I found this amazing story in one of my filing cabinets, left behind by one of my father's friends. He was an ex-navy man, working for a ship repair/outfitting company. The story truly is amazing, and has been confirmed as true by 3 sources. It is typed with 100% accuracy, which means this is his spelling and grammar.
December, 1989How I Spent my Christmas Vacation - author name deleted, substitutes replaced.
It all started innocently enough with a call from an old customer, Bob Ward. Bob asked if we could send a few electricians down to a ship he's getting ready to move for Mexico
The ship was the MV Galaxias, a small (400 feet) Greek cruise ship
, that had most recently been used as a floating hotel during expo 86
. It had just been sold to a Spaniard who wanted to take it to Manzeillo, Mexico
, refit it and put it into the Mexican Caribbean cruise circuit. After the fact, we discovered he had presold several hundred cruises and was using the customers money to purchase and refit the ship.
For the emergency lighting
, we installed 36 lead batteries
, each 175 pounds (a total of 6300 pounds) on the wheelhouse roof. We checked out the alarm system and all the internal watertight doors. We checked out the SSB radio
and the VHF radio
systems and installed a new Satellite navigation system
. Also we put a nice new David Clarke
aircraft-style headset on the Direction Finder
The ship required a minimum crew of 32 to ferry it. One of our guys, Norm offered to go as Radio Officer, so I volunteered to go as Electrical Officer, a real cushy job, turn a few switches, table service in the officers mess, nice cabin, you know, you've seen the Love Boat
on TV. A few days in Mexico and home just in time for Christmas
On the appointed day, the Canadian Coast Guard
Officials came down to inspect the ship. It didn't take too long because of course they couldn't really check the fire fighting equipment because the sprinkler system would have gotten everything wet, and of course they couldn't really test the bilge pumps because they couldn't take a chance on polluting the harbour. Of course it was a cold rainy day and the Glenlivet
was breathing in the captain's cabin.
As we cruised out the Strait of Juan de Fuca
that evening, I thought to myself "This is life on a cruise ship, a gentle swell, a little cool, well it was December 4th
, gorgeous sunset". In fact the evening was so nice several of us were sitting around the pool having a drink as it got dark, I took pictures of the sunset
. By morning the wind was averaging 40 knots and the seas were "confused." The rain was coming down in sheets, that was when wed iscovered the seams in the wooden decks had all opened up during the two years the ship had been laid up. The storms water leaked into every cabin, best cabin I could find was a suite on the top deck, next to the disco bar. The hot water heat wasn't working. I rigged two electric hot plates up on the floor to dry out the carpets, (only because the water squished between your toes when you walked on it). It really wasn't too bad, what with two rooms, marble bathroom and large outside windows. I was looking forward to Mexico.
The real storm started that afternoon. The ship had so much windage, that we had to keep 4-5 knots of way on just to keep the bow into the wind. Of course when the waves are 40-50 feet high this tends to bury the bow about 30 feet under water every time she goes down. Things were starting to get a little shaky by now, but she was a good ship, built in Ireland
and even though she had been in Greek hands for 25 years we weren't too worried.
On one of my regular rounds in the engine room, I realized the chief engineer was working the engine throttles by hand, every time the stern came out of the water the chief would knock off the power and reapply it as the stern went down.
When the propellers came out of the water the locomotive sized engines would rev up from their normal 90 RPM and 4000 horsepower to 110 RPM. These engines were balanced to run at 90 RPM and now we had about 20 tons of totally unbalanced mass
rotating well over design speed. This thunderous rattling of the con-rods and pistons happened every time the propellers came out of the water. This was just about enough to tear the engines out of the ship. I had visions of engine parts going through the sides of the ship. Now the really dangerous part was when the props went back in the water. At 110 RPM the inertia produced about 8000 horsepower per side. The shafts, shaft bearings and propeller blades were designed to take only half this power. By now I was in the shaft tunnel looking forwards towards the engine room through 4 or 5 open water tight doors. Every time the propellers hit the ocean, the stern of the ship would twist enough that the doors, normally all in line, would visibly twist. As the engines slowed down and the stern settled, the door frames would line up again.
About now we started popping rivets around the rudder post area of the ship. The watertight integrity between the lazaret
and the rest of the ship held as the lazaret flooded, all 5 decks deep.
About now the fire alarm
went off and things got a little confusing.
There were the fires, the water pouring into the engine room, the bilge water sloshing in something called the free surface effect
, the ship trying to go past it's 57 degree stability limit, a china service for 1000 people breaking loose, the furniture in the ship re-arranged itself on the port side wall.
