Don't Give Up the Ship: Finding My Father While Lost at Sea
Don't Give Up the Ship: Finding My Father While Lost at Sea
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  • ISBN-13: 9780345436757
  • ISBN: 034543675X
  • Edition: 1st
  • Publication Date:
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books



The Sea Stumbles The Bronx, 1999 The big morning finally arrived. My father and I did our sweeping checks of the room, the V.I.P. Suite at the State University of New York's Maritime College in the Bronx. Thin industrial carpeting over a concrete floor, nautical prints, spartan and sturdy furniture; a state college's idea of luxury. We peered under beds, searched every drawer and closet, even those we had never used, not wanting to leave anything behind, trying to be smart and thorough. We wheeled our suitcases into the bright 7 a.m. mid-May sun- shine and across the Maritime campus. Mostly 1950s brick buildings, square and charmless, set in the shadow of the Throgs Neck Bridge, but also Fort Schuyler, an 1830s pentagonal stone structure built to defend Hell Gate against the British, with thick walls and gun slits and a parade ground. We walked toward the Empire Stateour ship for the next month, sailing down the coast to the Caribbean and then across the Atlantic to Italygleaming white at the pier. The Empire State VI began her life as a freighter and, from a distance, had no elegant line, no graceful sweep. She seemed cobbled-together, a long expanse of bow in front topped with an elaborate nest of booms and cranes, a pair of lifeboats just ahead of the superstructure, then a clutter of decks. At the stern, a large shipping container and what looked like a pair of small orange submarines. The single smokestack was stubby, practical, yellowish beige, with the SUNY seal on it. The pier was hectic with a festive, summer-camp sort of commotion, busy with families, girlfriends, boyfriends, and cadetstrim teens in bright white shirts and dark navy pants, their "salt-and-pepper" uniforms. They towered over their parents. Mothers held bunches of balloons. Fathers lugged big portable coolers, cases of soda, cases of juice. I worried that we were unpreparedwe had no juiceand puzzled over the balloons. At least a dozen families had brought bunches of them. They seemed an odd, child's birthday party touch. My father stopped short and I ran thud into him, like a vaudeville act. Disentangling ourselves and our rolling luggage, I wondered, Is this how it's going to be? Frick and Frack? I looked around to see if anybody had noticed. Turning onto Dock 19, where the ship was tied up, I saw that the pier was named for A. F. Olivet, the no-nonsense captain during my father's cruises. I paused to make note of that, and of the dinghies moored under a protective wooden roof leading to the ship. They had bold, forward-straining names: Courageous, Freedom, America, Magic. Looking up, I saw that my father, the good New Yorker, had kept walking. I called to him"Dad! Wait!"and he turned. "I'll go slow," he shouted back. But he didn't go slow. He strode toward the ship. I hurried after him, the luggage wheels humming against the concrete. I got alongside the ship, almost to the gangway, just in time to see him go up without me, lugging his suitcase, a wide smile spread across his face. He said something pleasant to the officer at the top of the gangway and disappeared inside the Empire State. I stood on the pier a moment, shocked, then raced after him, hefting my suitcase in both hands and clattering up the awkward low metal steps. After months of arrangingthe conversations, the phone calls, the formal letters, the visitsI had figured that our boarding the ship would be an obvious moment of high drama: an exchange of loving glances, a pat on the back, a shy filial smile, a fatherly ruffle of the hair, a deep breath and up we go together, arms linked. Ta-daaaaaaaah! Not in this life. "What's your hurry, sailor?" I hissed, out ofNeil Steinberg is the author of 'Don't Give Up the Ship: Finding My Father While Lost at Sea', published 2002 under ISBN 9780345436757 and ISBN 034543675X.

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