Commentary: Travel, Life and Death

A European once commented “Americans seem to think death is optional.”

I had lunch with my friend George, a licensed architect who worked on plans for a medical facility earlier this year.  His doctor told him a couple months ago cancer had spread throughout his bones and he had only a few months to live.  George doesn’t believe him and plans to get a second opinion.

George was a quartermaster on a World War II LST at the Salerno and Anzio landings in Italy and a helmsman on D-Day.  He celebrated his 93rd birthday this week.  I’m betting on George.

Some people die a bit each day of their lives.  Others live to the best of their ability every day until they die.

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Feeding “Harmony”

Main Dining Room

Someone announced at dinner on the Harmony of the Seas they would be serving 60,000 “plated meals” during the week.  We took that to be meals other than at the buffet, sandwiches, pizzas, etc.

Each of the 28 food serving areas including the dining room [even each of the three main dining room levels], snack bars and specialty restaurants operates independently and  has its own galley.  There are 20 chefs, 222 cooks, and 102 cleaning crew.

All breads and pastries are made onboard.  A machine makes 4000 rolls an hour.

Reading these posts, you can see I am attracted to statistics.  They gave me a list of 27 items and the quantities consumed in an average week.  I won’t bother you with them all, but if you are curious about something not listed below, ask.  In an average week, they go through: 15,600 pounds of beef, 16,000 pounds of chicken and 1800 pounds of lobster.  They use 86,400 eggs, 16,500 pounds of flour and 3500 pounds of sugar.  22.5 tons of fresh fruit and 31 tons of vegetables are consumed.  They generally go through 18,700 beers, 175 bottles of whiskey and 550 bottles of vodka.


Last week’s post referred to I-95, the corridor that runs from one end of the ship to the other on a deck below the passenger cabins. There we met the gentleman in charge of provisions.  All orders are placed three weeks in advance, so it is important that each of the chefs and managers accurately estimate what they are going to need.  For example, they adjust the menu for the season, and kids want different food.  During the five hours the ship is in its home port, all fresh provisions must be brought aboard and all waste taken off.

There are 21 store rooms.  We saw a cooler for fruits and vegetables and two freezers.  When we went into a freezer, a strong flowing air barrier helped keep it cold when open.

Considering the number of children aboard, we heard almost no sneezing or coughing.

In recent years, all cruise lines have increased their efforts to protect passenger and crew health.  On most ships, this means having hand-sanitizer at the entrance to each dining room.  On the Harmony, there was a washing station with sinks, soap, and towels at the entrance to buffet.  Sinks in the kitchen bore the sign “wash hands often.”  The entrance to the crew’s dining room had both sinks and a large sign.  “Stomach flu” or another ailment might make a cruise memorable but is not likely to make you want to return.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  Somehow they estimated the average weight gain on a cruise is 7 pounds.  Gone are the days when we felt we had to take advantage of everything, so we did not do our part on this cruise — someone else must have gained our share.

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Controlling “Harmony”

Control Room

We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas at the end of June.  It is the largest cruise ship in the world and carries nearly nine thousand passengers and crew.  To put it simply, it is a floating city.  As such, it has its own utilities: electric, sewer and water.  It has a sophisticated recycling and garbage disposal system.  But the city is also a hotel with air conditioning and laundry, and employees to manage, house and feed.  Finally the city is still a ship to be powered and steered.

I descended below the passenger decks with a small group to learn a little more.  Although we all went through a security check boarding the ship, we had to be checked again before we were allowed it enter the control room.

There, a young Polish woman officer, explained a dizzying display of computers and video screens.  The control room can monitor all the systems on the ship, not just the two separate engine rooms.  If necessary, the control room can even steer the ship.

Three Azipods, propeller systems powered by 60 MW motors [80,500 horsepower] hanging below the ship, can move it in any direction, backwards, forwards, sideways or even in circles.  Six generators produce 92 megawatts each.  The ship can reach a speed of 25.1 knots.  We were told they never turn at full speed – it would flip the guests out of the swimming pools.

At full speed, these powerful systems consume a gallon of fuel for every 45 feet the ship moves.  It consumes 16 metric tons of fuel per hour.

I-95 — American Environmental Officer on right.

“I-95,” named after the long East Coast U.S. interstate highway, runs from one end of the ship to the other.  It was a busy place, but the traffic gets particularly heavy when the ship is in port.

