Viking Cruises

In Search of the Northern Lights III

This entry is part 5 of 4 in the series Viking Cruises

Blog 3           Surviving Hustadvika! Safe after the drama at sea.

Now that I have found my land legs again, I suppose it is time to write a short account of my ordeal. I have sustained a slight neck injury causing severe pain in my back and upperleft arm – probably due to being encased in a life jacket for so long. However, I saw a good physiotherapist in London today and things are looking up!

Back to the ship:

At about 1:40 pm the voice on the speaker shouted Code Echo eight times, and I knew something was amiss. I was in the cabin, videotaping the huge swells and breakers. I grabbed my passport, credit cards and iPhone, and off I went. Holding on to the railing for balance, I followed the path to our muster point, the Theater, one flight down.

Soon, we were all in life-jackets and learned that all 4 engines had been cut, and the ship was being held by two anchors. We were oblivious to where the ship was hovering, only a mile from the rough, rocky coast, and only became aware of what was happening in other parts of the ship when drenched passengers started piling in. A steel door was blown off its hinges and waves came crashing in on the muster point in the one restaurant. Much later, we heard that waves had smashed onto the seventh deck in the Explorer’s Lounge – a favorite spot of mine – causing furniture to collide with passengers, one man nearly drowning under the weight of a coffee table.

I was a little shaky when I heard that passengers would be airlifted, one by one to rescue helicopters. A little later, a hushed silence fell when the waterproof doors were locked in the Theater. Amazingly, we had wifi and power, so I could use my cellphone.

In the meantime, my cabin mate, Debby, a qualified paramedic and ex-cop, was assisting the crew as a volunteer, directing passengers to more secure seating, and helping those in need of dry clothes and so on. Passengers and crew were remarkably calm and considerate of each other. My throat was parched and I was very glad when I could share a bottle of water being passed around.

Finally, the ship could be stabilized when one, and then two more engines were restored. It allowed us to move out of the theater and spread ourselves into the hallways. It was getting rather messy in some areas since the toilets were not working and the rocking of the ship caused them to overflow. Three passengers at a time would be escorted up one flight to use the bathrooms of the cabins above us.

We were being fed a little snack every now and again: a few apples, some cheese, some brownies, a few slices of cake, and bags of nuts. I cannot say that I was hungry, but it was nice to nibble on something! Once an hour, two konga lines of about 12 people holding on to each other’s life jackets, would be escorted past us to be airlifted.

At last, after a long night without sleep, sitting in a life jacket for all that time,  we heard the news that two tugboats were succesfully roped to the ship, and we would be on our way to Molde, the nearest port. By mid-morning about 500 passengers had been airlifted to safety, with about 450 plus crew remaining on board.

There was general mirth when an announcement came that crewmember Hakeem had to report to the butchery. A few hours later, we were served paper plates of mystery food – I got a slab of liver in mushroom sauce (which I liked!), others steak or chicken, followed by dessert and coffee.

The ship finally cruised on its own steam, escorted by the boats, ready to assist if the engines failed again. The helicopters had been called off as well. There was an air of festivity as we all threw off the life-jackets, making a huge pile on the stage, and applause when the captain came around, shaking people’s hands and making a short speech.

By now, we knew that we had been stuck in Hustadvika, the most dangerous stretch of coast in Norway where many boats had been shipwrecked. We had been hovering not even two miles from the rocky outcrops. The crew cleaned up the ship as best they could, and we could sleep on board that night. We were served dinner in our cabins, and surprise! the Theater was cleared, the life jackets neatly stacked next to the stage, the champagne was popped and the crew put up a spectacular Beatles Show that night.

So what happened? Apparently, due to low oil levels and turbulent conditions, the engines were automatically switched off. It certainly is a cruise to remember, but it has not put me off sailing again. Hats off to the gallant Captain, the excellent crew, volunteers and passengers – I remain a loyal Viking fan.

See Elsa’s interview on Live 5 News
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