Tag Archives: Viking Sky

What I Did on My Winter Vacation:
In Living Color

By Corey Sandler

Even professional travelers need a vacation from time to time. And as I often tell people, when I am away I do not want to feel at home.

This winter we checked off one of the boxes on our to-do list. We have been to the far north many times, but this time we made a specific plan to revisit the top of Norway at the optimal time of year to view the Aurora Borealis.

The Northern Lights (and the Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights) are glowing almost all the time, but they cannot be seen in the daylight or when there is heavy cloud cover. In the winter the sun never rises above the horizon for six to eight weeks which gives a whole lot of dark.

And some places on our planet receive significantly stronger solar particles than others: the Aurora Zone is a belt that sits at roughly 70 to 80 degrees above or below the Equator. Too far north and the angle to the lights is too thin; too far south and the odds of seeing them are very slim.

One more thing: in the far north, March tends to have less cloud cover than earlier months in winter.

So we went to Norway for nearly a month.

Here is some of what we saw:

Northern Lights Near Tromsø. Copyright 2019, Corey Sandler. All rights reserved
Narvik, Norway. Copyright 2019, Corey Sandler. All rights reserved.
Snow People, Tromsø. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.
Bergen in winter. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.
Tromsø under a blanket. Copyright 2019, Corey Sandler. All rights reserved.
Landing at Oslo. Copyright 2019, Corey Sandler. All rights reserved.

Why I Travel. Copyright Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

If you would like to order a print of any of my photos, please contact me using the link at the top of this page.


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.

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.



By Corey Sandler

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.


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. Photo by Corey Sandler

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)


By Corey Sandler

Welcome aboard. I am happy to share some of my photographs taken aboard Viking Sky on our journey from Miami to the Panama Canal and back. 

Viking Sky at anchor off Key West, Florida

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2018. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises.

MONDAY, JANUARY 8, 2018: Key West, Florida

A bird’s eye view of a Viking Sky tender
An ancient lock on a shipwrecker’s warehouse in Key West
Instituto San Carlos, the headquarters of the post-Independence, pre-Castro Cuban community in Key West
The files of the former Consulate of the Republic of Cuba in Key West

To send me an email,  click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 10, 2018: Belize City, Belize

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2018. All rights reserved.

Altun Ha, first built about 900 B.C.E.
Altun Ha, near Belize City
The ruins of the ceremonial site were only rediscovered in the 1960s
Altun Ha near Belize City. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cities and ceremonial sites of the Mayans and other ancient peoples in Central America and most are still covered by earth and hidden within forest. Archaeologists say they are probably safer that way, since there is not enough money to protect and preserve them all once they are uncovered.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 11, 2018: Carambola Gardens at Coxen Hole on Roatan Island, Honduras

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2018. All rights reserved.

Emerging from the shadows of the forest
A tiny hummingbird flits into view

To send me an email,  click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/

SATURDAY, JANUARY 13, 2018: Along the Tortuguero near Puerto Limón, Costa Rica

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2018. All rights reserved.

A two-toed sloth, just hanging around
A common basilisk hidden in the green forest. The creature is better known as the Jesus Christ Lizard because of its ability to run across water when necessary
Shadows in the water
A blue heron observed us from the shore

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2018. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 15, 2018: Colón to Panama City on the Panama Canal Railway

We arrived early this morning at Colón, Panama on the Atlantic Ocean and spent the afternoon in Panama City on the Pacific. Although I have made the transit of the isthmus more times than I can remember, this was the first time I did so by rail.

The Panama Canal Railway was begun in 1850 and completed in 1855 as the first mass transit across the isthmus of Panama, replacing the very difficult trails through the jungle. And then the railway became an essential part of the construction of the Panama Canal itself, when work was begun first by the French in 1881 and then redone and completed by the Americans in 1914

The American effort required the rebuilding and relocating of some of the track because the American design was based on damming the Chagres River and creating a manmade lake as the means of transit between the seas. The track today includes some of its 1850 route and some of the 1914 relocated path which parallels the Panama  Canal.

Today the railway serves mostly as a “dry canal”, carrying freight from the Atlantic to the Pacific in containers mounted on flatbed train cars, but it also runs a few passenger trips for tourists each day.

