Irene Worthington Baron


Tropical Storm on cruise ship 
Irene Baron:

When I saw a video about ocean storms and angry seas, I thought back to an adventure I experienced in 1961 during an Atlantic crossing on the Holland American Lines ship, the Groote Beer out of Rotterdam. This was a 600+ passenger ship which took me on a round trip journey between New York City and Rotterdam, Holland. The image illustrated is from a postcard of the ship. The original artist is unknown.

Postcard image Grotte Beer

This ship was one of three Victory Class ships built for the United War Shipping Administration to ferry troops across the Atlantic during World War II.  The Groote Beer was sold to the Dutch Government.

The ship had stronger hulls for troop transport use during the war but was not finished at the ship yards until near the end of the war. Originally built as troop transports, they were later converted for public transportation. They were temperature controlled heat-wise, had a medical center, central washrooms/restrooms, sinks in cabins, library, lounges, dining rooms, bars, etc, like any cruise ship. Like all Holland American line ships, the crew and service personnel were extremely polite, kind, helpful and often illustrated their sense of humor.

Between the going and coming, I quartered at the dormitory for American students and studied French at the Sorbonne University in Paris. I toured the Continent using a Europass. Sleeping nights on the trains to save $$$, I would arrive in cities to tour during the day.  That was my first trip to Europe, but not my last. When I finally lived in Germany for several years, I was able to visit many more places.

The Groote Beer, on the Holland bound leg of my journey, had to plow through a tropical storm with sea waves towering way over 30-feet. Fortunately, I did not get seasick like the majority of passengers. There were so many seasick cabin-bound passengers, during the storm it was almost like traveling on my own private ship.

Aboard the Groote Beer

During the storm, the most dangerous time was using the stairwells. Depending upon the position of the stairs, amidships or bow or stern, as you stepped down, the ship could drop many feet, letting you freefall toward the next step. When your foot hit the step, your whole leg was assaulted (with knees especially attacked) by the brunt impact force. Ascending the steps, you had to be careful that your knee did not hit your chin as the ship suddenly rose. If you did not hold on to the railings, you would have flown through the stairwell and could have been seriously hurt. The stairs had to be navigated to get to the dining room.

Passengers were assigned one of three meal times. Normally several hundred persons would be having their meals when I was. During the storm, there were only 2-3 persons who ventured out of their cabins to eat. The tables, already anchored to the floor, had edges to stop plates from flying off. What was available to eat was limited due to the precariousness of the moving dishes. I always ordered milk as my beverage. As it was very limited, the milk was served during the storm in a ceramic glass so no one else could see it. The staff served it to me on the condition I didn’t tell anyone else I had access to milk. During that storm, beverages were served in wide mugs. I had to hold on to it so it wouldn't fly away.

The storm appeared to be strongest in the evening. About eleven o’clock that night I ventured out of the cabin to see what I could see. I headed to a lower deck and moved to the stern, staying close to the safe area of the outer wall.  The distance between me and the tip of the stern was at least 30-40 feet. There was a roof above me, the base of the higher deck. There were no ropes or safety lines installed at that time.

I was fascinated to feel and see the ship move up and down and could have stayed there all night just watching the movement of the water and experiencing the shuddering ship motions. There was about a 400 pitch of the stern up and down and a sideways roll of about 300. If you moved your hand with such a pitch and roll, you would find it moving in a crazy, lopsided circle that would get you dizzy. What was fascinating was when the ship crashed downward. When that happened, water would cascade up into the air at least 50-feet and was pushed away from the ship due to the shape of the hull. I stood there about 20-minutes mesmerized by the sight of walls of water rising way above the ship and away from me. The sheer power illustrated by the water was enormous.

Finally, one of the handsome, middle aged, white suited officers walked by and saw me standing there. He did a double take, his face registering first shock and then anger. Remember, this was near midnight in the middle of a tropical storm. The wind was screaming. The waves were crashing. Water was flying everywhere, but primarily away from the ship due to the shape of the outer hull. I was getting some spray and was wet. The floor was wet, but I was against the back of the stern wall away from the edge.

The conversation which had to be screamed over the crashing noise of the ship and ocean went something like this.

 Incredulous of my being there, he yelled, “What are you doing here?”

I replied, “Watching the waves.”

“You’re not supposed to be here!” His arms and hands were flailing about.

Staying close to the wall, I said, “I didn’t see any signs ....”

Becoming more angry, he screamed and demanded, “Get inside, NOW!” Pointing to a door, I dejectedly went inside. Looking back I saw his angry face. I went to my crowded cabin several decks down which was shared with seven other women. They were all asleep in their separate bunk beds.

The next day when the storm had abated somewhat. I went back to the site where I had stood the night before and saw there were now thick ropes attached which limited how far one could move onto that deck. It was only then I realized how much danger I must have been in. Since it was the stern, I had been protected by waves washing toward me as they would at the bow of the ship.  Had the ship turned and the wave action changed, I could have been washed over board. I never thought about that at the time. In my ignorance, I was just enjoying the moment.

I don’t regret experiencing that storm one late night on the stern. I don’t even have to close my eyes to visualize the wild and loud scene. What a vibrant and exciting experience that was! :-)

Thank you Holland America staff for protecting your passengers.

I added some links to angry seas below for you to enjoy.   (shows degrees of roll)     (shows interior)




Leave a comment: