One of the scariest places I could ever imagine experiencing a hurricane is from the deck of a cruise ship. Yet that’s exactly what happened to my wife and me on Sunday, September 4, 2016, as Hurricane Hermine churned off of the Atlantic coast. You may have seen it on the news.

Our Bermuda-bound cruise left from New York on Saturday, September 3. As we boarded, we figured there was a good chance we would not see Bermuda. Instead, we wrongly predicted that the Captain would announce that we were to head to New England and Canada. After all, that happened to our friends a few years ago – when their cruise ship was re-routed to a different itinerary because of weather. Imagine planning for and booking a cruise headed to the tropics to snorkel among coral reef, only to discover at the very last minute that you’ll be headed north to observe lobster fisherman and look at lighthouses. I could only imagine, though, the anger and disappointment that many passengers would have felt and expressed if a change of that magnitude were to occur.

So we were quite surprised, then, when we boarded the ship and heard that there was no change to our itinerary. The Captain had been closely monitoring the weather and determined we could make the passage by sailing further to the east than normal before heading south to Bermuda. This would put us, in his words, “in mildly rough seas.” Shortly after boarding, an announcement was made that the Captain was briefing the passengers via a short video which we could view on our stateroom television. In his calm, rational demeanor, the Captain stood before a monitor showing the eastern US coastline, the island of Bermuda, and the vast ocean between the two. Similar to radar you’d see on your local weather broadcast, the monitor also showed the yellow, orange, and red colors indicating the strength and severity of the storm. He showed two graphics of ships on this monitor. The first ship (the yellow ship) showed the path we would normally follow to Bermuda. That path went straight through the heart of the storm. The second ship (the red ship) showed the path he intended to take. We would sail due east from New York at the highest possible speed before turning south to head toward Bermuda. He told us we would experience the fringes of the storm and could expect some mildly rough seas. “But the ship can handle it, “he reassured us. We went to bed that first night confident that the next day would be okay.

The next morning, we awoke to worsening conditions. The seas were rocking us considerably and my stomach started to experience “the motion of the ocean.” I would spend most of the rest of the day in bed under a Dramamine-induced stupor. The Captain appeared again on our stateroom television, with a new update. And a new map. And the dangerous oranges and reds were not as far away as they were on yesterday’s map. It turns out the storm had moved farther east than expected – and we were told that the conditions would get worse before they would get better. The monitor behind him displayed an at-sea version of Futurecast, on which he showed us hour by hour the location of the storm and the position of the ship. Yesterday it looked like we would only experience yellows. Today, we were headed towards orange – with red being not that far away. As the seas increased, I grabbed my video camera and headed out onto the balcony. Orgwide Ninja tagged along.

The full fury of the storm struck on Sunday afternoon. My wife and I had a balcony cabin on deck 6 forward. As the bow of the ship first rose nearly out of the water then back below the water, the waves broke along the front of the ship – all the way back to our balcony. The wind howled around our balcony door. At one point, I placed a can of my wife’s hairspray on the floor – to watch it roll back and forth across the room. I grabbed my water-proof camera, attached it to its mounting stick, opened the balcony door just wide enough to slip the camera through, and started shooting. The roughest weather lasted several hours. We later heard stories of mild damage to parts of the ship as well as some minor injuries to a few passengers. My wife said she felt like she was playing a game of human pinball when she tried to get us something to eat. People were just bumping into walls and to each other.

The seas calmed considerably overnight and were only a memory as we docked in Bermuda the next morning. This was our 17th cruise together and we’ve never experienced anything like it. And I hope we don’t ever again.

In the training and development world, we talk about the change management principles of setting your course, monitoring your progress, and considering the stakeholders. Those are terms which guide all that we do. But on this day, during this storm, they were very tangible. Let me explain.

Communication is key. As the supreme leader of the ship, the Captain took the time to keep us informed even as he was navigating us through the storm. We were not left to wonder. He told us what to expect. He told us when conditions worsened. And he told us we could expect it to get even worse before it got better. And he told us when we could expect it to get better.

You cannot always change your course. Imagine if, when we had boarded, he told the passengers we were plotting a new course northward for New England and Canada. That would have likely resulted in disappointment for most, anger for some. Besides, that was not a viable option because of the projected path of the storm later in the week (just as we’d be returning to New York.) The only other alternative would have been to sit at the dock and go nowhere. So while our original course had become less desirable than it should have been, it was still our only option.

You can still change direction. On our other cruises, we left New York and headed due Southeast in an almost 45 degree line to Bermuda. But to help us get around the storm, the Captain modified the route we would take to get there. We went the long way and got there a bit late, but we met our intended goal.

Consider the primary stakeholder. This one had to be a tough call. There were more than 4,000 individual stakeholders (passengers) to consider. Either way, it would not be a pleasant experience for most. If we had charted a new course northward, that would have upset many passengers. Staying on the course but changing direction upset some as well – including physically – but ultimately we did arrive our final destination. While I felt some physical ill effects from the rolling of the seas, the level of communication our leader provided improved my user experience tremendously. It also helped that they made available for free all of the pay per view movies on the stateroom television. It was a very welcomed change after watching same episode of “The Big Bang Theory” first in English, then Spanish, then Portugese.

Finally, hold on tight!

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