How to almost “miss the boat”

miss the boat

INFORMAL: to be too slow to take advantage of an opportunity

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You begin by failing to note today’s “Back on Board” (BoB) time is 3:00 pm, a full two hours earlier than usual. The reason for the change in schedule is the ship’s captain must sail farther that night to reach the next destination, the village of Flåm, which is located deep inside the Sognefjorden, the largest and deepest fjord in Norway, and about 239 nautical miles from your current location in Stavanger.

That is the why the cruise director puts so much emphasis on the altered BoB time in the morning announcement piped into the ship’s hallways, but notably, not into the staterooms themselves. Through the very sound-insulated door of your room his voice sounds a bit garbled and indistinct, like Charlie Brown’s elementary teacher when she is dressing him down for his latest transgression. So, you might be forgiven for not hearing the announcement clearly, or even tuning it out entirely.

You might also be forgiven for failing to note the change in schedule printed in the May 2, 2022 edition of the Viking Daily, the ship’s slick, professionally produced newspaper, which was left in your room the previous evening by your housekeeper, who also picks up your used towels off the floor and hangs up fresh ones, turns down your bed, neatly rearranges your scattered toiletries, and restocks your minifridge with your favorite beverages.

Perhaps you are so focused on all the helpful background information on Stavanger and the exciting lineup of the day’s events, all designed to help maximize your cruising pleasure, that you do not see the one small line that reads, “3:00 PM Back on Board: Viking Jupiter prepares to sail for Flåm, Norway.”

Even so, you will remember for the rest of your life that most everyone else onboard apparently does read that line, some even marking the change with a yellow highlighter so they would be less likely to forget, and then carries the paper with them ashore, another “helpful hint” from the cruise director that you fail to heed.

What is much less forgivable is failing to read the large print sign with the altered 3:00 pm BoB time placed at the port gate you must pass through to get to town, right at eye level so it is, in theory anyway, “hard to miss,” even for the many passengers with age-related eye disease and various levels of visual dysfunction.

So, you proceed to enjoy your day in Stavanger on an unusually sunny and cloudless day for that area of the world, a light harbor breeze making things a bit chilly but with the brightly shining sun easily making up the difference. You wander through the city’s Old Town, up and down its hilly, cobblestone streets which are lined with the continent’s highest concentration of white and egg shell-colored wooden buildings, some dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, close to 250 in all, now protected by a conservancy after developers had earlier threatened to destroy them.

You enjoy a mouthwatering lunch and a refreshing regional beer. You walk into many small shops and boutiques and buy some nice gifts for some folks back home and a few things for yourself and your partner, who beams at you for not mouthing one word of complaint for a change and fully embracing the moment.

You stop at some point to take in a lungful of fresh sea air. You think about your ancestors (after all, your Ancestry.com DNA analysis has pegged you as a full 20% Viking!) and how they trod these very same streets you now walk, they in their wool leggings and leather shoes crafted from the skins of animals they had killed themselves, and you in your cushy, lily white leather New Balance walking shoes you scored for a steal on Amazon. You feel proud and intimately connected with your storied, seafaring past–Skol!

You are so embracing the moment, squeezing the life out of it like an anaconda hugging an overwhelmed and very surprised wild boar even, that you have turned off your cell phone. In the back of your mind you wonder if this is the right move. But then you smile and convince yourself that this rare unplugging is the ultimate sign of your newfound commitment to mindfulness.

Around 3:30 pm, you glance at your watch and say to your partner, “Well, every good thing must come to an end. Let’s wander on back to the ship. Even if we take our time, there will still be plenty to spare.”

Even though you say these words with sincere conviction, you are so very wrong.

Back on the ship, every last one of your fellow passengers is wondering why the ship is not moving. Normally, the lines and gangplank are taken up quickly and the ship pushes away from the dock within 20 minutes or so of BoB time.

An announcement is made, this time all over the boat and into every single room: “If Mr. __ and Ms. __ in Stateroom 6**7 are onboard, please call the Customer Service Desk immediately.”

The voice belongs to Aoibhn (pronounced “aveen”), your effervescent, red-haired, Irish assistant cruise director whose soaring vocals had filled the Star Theater, located in the ship’s bow, during her performance, “Pieces of My Heart,” two nights before.

In about 10 minutes, she repeats the announcement, still calmly and professionally, her lilt bobbing up and down like a gently rocking wave, but this time with a bit more splash.

Aha! the entire boat thinks at once. Somebody’s missing!

