Tag Archives: Viking Cruises

Viking Sky Into the Perfect Storm.

14 March to 24 March 2019

By Corey Sandler

Viking Sky set sail from Bergen, Norway March 14 on an extraordinary wintertime search for the Northern Lights.

We made our way up the wintry coast of the beautiful nation of Norway, one extraordinary sight after another, reaching our northernmost port of call at Alta near the top. The seas, the snow, the sky were extraordinary.

And then we turned back toward the south for a few more stops before our ultimate goal of London’s cruise port at Tilbury.

We almost made it.

You can retrace our journey in the blogs I posted, using the menu at the left side of this screen. The story of our night to remember is at http://sky.coreysandler.com/23-24-march-2019-a-night-to-remember-in-hustadvika

Corey Sandler in Tromsø, Norway 8 March 2019.

As most of the world knows by now, Viking Sky got caught up in a vicious storm just off the coast of Norway, avoiding disaster through the professional work of ship’s crew and heroic efforts by Norwegian rescue services.

Our night to remember offshore of Molde ended our cruise unexpectedly.

We left the ship at 5am and flew from Molde to Oslo, and from there on to London and back to the U.S.

Bleary-eyed and exhausted, I still could not resist carrying my camera onto the plane for some final photos of the Norwegian winter. Here is some of what I saw:

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by Corey Sandler; all rights reserved. The photos presented here are low-resolution and small size. Please contact me if you would like to obtain higher-resolution versions.

A Night to Remember:

23-24 March 2019 in Hustadvika

Viking Sky departed Tromsø to begin our voyage back to the River Thames and the Port of Tilbury near London still aglow with the warmth of the cold Norwegian north.

Instead, something wicked our way came.

Heavy winds caused us to cancel our scheduled call at Bodø.

Then Captain Bengt Gustaffson chose to sail along western Norway’s spectacular inside passage where we would be somewhat sheltered from the winds and high seas.

Somewhat.

By Saturday noontime we were in a gale, with 40- to 50-knot (45 to 55 mile per hour) winds, and 9 meter (29 feet) seas.

And on the inside passage we had little room to spare. In some places the channel was only a few hundred meters wide.

We entered the notorious stretch of coast known as Hustadvika, a shallow 10-nautical-mile stretch with hundreds of islands, reefs, and skerries.

The winds picked up, and at precisely the worst possible time the ship’s four engines–generators which produce electricity for the ship’s propellers and most of the other functions of the vessel–shut down.

UPDATE: Norwegian maritime authorities say the engines shut down automatically because sensors detected low lubricating oil levels. The problem was apparently caused by the unusually rough seas and motion aboard ship. In a statement, Viking Cruises said it accepted the finding and would make appropriate changes to procedures across its fleet.

Viking Sky began to drift toward the rocky coast. With just moments to spare, Captain Gustaffson managed to put down two of the ship’s anchors and we lurched to a halt.

Viking Sky in trouble, seen from the shore in western Norway

No power, rolling seas, high winds. There was significant damage to most of the public spaces on the upper decks including the pool grill and World Cafe buffet. About a dozen people sustained injuries.

Very quickly came first the crew broadcast, “Code Echo”, the call to alert the crew to an imminent emergency.

Perhaps a minute later, about 1:30 in the afternoon, the blast of the ship’s whistle: seven short and one long.

After a lifetime of travel and hundreds of cruises around the world, it was the first time I had heard the call to muster stations in a real emergency.

And up on the bridge, two things occurred: the captain issued a mayday call to Norwegian authorities and an abandon ship order.

The winds and seas were so rough that it was decided not to use the lifeboats immediately.

Norwegian rescue helicopters were on the way to pick up 20 guests at a time and take them to shore.

By pick up I mean just that: guests were hoisted one-by-one from the dark, rolling, and cold upper decks of the ship. It was a process that required nearly an hour for each copter and at times there were two in service at different locations.

Guests gathered in the ship’s main restaurant were quickly scattered when water breached the window wall. Some guests were swept along with the water and furniture.