It seems the fires were caused by the salt water. It leaked down through the wooden deck into the ceilings. The salt water would run across the top of the ceiling tiles until it found a light fixture, and then it would fill the light fixture. The fixture would arc internally and turn the water to steam, this of course would explode the fixture and start a fire.
Sometimes the water couldn't find a fixture so it would run down the wall and go into the plug receptacles. I saw a tongue fo flame shoot three feet out of one, right before my very eyes (over used but appropriate expression). Apparantly as electrical officer I was responsible for fire fighting
, so I arranged for deck hands to patrol every cabin every 10 minutes. After 86 extinguishers were used in half an hour, it became pretty obvious that we would run out of fire extinguishers long before morning. At this point I instructed the deck hands to use buckets of water to put out the fires, after using a dead extinguisher to bash open the light fixtures. the deck hands had some objection to bashing and then pouring salt water on flaming electrified fixtures (220 volts direct current
). I shut down all power on the forward half of the ship.
Well, except for the fires and no power in most of the passenger cabins, it wasn't too bad, so we went up to the top deck to the disco
bar. I'm sitting on a settee
in an alcove midships
on the edge of the marble
dance floor. About now the ship started rolling, the problem was it kept rolling - further and further the same way, by now I was sliding to the port wall in the alcove. Now we rolled starboard, I dropped the length of the settee and hit the opposite wall, ouch! Hum those marble top tables are sure hitting the wall hard. It makes sense that 200 pounds of marble dropped 40 feet would go half way through the wall of the ship. I fell off my settee and wound up playing water slides
with tables on the dance floor. Wow - if I do the same to my other hip, I may never walk again. Two guys formed a human rope and snagged me on my third trip across. (Thanks, guys)
I thought to myself if they don't stop this they are going to roll this sucker over, this might limit my early retirement opportunities
. Suddenly, realizing the silence, I noticed the engines had stopped! The silence was everywhere (Wish I was a real writer). Well not totally silent, my generators were still running.
was on overload and before the shock of my hip had set in, it was off to the engine room
. Right, both engines have stopped. The generator room
is forward the engine room, the generators are still running. We are still rolling. This is a little tricky, using the bannisters to go up and down staircases, because the stair treads are mostly vertical, first facing one way and then the other. Boy, that bilge water sure goes a long way up the sides of the engine room, Ah! right that's the free surface effect. First the bilge water from the center of the bilge comes cascading down onto the side of the engine room, this causes the ship to roll further. Off to my generator room. Oh cute, four dump truck sized generators are running in a couple feet of water, but there is so much paint on them that no water is getting into the rotating parts. This bilge water screaming back and forth is starting to get into things, and the lights keep going on and off. The four inches of oil on the bilge water is making every thing quite hard to hold on to, and my arms are getting tired from holding on. Oh my god! a 300 pound cast iron electrical box just broke off the wall and came flying down the staircase. I held on with my hands and kicked ip my feet as it went sailing down the stairs. A guy could get hurt around here.
The Chief calls "Brian, Take this wrench and go down into the shaft tunnel and work the emergency air bottles while we start the engines".
I didn't like this place. But - I had my trusty flashlight. I figured when the ship rolled over, and the generators stopped, I would be able to use the flashlight to see to get out of the shaft tunnel. Then I would clamber through an upside down engine room and in total darkness climb down seven flights of stairs inside the exhaust stack and funnel against the rush of incoming water. All this so I could swim up to the surface and hang onto a sinking ship, with the wind now over 100 miles per hour. Hey, I had a flashlight, those poor guys didn't have flashlights. I worked air valves till the Chief realized he had pumps, seems the previous owners had been pumping bunker
over the side and neglected to flush the bilge lines. There is humor in everything, somedays it is a little harder to find. Oh well, Brian re-plumbs the 5 horsepower sewage pump on the holding tank with some spare 4" hose (bet you can't guess how many hundred gallons of whatever went into the bilge) and gets it sucking from the generator room bilge and discharging into an engine room through hull fitting. Wedged the starter on, pump is running but seriously overloaded, traced the problem to a stuck valve on the overboard fitting - some SOB
had packed it full of cement to stop it from leaking. There is absolutely no way to get this damned water out of the engine room.
The guys in the engine room had decided the engines had quit due to fuel starvation
and they were trying to re-prime the injector pumps
, no luck.
In the bow of the ship there was a pair of doors set in the hull, just above the waterline. These were the doors used to bring the truckloads of baggage and provisions on board. They had been inspected for water-tight integrity before we left. Apparently they were never designed to be 30 feet underwater. Every time the bow went down about 100 gallons (two 45 gallon drums) of water poured (not the origional word I used) through the seals and ran down the companionway, going through the engine room doors, onto the walkway above the engines.
