To pray or not to pray...misadventure at tayabas bay
The boat was undoubtedly heavy on one side even before it left the port, worsened by the hordes of commuters who tenaciously inched their way inside the already crowded vessel. We had it coming to us all. There were already warnings from ambulant vendors that it was overloaded. There were a few people who heeded them and opted to take the next boat. Much as I tried to relax during the trip, ceaselessly reminding myself that “Andrea Gail” did not sink right away amidst the ‘perfect storm’, I could not rid my mind of the thought that a sister ship ( I cannot remember the name) of Titanic which was almost as huge sank in just 15 minutes on its maiden voyage.
At the instant Sta. Elena’s bow made the dip, I must have been the first to scream because I had expected it. At first everyone thought she went out of balance as many of the passengers were concentrated at the right side to avoid the scorching rays of the sun at the left side. The people at the right side of the deck then hurriedly moved back to the center. While the others scampered to get hold of lifejackets stowed on an overhead shelf everybody knew was highly disproportionate to the number of passengers on board. Fortunately, there were those who retained their composure and immediately calmed the people and assured us that there was no cause for panic (yet). The sea was relatively serene. And so we kept our fears to ourselves and those who stood up quietly sat back. Sta. Elena then came to a halt as it tried to regain its balance. And so we thought.
Twenty minutes had passed but still we were there right on the spot which could have been our Final Destination. The people have become restive again (especially I) wondering what on earth was taking the crew so long to even up distribution of weights (at the lower deck i supposed because there was no activity at the upper deck where we were seated). We learned later from one of the crew that the boat malfunctioned. As she made a steep right-turn the steering gear stuck and so she could not stir unless the problem was fixed or the boat would just go on circles. Finally the engine revved and I could hear the muffled sighs of relief of mothers clutching their children and the brassy scorn of men who probably feared for their lives as much as the women did but was too cautious to act scared lest they be perceived as wimps.
The vessel sailed at reduced speed this time. But after five minutes or so it stopped again. It was being operated manually and had to stop from time to time to get back to its course because we kept turning 180 degrees every time she tried to steer left . I've lost count how many times she sailed then stopped. Again the same guy went up to tell us that they were trying to fix the problem. Many of us suggested that we send a distress call but he said there was no order from the Chief Engineer yet and that we were just 9 nautical miles away from land (that's about an hour).
It started to rain; the sea became playful with its waves and rocked the boat. The muted terror was deafening. The mothers readied plastic bags to hold semi-digested lucky-me noodles, suman and chips that the children threw up. Others allowed their children to puke on the floor that disgusted the three kids with us. Some men chain-smoked. One guy was unabashedly uttering his frustration that there was no sign of help at all. Another guy made an effort to make us laugh by saying the traffic was terrible. Still, there were those who seemed unperturbed. A not-so-young couple strolled around, leaning on the railings that alarmed passengers as the slightest movement has already made many of us paranoid. The couple was sightseeing even if there was just waters all around us wherever one looked. Perhaps some were already insulted that they could still peck while most of us were drowning in anxiety. I myself was already hyper-ventilating while my knees uncontrollably shook from cold and fear combined. I could faint right there and then if not for Romel’s constant reminders that I had to be calm because I was giving Kai a fright.
Finally the same crew member, with his now disheveled hair and moustache and stained shirt, came and said that Sta. Elena was beyond repair. A barge from Mogpog (a competitor) still 2 nautical miles (about 10 minutes) away would arrive and haul us to the port. This was after another attempt to get Sta. Elena as close to land as possible but ended up over 90 degrees east of our destination. Luckily, the rain has already stopped and the waves pacified. Certain now that we were stuck there until help arrived, the people again scurried for lifejackets. I had somehow regained my composure and helped in appeasing the passengers who all wanted his or her own lifejackets. Apparently, not everyone would get this precious thing so we said lifejackets would be distributed to women and children first, and if there's any left, the men would get their share. To further reduce anxiety among mothers (that includes me) and panic for those who didn't have, the children were told to don their lifejackets. Only children! (and me).
What was supposedly a two-hour ride stretched to six hours. The whole time I was trying to restrain myself from panicking. The lifejacket Jonal handed to me somehow eased up my tension. Different thoughts raced in my mind. I worried about how to keep afloat in the sea I did not have any idea how many fathoms deep. Ensured with a lifejacket, I had already wanted to jump out of the ship if only to end my agony. I complained to Romel that feeling so helpless and so dependent on the Captain was driving me nuts. I had felt I was better off waddling in the open sea to get ashore even if it would take a week. At least I would be in control and not to just wait for our doom.
Faith was all that was left. But I am an agnostic and I couldn’t get myself to pray however hard I tried. I was a goner that it was to pray for our fate that was the only thing we could do yet I couldn’t do it. Uncertain of how long I would be perched on my seat, hands held by Romel and Lisa, I decided to text my sister to pray for me. Hah! That did it. It made me relax a bit. Then I got a text from Cheryl telling me to stay as calm as I could for she was praying for our safety (although her text that followed told me she herself was nervous and made me felt like i had to send her back her previous message and to assure her "we're the ones in danger here"). Richie too, texted that we'd eat tuna dishes as soon as we get back to Manila. I had figured that with so many hearts imploring god to keep us safe then maybe we would reach land within the day. And we did.
Labels: sanity meter