When Dawnetta and Sam DeCara set sail for a seven day cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, the skies were clear. They anticipated the journey ahead to be smooth. But three days into their trip, things took a decidedly different turn.
A tropical depression that developed overnight was intensifying. The Carnival Pride ship, with more than 2,000 passengers on board, was in the path of the storm that would eventually become Hurricane Joaquin.
Dawnetta commented, “As we arrived to our first port of Grand Turk, the surf was so rough that the captain couldn’t pull straight into the dock. He had to circle it twice. Pulling up, we saw the entire beach was covered with water.”
She and Sam exited the ship and were greeted by crew selling rain ponchos and telling them to be back on board by 5:00 p.m. It wasn’t the picture-perfect scene they expected to see on the island. “In the streets, we were walking in four or five inches of water as workers were using big pumps to take it out.”
Despite the challenging conditions, Dawnetta said she was determined to get her feet in the ocean at Grand Turk. It was short lived visit to the beach though as thick, dark clouds loomed overhead. After one hour, they decided to head back.
“Soon after returning to the ship, the captain sounded the warning horn to let us know he had to get us out of there. The storm was a category 3. All the while, the boat was hitting against the concrete dock. He announced that we wouldn’t be stopping at the next port of Half Moon Cay. Instead, he took us behind the islands of Bahama close to Cuba to get out of the storm’s way.”
By Wednesday evening, it was upgraded to category 4.
“When you peeked outside, the wind took your breath away. It was raining sideways with 60 mph winds. The ship was rocking at one point. I went into the bathroom and it felt like I was walking up a hill. That’s because the ship was actually being titled to go through the waves more easily.”
Calm in the Midst
In the midst of the storm, somehow, there was a surprising sense of calm. Dawnetta and Sam could feel it and other passengers could too. They credit it to a force stronger than the approaching hurricane.
“Wednesday and Thursday, I was scared but not at the point of crying. That’s because of my faith. A lot of people were saying they felt that God was helping the captain. It was out of our hands and all we could do was to trust He and the captain would take care of us.”
Faith got them through it and so did a dose of humor.
“As the ship rocked back and forth, we and others we passed in the halls were bouncing off the walls. It was as if we had all been drinking! Everyone was able to laugh about it. That night, Sam and I were literally being rocked side to side as we tried to sleep. It became funny.
This is My Job
Being surrounded by a dedicated crew also helped passengers hold onto a positive attitude.
“The staff was fantastic. They smiled the entire time. We’d ask, ‘Have you ever been in anything like this? Oh, yes, they’d answer, we’ve been in worse storms.’ They were probably saying this to keep us calm and it worked.”
One crew member in particular left an impression on them.
“As the ship took on water, a worker named Oka, using a squeegee and a mop, worked non-stop to keep the deck dry and safe. He always had a smile on his face. I said to him, ‘You know, Oka, you have been so tireless, here is a tip.’ Oka responded, ‘Oh my, I don’t need it. This is my job.’ Finally, with some coaxing, he took it with appreciation.”
Safe and Sound
The captain, also relentless on this journey to keep passengers safe, announced the Carnival Pride was heading back to Baltimore. “He wanted to keep us ahead of the storm.”
Passengers and crew arrived back where they started seven days earlier, safe and sound. “Through television news coverage on the ship, we saw the devastation left behind where we had just been. We were grateful to be Okay and to have had this time together.”
This was their second cruise. The first one was taken on the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary. They were supposed to go to Jamaica, but were diverted to Cozumel because of a hurricane. “It was just a little turbulence we felt then,” she said.
Unknown Journey Ahead
Marriage, they discovered, is like that too – with detours along the way.
High school sweethearts, Sam and Dawnetta dated eight and a half years before they were married. That’s plenty of time to get to know each other, and in that time she developed a longing to know his Catholic faith too, ultimately converting before they said, “I do.”
Early on, they realized that this faith would become the mast to guide them in good times and in bad, and as the marriage vows go, in sickness and in health.
“The first Christmas we were married, Sam’s grandmother died and I had my first miscarriage. The second year of marriage, at Christmas, my grandmother passed away. We had been very close to both of them and particularly at that time of year, when the focus is God and family, it was difficult.”
In God’s Hands
More trials were yet to come. And one small surprise – make that two.
“Before our son, Tyler, was born I had another miscarriage and then had two more after he was born. Although the doctor’s encouraged it, we had no genetic testing done. We said, ‘No, it’s in God’s hands if we’re meant to have more children.
It was in July that I had my 4th miscarriage. We went to the beach in September. We said, ‘God gave us one happy boy’ and accepted that. When we came home, I took down the crib and one month later I discovered that I was having a second child.”
Their faith became the anchor Sam and Dawnetta used to keep their family close.
“As the kids were growing up, we went camping, fishing and to the beach to get away from electronics – and still do. Sometimes we would lay out in the back yard looking at the stars talking about God.
God has always been central to our marriage and our family. Family meetings started with prayer. And so did family meals, which the family always had together. Today, Tyler is 27 years old and Sean is 24 and when they come for dinner, Dawnetta said they’ll still pause for prayer.
Family time was was never taken granted. Especially when the kids were young and Sam was offered a job that would require him to be away every couple of weeks from Monday through Friday. Dawnetta, a nurse, would be left with primary care of the boys.
“We discussed it and we knew we had a strong marriage. They also had support from both of their mothers who, Dawnetta said, insisted on doing the babysitting while she worked. Sam accepted and remained in that position for 12 years, traveling throughout the United States, British Columbia and Canada.
During that time, the bond on both sides of the family became even more tightly knit. “On the holidays, we had traditional family meals at our parent’s homes. You didn’t go to one place and not the other. The kids knew the importance of being together.”
Dawnetta shared a special conversation her children had with her mom, Vi Dowden, just before she passed away. “She talked with each of her grandchildren. “When they said, ‘This isn’t fair.’ Gammi responded, “But this is what God has chosen, and it’s OK.” They inherited a faith as deep as the ocean and a love of family as wide as the sea.
And with the wedding of Sean and Lindsay that took place last year, their family has grown. Like another new wife did three decades before, Lindsay, who was touched by the family’s bond of faith, wants to become Catholic.
Dawnetta and Sam have weathered the storms of 30 years of marriage. And like their most recent adventure – faith, family and a spirit of fun is what has carried them through.