19 Egypt 2010
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Poseidon Adventure

Story Written by Rick Archer
December 2010


Chapter One


n December 2010, Marla and I took a cruise trip to Egypt.  One night during a storm, the ship hit extremely high winds and very rough waters.  At 3 am on Sunday, December 12, Marla and I were awakened by a huge crash outside the ship.  Marla and I both bolted upright in bed.  What caused that? 

s we sat up in the darkness, our eyes grew huge as our bed suddenly started crawling across the room.  What the heck!!  Seeing our bed move like that was something out of the Exorcist.  We instinctively turned our heads to look out the window. 

The next thing we knew, the sky disappeared!  Our Deck 4 window had temporarily plunged beneath the waves.  Considering our room was 25 feet above sea level, that’s when we realized the ship must be listing (tilting) at a very serious angle.  Until the ship was able to right itself, that window was the only thing keeping us from drowning!!

Images of the famous disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure instantly flashed through our minds.  Were things really as bad as they looked?   Were we going under? 

Just the fact that I am writing this story should offer a small clue that Marla and I made it through this frightening event alive.  But just because we are safe now does not in any way diminish the seriousness of the incident.



Although the listing incident ended with the ship intact, for the rest of the trip I was curious if we had narrowly dodged a bullet.  Or maybe we were never in danger in all, although it sure felt like it at the time.  So the moment I got home, I began to investigate a very important question:

Can a cruise ship capsize? 

The consensus of opinion is that if a giant rogue wave were to smack into the ship broadside, it is theoretically possible for a ship to tip over.   

However, the experts agree it would take a side-on hit from a rogue wave to topple it.  As long as the ship is headed directly into the waves, it is pretty safe from any wave no matter how massive. 

In 1995, the Queen Elizabeth II took a hit from a freak wave estimated at 95 feet.  The massive wave was actually taller than the ship itself.  It was caused by Hurricane Luis in the North Atlantic Ocean. Newspaper reports at the time described the cruise liner as attempting to "surf" the near-vertical wave in order not to be sunk.

The Master of the ship said the wave came out of the darkness.  As he aimed his ship directly at it, he felt like he was sailing straight into "the White Cliffs of Dover"!!

Fortunately, since the QE2 was headed directly into the wave, she handled the wave without a problem.  Scary yes, but life-threatening no.  Once the QE2 proved a cruise could handle a challenge of this magnitude, fears in the industry have relaxed considerably. 

A capsize scenario doesn’t necessarily have to be include a rogue wave.  Stormy seas can be just as dangerous.  From what I am aware, any ship can be capsized and sink in a storm.  However, there needs to be a contributing factor such as ‘human error’.

If the weather is severe enough, the only direction a ship can safely travel is directly into the direction of the waves. The ships must navigate a straight line into the waves and ride the storm out. 

However, to travel parallel to waves in a severe storm with hurricane force winds would be suicidal.  That could potentially topple the ship!

Even then, the seas would have to be really severe to do this.  The waves would have to be much more severe than your average storm.  Yes, if it were hurricane force weather, any ship taking a wave side-on could indeed capsize and then sink.

Fortunately, cruise ships understand the danger of extreme hurricane force storms.  It is highly unlikely any of us will ever encounter a storm of this severity at sea for a simple reason – the cruise ship will sail around the storm even if it means skipping a port.  

As to the notion that ships of this type may capsize, well I am not sure I can remember any cruise ships capsizing.  Nor can anyone else remember one ever capsizing, even though the mighty ocean has definitely hit a few ships with its best shot, i.e. the 100 foot monster that struck the Queen Elizabeth II in 1995.

No one believes a cruise ship would ever flip upside-down Poseidon-style. The worst case scenario is that a cruise ship could actually be knocked on its side.  Even in a situation like this, the passengers would likely have plenty of time to make it to their lifeboats.  As we saw with the Titanic, even a badly-damaged ship takes a lot of time to sink.  

However, most articles I read on the Internet agree that even this scenario doesn’t seem very likely.  It is simply very unlikely for a cruise ship to tip over. 

If you wish, go see a video of a rolling cruise ship being tossed side to side in a rough ocean.  The footage was taken by a helicopter monitoring the situation.  Although it is scary to see a massive ship being knocked around like a bathtub toy, the bottom line is that the ship did not capsize. 

But then another question crossed my mind.  Has it ever happened?  Are there any documented instances where a cruise ship actually capsized? 

Out of curiosity, I scanned the Internet in search of the answer.  I spent an entire day researching the question: Has there ever been a cruise ship that capsized?

I was unable to find even a single instance of a modern cruise ship capsizing. 

