Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Burning Cold

Subtitle: The Cruise Ship Prinsendam and the Greatest Sea Rescue of all Time
Author: H. Paul Jeffers
Format: hardback, 304 pages
Subject: shipwreck, fire at sea, US Coast Guard rescues
Setting: Bay of Alaska, Oct 1980
Genre: non-fiction, documentary
Source: public library
Challenge: Support your public library

This is one of those serendipitous discoveries that I thought I was just going to page through and ended up staying up well past my bedtime to read cover-to cover.

You could say this is a book about heroism, or a book about a terrifying adventure, or a book about carelessness and poor seamanship, but however you want to look at it, it's a true story about a little known episode in an otherwise glorious history.

Members of my family (me included) have made numerous cruises on Holland America's ships (including the Alaska cruises) and never heard about this little adventure.  The story here is about the fire onboard the MS Prinsendam, the ineptitude of the crew in extinguishing it, and the harrowing experiences of the 350+ passengers (most of them quite elderly) who endured hours waiting to be rescued as they bobbed up and down in lifeboats in scanty attire while the sea roiled from the edges of a major typhoon. It was October and it was cold and dark.

The US Coast Guard, and several civilian tankers did a stellar job of rescuing every single person who was onboard (including the now famous pianist Yanni), and getting them to safety.  While the author could have used a good editor to strain out a lot of extraneous material ---he seemed to think we needed the entire career history of every person involved in this debacle---it was still a quick read.  I'm just not sure I'd recommend it to someone about to plunk down thousands of dollars to go on a cruise, although I'd definitely recommend paying attention to the life boat drill when they say dress warmly and bring your life jacket.  Altogether an engrossing read.


  1. I did know about this...because my brother SIL and niece were on a Holland America ship, on an Alaskan cruise a few years ago that had a fire and had to be towed back to land.

    when I went on my first cruise, I took the safety info very seriously.

  2. IO may have to remember this one for my Alaska book. Do you think it qualifies?


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