Viking Star Pushes On To Iceland

Viking Star conquered the North Atlantic for the first time last night! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

“When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.”

  • Jacques Cousteau; Oceanographer

Viking Cruises’ Viking Star plowed through her first-ever battle with the North Atlantic last night, encountering 40-foot seas and winds that ran 90 miles per hour, or 153 kilometres per hour. It was, by a large margin, the worst storm at sea I’ve ever encountered – and I’ve crossed the Drake Passage, notorious for its nasty conditions, en-route to Antarctica.

Flashback to yesterday: the giant swells as seen at 7:00 pm from my balcony on Deck 4, some 60+ feet above sea level. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Flashback to yesterday: the giant swells as seen at 7:00 pm from my balcony on Deck 4, some 60+ feet above sea level. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At this point, waves were only about half of their 40-foot overnight height. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Like a modern-day Viking, Viking Star battled these harsh conditions remarkably well. I have to mention the ship’s superb Officers and Crew, who handled this adventure with professionalism that made it look like they do this every day. Which of course they don’t – but every crew member I encountered remained friendly and smiling, from the bartenders last night who struggled to save glasses and bottles of alcohol, to general crew members who helped guests walk up staircases and exit the ship’s restaurants.
Captain Lokling and his navigation team were up all night on the Navigation Bridge, guiding Viking Star through the worst of the storm and correcting her course continually to ensure that we’d come out on the right side of things. There was no way around this storm; it stood completely in our path. Going through was the only option.

Not surprising! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Not surprising! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Damage to the ship is remarkably minimal, and is limited to the usual suspects: broken perfume in the gift shop, smashed sunglasses in the boutiques, and a lot of broken glasses in the bars and lounges. In my stateroom, my two porcelain cups shattered when they were knocked off the bathroom counter, along with the soap dish. I immediately “weather-proofed” the cabin, emptying my water carafe and placing it in the garbage can for safe keeping and moving all of the electronics under the bed, where they couldn’t be hurt. I also lost one of my favorite colognes, which shattered on the bathroom floor. On the plus side, the bathroom smells wonderful now.
Overall though, it could have been much worse. There are far more severe storms in this part of the world, and Viking Star rode out its first battle with 40-foot seas as smoothly as could be expected. Guests last night took the Captain’s orders to return to their staterooms for their own safety with remarkable understanding, and by eight o’clock this morning, sea conditions had calmed to 15-20 foot swells and 30mph winds. This afternoon, sea conditions dulled to merely rain showers and light following seas, punctuated with numerous rainbows.
At all times, we were always safe, warm, and well-looked-after.

The Grand Piano was lashed down in the Explorer's Lounge on Deck 7 forward this morning. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Grand Piano was lashed down in the Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 7 forward this morning. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

It wasn’t that long ago that this was a very dangerous journey. The first scheduled transatlantic crossings weren’t introduced until the early 1800’s, aboard sailing ships that were slow, susceptible to storms, and which offered little in the way of creature comforts. Voyages typically took about two weeks and plodded along on the ocean’s surface at a paltry seven knots.
Charles Dickens didn’t think much of his first transatlantic crossing in 1842. The famous author thought his accommodations aboard Cunard’s Britannia were more coffin than stateroom, and by all accounts he spent much of the voyage retching over the ship’s railing on account of the vessel’s tendency to roll like a cork.

Guests in the Explorer's Lounge look out as rain and high winds lash the ship this afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Guests in the Explorer’s Lounge look out as rain and high winds lash the ship this afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Dickens wouldn’t know what to do with himself here. We’re speeding along at 20 knots, despite the iffy sea conditions. Guests are enjoying high tea, sipping wine, and reading books up on the pool deck. They’re playing games of Scrabble on Deck 2’s Living Room atrium landing, arguing playfully over who has the better word combinations. A handful are down in the Coffee Bar on Deck 1 ordering up an afternoon ‘pick me up’, while more still (like yours truly) are enjoying the views from the two-story Explorer’s Lounge and reading about the explorers and adventurers of years past.
It is, to summarize, nothing short of miraculous that we can do this.
And yet, transatlantic ocean travel has been usurped by that other technological marvel: the airplane. Now, we race across the ocean at 900 kilometres per hour, 37,000 feet in the sky. We barely realize there’s even a vast ocean down there, let alone one that was an accomplishment and a life-changing event to cross just a century ago.

The day wasn't without its beauty, though: I counted no less than six different rainbows throughout the day. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The day wasn’t without its beauty, though: I counted no less than six different rainbows throughout the day. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

We take flying for granted, and that has made us take distance for granted. Although our route is punctuated with ports of call, the distances we have to sail are great. The weather – even at this time of the year – can always pose navigational challenges, and no doubt will at some point in this voyage. Even with all of this modern technology, this is still a journey with a purpose.
There is also an energy in the air. You can feel it when you walk around the ship. The anticipation grows with every passing hour now that we’ve left Europe firmly in our wake and are headed for places that most of us never think to travel to: Iceland, Greenland, the uppermost tip of Newfoundland.
If crossing the ocean two hundred years ago on a small sailing ship sounds dicey, imagine what the Vikings went through in their open Longboats.

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