A modern diesel-electric locomotive powers the Panama Canal Railway today on a 48-mile crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific
Containers and flatbed railcars, part of the “dry canal”
The railway track parallels the canal, here crossing on a trestle over the Chagres River which is the source of the water for Gatun Lake and the engine for the operation of the locks
At Gamboa, near the midway point of the canal, stands “Titan”, one of the largest floating cranes in the world. It was built in Nazi Germany in 1941 to service U-boats in Kiel. After the war it was seized by the U.S. as war reparations and brought across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal to Long Beach, California where it served for nearly 50 years at the shipyard there. (Its local nickname was “Herman the German.”) In 1996 it was moved once again, this time to Gamboa where it is used in the maintenance of the locks of the original canal
An old piece of railroad equipment on a siding near the train terminus at Balboa on the Pacific side
Modern Panama City as seen through a thicket of pleasure boats at the Pacific end of the canal

To send me an email,  click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/

MONDAY, JANUARY 15, 2018: Partial Transit of the Panama Canal

We arrived early this morning at the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal and then rose up three locks to Gatun Lake, which today was at its maximum level of 86.7 feet above sea level.

Once we reached the lake, we made a U-turn and then made our way back down to the Atlantic Ocean. In modern cruising language, this is known as a “partial transit”, which sounds like an oxymoron to me.

I have been through the Panama Canal more times than I can remember, and it is always a thrill. I spent the day up on the navigational bridge offering commentary about our partial transit. Call it an up and down excursion…

The view from the navigational bridge as Viking Sky climbed the stairs at Gatun
One of the electric locomotives, or “mules” of the Panama Canal. The mules (the name is derived from the original means of moving barges along the Erie Canal in upstate New York) do not pull the ship; instead their function is to keep a ship centered in the lock chamber
In the early morning, we passed below the nearly completed bridge at the Atlantic end of the canal

To send me an email,  click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/

All photos by Corey Sandler, 2018. All rights reserved. All contents copyright Corey Sandler and Word Association; this website is not produced or endorsed by Viking Cruises.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 16, 2018: Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena in Colombia is one of the best preserved old Spanish colonial cities in the new world.

We had a lovely day in Cartagena, although we were not alone: four cruise ships in port, thousands of tourists in the streets, and painful traffic jams.

The best time to visit: after hours, when the vendors and the selfie-sticks have gone home.

The old city of Cartagena
The dome of San Pedro Claver Church in Cartagena. Claver was known as the “slave of the slaves”, begging in the streets to help the poor Africans brought by the tens of thousands to Colombia
A golden display of indigenous art
A work by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, champion of a style known as “Boterismo.” He obviously thinks large.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 20, 2018: Nassau, Bahamas

So, we weren’t supposed to be here in Nassau, Bahamas this morning. But a combination of bad weather and other factors in the Western Caribbean caused us to cancel calls scheduled for Montego Bay, Jamaica and then George Town on Grand Cayman Island.

We sailed two days eastward along the south side of Cuba and then turned north toward Nassau for a final port of call.

Nassau is an interesting place, mostly because of its history as a British colony somewhat similar to Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos. It was a place of plantations (and therefore slaves), and its success drew in pirates and privateers and attacks by the Spanish who contested some of the same waters.

Today, the English are still here with a Royal Governor and the police force look more like British Bobbies than the ones in London. The Spanish and the pirates are gone, and in their place hordes of tourists. Many of them arrive by cruise ship at the huge port which can accommodate five and sometimes more large ships.

One of our favorite places to visit is Christ Church Cathedral, an Anglican/Episcopal church at the corner of King and George streets. The structure is handsome, with the current building dating from 1841 on a base that dates back to the mid-1600s.

But it is the collection of plaques and other remembrances that line the walls of the church that fascinate. Any one of them could generate a novel, or at least a lecture for me.

Small, medium, and large at the dock in Nassau. Viking Sky sits between the luxurious private yacht Turquoise and the huge and loud Disney Dream

A Viking long boat on the Viking Sky’s funnel catches the morning sun

Christ Church Cathedral in Nassau

A bit of old Nassau, hidden in plain sight

Echoes of Colonial Britain at the Governor General’s house on the hill

Safe travels to all.

To send me an email,  click here: www.coreysandler.com/contact-me/