Excerpt: I Was Shipwrecked on the Andrea Doria! The Titanic of the 1950s

The eastbound ship was approaching quickly. The officers realized that this was a fast-moving ship and traveling in an unassigned lane.

Officer Giannini felt to make sure that his gold crucifix pendant was in place. He noticed that his palms were sweaty but told himself, We are still a safe distance away

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. If the other vessel maintains its course, all will be fine.

The oncoming ship was now three and a half miles away.

“How close will she pass?” the captain asked.

“About one mile to starboard, ” Giannini replied, nervous but still not alarmed.

The captain turned to the helmsman and gave an order. “Steer four degrees to port.”

It was 11:00. With each passing moment, the officers strained to sight the oncoming ship visually. They knew that radar was still not as precise as their own eyes, but the dense fog was robbing them of this advantage.

“Why don’t we hear her?” Giannini asked the captain. “Why doesn’t she whistle?”

The captain was now silent, perhaps focusing on his intuition, as there was not much time to discuss details or even strategy. He recalled watching American movies where the Indian chief, on horseback, sat perfectly still, as if calling upon all of his senses to decide when to raise his arrow and signal attack. Was this to be his unwanted battle?

As Officer Giannini aimed his binoculars out into the eerie night, an unbelievable sight met him head-on: the mast lights of the silent approaching ship were now visible and showing the port-side red light instead of the expected green.

“She is turning! She is turning!” Giannini exclaimed with a blood-curdling cry. “She is showing the red light. She is coming toward us!”

“I see her,” the captain said faintly, his stare fixed rigidly on the other ship racing toward him at full speed.

Incredibly and inexplicably, the other ship was seconds from striking the Andrea Doria at full speed. Captain Calamai knew that he had to act instantly. He knew that in extreme situations, he had a choice to turn in whatever way he deemed wise.

“Hard left!” he shouted, the loudest he’d ever shouted in his life, as he faced his helmsman.

Would his liner respond in time to clear the collision? he wondered, his heart pounding hard enough to feel the beats in his head.

For several seconds, the captain stood immobilized. Officer Franchini realized this but knew that they had to signal their immediate left turn. He asked, “The two whistles?”

The captain nodded.

“The engines?” Franchini was suggesting that they should be shut down to lessen the blow.

“No! Don’t touch the engines! We need all the speed!” It was the captain’s intention to outrace the vessel that was about to broadside his.

At 11:10, the stunned officers of the pristine Italian liner saw a raging foe rip through a curtain of fog on the night water of the Atlantic. The captain clenched his teeth, awaiting the inevitable: the ramming of the Doria’s starboard side.

God, let my passengers be saved! he said in a brief, silent prayer.

The men on the bridge and the lookout in the crow’s nest braced themselves, helpless to save their prized liner. They watched in complete horror as a surreal, unidentified bow punctured the Doria’s double hull. Screeches, groans, and crashes echoed for miles on the Atlantic. Sputtering sparks sprang from the friction of the massive crash. The calm silence of the night was transformed into a cacophony accompanied by grotesque fireworks.

Ten minutes later, the captain was able to identify his offender as it noisily withdrew from the Doria’s entrails and he could read the name, STOCKHOLM.

“Dear God!” Officer Franchini exclaimed as he saw the mass of twisted steel that looked like the jaws of a monster, once the bow of the Stockholm.

As for the Andrea Doria, it now listed heavily, moaning mournfully and almost immobile.

Captain Calamai grabbed the railing…


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