EASTON -- For Gregory S. Straub and fellow passengers seated around the dinner table, the Queen Elizabeth 2 ran aground sometime between salad and the main course.
Mr. Straub, a Kent County resident taking his 12th voyage on the cruise ship, said he was in the dining room Friday night when "a terrific shudder" passed through the vessel. Mr. Straub knew that "very obviously, it had struck something."
Mr. Straub, rector of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Chestertown, was among the 1,800 passengers evacuated from the 963-foot ship after it struck an undersea ledge and came to a sluggish halt eight miles west of Martha's Vineyard.
Mr. Straub praised the QE2's crew for keeping passengers calm and for staying at their stations during the confusing minutes following the accident. He said he was able to finish dinner, have a drink in the ship's lounge and spend a restful night in his cabin -- all after the vessel ran aground.
"It's not as if the cruise was ruined by the experience," said Mr. Straub, who expects to be on board for his 13th voyage if the QE2 makes its scheduled 12-day trip from Spain to Puerto Rico this November.
Under its own power, the Cunard Line flagship was headed yesterday for Boston, where a team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and two experts from Britain's Transportation Department prepared for a public hearing into the incident.
Preliminary reports indicated that the vessel, which had a local pilot on board, was steered off course into the shallow coastal waters. Cruise officials said the submerged ledge ripped a 74-foot gash in the ship's hull. No one was injured, and maritime officials said there was never any danger that the QE2 would sink.
Mr. Straub said the ship's captain quickly informed passengers that they were in no danger. He said that there were no signs of panic in the dining room and that some of his table mates marked the occasion with humor.
"Perhaps we should go outside and get some ice for our drinks," Mr. Straub said one passenger quipped.
He said the noise of the QE2 striking the ledge was much like the sound effects used in the movie "A Night to Remember" to portray the moment that the Titanic, the ship once believed to be unsinkable, rammed the iceberg that sent it to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean 80 years ago.
Mr. Straub was in the second group of passengers to be evacuated from the QE2 to Newport, R.I., via a night-long ferry ride. The passengers were taken from Newport to Providence by bus and from Providence to New York's Penn Station by chartered Amtrak trains. He arrived home in Chestertown Sunday.
Mr. Straub said some passengers were upset that the five-day round-trip cruise from New York to Nova Scotia ended at an unplanned destination.
But, he said, most aboard the vessel took the incident in stride.
"I'm going to be able to dine out on these stories for a long time," he said.