We were on a World Cruise in 1996 on Cunard’s Royal Viking Sun.
At 10:00 PM, in the Norway Lounge, the Royal Viking Sun combined Passenger/Sailor’s chorus was starting their performance. They had been rehearsing for several weeks. At 10:11, they all fell, one upon the other, like dominoes. The Royal Viking Sun had struck a reef. Hard!

The Captain leaped to his feet and ran from the lounge. My wife, Michael and I were in our cabin, sitting in robes on the bed, watching TV. Wham! The boat swayed violently to one side.

We are from California, so our first thought, as incongruous as it might be, was earthquake. Then a second sway, not quite so violent. My next thought was rogue wave. The Royal Viking Sun righted itself, our minds took over from our emotions, and we realized that we had been in some sort of collision. I ran out on our verandah and could see nothing but bright moonlight and a calm sea. In the short time it took me to get outside, the ship had developed a decided list. It was evident that we were taking on water; a lot of it. All engines and forward motion had stopped.

I ran back into the cabin, and pulled our lifejackets from under the bed. Michael started to take clothes from the closet for us to put on. I had her grab her jewelry and put it on; even though she was afraid it would weigh her down (not likely). We were both thinking in terms of getting into lifeboats, and perhaps, the sea.

The Captain, somewhat out of breath, made his first announcement saying it appeared that we had hit something, no one was sure what it was, and the damage was being investigated. The next announcement was for all crew to leave deck number three. The next announcement was cut short as we lost our power. Seconds later, the emergency generator kicked in, and we heard the order to close water tight doors. By this time we had eight degrees of list.

Almost with the same breath came the next announcement. “All passengers and crew to emergency lifeboat stations!” Michael and I were already there.

It was Norwegian night on the Royal Viking Sun. There had been a pre-dinner Skald party honoring repeat passengers for their loyalty to Cunard. At Skald parties, all drinks are free. The party traditionally ends with a Skol toast accompanied by Acqavit, a rather potent liquor. Participants sing the word Skol three times in ascending notes, followed by three times in descending notes. After the last note, the word Skol is shouted and a shot of Acqavit is downed in one gulp. There were a lot of ascending and descending notes continuing through dinner and into the night.

All of the ships senior officers were at the Skald Party. Many of them were at the choral show. Only one, the ship’s most junior officer, was on the bridge. He was 24 years old and responsible for the Royal Viking Sun’s progress through the narrow and tricky Strait of Tiran into the Gulf of Aqaba.


He was not up to the job. Apparently he forgot two things; one, to put the current into his calculations, and two, to look out the window.

Although some passengers were frightened, all were calm; there was no visible panic. One of the main reasons for the lack of panic was the Captain’s constant updating of the passengers. He never left space for rumors to develop, and he kept us informed even when there was no news. A neat trick.

Nevertheless, there was confusion. As predicted, some people had no clue as to where their lifeboat stations were. Others had trouble putting on the simple life jacket, (Skol, Skol, Skol) and had to be helped. Our lifeboat station was without its assigned officer. (Although we did not know it at the time, he was the 24 year old on the bridge and in the midst of a nervous breakdown.)

As our group gathered at Lifeboat Station 11, the command came to lower the lifeboats to their first position. This put them level with the deck so passengers could get aboard. At lifeboat drill, they always lowered one lifeboat to check it out. I had asked the officer in charge if they rotated the lifeboat that was lowered. He told me that they always tested the same one. I wish they had tested ours.

Our lifeboat was not behaving. It took two crewmen over ten minutes before they finally undid two separate bunches of line that, when unraveled, would help guide the boat as it was lowered. The problem seemed to be simple mathematics. The knotted bunches of rope were at least seven feet above the lifeboat. The bounding and grasping crewmen were both five foot five.

Suddenly all electricity went out; shut down by the Captain because water was flooding the High Voltage room. There was danger of an impending explosion. Engines stopped.

We were at lifeboat stations for about three hours. During that time, a huge LPG tanker showed up and tried to take a line from us in order to haul us out of the dangerous reef area. It was amazing to watch the Captain of that gargantuan ship maneuver it as if it were a skiff. They did get a line secured and started the tow. As the huge tanker slowly moved away, the line tightened, and then parted abruptly with a loud crack. The tanker’s lights slowly disappeared into the distance.

An Egyptian naval ship radioed that it was on its way to help. It wasn’t.

A Renaissance Cruise ship stood off about a half a mile to see if any passengers needed to be plucked out of the sea; and to point out, I am sure, the advantages of sailing with Renaissance.

About 1:30 AM, all passengers were released from lifeboat stations to the adjacent dining area. Some slept in chairs, some on the floor. Outside on the deck, chairs, lounges, and even the hard deck itself held sleeping passengers and crew. Michael and I were only a stair climb from our cabin and quietly snuck up to our comfy bed. While we slept, The Royal Viking Sun drifted aimlessly until it went aground, bow first, washing up on a deserted beach. An Egyptian tug was due in the morning.

At dawn, I left the cabin, picked my way along the deck through the sleeping crew and passengers, and headed for the bow to take some photos. As the sun rose, it reflected off the gentle surf breaking against the stern of the ship. Next to me a man stood hunched over the rail. He was still in his tuxedo, bow tie a bit askew, yet tight at the throat.

“I am 86 years old,” he said, “and I have never, ever, in my entire life, been up this late.”

The Royal Viking Sun is now Holland America’s Prinsendam. She’s had some balconies added, been completely refurbished and is once again a luxury cruise ship.


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2 Responses to “BaBUMP”

  1. joy bellville Says:

    Hi there – what a great tale – not too much fun while living it but a good one to add to your repetoire! (The 1986 Royal Viking Sun one) –

    What show are you pitching? Every time I come across the Californi Lottery one I think of you – miss seeing you smiling face!

    Keep in touch


  2. Shelby T Mitchell Says:

    Interesting my friend! As that had to be scary. Sorry that you and your wife had to experience that. BTW, congrats on your Game Show Congress award, you deserved it! Wished that I was there but listened to you via Shokus Internet Radio! It was like being there! Thanks to Stu!

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