That muster station was abandoned and cold, wet passengers were moved to join the rest of us.

At the other principal muster station, the Star Theatre, we put on our life vests and listened as the captain and other officers detailed the plan. But the dark, wild night meant the evacuation was very slow.

The helicopters could not land on the ship’s deck and they had great difficulty with the gale force winds. The guests who were evacuated were hoisted up to the hovering machines.

The operation was suspended several times when the weather became too treacherous. And just to add to the drama, a second ship, a small freighter, also abandoned ship nearby, and helicopters were diverted because some of their crew were forced into the cold, very rough seas.

As we waited for groups to leave our ship by helicopter, a small flotilla of ocean-going tugboats headed out to lend assistance.

It was not until about 1 a.m. that the first tug arrived, and conditions were too rough to allow her to fully attach to our ship. A second and then third tug came with dawn, about 5:30 a.m.

The purpose of the seagoing tugs was to assist the ship in maneuvering, and to be on standby if the engines were to stop again.

Finally, after about 475 of the 900 passengers had been brought to shore by helicopter, the captain decided we were safely secured to the tugs and could proceed to shore with the rest of us.

And so we did.

We had been at our muster stations from about 1:30 Saturday afternoon and remained there more than 22 hours.

When we slowly moved to the dock in Molde, the shoreline was filed with locais, many waving Norwegian flags.

We were safe. Grateful for the efforts of a fine crew. And ever more appreciative of the strength of nature in Norway and the gracious help of its people and its superb rescue services.

This cruise is over, two days early. It will take a while to repair some of the damage to the ship. But our spirits today are high: the morning after the night to remember.

Safe travels to all of our guests. I look forward to sailing with you again somewhere, sometime, in calm seas and fair winds.

In the morning, after the all-clear, passengers returned their life vests to a celebratory heap in the theatre.

Captain Bengt Gustaffson poses with some of the crew who served all night to help keep guests safe.

Photos by Corey Sandler, 2019. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises.

A Norwegian rescue helicopter lands near Molde with passengers taken from Viking Sky. Svein Ove Ekornesvag / AP)

21 March 2019. Tromsø, Norway: Last Call for the Winter

Although it snowed a bit during the night, hints of what pass for summer in northern Norway are evident: patches of asphalt that have been white for months, slush on sidewalks, and even some bare skin on the walkers and hikers in Tromsø.

We are preparing to head south to our last two ports of call in Norway before returning to the River Thames and London.

We went for a walk in balmy 0 Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) today:

Back aboard ship, the huge LED screen in the Atrium displayed some photos of the Northern Lights. Some guests, I am told, may even pose in front of the photo and try to pass it off as the real thing. Nice try…

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2019. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises.

YOU CAN ALSO VISIT MY MAIN WEBSITE, at  www.coreysandler.com
To send me an email or to inquire about copies of photos, please click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/

20 March 2019. Tromsø, Norway: A Side Trip to Finland

Back in Tromsø, we spent all day looking at the dark and gloomy sky, wondering how–or if–we were going to catch a glimpse of the Aurora once more. The skies never cleared here, but off we went nevertheless, with a guide promising cloudless skies two hours away…just across the border in Finland.

Sounded like a deal too good to miss. I have been in Southern Finland many times, in and around Helsinki on the Baltic Sea and in Karelia, just above Saint Petersburg in Russia. But we were headed for the region of Storfjord, near the town of Skibotn in far northern Finland.

Sweden was neutral during World War II, although the nation traded with both sides. Finland began the war fighting the Soviets in the Winter War with some success, becoming a proxy of Germany for a while. Later Finland fought against Germany, with the Soviets pushing them in that direction. By the end of the war, Finland was once again fighting–and losing–to the Soviets.

The Germans used the region as one of their land gateways to fight the Finns, and this was the only part of greater Tromsø that was not all but burned to the ground by the Germans.

Today it is a very, very remote place with mixed populations of Norwegians, Sami, and Kvan peoples.