The crew has rooms off I-95.  Most are in 2-person cabins; some have singles; married couples are allowed and accommodated.  A typical employee “contract” is six months, and most crew relationships do not last beyond a contract.

There is an on-board human relations department.  Crew members often work 12-hour days, are paid every other week and have some benefits such as a 401(k) plan to save for retirement.  The crew came from an estimated 60 different countries.  Language training is available on computers.  The crew has their own dining room, gym, laundry and three bars.  A bulletin board has job posting and training.  We were told it is the company policy to hire from within and train for upward mobility.

Another bulletin board listed “activities” for the crew including use of the water slides and 10-story sliding board Abyss on port days. They can also rent bikes to use in port.

Garbage room – 1 ton bags of crushed glass in the back

A rare American officer [most seem to be Greek or Scandinavian], the Environmental Officer, took us on a tour of her area.  She is responsible for water production, heating and air conditioning, plumbing and waste treatment.

A desalinization plant can produce 4100 tons of fresh water in 24 hours. On average, 2350 tons of water are consumed each day. There are 150 miles of piping, 3300 miles of electrical cables and 1,614,586 square feet under air.

There is one garbage room that operates 24/7.  Magnets pull metal like tableware out of food waste, but otherwise, everything is sorted by hand.  The goal is to eliminate or recycle 100% of the waste.

Food waste is pulped and discharged in international waters. [She said fish follow the ship.]  Similarly, “black water,” sewage, is discharged, but gray water [from showers, etc.] is purified in an AWC bioreactor and tested by both on-board technicians and outside inspectors.

That which can be burned is put in incinerators.  The rest of the waste is compacted and sold to recyclers in port.  Glass, sorted by color, is crushed and stored in one-ton plastic bags.  One to two bags are filled each day.  The Crew Welfare Fund gets all money from recycling thus creating an incentive to recycle.

We then descended even further into the ship by narrow steel staircases  [a ladder to you who served] to the laundry.  We saw 4 washers and 5 driers but it was not clear to me if there were more.  There was an interesting machine to fold sheets and gray-blue bins for dirty laundry and white for clean.  They have their own steam generator.

A spacious bridge

Climbing back up the stairs, we took an elevator to the twelfth deck and yet another security check before going onto the Bridge.  They must be able to look more than one hundred and eighty degrees so the bridge extends from beyond one side to beyond the other.  The actual control systems, however, take up little space.  There was plenty of room for a set of chairs and sofas to conduct staff meetings without leaving the bridge.

Despite sophisticated radar systems, there is always one person with binoculars on lookout duty.  There are backup computers for everything.  Electronic charts [maps] are updated weekly.

A modern cruise ship captain has to be schooled in public relations as well as the handling of a ship.  He has a “hotel director” to manage the guest areas, but in the end, everything is his responsibility.  We have often watched pilots board ships when we entered new ports, so I was interested to learn the pilot does not take charge of the ship; he still is simply an advisor to the Captain.  The only exception is passage through the Panama Canal.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Next week I will describe feeding more than 8500 people every day.

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Big, Bigger, Biggest – Harmony of the Seas

Harmony of the Seas

Last minute choices for a cruise were limited.  We reluctantly chose the largest cruise ship in the world, the Harmony of the Seas.  We don’t like noise, crowds and waiting in long lines.  But we wanted a minimal effort vacation.  They did a marvelous job, and we would go again.

Harmony is 1,188.1 feet long, just over a foot longer than its sister ships the Allure and the Oasis.  It displaces 227,000 gross tons.    Officially, It can hold 6780 guests [with more than two people in a room] and 2100 crew.  We were told there were 6441 passengers on our cruise, about 3800 of

Looking forward. Central Park has live trees and plants.

whom were on their first cruise, and 2185 crew.  In comparison, the Pacific Princess which we took to Longyearbyen last year was 30,277 tons and carries a total of 1045 passengers and crew.

They divided the ship into seven “neighborhoods.”  The most impressive to us was “Central Park” which soars from the 8th deck to the sky and boasts live plants and trees.  It is surrounded by restaurants and bars.  We also enjoyed the AquaTheater shows in “Boardwalk.”  The pool depth can be adjusted to accommodate divers plunging from 55 feet above.  At its deepest, it is 17.7 feet deep.   The Boardwalk also has a carousel and arcade.

