Part 15. The Captain “Why do you say, ‘Of course,’ George was the last off Restive?” my daughter, Annie, asked me.
“Well,” replied this former deep-water ingénue turned grizzled old salt. “It’s a tradition on the high seas for the captain to be last. He is responsible not just for the ship but for the well-being of all her passengers and crew.”
“From what I read,” she countered, “it seems like the captain is among the first to get off.”
She has a point:
- In June, a cruise ship with 456 people on board sank in China’s Yangtze River. Only 14 survived – including the captain.
- In April 2014, over 300 people went down on a South Korean ferry. That number did not include the captain, who was among the first to leave.
- In January 2012, Francesco Schettino provided my first “Stumble of the Week,” when, after running the Costa Concordia aground off the Tuscan coast, he “tripped” into a lifeboat, where he refused repeated Coast Guard orders to return to his ship. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
George is from an older school, for whom the decision to leave Restive was nothing less than traumatic. “After all I’ve read and experienced,” he said, “I never thought I’d abandon my boat.”
His tears on finally boarding Sparky were the release from hours of unrelenting tension that come with the responsibility a captain assumes. George continues to question his decision, but, as we shall see, it was unquestionably the right one (as, believe me, I knew all along).