And us. As promised, the skies were clear on the Finnish side of the border. Unfortunately, the bright supermoon  and a weak solar wind gave us only a glimpse of the lights. But for me, no voyage of exploration is without discovery.

Here is some of what we saw; for more, see my blog entry for 7 March below.

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2019. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises.

18-19 March 2019. Alta, Norway: Day for Night

We are back in Alta once again, the northernmost port of call on this cruise in search for the Northern Lights.

Altafjord at Alta when clouds cleared on Tuesday.

We knew this already, but we received reinforcement in our understanding of the fact that the search can sometimes be quite difficult. A week ago, they danced and shimmered and moved against a clear back sky. Last night, the sky was nearly completely covered with clouds, but three hours of waiting at the ski resort at Storsandnes finally revealed a teasing reminder.

The next morning, groggy from a long night out on the search, we went into the city of Alta.

The Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta, a decidedly modern structure, is meant to evoke the spiral of the Aurora Borealis.

Within the Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta.

In the Sentrum of the city, a winter festival featured handsome ice and snow sculptures; the rest of Norway is much the same.

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2019. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises.

YOU CAN ALSO VISIT MY MAIN WEBSITE, at  www.coreysandler.com
To send me an email or to inquire about copies of photos, please click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/

17 March 2019. Narvik, Norway: Winter Festival

We are back in Narvik during the peak of the Winter Festival, the Vinterfestuka. Sundays are always sleepy in places like this, but town very much felt like the morning after the night before.

We did, though, see buses pulling up in town collecting locals heading to church and the parties to follow.

The festival celebrates the construction of the railroad that connects Narvik on the Norwegian Sea to the interior of Sweden at Kiruna about 1900. That railroad was built to haul iron ore from Sweden to the coast and mile-long trains still rumble over the mountain pass to town daily.

The loading station for LKAB, the mining and railroad company that transports iron ore from Kiruna, Sweden to Narvik for loading onto waiting freighters

It was that railroad that attracted the interest of the Germans and the Allies at the start of World War II, and a major naval battle was fought in the narrow bounds of the fjord in town. Nearly all of Narvik was burned to the ground by the Germans when they eventually retreated near the end of the conflict.

Festivalgoers wear special clothing: black trousers and a flannel shirt with vest for the men; a long black skirt and colorful shawl for the women.

Those of us coming from the ship wore our warmest winter clothing, any color, any length.

Here are some more scenes from Narvik today:

From here to there by road. Boris Gleb? That’s a town near Murmansk, Russia.

The ski hill above Narvik, seen from aboard ship

Gravestones of Allied naval and air personnel buried on the hillside at Narvik.

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2019. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises.

YOU CAN ALSO VISIT MY MAIN WEBSITE, at  www.coreysandler.com
To send me an email or to inquire about copies of photos, please click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/

14-15 March 2019. Bergen, Norway: Heading North One More Time

The handsome city of Bergen reverted to form this morning, with dark skies and drizzle.

But we shall not forget yesterday, 13 March, when a bright yellow orb crossed perfect blue skies.

Friday March 15 was a more typical Bergen winter day with rain, drizzle, fog, snow, and a cold wind. (In summer it’s quite different: rain, drizzle, fog, sometimes warm.)

Viking Sky at the dock, seen through the fog from the top of Mount Fløien

The historic Bryggen trading kontor of the Hanseatic League, seen from behind, a view often missed by tourists

An alleyway of Bryggen

Most of the historic 15th through 18th century structures of Bryggen were marked with animal or other symbols to help identify them to illiterate traders and merchants 

As we depart Bergen to head north to near the top of Norway, we hope for clear skies and active solar winds as we sally forth once again in search of the Northern Lights. I hope you will follow me here in these pages.

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2019. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises.

YOU CAN ALSO VISIT MY MAIN WEBSITE, at  www.coreysandler.com
To send me an email or to inquire about copies of photos, please click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/

13-14 March 2019. Bergen: The Hall of the Mountain King

We have reached the conclusion of this cruise, with a beautiful sail-in to Norway’s second city, Bergen.

