Cruise Survival Skills: Falling Overboard

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Coast Guard News/Flickr

Over the weekend, a passenger sailing from Stockholm to Helsinki survived seven hours in the frigid Baltic Sea after falling overboard. That he accidentally fell off and lived to tell about it is unusual; most don’t. While its something that does not happen often, we checked in with the Coast Guard on what to do to increase your odds of survival.

We begin on the Baltic Queen ferry just off the Finnish island of Aland. The water is a chilling 16ºC (60ºF) when a 36-year-old Estonian man falls overboard on Friday night. His absence is not discovered until the next day when the ferry docks. Security cameras show the man falling from the vessel and enable Finnish sea rescue to find him two hours later. Suffering from hypothermia, with a body temperature of 26º C (78ºF), he should be dead.

Actually, he is lucky that he did not die immediately when hitting the water. “When a person falls in the cold water, their body responds to the initial shock with an instantaneous gasp for air, which if their head is underwater may cause the person to swallow water and drown,” says U.S. Coast Guard Safety Specialist Walt Taylor in Coast Guard Cold Water Safety Tips.

The best way to survive falling overboard? Don’t.Most stories of passengers going overboard do not end well. But on a big ship cruise, falling off is difficult to do. In “Death By Cruise Ship,” we tag suicide by cruise ship – alcohol/drug-induced shenanigans close to the edge of the ship and sitting/standing on the guard rail of a balcony stateroom – as common ways to fall off, all of which are avoidable.

But what if for one reason or another you fell off, did not die on impact and wound up in the ocean, watching your cruise ship sail away. What to do? Experts recommend treading water, screaming and waving your arms frantically. The best odds of being rescued are right when it happens and someone might happen to see you.

If the ship sails off without you? “Floating on your back takes the least energy. Lie on your back in the water, spread your arms and legs, and arch your back. By controlling your breathing in and out, your face will always be out of the water and you may even sleep in this position for short periods,” says WildernessSurvival.

The Secret Tunnels Under Tallinn

Tallinn
Tallinn is an old city, and like many old cities it has its share of secrets. Stories of ghosts, buried treasure and hidden tunnels add to the atmosphere of the medieval streets.

For a couple of years, one of those secrets was revealed when the city opened up the Bastion Tunnels. These corridors were built by Estonia’s Swedish rulers in the 1670s and ran under the earthen bastions that protected the city. These bastions were an improvement over Tallinn’s stone walls, which were now outdated in the age of artillery. The tunnels allowed for the rapid and safe transport of troops from one part of the defenses to the other.

The Bastion Tunnels were used by the soldiers for a time and then were abandoned to the rats and spiders. Abandoned, but not forgotten. The entrances were still visible yet few dared to go down there. Rumors of buried treasure arose but most people were too afraid to venture into the dank, dark tunnels to search for it.

In the more practical 20th century the tunnels got new life. In the 1930s everyone could see that war was coming, and Estonia’s uncomfortable position next to the Soviet Union made it an obvious target. The government reopened the tunnels as bomb shelters. Today, a section of the tunnels is preserved to commemorate this era, with vintage posters showing what to do in case of an air raid, and some frightened dummies set up in period clothing.

The Soviets occupied Estonia in 1940, only to be kicked out by the Germans the following year. They were hardly a liberating force, however, and the partisans who had been fighting the Soviets soon turned their guns on the Nazis. Meanwhile the Soviets launched bombing raids and the citizens of Tallinn hid in the tunnels for protection. Luckily most of the historic city was preserved, but as you walk around you can spot patches where all the buildings are new. This is thanks to the Soviets.

%Gallery-179163%The Estonian resistance actually took advantage of the bombings to strike a blow against their occupiers. Estonians tell the story that the German high officers all stayed at a particular posh hotel. The resistance hoped it would get hit by a bomb and preeminently smuggled ammunition into the cellar. A Soviet bomb hit the hotel and BOOM … no more Nazi officers.

The Soviets eventually retook Estonia and it would remain under Soviet rule until 1991. During that time the tunnels were used again as a bomb shelter. Visitors can see period equipment like radios, air circulation machines and radiation suits. There’s even an old Soviet latrine that still stinks. The photo above shows an Estonian family hoping their suits will stop the radiation from an American nuclear strike. That green bag between the mother and her child is for a baby. I’ll leave it to you to guess whether that contraption would have actually worked.

Eventually the Soviets, too, abandoned the tunnels. Estonia had nuclear missiles positioned all over the country so it was on the U.S. shortlist for bombing. The Soviets must have realized that some 17th century tunnels weren’t going to protect anyone from a direct hit, so the tunnels once again reverted to a home for rats and spiders.

