Abandoning ship

This item appears on page 34 of the June 2008 issue.

Jean Saulsbury of Mariposa, California, requested advice from anyone who ever had to abandon ship — what to grab, how to be ready, what transpired (March ’08, pg. 95). Here are three responses.

When fire threatens the ship

I was on the Vistafjord (Cunard Line) when she had a fire in the middle of the night on April 6, 1997. I have to say that the crew were fantastic and did a great job.

We were woken by the loudspeaker system about 2 a.m. The ship had sailed from Ft. Lauderdale about 5 p.m. the evening before, so she was diverted to the Bahamas, arriving later that morning. The crew fought the fire.

We dressed immediately, taking jackets and caps, knowing it would be cool on deck. I also stuffed my husband’s medications and my handbag in a carry bag. We took wet towels to cover our faces, as we were on a low deck and the smoke was thick. We should have gotten out of the cabin even faster than we did.

We spent the rest of the night on deck, and at times it was pretty smoky! We were fortunate in that we did not have to actually get into the lifeboats, though we all were ready to do so. The boats had been lowered and were ready.

Lessons learned? My husband, who was not in the best of health and had bad legs, had a really hard time climbing about four flights of stairs, even though there was a crew member at each flight to assist passengers. On each future sailing, I have booked a cabin close to an exit door and on the deck where we would board the lifeboats.

What to take? We sailed again the next week for Europe; including on that crossing, on all cruises, now before going to bed at night I prepare my “abandon ship” bag. I put trousers, T-shirt and jacket on the chair closest to the door, with shoes underneath. In my bag I put socks, cardigan, cap, medications, bottle of water, flashlight, sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses and a bag with my passport plus money.

This way, should I ever again be on a ship which I have to abandon, I can dress quickly in the basics, grab my bag and go. I can be out of the cabin and at the lifeboat station very quickly, of course also grabbing my life jacket as I go out the door!

Regardless of whether you are on a ship or in a hotel, you should always know the closest exits. It is also advisable to have close to you things you might need to take in an emergency.

As the majority of people on the Vistafjord cruise were elderly, once the fire was out the crew had to go back into cabins to try to locate medications for them, but they had to go into the smoke to do this.

Also interesting — the differing array of garments worn by those passengers: from shortie and brief PJs to fur coat over nightdress to fully clothed.


Zephyrhills, FL

‘Abandon ship’ bag

The sinking of the M/S Explorer in November ’07 prompted us to create an “abandon ship bag” for our February ’08 Antarctica trip.

We emptied a backpack and put in it money, credit cards, copies of passports (the ship held the originals), medicines, a change of underwear, an extra pair of socks and our Photo Safe (www.digitalfoci.com/photo_safe.html) that my husband downloads our pictures to every day.

We also included emergency blankets, the silver ones that can be purchased in a camping store and that, in their original package, take up almost no space.

This pack was always left open so, if necessary, we could quickly throw in a hat, scarf, gloves and cameras. And it was kept at the foot of the bed — easy to grab on the way out.


Penfield, NY

Worst-case preparedness

I traveled to Antarctica on the Lindblad/National Geographic ship Endeavour a couple of months after the sinking of the Explorer.

I decided that every night before going to bed, I would place my gear (boots, waterproof pants with long johns and parka) where I could easily locate and get into them, plus be ready to grab the life preserver.

In my parka I put a zip-lock bag with one week’s supply of prescription medicine, some Advil, a credit card, a photocopy of the main page in my passport and an old pair of prescription sunglasses. I can’t read without glasses, and the sunglasses would protect my eyes from glare, snow blindness. etc. Sunscreen did not occur to me, but of course the parka covers almost everything.

I realized, and it was impressed on us indirectly, that at least in the Antarctic (and presumably in the North Atlantic and certain other places, depending on the season), while you may want to escape from the ship quickly in order not to die, if you go out in the lifeboats without adequate clothing you will die of hypothermia. The ship probably will have extra life preservers in or near the boats, but not extra clothing.

It’s easy to be sloppy while you’re on vacation, but if your cabin’s a mess, at least have the vital needs in one convenient place.


Reston, VA