Lots of fun for kids

The ship has two FlowRider® surf simulators, two 43-foot high rock-climbing walls, three water slides, an ice skating rink, a mini-golf course and a zip line as well as the Abyss, two helix-shaped ten-story sliding boards. [Yes, I went down the water slides and Abyss.]

We once were on a ship where the average age was 82 [that’s what the crew told us].  On this June cruise, we were the old folks; at one show, the entertainer had to explain to younger members in the audience who the Beatles were.

There is the usual casino, dancing,  youth programs, fitness and spa area and jogging track.  A “Bionic Bar” has robot bartenders which create beverages from a broad menu.

Riding the carousel in Boardwalk

They claim to have the “fastest Internet on the sea.”  I wonder if Navy ships might be faster, but it was certainly fast enough.

Alie likes a balcony if we can get it.  The room was very well designed but not the biggest we have had.  On the other hand, there are two-story “loft suites” available.  There are also rooms with balconies looking over Central Park and Boardwalk.  I didn’t see one, but perhaps the most interesting offer to me was for inside rooms with “virtual balconies” which give the illusion one is looking outside.

The largest cruise ship in the world requires more than I care to write or you care to read in one post.  Future posts will discuss the engineering systems and how they feed and entertain all those people.

In the meantime, as always, click on the photos to enlarge.

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The last time we were in St. Maarten…

The last time we were in St. Maarten, I said the next time I was going to sail on a former America’s Cup boat.  We went back.  I did.

The America’s Cup was first awarded in 1851 when the cup, the trophy, was awarded to the schooner America by the Royal Yacht Squadron for winning a race around the Isle of Wright.

The race is held when another yacht club challenges the current holder of the cup.  Over the next 132 years, a yacht from the New York Yacht Club always won.

Dennis Conner was captain of the winning boat in 1974 and 1980.  But he lost in 1983 when the Australians challenged with a boat with a winged keel.  The Australian boat was much faster, but Connor’s skillful seamanship was acknowledged by the Australian builder: “even when we did win, we were using a rifle against a club and Dennis Conner still almost beat us.”

Nonetheless, the New York Yacht Club rejected Connor’s request to challenge again.  So Connor formed his own syndicate to finance another challenge, and racing for the San Diego Yacht Club he won in 1987 sailing the Stars and Stripes.

Today, rather than sitting in a museum somewhere, the Stars and Stripes still races against the Canada II and other boats in St. Maarten for the benefit of tourists.

We were assigned our boats by our guide.  In June 2017, the boat I was on came in second.  But I didn’t care.  I sailed on the Stars and Stripes.

Connor’s autograph after he won again in 1988, 1992 and 1995. He also won again in 2000 and 2003.

Click on photos to enlarge.


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Keith Goodson, mural painter: Lake Placid, Florida

Click on photos to enlarge.

Photo by W. Miller

Sometimes our most interesting experiences are unexpected ones, the ones we stumble upon, the surprises.

Lake Placid is an interesting town.  That is true whether you are in the New York Adirondacks [site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics] or on the center ridge of Florida — which wouldn’t even be noticed as a hill in New York.

We stopped in Lake Placid, Florida for lunch with friends Bill and Peg.  This town of just over two thousand people has nearly 50 murals on its buildings.  After lunch, Bill and Peg took us to see a couple newer ones.

The most recent, on the end of Trinity Lutheran Church, still had scaffolding in front of it. I felt the scaffolding would spoil a photo.

Cue the drum-roll for the surprise.  It was the last day the scaffolding would be there, and artist Keith Goodson was painting his final touches.

Talking to him about the painting, we asked where he had studied.  He is self-taught.  When I went to his website, I found he had wanted to be an artist as long as he could remember.  He certainly succeeded.  He paints traditional fine art and portraits as well as murals.  He is a realist painter, but his paintings are not photographs. They have vision and emotional depth.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  I thought I had written about Lake Placid before but discovered when we got home that it was in my early days of blogging, and I tried to fit entire trips into one post.  We will definitely have more to say about the Lake Placid murals as soon as we can get back there.

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The U.S. road network is less than one hundred years old.

Arizona’s Enchanted Mesa was still far from the highway in 1964.

Click on photos to enlarge.

We strongly advocate driving across the U.S. sometime.  So much is missed travelling only by plane.  But imagine if there were no paved roads.

The modern American road system is less than one hundred years old.

