Much has been made in the past week of the hardships experienced by passengers on the crippled, somewhat ironically named Carnival cruise ship Triumph.

An engine room fire left the ship without power and dead in the water. There were no working toilets, no air conditioning and a shortage of food.

But other than that, everything was just peachy.

Passengers, including two families from Drummond, have described the horrors of spending four days adrift in what quickly began to smell like a floating outhouse.

In the interest of full disclosure, my bride and I have been on a number of cruises and have never gone through anything even remotely close to what happened on the Triumph. On one cruise, our ship lost half of its propulsion, so we could only sail at half speed, meaning we arrived at our destination late and had to leave early. On another, we didn’t have any hot water for an hour or two. On another, there was an issue with tendering passengers to shore and returning them to the ship in a timely fashion, which resulted in some passengers missing their dinner, which is unthinkable on a fully functioning cruise ship.

I like to think I would take conditions like the Triumph passengers experienced in stride, with good humor and a keen sense of adventure, but more likely I would be curled up in a fetal position in the corner, alternating between whimpering and cursing the fates.

That said, and with all due respect to all who suffered mightily aboard the good ship Triumph, we just aren’t as tough as we used to be.

We are used to our creature comforts, and in fact take them very much for granted. We have heat in the winter, AC in the summer, hot water, cold drinks, hot food, comfortable homes and access to all manner of shops and restaurants.

Modern cruise ships are floating cities, with abundant food, free-flowing (but certainly not free) alcohol, entertainment and fully equipped spas. But sailing the seven seas used to be far different.

Imagine, if you will, crossing the ocean in an 18th century wooden sailing ship. Instead of days, the journey would take months. The ships were small, the conditions cramped and uncomfortable. Disease spread rapidly among the crew, and the food was barely adequate to sustain life. The sailors lived on salt beef or pork, cheese, fish, ale and hard biscuits. The quality of the food deteriorated over the course of the voyage because of a lack of proper storage facilities. Rats and other vermin took their share of the stores, while the ship’s biscuits often were filled with maggots and weevils.

And, of course, there were no bathing or toilet facilities, either.

These sailors would have been happy to have a cabin on the Carnival Triumph, even if it was small, hot and smelled like poo.

How about those brave souls who took part in the western expansion of this nation, those who left the comfort and warmth of their homes back east and set out for greener pastures in covered wagons? The journey was long and uncomfortable. There were breakdowns, blizzards, floods and the occasional prairie fire. There were no rest stops, no drive-throughs, no roadside restrooms.

Once they decided to settle down, there were no ready-made houses to buy, no grocery stores in which to purchase food. If they didn’t hunt it or grow it, they didn’t eat it. If they didn’t build shelter, they slept out in the cold. It was a hard life for hearty people.

If we could transport someone from the 1800s to today, they would be truly amazed at the world of 2013. They would be overwhelmed by modern conveniences like cars, planes, television, running water, air conditioning and sliced bread.

But they likely also would be stunned by how soft our society has become, and not just around our middles because of the overabundance of food we enjoy. Take away the trappings of modern life and we would be lost. Many early settlers of the western United States lived in dugouts hollowed out of the ground. If our heater is on the fritz in the dead of winter, we become apoplectic.

Not that I would trade places with those folks, mind you. I like hot food, a hot shower, a comfortable bed, a roof over my head, a recliner and a fully stocked refrigerator.

But for the men who sailed the seas in the 18th and 19th centuries, who plied the waves in cramped wooden ships, the voyage of the Carnival Triumph would have been a positive pleasure cruise, excrement-filled plastic bags, soggy sandwiches, cold sponge baths and all.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at

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