Soon we were on the open sea heading south; I watched our progress on the map. I called the island and told Aaron and Abe that we had a problem and would be here a few days longer. Of course, we were on our way. Calculating our speed, the Captain estimated we would be in Panama in 3 to 4 days. I went down to the galley and made a pot of coffee. I took a carafe and some cups to the bridge. I poured a coffee for everyone, one of the crew, Steve, took a cup to Tom in the engine room. They were going to work 12-hour shifts. I thought that was a little too long, so I made up my mind I’d learn the job. For the next three days, I worked in the engine room. At the end of that time, I was able to work a shift. The mates were glad to have the extra time to loaf.
That evening the Captain said we’d have to wait until morning to enter the Canal. Tony and I ate on the deck. Of course, it was sandwiches. “Tony, you need to learn how to cook.”
“Why me, you could learn as well.”
We were laughing at each other. “Tony, are we going to have enough food for the kids when we sail back.”
“If not, we’ll stock up at the island. I can’t wait until the kids see us docking at the dock.”
“Are we going to be able to dock? The water at the island may not be deep enough.”
“If not, we have those fishing boats they can ferry the kids to the ship. They are paid through the end of the month.”
“I can’t wait until they see the ship. I hope there are enough changes that the barrel kids aren’t depressed.
“I don’t think that’ll happen. Bring Adel on first.”
Going through the Canal is an experience in itself. It was slow, but it was safe. The Captain handles the ship like the professional he is. It took a few days to reach the island. The Captain had one of the mates lower a boat to test the depth of the water. We arrived at night, in the morning; we blew the ship’s whistle. Tony and I watched as the kids gathered at the dock. Then some of the older kids saw the name on the side and then the flag. In less than five minutes, the dock was full of kids and adults. Tony and I went ashore in one of the ship’s boats. We were flocked with kids asking about the ship. Tony went and organized the collection of food to put on the ship. Mario had enough fish to feed everyone tonight, so the guys packed the rest, took it to the rowboats, and rowed it to the ship. The Captain showed them where to put the food and gave them a tour of the boat. When one of the boats came back, I took Adel, and we headed to the ship.
“Adel, do you recognize this ship.”
He looked around, “We never saw the deck area we were below.”
I took his hand and led him below. He looked at the cabins, I opened one of the doors, and he saw the bunk beds and the port. There were tears in his eyes, “You kept your promise. You said I wouldn’t be able to recognize the ship, and I don’t. Can we sleep on the ship tonight?”
“I don’t see why not. Can you think of other boys you’d like to share this room with?” He shook his head yes. “Ok, let’s go and introduce you to the Captain and tell him you all are going to sleep here tonight.”
I met the Captain on the bridge. Captain, this is Adel. He requests that the kids be allowed to sleep on the ship tonight.”
“I’m very glad to meet you, Adel. I think if we can get everything organized, you all can sleep on the ship tonight.”
I looked at Adel; he had a great big smile on his face. “Tell me the boys you want. You can stay here and talk to the Captain while I bring them aboard.”
He gave me their names; I went in the rowboat and picked up those and three more. When we boarded the ship, Adel met his friends and showed them where they were going to sleep. “Boys, we have to go back ashore and get your clothes. So let’s go, and once you have your clothes, we will come back on board.”
Once those boys were back on the island, it took no more than 15 minutes when the word was out. The boys packed their suitcases, Aaron handed them a bag for the dirty clothes, I took Mario and Aaron on board while the boys were packing. I showed them the kitchen and the infirmary.
Then the boys and girls were ready to board. Tony had the boat captains bring the kids over to the boat. I gave them a tour, and then the older boys took over that job. I led them to their cabins, explaining that they would share it with other kids. I was amazed. It didn’t take them long to sort out who they would sleep with. Of course, I knew that Pat, Bubba, Curly, and Corky would share a cabin. It took about an hour for the kids to board. The food was stowed, the clothes were put in their drawers, and the suitcases were stored under the lower bunks. Now it was time for the adults. Tony and I showed the adults to the staterooms on the deck; they were first classrooms.
“Tony, if we’re going to stay on the ship tonight, we need to close up the island. Let’s take some of the older kids, pick up the trash, make sure everything is closed up, and then we can pay the help. We’ll have to come back soon and do the laundry and store it for the next time we are here.”
“I think Corky’s mom kept it pretty much up to date, but we can check.”