This is a place that gets a lot of rain. A lot. So much so that my large collection of photos from many visits we have made to Bergen contains very few flashes of blue sky. That ended today, a superlative day with hardly a cloud in the sky and cool weather for walking. And so we did.

Here is some of what we saw:

Viking Sky at the dock in Bergen.

 

Bergen’s historic Bryggen district, the former home of the Kontor or trading post of the Hanseatic League.

Snow on one of the seven hills that surround Bergen.

Bergen’s train station, which connects up into the mountains to Voss, above Flåm, and from there on to Oslo on the other side of the country on the Baltic Sea.

We wish guests leaving us here safe travels, and look forward to meeting new friends on our trip back north up the coast of Norway.

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2019. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises. 

YOU CAN ALSO VISIT MY MAIN WEBSITE, at  www.coreysandler.com
To send me an email or to inquire about copies of photos,  please,  click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/

 

11 March 2019. Narvik, Norway: The End of the Iron Road 

We arrived early this morning under a stunning blue sky and crisp air at Narvik, one of the locations of the most significant naval battles of World War II.

The reason for the modern port, which was also the lure for the Germans and the Allies, is the railroad that arrives at sea level from the interior of Sweden. More than a dozen mile-long trains carrying iron ore arrive most days to be loaded onto waiting freighters here.

In the runup to World War II, Germany (and the United Kngdom) were each receiving huge quantities of iron ore from Sweden, which remained mostly neutral throughout the war.

Germany sent in a fleet to seize the port and secure the railroad in 1939, and then the British sent their navy to try and displace them. Thousands of sailors and infantry on both sides died, and Narvik was pounded for most of the war. It was also the site of a concentration camp run by the Germans, holding mostly Yugoslavian and Serbian prisoners, most of whom died in the horrific conditions.

I went with a group of guests to the Narvik Krigsmuseum (the Narvik War Museum) to see some of the artifacts of the war and some exhibitions of well-intentioned hopes for peace. Then we made a visit to a cold, silent cemetery holding some of the British, Canadian, French, Polish, German, and others who died here.

Later tonight we sail back out to sea to head to Bergen, the last port of call on this cruise.

A sea mine recovered from the harbor at Narvik.

A prototype of a one-man submarine/torpedo developed by the Germans for what amounts to suicide missions. The British had a similar device which they unsuccessfully deployed against the German battleship Tirpitz.

Inside the War Museum.

A cemetery of Allied and Axis and civilians in Narvik.

Viking Sky at the dock in Narvik.

Aboard ship, from the Explorer’s Lounge.

In a reflective mood, the snow-covered mountains mirrored aboard ship.

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2019. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises. 

YOU CAN ALSO VISIT MY MAIN WEBSITE, at  www.coreysandler.com
To send me an email or to inquire about copies of photos,  please,  click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/

9-10 March 2019. Alta, Norway by Night: Here Be Dragons

After dark I went with a group of guests north and west from Alta to Langfjordbotn, a tiny community at the end of an arm of the Altafjord.

An historical note: it was here that the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst hid from about 1941 to 1943 before sallying out for the Battle of the North Cape where she was eventually sunk.

Closer to Alta, at Kafjord, was the penultimate hiding place of the battleship Tirpitz, which was Winston Churchill’s northern obsession. The Tirpitz was bombed and seriously damaged near Alta, but managed to escape to another hiding place near Tromsø where she was eventually sunk.

Alta was heavily clouded all day, but our drive to Langfjordbotn brought us to a mostly clear place and there we waited for the appearance of the Northern Lights. When they arrived, they were very different from what we had seen earlier in the cruise: here they shimmered and waved like a multicolored curtain.

If you have ever wondered why so many cultures of the far north (including China, Japan, Russia, and Scandinavia) include dragons, look at the fourth image in the following series.

Here are a few photos I took:

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2019. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises. 

YOU CAN ALSO VISIT MY MAIN WEBSITE, at  www.coreysandler.com
To send me an email or to inquire about copies of photos,  please,  click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/