Romans paved roads to support military conquests and run their empire.  Americans walked on brick-paved streets in Colonial times.  But in 1900 America was huge, still overwhelmingly rural and paved roads were a rarity.

Modern highways are taken for granted.

American Road: The story of an epic transcontinental journey at the dawn of the motor age by Pete Davis describes that era’s roads.  Published in 2002, it is not particularly gripping.  But it is filled with interesting facts and tidbits, especially for those who have driven across the country.

On July 9, 1919, the First Continental Motor Train, an Army expedition that included cars, trucks, motorcycles, ambulances, mobile kitchens, machine shops and wreckers, set out from Washington, D.C. for San Francisco, California.  There were nearly 300 men in 81 vehicles. Future President Dwight Eisenhower was among the officers.  The trip took two months and averaged five miles an hour.  There were times when some doubted they could do it.

Alaska’s gravel Dalton Highway goes 240 miles from Coldfoot to Deadhorse with no services.

The first production automobile was made in 1886.  Between 1904 and 1908, there were 241 U.S, producers selling cars, mostly made in small shops.  Henry Ford created the Model T in 1908, and that same year Durant founded General Motors.  By 1913, 485,000 automobiles were produced. Americans owned six and a half million vehicles in 1919.

But only the most adventurous could cross a state in a car let alone cross the nation.  Motor vehicles were common in towns, but the roads connecting those towns were mostly dirt.

Off the paved highway in Colorado.

When Alie and I drive “dirt roads,” we usually mean gravel roads that have been graded at some point.  As late as 1919, most roads outside major cities were just dirt, trampled down by passing generations of feet, horses and wagons.  As late as 1907, there was not a single mile of paved road in rural America.  In 1908, there were no road maps, no road signs, and in some places, especially west of the Mississippi River, no roads, just trails.

The Grand Canyon was long a barrier to western travel: Marble Canyon Bridge over the Colorado River.

The Lincoln Highway Association was formed in 1913 to support the construction of a transcontinental road — or more accurately, a transcontinental route over a collection of roads.  Automobile and tire companies wanting a place for customers to drive were among the major proponents. Cement producers also saw a market.

But in 1919, the Lincoln Highway was still a conglomeration of routes from city to city leading from New York to San Francisco.

One can still encounter unusual traffic crossing the U.S.

On the first day, the 1919 expedition went about 50 miles to Frederick Maryland.  On the second day, they discovered covered bridges were too low for the trucks.  During the next two months, they often discovered bridges were not strong enough and had to be rebuilt.

Progressive Pennsylvania had paved a steep and dangerous road through the mountains.  West of Pittsburgh, however, the roads were again unpaved, rutted and full of potholes.

One can clock traffic speeds over Nebraska’s I-80 where Eisenhower once struggled over dirt tracks.

Ohio also had a paved road, mostly brick, 13-foot wide.  You can still see part of it near Canton.

In Indiana, local private entrepreneurs sponsored one-mile long “seedling” roads hoping to encourage governments to follow through.  But most of the road was so dusty it clogged carburetors.

The road deteriorated as the expedition moved west.  Iowa farmers didn’t see the need to spend money on roads.  When the drivers weren’t blinded by dust, they bogged down in mud.  Where Interstate 80 now runs through Nebraska, the road was little more than a wagon trail.  Trucks bogged down in soft soil and sand.  In Wyoming, they literally followed the path of settlers’ wagon trains.  Bridges collapsed, their wood weakened in the dry air.

The “loneliest road” goes over Utah’s salt flats.

On our first trip across the “loneliest road” through Utah and Nevada, we made sure we had enough gasoline because there were few towns.  We were interested when we saw another car on the road. Trucks and cars driving  across those same salt flats in 1919 frequently broke through the crust into the silt below.  They couldn’t even be pulled out; they had to be dug out by hand and moved over a makeshift base of planks and sagebrush.

By comparison, California did have relatively good roads.  The first speeder was arrested in California in 1919.  Having spotted him but unable to catch him, a policeman chased him down in an airplane, landed on the road, and arrested the motorist who stopped thinking the pilot had trouble.  The driver was doing sixty miles an hour.

North Carolina’s “Road to Nowhere” was a government plan gone bad.

P.S.  Despite have driven across the U.S. a number of times, I found remarkably few pictures of roads in my files — “familiarity breeds indifference.”

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