“The sea is not a friendly place,” declares Bill Merritt. He has good reason to feel that way, having nearly lost his life as a captain in the U.S. Navy. “I got swept over the side by this monstrous wave in a mistral off the coast of Spain,” he recalls, noting that when the swell abated, he found himself about 100 feet below the deck of the ship, plunging rapidly toward the water. Through good luck and quick reactions, he was able to grab hold of the lifeline behind him and just barely made it back on board.
So where does this Darien denizen spend most of his holidays? On the water, of course, aboard cruise ships. Merritt recently completed a tour up the Amazon River; the trip followed a European cruise marking the sixtieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion. And he is weighing a trip to Antarctica this winter. It may seem incongruous for a retired naval officer to devote so much of his free time to a substance that almost killed him, but Merritt has a simple explanation. “The water is endlessly fascinating,” he says. “And none of these cruises encountered any of the stuff we did in the navy.
”That’s a good thing, both for those who enjoy traveling by ship but lack Merritt’s maritime experience, and also for the companies that offer the cruises. You don’t need to have much in the way of sea legs to appreciate the allure of the oceanic environment.