Many people briefly pause to ponder the fate of the unlucky and unaccounted for couple. They sort through the possibilities why they are missing. They hope they are not injured, or worse. Then they quickly conclude the two most likely did not remember the altered BoB time and are simply late. They move on, leaving any sense of empathy in their wake.

The weight of the ship shifts slightly right as a significant number of passengers proceed toward the starboard side to watch the show. Happy “hour” (Ha! Every hour is “happy hour” on the Viking Jupiter!) is well underway, and many passengers are already “three sheets to the wind” and counting. They are scattered and stacked upon each other across multiple decks and leaning forward in anticipation, like rubbernecking, rowdy Romans in the Colosseum thirsting for blood.

But what they see confuses them at first. There are only two people on the dock, a man and a woman who are nervously pacing while talking animatedly and gesticulating wildly. The gangplank is withdrawn. The two seem to alternate between attempting to use their cellphones, talking to each other, and turning toward and talking to, maybe even pleading with, some unseen persons on Deck 1.

Gee, some people think, if that’s the two who are missing, why are they not letting them on the ship? Hey, they may be late, but that could happen to anybody. Why would the crew be taunting them and punishing them like that? Seems kind of harsh.

Then the man suddenly turns and sprints toward and jumps on top of a bench, his head craning forward, on a swivel. He has spotted something, or someone, of interest. The woman converses excitedly with the unseen people and then turns and runs toward the port gate and unlocks it with a key she has pulled from her windbreaker pocket. The man jumps up and down, waves his arms, and yells something indistinguishable to another man and woman who are loaded down with shopping bags and lollygagging down the hill toward the ship.

Your head is still stuck in Viking Valhalla, however, and one of your bags is filled with Norse kitsch you swore you would never buy but ultimately could not resist, and that little stop has slowed you down even more. You look up and see the jumping man and running woman. You notice the deck is empty and the gangplank is withdrawn. You look up and spot a great cloud of witnesses gazing down from above. The ship seems to be listing toward the dock.

You remark to your partner, “Huh,” and ask no one in particular, “What the . . .?”

You see the gate swing open and the man start running toward you. You cannot hear him at first, but there is an urgency in his manner that is concerning. Then you barely hear the words “You’re late!” and the truth hits home. Your partner screams, “Oh my God!” and starts running–kind of.

You are never late, always conscious of the time, punctilious even. But not this time. Not on this day. Your face is on fire, but you continue at the same pace, hoping that a calm, head-held-high demeanor will somehow salvage some shred of dignity from this magnificent shipwreck of a situation.

The crowd looks down and sees an emergency gangplank, a bare 1.5 meters wide, if that, flung from the side of the ship with a loud clatter. Everyone sees the two uniformed deck officers disembark in a full sprint.

One grabs your partner’s arm and starts to pull. The other runs up to you, places a muscular, tattooed arm between your shoulder blades, and starts to push. For a moment, you think you are the President of the United States and your protective detail is moving with pace, purpose, and precision, shielding you from “Shots fired!” They practically throw both of you aboard Deck 1 then pivot hard toward the dock.

Up above, the cloud of witnesses cheers, their mighty chorus rocking the ship from bow to stern like a fifty-foot swell. They kick it up another notch as the first man, who is apparently a local employee or contractor, and the two officers push the gangplank with seemingly all their might and slide it onto Deck 1 with a mighty “Heave ho!” The local guy turns and walks away. The two officers leap aboard. Minutes later, the ship’s starboard thrusters fire up, and the Viking Jupiter slowly pushes away from the dock.

The ship buzzes with news of the incident. The story evolves through so many iterations that by dinner’s end it has risen to the level of Norse legend, a fresh Beowulf recast for a modern, pampered age.

Later that evening, as the ship pitches back and forth from the captain proceeding full steam ahead, plowing through the North Sea trying to make up for lost time, two men, both of whom adopt a very practical wide stance, sway at their respective urinals trying not to make too large a mess.

One man remarks to the other, “The captain is really punching the throttle tonight.”

The other replies, “Yeah, it’s because of that couple that was an hour late. I’m almost 80 years old–it’s hard enough for me to stand under normal conditions, much less this!”

And that, friends, is how to almost “miss the boat.” But let the record show that one writer and witness, who hereby swears to the veracity, more or less, of this tale, had his eyes up and out in search of a big fish and did not miss his opportunity to reel in a whopper.

He did not even have to work that hard to do it. It was handed to him on a platter, just like the scrumptious, pan-seared Norwegian halibut he had enjoyed at the previous night’s dinner.