I've asked Antti for some information about the second fire and some reassurance.
I'm booked on Vistafjord in April of 1998; she is loved by many and I hope will sail for Cunard for many more years.
I'll be in New York City June 1Oth through June 19th. I've not decided whether I want to see Titanic! I will try to see QE2 sail on June 12th for Southampton. I shall always love my first Cunarder. Love your Gazette. I hope all's well with you and Mary.
by Steward Manville
When Vistafjord's transatlantic cruise passengers were awakened around 2:OO a.m. (Sunday, April 6th, 1997) by alarm bells and by stewards and stewardesses knocking on cabin doors, we were asked to don life jackets and proceed immediately to our lifeboat stations while they tucked hand towels around each cabin door
handle to signify that the occupant(s) had been checked.
Thoughts of the Titanic must have occurred to more than a few of us. Seas were calm, the atmosphere this first night out of Fort Lauderdale pleasantly temperate--but an acrid odor permeated the corridors. The voice of Captain Terje Sorensen on the public address system informed us of a fire below decks in a dry storage area containing paper, linen, and clean staff uniforms.
All Out on Deck
So, as fire doors were being closed, we all clambered up the stairs into the open air, I from Main Deck single #366 amidships. It wasn't long before all 12 lifeboats had been lowered into position, some labeled "Capacity 11O "and others "Capacity 7O," ample for everyone aboard this comparatively modest-sized vessel originally operated by the Norwegian American Line and now part of the Cunard fleet. Some settled into deck chairs, sharing the leg rest with another one or two. Personnel brought mats and cushions for additional sitting. As time passed, cups of water were served, accompanied by Vistafjord cocktail napkins.
Further announcements informed us that other ships were nearby,that the heavy smoke was caused by extinguishing activity (the main reason for our evacuation) and that we had stopped momentarily to minimize drafting. Meanwhile, a U.S. Coast Guard airplane had begun circling overhead and the lights of Freeport twinkled on the eastern horizon.
All in all, an aura of reassurance prevailed. The hours until dawn passed in quiet conversation or snoozing. When the ship began moving again, the captain kept us informed of our progress--now 18 miles to port, now 10 and ultimately a mere 3; at one point, he also mentioned that the blaze was under control but still too smoky to permit our going inside. In Freeport harbor, we were joined by a
At the dock, the local fire brigade came aboard with yards and yards of fire hose to finish the conflagration once and for all and they remained through that day and the following night to make absolutely certain that all was back to normal. Later in the morning, I observed exhausted crewmen who had been fighting the fire asleep on the carpet of the A Deck forward vestibule, barefoot on account of soaking wet shoes. Towards evening, dumpsters were brought to the dock so that discarding of the charred debris could begin. Meals in the dining room were soon available, a modified daily program was offered and shuttle busses were available for shopping and trips to one to the island resorts, lending passengers use of their beach and swimming pool.
As the day wore on, we learned of the death by smoke inhalation of waiter Stefan Moeller, a 27-year-old from Germany popular with passengers and crew alike, who had gone back to the crew quarters on his own to make certain that everyone was safely out. A bilingual memorial service took place Monday at 12 on Verandah Deck aft--music, prayers, sermon, final commendation--with nearly everyone in attendance.
Efforts to enable resumption of the voyage continued, until finally, just before lunch on Tuesday, the captain announced that, with deepest regret, he must cancel the crossing, as it would not be possible to have things in shape at the level expected of Cunard soon enough. We would remain another night, then receive transportation at company expense either to our intended destination or home again--fares refunded in full and with a $1,000 credit towards any future booking.
A Lavish Breakfast
But all sad experiences have their compensating lighter sides. A quarter of an hour before breakfast service was ended on Wednesday, the final morning, a hilariously inebriated (senior) couple entered the nearly vacant dining room and demanded seating (It was like a scene in a play.) I asked myself whether they were still having a late night, or whether early morning cocktails were their customary "early morning tea." The lady was somewhat belligerent at first, and it was enlightening how the staff gathered around and smothered them with solicitous attention, at the same time really enjoying themselves, without a trace of "attitude." Here, they must have thought, was where we can practice our tact and decorum. The couple had never been down for breakfast before and, they averred, "Wouldn't it be lovely to have some omelets, and some bagels with cream cheese, and some Belgian waffles, and bacon, and ham, and sausage, and heaping bowls of Granola would be so healthy, and some fresh fruit, and perhaps a little yogurt and--and--" (yes, the entire menu!) I couldn't stay, I had to pack. I hope they brought the couple doggie bags.
Later that day, I joined my shipboard acquaintances Mr & Mrs Getty on the Dawn Discovery for Miami; and thence via Amtrak's Silver Star to New York, where I now await an April 27 sailing of Royal Viking Sun.
(Your editor is most grateful to Ms Buchenham and Mr Manville for their cogent and well-written accounts.
Two irresistible comments. Both passengers independently mention Titanic when news of the fire occurred, indicating that that notorious White Star liner remains a haunting benchmark for all potential disasters at sea.
Then again, it is interesting to learn that the fireboat greeting inbound Vistafjord at Freeport was "spouting," according to Mr Manville. Customarily, fireboats spout to welcome a new ship into a port for the first time. But in this event, the fireboat captain was doubtless reassuring passengers on board the damaged Cunarder that he was ready and able to render assistance.)