Sailing into the unknown….
It’s the 28th January 1966. I am just twenty years old, freshly out of art school and against my parent’s wishes newly married. We are taking the train from London to Southampton where we are to board the United States Liner for New York.
I had no desire to live in the United States, and so had agreed to go for a two year visit. My husband had family living in Massachusetts and Key West Florida where one of his cousins was a captain on the then active Marine Base. We would sail to New York and then take a Greyhound Bus to Miami where we would be met by my husband’s uncle. Then onto Key West where we were to stay for a couple of months.
When teaching I am often heard saying ‘Jump off the cliff’ even though you have no idea what’s at the bottom…JUST JUMP – and I suppose without understanding what that meant then in the way that I do today, – that’s what I did…I took a big leap of faith.
My first impressions upon boarding the United States liner was how huge and how American it was. American accents, food, smells – immediately so different from the world I knew in the UK and Europe. (Compared to today – back then very few people travelled to the USA. Most of what we knew we learned from the news, books or films.).
As we left Southampton things seemed pretty smooth. I remember going to the dining room for our first meal – when it began to get choppy! After a stop in Bremerhaven to pick up more passengers we were then on our way across the Atlantic.
It turned out to be one of the roughest crossings on record. Most people were very sick, including me. What had seemed like a huge powerful ship was bobbed about on the waves like a cork. If I hadn’t been so sick, I would have been terrified….I didn’t even turn up for lifeboat practise – Going down with the ship seemed like a preferable choice!
We never did get back to the dining room….rather we were laid out on a sun deck with many others……buckets by our sides.
We arrived in New York Harbour on the 3rd February 1966. It was bitterly cold and there was snow and ice everywhere. We came under the newly built Verrazanno Bridge. Ahead was the Statue of Liberty. Ellis Island and Manhattan. (Of course then I had no idea that just a year or so later I would be living on Harbor View Place on Staten Island which overlooked all of these places….(see Vignette 3.)
Not only is everything interconnected, but I am constantly reminded that none of us is ever creative enough to know how things will actually work out……….
First impressions: of New York…Organised chaos.…colour as in yellow cabs, bill boards, Policemen with guns….and so much noise. Quite a shock to the system.
We then had to navigate our way to the Greyhound Bus Terminal…another shock to the system….where we eventually boarded a bus to Miami.
An important note: I thought when I hit land the terrible sea sickness would leave me…..but it persisted. I was to learn about two months after arrival that I was pregnant. My son Jarrod was born on 10th September 1966 which means that I was probably two weeks pregnant when we set sail for the States. So I was sick from rough seas and early pregnancy….who knew?
There are many vignettes to be told about that trip…some of them very funny – some poignant, but rest assured when we did eventually arrive in Key West it was a huge relief – but just the beginning of many experiences and culture shocks.
A special experience in Key West was helping Cuban refugees arriving on tiny boats. I got involved with this through the people we were staying with. Again more vignettes to come 🙂