Semester-at-Sea Ship Hits Rough Weather

Lauren Osgood watched as waves and flecks of sea spray licked at the glass on the door. But there was nothing to hold onto.

Computers, library books and furniture crashed to the floor and were flung against the walls as the ship leaned like a massive metronome from port to starboard and back again.

"We were right by the exit doors on either side, and so you could like see the waves on the doors, which freaked me out," said Osgood, 21, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was enrolled in the Semester at Sea (search) program that used the research ship Explorer as a floating classroom.

"That's kind of when I began to panic because you could see the water and realize that you were tipping that much," she said.

The 591-foot Explorer limped into Honolulu Harbor (search) on Monday for repairs and inspections after passengers endured more than a week's worth of rough seas.

None of the students suffered injuries beyond bruises, but one crew member suffered a broken leg and another a broken arm.

The ship's seesawing motion made sleeping difficult, so many of the nearly 700 students were awake when a wave shattered the glass on the ship's bridge and three of the four engines shut down early last Wednesday.

The incident occurred about 650 miles south of Adak, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands and about 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Students said rough seas had plagued the ship since they left Vancouver on Jan. 18 with 990 people aboard, including the students enrolled in a University of Pittsburgh (search) program designed to give them a global perspective. Tuition for the program is about $20,000 for the semester, which includes living expenses on the ship and some trips ashore.

The crew distributed plastic bags for nauseous passengers, and students sat on the floor during classes because the furniture was not secured to the floor and would topple with the ship's movement.

"We were so used to it after a while. You'd just be talking to someone and when you felt the boat move, you'd just instantly grab for something," said Becca Leonard, 21, a junior at the University of Southern California.

After the engines and bridge were damaged, passengers and crew donned life vests. The students were herded into the ship's narrow hallways and eventually to the fifth deck of the ship.

"Your cabin was probably the worst place to be. Glass tables, chairs, beds were flying, our TV had fallen. Glasses were breaking, the doors were flying open and shut," Leonard said. "They had to help you out of your room if stuff was lodged (against the door) because by the time you moved it, another wave would come."

The crew eventually separated the students and passengers by gender. Some students weren't sure whether the procedure was meant as a prelude to entering lifeboats, or as a safety measure, or both.

"They tried to stick everyone in a hallway, so we were like halfway on top of each other," said Melissa Good, 20, a junior at Indiana University. "I was just getting like smashed around. That's the main reason I think they separated us."

A spokesman for the ship said the crew took precautions to protect passengers.

"Safety is always the first concern when you do anything at sea. This is a state-of-the-art vessel," spokesman Jim Lawrence said. "The route she travels is one taken by 6,500 vessels a year, and she has a superb captain and crew."

Osgood and Leonard suffered bruises but said the experience "bonded the group."

"It was totally not fun when it was happening, but afterward, everyone was so much tighter," Leonard said.

The ship is expected to remain in Honolulu for about five days while undergoing repairs and Coast Guard inspections before sailing for Shanghai, China.