There was time to wait a few more minutes for the rain to stop, and then we would board a tender back to the cruise ship, which had been safely anchored in deeper waters. The excursion supervisor assured us it was only one of those squally showers that can afflict Georgetown, Grand Cayman in February, and we had no doubt that the sun would soon return from behind the clouds.
A howling wind whipped frothy waves up over our sandals as we waited on the port. Some people took off their footwear and stood ankle deep in water. I looked at my watch; the ship was due to sail at 4pm, and the last tender would leave at 3.30. It was already 3.20, and a few of us hardy souls had taken a longer than average trolley ride around the capital, braving the inclement weather and singing to the driver while he had unrolled plastic sheeting down the sides of the trolley in a futile attempt to keep us dry.
By 3.45 and with no sign of the rain abating, we boarded a bobbing tender. The ship had a tight schedule, and tardy guests missing the deadline had to make their own way to the next port of call, which could be hundreds of miles away. A local company had provided the means of transporting three thousand cruise passengers from ship to shore and back again, and the cruise ship’s own orange tenders (doubling as lifeboats) had not been launched that day.
As the tender rocked and rolled in the howling wind, I was glad I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Passengers cheered as wave after wave splashed up over them, but all I wanted to do was get back to the relative stability of the huge ship. The up and down motion of a small boat had never been a favourite of mine. I closed my eyes and wished the moments away.
I felt the height of the waves increase. Sam informed me with some concern that they looked to be at least ten feet high. I didn’t want to open my eyes. I could hear passengers still cheering. Sam laughed and told me we had reached the ship, and that passengers were performing Mexican waves as the boat was tossed about. I opened my eyes and saw the ship’s crew standing in the gangway on deck 2 waiting to receive us. Our little boat bashed against the sides of the ship, the engine strained, and it was obvious to all and sundry that we could not dock.
As the boat struggled to stay upright in the wind and waves, the crew of the tender began to hand us out life jackets. A long pole was retrieved from its moorings above, and placed on the floor. Suddenly the passengers ceased to cheer, and all that could be heard over the noise of the engine was one woman vomiting into a plastic bag.
My heart was racing with a burst of adrenaline as I struggled to don my life jacket. I heard Sam say that he could swim better and keep me afloat for longer without the hindrance of a great orange thing around his neck, and he refused to wear one. Other passengers old, infirm, or hugely overweight also did not bother to put on theirs. I wanted the best chance of survival, and I asked a crew member to help me fasten the lifejacket straps properly. He told me he was used to rough seas, and not to worry.
Several ship’s officers were looking at us with concern, and smug cruisers regarded us as entertainment and watched our plight from their balconies on the upper decks. Officers radioed to the boat’s captain to return us to the port so that we could board a larger tender. My heart sank as we moved away from virtual rescue and back into the open sea again.
The vomiting lady excelled herself all the way back to port, where a larger tender had appeared. Soaking wet, terrified, and clutching my damp rucksack, I reluctantly boarded the vessel with Sam, who cuddled me all the way back to the cruise ship with two cold, wet arms.
The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun, the sun came out, and we were at last able to be transferred safely back to the cruise ship. As I walked through the security scanner, I was dismayed to be greeted with a cup of steaming hot milky chocolate. I am dairy intolerant!