The next morning as we began to sail away from the island, the boys were all on deck. After breakfast, the Captain had a safety drill, showing the kids how to put on the life vest and assemble on the deck. I wish I had a picture of the kids. The kids pitched in, and soon the dining area was cleaned, and the dishes were being washed. One of the kids wanted to know if they could fish.
The Captain said they could fish from the ship’s side but call for help if they caught anything. I watched the boys bait their line and drop it over the side. We were moving slow, a lot slower than when we came to the island. I knew it would take about a week longer. We had enough food to last a month. The adults were lounging around. I looked at Murray and O’Shea; they had a big smile on their faces. I was glad my friends were having a good time. Aaron, Diane, and Mario were chatting about who knows what. They all had smiles on their faces. Mario got up and went below. About 15 minutes later, he came back with Janet in tow, a large plate of cookies, several cartons of cold milk, and a large urn of coffee. The kids didn’t drop their fishing lines for cookies; they had their friends bring them some cookies and milk. I laughed as I took some coffee and cookies to the Captain and one of the mates, Steve. I sent Tony to the engine room with coffee and cookies for Tom.
There was a lot of excitement as we entered the Panama Canal. The kids were at the rails watching the locks work. Soon we were on our way home. They did catch some fish, which Mario prepared for us. Sometimes it was like an hors d’ oeuvre since the fish were small, but there were large fish caught as well we had to take pictures. Walking along the cabins, I was amused that the kids had posted a sheet with the names of the occupants on their doors. Maybe I should make a plaque with the names and have it attached to the doors. I’ll bounce that idea off of Tony.
As we pulled into the dock, the Captain blew the horn. The kids were gathered at the railing, waving to anyone who was looking. I watched Nick. He saw me looking and smiled. As we came to the dock, Nick came and stood by me. “Did you have a good time?”
“Yes, it was the best time I ever had. Pat said we’re going to sail to the Caribbean, is that true?”
“Yes, this is called a shakedown cruise; it’s to make sure everything is ok. The next cruise will be the maiden cruise. I plan on spending all of our holidays and vacations either on the island or the ship or maybe both.”
He had a big smile on his face, I hugged him, and he went to where some of the kids were standing. I noticed there were a lot of people along the dock area watching us dock. The Captain asked us if we were going to leave now or wait for transportation. Just as he said that I saw Tony, Aaron and Murray leave the ship. “I think they’ll be going for the buses, and when they come back,we can debark. Are you going to stay on the ship or come and check out Sanctuary?”
“I think Steve and Tom want to stay aboard, so I’ll go with you on the last bus.”
It wasn’t long before three buses pulled up to the dock. The kids all decked out in clean shorts and t-shirts with our logo, boarded the bus in a very orderly fashion. When one bus was full, it left for the return trip. Diane stayed at Sanctuary to welcome the kids home. By the time the third bus was loaded, the first bus was back. The fourth bus left, and the last bus came for the rest of us. The Captain had Steve and Tom draw in the ramp, and then we headed home.
That night it was hard to get the kids to quiet down. The dining hall was boisterous, but it was ok. Murray and his wife, O’Shea, and his wife, hung around drinking coffee with Tony, Aaron, Diane, and me. Mario went to see his future misses. I noticed as the time became later and later, the noise level becomes lower and lower. The kids were drifting off to bed. As they left, they came for a hug and to thank me for a great vacation. I gave each one a hug and a kiss on their head. I watched as the last two could hardly keep their eyes open. I gave Pat an extra squeeze and Bubba as well. I wasn’t sure if they could make it to their bed or not.
Relaxing with friends and enjoying my coffee, the ladies thanked me for including them in our vacation plan. “Murray, O’Shea, you didn’t tell them that you wouldn’t provide security for my kids unless I took your wives along?”
The look on their wives’ faces was worth a million. I started to laugh as well as Tony, “I wat kidding. I asked them to bring you along because they are good friends and should share in our good times. I really appreciate you coming with us, and I hope you enjoyed the holiday as well.”
Murray and O’Shea smiled. I saved their butts, and they knew it. Murray and O’Shea left with their wives, saying good night. This left my staff, “What do you guys think?”
“I thought it was a great time, and the ship was the cherry on top of the ice cream.”
“I thought there was no way you were going to pull this off. I saw that ship before it went to the shipyard, and I couldn’t believe it was the same ship that pulled up at the island. What a transformation, It’s a cruise liner now. I heard the kids talking about it, saying that they have gone through hell, but they were in heaven now.”