I have a well-documented fear of large ships, primarily oil tankers and cruise ships. One of my several less than helpful former therapists once said ‘Such bad luck, to be born with a fear of ships when you live in a country so full of water! If only someone in a landlocked area could have had this phobia instead!’ But I get the impression that when you have a shit brain like I do, it doesn’t spare you by picking a fear you won’t be confronted with all the time.
When I was little, me, my brother and my mum would go swimming in the river Amstel across the road from my nan’s house. The river was narrow and usually very quiet except for the odd little rowing boat, but about twice a day a large cargo ship would pass. My mum reasonably told us to look out for the ships and get out of the water when they came. She emphasised that you couldn’t hear them coming and they’d just suddenly be there, and you couldn’t just swim next to them as their mass would suck you closer and you could get trapped underneath and end up in the propeller. She could have hardly not warned her children about this very real danger, but I was an impressionable child with a flair for the dramatic and from then on every time I had a nightmare it would be about gigantic ships running over me.
Whenever I needed to go into the city from my student flat in Amsterdam Noord, which was nearly every day, I’d have to take the ferry and I would see the monstrous cruise ships sitting in the harbour, waiting, biding their time to kill. As long as they stayed still I would be okay with it, but I lived in fear of the day I would see one moving. Once I saw a gigantic one leaving, presumably to return to its home port at the mouth of the river Styx, while the ferry to Noord was right next to it, and all the people on it waved happily at the oversized metal death contraption. Things just do not need to be that big. The cargo ships from my childhood seem tiny compared to it, and their size is understandable. They just need to transport large piles of sand from one place to another, and a huge floating metal box is the easiest way to accomplish that goal. But cruise ships seem so pointlessly big. Why not have five smaller boats? Why not go on holiday in a rusty old car that stalls at every péage on the autoroute du soleil, or on some kind of last minute Ryanair flight full of drunken Englishmen, like a normal person?
Later, I made it worse by moving to Southampton in the UK, nothing if not the cruise ship capital of the country. On one of my first days of living there I took a cycling trip into the city and got lost. Trying to find my way I saw a sign that told drivers to keep left when driving and quickly put two and two together, cars would be coming into the country here and I was pretty sure they weren’t driving over a huge bridge from France. I looked up and saw the Queen Mary, the largest and most evil and disgusting ocean liner in the world. I quickly cycled away, nearly in tears, and spent thirty pounds on hair products in Boots to calm down.
Another thing, how do they float? It has been explained to me many times by people who know about physics and I want to take their word for it but personally I just do not trust something that weighs more than a skyscraper and doesn’t sink to the bottom of the ocean. I suspect there is a little room below deck on each ship where an obligatory member of staff lives, a dark maritime mage continuously doing spells to keep the gigantic monster from sinking. The Titanic and that Italian cruise ship that sank a few years back had employed subpar wizards that slacked off and didn’t create a magic strong enough to keep the laughably heavy monster floating. On the ship where everyone got diarrhea someone had pissed the mage off badly.
But still, my relationship to the hellish monsters of the sea is not uncomplicated. Sometimes I deliberately google things like ‘half sunken cruise ship’ or ‘stranded oil tanker wreck’ just to feel a little fear. When I’m on the tram to IJburg and I pass the harbour I’m often a little disappointed when there isn’t a huge horrible hell ship there to scare me, in the same way you’d be bummed if a horror movie doesn’t turn out as scary as you’d like.