandfather was proud of that because he was an old White Star man, and, I suppose, because White Star ships were built in Ireland. As we watched the ships grandpa would ask “Richard, Will this be the ship that carries you away?”
And one day the red, white and blue funnels of the SS United States carried Grandpa and me away to visit Ireland to sit at the place on Lough Foyle where grandpa had originally posed that question to himself.
Years later, long after Grandpa had passed, my mother asked me why I traveled so much, why I had moved to Alaska, why I loved working in places around the world, why I not stayed “home” like her? I started talking about Grandpa. Mom was amazed at the stories he told me, she had never heard such stories. (Of course Grandpa would not have told his daughter about places “where a man can go to have some fun in Baltimore.”) I realized that grandpa had never asked his daughter “Margaret, will this be the ship that carries you away?”
The last time I saw the MS Amsterdam she was sailing from Sitka into the Southeast Alaska mist on a late September afternoon. She no longer carries the classic orange, green and white livery on her funnel and I was not on her.
She did not carry me away from Sitka, than, and she did not carry me away from Sitka on Monday, an Alaska Airlines 737 did. Although with the weather, it was a close thing. After a restless and excited night in Seattle another, very crowded, 737 carried us into an incredible sunrise toward a rainy and windy Fort Lauderdale.
We are here a couple of days early as a precaution against Southeast Alaska’s capricious winter weather. The hotel is full of energetic young people, wearing college sweat shirts, (hasn’t college started yet?) waiting out the weather, sitting in Starbucks drinking lattes and texting. I am sitting in our 6th floor room listening to the wind and watching a huge surf pound the sandy shoreline. My weather app says breakers are 7 to 10 feet high with a dangerous rip tide. There are no surfers and red flags fly from the lifeguard stations. This is the beginning of winter storm what is supposed to cause real problems as it moves up the coast toward New Jersey and New England.
It’s cool here, overnight lows in Fort Lauderdale down to 41 degrees, (And that’s not so bad, NOAA predicts ice and snow in North Eastern Florida with “hazardous snow and ice in highly unusual locations not accustomed to such weather.”) So we plan to camp out at a multiplex and see some of the movies (Darkest Hour, the Greatest Showman) that will not get to Sitka because Star Wars monopolizes our one screen. And we wait for the MS Amsterdam to arrive from a trans-Canal voyage to carry us away into, what NOAA says, may be stormy seas.
(This is a rewrite, with major additions, of a blog post from 2015)