This is what it takes to earn a whole box of gold stars
Each guy in the engine room held on with one hand and held a tool in his other hand. Every nut and bolt they removed, had to be held on to. All the while the sloshing bilge water with 4 inches of oil floating on top was trying to wash them off the deck plates. Of course the lights kept going on and off because the ocean water was pouring in from the engine room doors above them and hitting the light fixtures, then cascading down on the guys who were swinging like pendulums from their hold on points. Some of the guys were starting to experience a sense of humor failure
On the way up to the wheelhouse I stopped in the officers mess. It was a scene from a horror movie. First: Every mess room in the world has an old buffet with a low railing around it. Over the years this is where all the bottles of condiments are collected, especially the ones no-one likes. The buffet had dumped. The tables had flipped upside down and were floating back and forth across the floor in a mixture of every conceivable condiment sauce ever offered for sale in the world. The chocolate syrup gave it a marble effect. It looked like a mix of bear shit and crushed bat wings
, which of course explained our bad luck
I stopped in the dining room, it was like the officers mess except that the china service for 1000 people had smashed plus the furniture was tumbling wall to wall, the full width of the ship.
Up the grand staircase to the disco, the Antiguan
's were wrapped in blankets holding onto a wrought iron railing. They were singing hymns.
The Cook and the kitchen staff were wedged on their haunches in the hallway. Each was wrapped in a blanket, a barf bucket between their knees, and reading from a bible.
Remember those 6500 pounds of batteries on the wheelhouse roof? Well they were sliding all over the place, hanging from their electrical connecting cables. The wind was blowing the lead lined battery box covers down on the decks, nearly killed the second mate.
I went up to the wheel house to see how things were, we rewired the radar into the emergency light batteries. Saw a ship ahead of us disappear from the screen, strange.
My hip injury had caught up with me by now, so the wheelhouse crew wedged me between a wall and a radar. At least I didn't keep falling across the wheelhouse. The US Coast Guard was calling us every 15 minutes to make sure they had an accurate time of sinking. They said helicopters couldn't reach 60 miles offshore because of the head winds
. The life boats
couldn't be launched because they would have smashed on the sides of the ship. It was at least 40 feet to the water. The life rafts were lashed to the anchor winch, that was part of the boat that kept going 30 feet under water. Well we had a plan, we would put a rope on someone and he would go and cut the life rafts loose. It sounded ok to me. It was blowing so hard out that the top halves were blowing off the waves. Looked like about 130 mph to me. We decided to wait a bit before sending the chap out to inflate the life boats. I got transferred to a bridge bunk. The captain offered me morphine
, but I figured I would need a clear head when the ship rolled on its side, after all, I would have to climb the wheelhouse furniture about 40 feet straight up to reach the door on what would now be the ceiling. The tricky part would be pushing that huge teak door up to open it. Oh well, I would look after that when the time came.
They tell me I was in shock
by now, all I really remember was lying in my fore and aft bunk watching the curtain on my porthole swinging away from the wall and back to it again, like some kind of half time pendulum
. I decided that by watching how far the curtain went with each roll, I could tell if the rolling was getting better or worse, then I could decide if it was really time to get out. I fell asleep.
The next day we tried to pump the rudder compartment bilge out, it was a hole 5 decks deep with hundreds of floating blankets, towels, and sheets.
In the passenger cabins we found a number of dressers had plates of food stored in them. It turned out that the Antiguan's didn't beleive there was really enough food to last, so every meal, they would steal an extra plate of food and hide it in an empty cabin. These people came from a country where starvation was a way of life
. If you had food you ate it all or someone would steal it from you.
Eventually we got the engines started and arrived in Coos Bay Oregon
. Myself and three others hired a taxi to drive us during the night to Port Angeles, Washington
. 400 plus miles - $400 cash, no receipt. We caught the Coho ferry
that morning and arrived home at 10:30 AM.
Oh, that David Clarke head set and the satellite navigator. Well they hadn't paid for them, so when we left the ship, I borrowed the ships flag and the ships clock for collateral. After we got home I got a phone call. It seems that there wasn't another Antigua flag in all of North America and the US Coast Guard
wouldn't let them leave without one, so if I would please FedEx
the flag back they would pay half the outstanding balance and give me a receipt for the clock. I still have the receipt. The clock was made from two 18" brass portholes, back to back, to make a double faced clock, it weighed about 80 pounds and nearly filled my backpack. Canadian Customs
, asked if I was bringing anything into Canada, I replied, "Oh, just a clock", as I sauntered through.
The 90 foot ship ahead of us went down with all hands.
In hindsight, who knows what worked. Maybe it was the engineers working on the engines, the guys in the wheelhouse, the Antiguan's singing hymns or the cook and his crew with their bible
s. Everyone did what they knew best, we made it.