Yes, there have been incidents at sea, but the only cruise ships that have ever sunk hit something first.  So far, bad weather and rogue waves haven’t claimed any victims. 

Of course there have been a couple close calls.  I came across some interesting stories.

For example, in a recent Travel Newsletter, I reported about a cruise ship that lost control in middle of some very rough seas.  In July of 2008, a cruise ship known as the Pacific Sun hit some very rough waters. Then is when everything went to chaos.  

A video of the incident was made public by Liveleaks.  The video, which came from closed circuit TV inside the cruise ship, showed tables, chairs, and people repeatedly flying from one side of the ship to the other.

The 2008 incident occurred when the Pacific Sun hit rough waters about 400 miles off the coast of New Zealand.  It got pretty hairy there for a while.  According to the Telegraph, several people were injured.  The injuries included "broken ribs and limbs, a fractured pelvis, a broken collar bone, and cuts and gashes."

According to Now Public, the 1700 passengers on board the Pacific Cruise Sun ship were offered a free trip.”  

Go see the video for yourself: Rough Waters Hit Cruise Ship  By the way, before you view it, let me point out that what you will see is exactly what happened on my ship as well the night of the incident – things repeatedly go flying back and forth!

At the time when I first posted this story, I added that incidents like this were very rare.  I pointed out that a cruise ship is among the safest means of travel known to man.  Generally, if the weather is bad, a cruise ship will simply sail around it.  For example, on 4 of my 20 cruise trips, I have watched our ship simply change course to avoid Caribbean hurricanes. 

Now compare that to Houston.  We had the Hurricane Rita near-miss and the Hurricane Ike direct-hit.  If a hurricane is coming, I would rather be on a mobile modern cruise ship anytime!!

That said, sometimes a ship does hit rough waters.  That is part of life at sea; there will be storms.  For example, on the 2004 Mardi Gras Trip, our cruise ship hit very rough seas.  Although the furniture didn't go flying like it did in the video, the rocking motion got to me and I did get sea sick.  Fortunately, my stomach problem cleared up in one hour.  I have never had a single problem since.

One month when I first wrote about that Pacific Sun video, I concluded by saying

“So I experienced rough sailing for one hour on one day in 20 Trips.  Big deal!  I'll take those odds anytime.  Now have some fun watching the video.”

Those words came back to haunt me, but you know what?  I will say them again!

I will take those odds anytime.  As I discovered while writing this story, cruise ships are a lot safer than I ever realized before.



Our trip got off to a terrible start when the Spanish air controllers decided out of the blue to stop working and go on strike the day before the cruise ship was to leave Barcelona. The walk-out paralyzed airports and stranded hundreds of thousands of travelers… including practically everyone who was flying into Barcelona to begin sailing the next day!

Madrid, Barcelona and other Spanish airports experienced chaotic scenes as stranded passengers awaited to hear how long the disruption might last or frantically sought reimbursement for their flights and other travel expenses.

The 24-hour strike by Spanish air traffic controllers cost the tourist and airline sectors hundreds of millions of euros and the political cost for an already unpopular government could be much higher.

Spain suffers the highest levels of unemployment in the European Union. Consequently the government has been forced to make many belt-tightening measures. The air controller strike was made to force the government to back down from its plans to cut their pay, increase their regular working hours and put Spain's two largest airports under private management.

Their strike backfired badly. The Spanish government sent in armed troops who told the controllers to get back to work or else go directly to prison. Instantly the planes began flying again.

It was soon clear that the controllers' timing was poor. With Spain reeling under 20 percent unemployment - twice the average in the European Union - and facing further austerity measures, no one in the country expressed the slightest sympathy for the controllers.

Interviewed on Spanish television, many people voiced outrage against traffic controllers whose salaries are relatively high and working hours limited. The controllers were an easy target, earning around 10 times the average family's wage, while Spain suffers the highest levels of unemployment in the European Union. The backlash against what seemed to be highly pampered individuals was very bitter.

Meanwhile, the timing could not have been worse for many cruise passengers. The flight across the Atlantic from the USA to Spain is something of an ordeal as it stands. People spend close to half a day in the air. This is a very tiring flight. Imagine how the people coming on our cruise felt when they discovered their flight was being diverted to airports like Nice over in France. Then at their own expense they were forced to board a train for yet another six hour train ride over to Barcelona.

Adding insult to injury, many people arrived at the cruise ship without their luggage. Some people were at sea for four days before for their luggage finally caught up to them. Not only were they reduced to the constant frustration of being without a change of clothes for days on end, some people made the mistake of packing valuable things like daily medication in the missing luggage. These people suffered greatly.