Then, in the 1980s and ’90s, a new group took over the tunnels – the punks. Punk rock was illegal in the Soviet Union. That whole defy-the-system ethos didn’t sit too well with the Communist Party. So the punks went underground, literally. They spray painted the walls, threw parties, drank, took drugs and generally had a good time while thumbing their noses at authority. The police harassed and often arrested punks on the street but never chased them into the tunnels. Our tour guide told us that the tunnels had become infested with fleas and the cops didn’t want to catch bugs along with punks.

Independence came in 1991 and the punks could enjoy sunlight again. The economy wasn’t doing so well and the homeless population swelled. They took over the tunnels and made them as comfortable as they could. Eventually, of course, they were kicked out so the tunnels could be restored and opened as a tourist site. Our tour guide didn’t know what happened to the homeless people.

The Bastion Tunnels make for an interesting tour, yet I feel that the city missed a great opportunity. The punk graffiti was all painted over and eventually replaced with faux graffiti in the punk style. I would have much preferred to have seen graffiti written by some crusty old punk from the days when defying authority could land you in jail instead of just angering parents. It would have also been nice if they could have employed some of the homeless people as tour guides. This would have given them work and given visitors an insight into what it was like to live underneath the city.

And the “Time Machine” ride they have is just too cheesy to waste bandwidth on …

Still, the Bastion Tunnels are one of the most interesting attractions in Tallinn. They’re entered through the cellar of the Kiek in de Kök tower. The name means “peek into the kitchen” because the tower so dominated the town that it was said the watchmen could look down the chimneys of the houses and see what was cooking! The tower has a collection of arms and armor as well as a space for photographic exhibitions. From the top you get a fine view of Tallinn’s Old Town.

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: A Vintage Submarine and Icebreaker in Tallinn’s Seaplane Harbor!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

GADLING TAKE 5: Week of 5/2 – 5/9

One thing we’ve learned at Gadling this week is that oodles of people want those free Southwest Airlines tickets. So far, as of 3:44 pm, there are 1,162. Visiting people seems to be the biggest theme of many of the contenders’ wishes.

Other numbers of note this week:

Share your numbers of note with us if you have any. One to think about is, how far can you get on one gallon of gas?

Chillin’ in the Stockholm Archipelago

I had a little too much fun when I visited Stockholm at the end of last summer. After sampling more than my fair share of Swedish meatballs, downing some aquavit and partaking in the city’s surprisingly debaucherous nightlife, my liver and my body needed a break.

My salvation came in the form of a wonderful five-syllable word you might remember from grade school geography class – the archipelago. For those not familiar with the term, an archipelago is a word typically used to describe a small cluster of islands (extra points if you pronounce it correctly). The city of Stockholm sits on a string of 14 islands that form a small part of the vast archipelago that stretches out into the Baltic Sea. For no more than the price of a Swedish crayfish lunch, a fleet of ferries will transport you to one of the many sparsely populated, pine-tree covered islands that populate the chain outside the city center.

I decided the island of Vaxholm sounded interesting and hopped on a late morning ferry. The ferry trip is a pleasant one, offering a visual smorgasbord of the many sights that make Stockholm famous. As our ferry steamed out of Stockholm, I was treated to panoramic vistas of the harbor behind me, the city’s brightly-hued orange and yellow structures glowing against a luminous sky dotted with clouds. Along the way, we passed all manner of sailboats and cruise ships, each one flying the famous blue and gold cross of the Swedish flag. The views on the ferry trip alone made the journey worthwhile.

Less than an hour later, we arrived at Vaxholm. Vaxholm is one of the more populated islands in the archipelago, boasting its own fortress and a small city center. The visit proved to be the perfect antidote to busy Stockholm. I strolled around Vaxholm’s tiny downtown with a few friends, stopping to return some Swedish fish to their native habitat. After a leisurely lunch at a cafe along the island’s rocky shore, we were ready to head back to the city.

This non-event of a day trip is exactly why I liked Vaxholm so much. Just like my ferry trip, I found the island visually striking, dotted with colorful wooden cottages and scenic views of the sea beyond. And unlike Stockholm, there’s no must-see tourist site, making it the perfect spot to find a nice rock in the sun, grab a cold beer and watch as the sailboats pass you by. If you’re really looking to get away, you can even head farther to the north or south, where you’ll find plenty of wild, sparsely-inhabited islands where you can live out the Walden fantasies of your dreams.

If you find yourself in Stockholm this summer, set aside a day trip to visit the archipelago – you won’t be disappointed.

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