By W.R. Jones
When we traversed the Panama Canal we had this tugboat alongside the ship for most of the journey. I couldn’t figure out the purpose of the escort since it wasn’t pushing or pulling us. I thought it might be to prevent us from jumping overboard to swim ashore and defect. I expect this could be a big problem with the plethora of American vacationers wanting to live in the jungles of Panama.
Later I found the real humanitarian purpose of this vessel. When you enter the canal, the ship picks up a Panamanian narrator. His role is to spend 8 hours non-stop explaining the history and operation of the canal. The cruise director had warned us that he could be a little dull and that we could not escape the narration as it would be broadcast throughout the ship for the entire day.
The warning was not strong enough. If it had been I would have taken my chances and swam ashore to defect. Christ! that man was boring; Panama Canal this, Panama Canal that, Panama Canal the other. A passenger standing on the deck beside me commented there should be a drinking contest where you downed a shot every time the narrator said the words Panama Canal. No one would have survived. The boring little man would book no substitutions. He was not about to say waterway, locks, lake, etc., or even just canal, it had to be Panama Canal each and every mention.
So, as it turns out, the purpose of the tug is to pick up those who have been numbed into sleep at the rail and tumble overboard. This could have been me if some quick thinking fellow passenger with ear plugs had not snagged me by my shirt collar and pulled me back. He put me down on the deck where I slept through the trip. Thus, I really don’t know exactly how that canal business works. I felt fortunate that none of those overeating walrus passengers stepped on me