Needless to say, at the start of the trip, there were some very grouchy people on board.



Marla and I were the dance instructors on this cruise trip. I am pleased to report that this aspect of our trip went very well. We started out teaching the passengers Ballroom dancing. Then one day they found out we were from Texas. Someone asked me how we danced in Texas. I grinned and said I thought they would never ask!

So I put on George Strait's Fool Hearted Memory and began to twirl Marla in every direction imaginable. Once I showed them the Texas Twostep in that demonstration, we were besieged with requests to teach that instead.

Most people in other parts of the US and around the world think Western dancing is nothing more than a bunch of line dances. Our passengers were pleasantly surprised to find out just how interested Western partner dancing was.

In addition to teaching the Twostep, I threw in some of the dances we used to do at our annual Hoedown like the Beer Barrel Polka, the San Antonio Stroll, and the Wild West Barn Dance.

They absolutely loved it! Soon we had Japanese passengers who couldn't speak a word of English dancing across the floor with the biggest grins on their faces. We had people from France and Scotland begging us to move to their hometown to teach them some more.

It is fairly obvious Western dancing could become popular across the world.  At the very least, Marla and I now have a standing offer of a job waiting for us in Edinburgh, Scotland. 


Sad to say, but this is exactly what most of the corpses looked like!!  Put some shabbier clothes on him and he would have fit right in.


Marla and I were joined on our cruise by Marla's brother Neil and his lovely wife Ellen. They in turn were joined by their friends Barry and Sue. All four were from San Diego. When Marla found out the foursome had signed up for "Mysterious Palermo", she signed us up too.   Unfortunately, this turned out to be the single worst tour Marla and I have taken in my ten years of cruising.

The very first stop took us to some catacombs beneath the city. We were immediately confronted by the gruesome sight of hundreds of withered mummified corpses hanging from hooks in the wall. All the bodies were in various states of decay. Many of their hollow skeletal faces were contorted into expressions that made them look like they were screaming in agony. Not a pretty sight.

Originally the catacombs were intended only for the dead friars. However, in the following centuries it became a status symbol to be entombed into the capuchin catacombs. In their wills, local luminaries would ask to be preserved in certain clothes, or even to have their clothes changed at regular intervals. This practice of hanging bodies for eternity fell out of favor in the early 1900s.

Then one day someone had the clever idea of a new use for the hanging mummies… today these twisted bodies provide a deeply macabre tourist attraction. The whole place looks like a grotesque scene straight out of Tales from the Crypt.  We all found it very disturbing.

I had no patience. I took one good look and walked right back out in disgust. I went and sat in the bus till the other passengers returned. I wasn't about to let myself participate in a tasteless activity like viewing the bodies of people who had been dead for centuries. Enough said.

Our next visit was eliminated by college students who were protesting in the streets. They were skipping classes in protest over austerity measures that had forced an increase in their tuition. They stopped traffic far and wide, so the bus driver gave up and made a U-turn. This incident was yet another glaring indication that Europe is not in a very good mood right now.

Sicily is reputed to be the birthplace of the Mafia.  Apparently this is a source of pride for many Sicilians. I saw Godfather tee shirts for sale in several places.  Our next stop was at a park. Our guide pointed to a spot and said this was where a New York cop had been gunned down back in the Thirties. Apparently he had come all the way from America to help eliminate the Sicilian Mob. I think the guide said he had only been in the city for about two hours. They didn't waste any time, did they?   

Then we walked across the street to a museum with nothing interesting to look at. When our guide spent fifteen minutes droning on and on over the painted statue of a horse, I took one look at Marla and she nodded back. It was time to cut our losses. We left the building and walked back to the ship on foot.  As we walked, a car mysteriously pulled up on the sidewalk right behind us.  I had no idea what was going on.  Suddenly, another car also pulled up on the sidewalk right behind it.  Out stepped a policeman.  The cop walked over to the car to get an explanation.  After the story about the cop in the park, I wasn't going to stick around and figure it out.  Marla and I walked a little faster.

As it turned out, we didn't miss anything back at the museum. Marla's brother Neil gave us the report.  Apparently the highlight of the museum tour was a painting of an open-air Italian food market common in Sicily. Everyone in our group rolled their eyes as the tour guide spent twenty minutes identifying the various vegetables portrayed in the picture.  Broccoli.  Zucchini.  Tomato.  Eggplant.

They felt like they were back in grade school.
Marla and I could barely suppress a grin as we listened to this anecdote.
 Thank goodness we left early.  So much for "Mysterious Palermo". 


Our Next Story:  Chapter Two

  • Athens and Rhodes
  • The Trip to Egypt
  • The Massive Storm
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