Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

February 20, 2013

Local family describes life aboard drifting cruise ship

By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Editor’s note: The second half of the Rascos’ story will be concluded Friday.

For Calvin and Kristy Rasco of Blooming Grove, it was going to be a family trip, a cruise aboard the lovely cruise ship Triumph.

Unfortunately for them and 4,200 of their closest shipboard neighbors, their vacation was less about fun and sun and more about endurance.

The Triumph was hauled into port Thursday night in Mobile, Ala., a week after it left Galveston, and the unwashed and unhappy passengers and crew quickly disembarked, spreading to the winds through buses and planes and private cars, eager to get back home.

The Rascos, Calvin, Kristy, their 8-year-old daughter Bailey, and 10-year-old son Shawn, took a bus to New Orleans where they were able to finally get showers and hot food.

Welcome back to civilization.

The Triumph left Galveston on Thursday, Feb. 7, bound for Cozumel, Mexico, for what was supposed to be a four–day cruise, but by Sunday it was dead in the water. The ship became adrift following a fire that took out the ship’s power system, meaning all the major systems on board, including sewage and air conditioning, but also the kitchens and lights.

The Rascos knew something was wrong because of the many announcements through the intercom system early Sunday morning, not to the passengers, but to various crew teams.

Within hours, though, the lights had gone off, only emergency lights were on, and it was clear something was very wrong. The fire doors had closed automatically, and other passengers were putting on their life vests, confused and frightened by the lack of information. Eventually, they were told of the fire in the engines and told they didn’t need to go to the muster deck, the loading area for lifeboats. Many others did anyway.

Following the fire, the captain didn’t signal for help or tug boats for more than 12 hours, hoping the crew could fix the problem. By then, the ship had drifted 90 miles away from any coast. By the time the tugboats had arrived, they were roughly halfway between Mobile, Ala., and Progresso, Mexico. The captain chose Mobile because so many of the passengers didn’t have passports and would have been stuck in Mexico without the proper paperwork.

The first day or two following the engine fire, the problems were minor. Lack of hot meals, and there was water dripping from the walls and ceilings. On the first day, people were told to stop using the toilets and instead to use red plastic bags for their bodily waste. By mid-week, the crew had run out of red bags and were using garbage bags that were tied in knots at the tops and which lined the hallways throughout the ship.

“Our carpets in our room were soaked, we couldn’t tell where the water was coming from,” Kristy said. “The showers didn’t work. Our toilet did work if the ship was listing in the right direction.”

They were lucky, in a sense. When the Rascos arrived to board the ship in Galveston they were offered a $10 upgrade from the first deck to the sixth. It may have been the best $10 they ever spent, since the first deck passengers ended up having to crawl out of their rooms to avoid smoke, and who were on the receiving end of thousands of gallons of wastewater that didn’t have anywhere else to go. The Rascos even had clean running water in their sink, enough for them to wash their hands and keep themselves clean after a fashion.

Food was hit and miss. Mostly canned vegetables, cold cereal without milk and bread. It wasn’t bad, the crew disposed of the perishables early on, but it wasn’t anything anyone would want to eat, either, Calvin said.

“I pretty much lived off fruit. She lived off vegetables,” Calvin said.

“Until the first boat came, there was no meat,” Kristy added.

Other ships, the Rascos thought it was Coast Guard, would pull up alongside and offload cases of bottled water or food. After one such delivery, the crew used propane to grill hamburgers. Calvin stood in line for three hours to snag four of the burgers for his family.

Shawn, who’s autistic, needed a special milk, and the Rascos had brought enough for the four-day cruise, assuming refrigeration. But once the packages were opened, there was no way to preserve the rest, so they ran out of his milk before the trip ended. But drinking water was at a premium. People were given sodas to drink, along with small Dixie-cup sized drinks of water, sometimes coffee.

The Rasco children are picky eaters, which complicated matters.

“Our days were spent trying to find a place to sleep, trying to find something to eat, something the kids would eat, and a place to charge our phones,” Kristy said.

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com