Third time lucky. This is the third time I have tried to write this story and I can never get the beginning right. The two that I wrote before always started out with some jokey line but I feel I need to write this with a bit more thought and with the seriousness that it deserves. If I had never started this blog back in March I don’t think I would ever write about my survivor story but I’m hoping that it be some sort of therapy in writing about it and I can finally put it to rest. So this post is more for me than my readers.
On the 21st October, 1988 the Jupiter Cruise liner sunk just outside Athens in the port of Piraeus after being hit by the car carrier Adige in the engine room. I was one of the unfortunate ones to be on the boat and this is my story.
It was a school trip, visiting the Pyramids, Jerusalem and various Greek Islands and there was about ten of us from my school (Sanders Draper School). Including two teachers, there was six of us from the same year at school and a couple were close friends of mine. One of them I actually persuaded to come along instead of going on the school skiing trip. The guilt of that haunted me for years. The trip started in Athens at the port of Piraeus and we all boarded the Jupiter on a sunny afternoon. There was about 600 passengers/crew on board. I remember being shown our cabins, I was sharing with a friend but I now cannot remember who. I also remember my grandad, who was a tailor, had made me a couple of waistcoats for the trip. The next thing I remember is that half of the passengers (mostly school kids) where to go to the restaurant for dinner while the other half were to have an safety induction. My school was part of the safety induction and had to go down to one of the lower decks. Sitting around tables in an area that I would associate with a club/bar area nowadays, we set sail. The induction began and then bang! The whole boat rocked, like a tidal wave had just hit us. Looking across the room I could see what looked like an iceberg at the windows for all I could see was white. The white painted hull of the Adige had just hit the Jupiter. At first no one knew what it was, I don’t remember there being any alarm being raised, so we all just sat there while one of the teachers went off to see what had happened. Then, tables and empty chairs started to move on their own accord, just slightly as if it was a magic trick. Gradually the chair I was sitting in started to slide towards the windows, by this time I was terrified and at the age of 15 you still need someone to tell you what to do. This didn’t happen and then panic set in as the furniture started to slide past everyone as the boat had listed about 30 degrees. In a surreal moment is was like being at the fun fair and being trapped in the “fun house”. Everyone started to make their way to the stairs, at a 30 degree angle this is quite hard. It was actually like walking on the wall of the stairwell but your body does amazing things when it has to. I will never forgot trying to walk, actually climb up the staircase/wall at such an angle with the knowledge that the boat is sinking.
Next thing I remember is sitting on the deck handrail with the boat listing at about 45 degrees. By this time it was dark. I can’t remember how I got there from the stairs, I must have blocked that out. Sitting on this handrail about me was most of my school friends. Through a network of mostly Chinese whispers we heard that most people had got off the boat unharmed. Maybe we thought if we just sat there then it would be our turn to move along the line to get off the boat as well. After what felt like a lifetime that the boat didn’t list anymore, suddenly we could hear plates smashing from the restaurant area near us. This noise increased as did the panic in everybody that was left on this handrail. While sitting on a handrail on a listing boat not seeing anything but the black sky and lots of lights from all the other ships in the area, is one of the most terrifying things I have experienced. It’s not knowing if we would get off the boat safely without having to swim or if the boat would suddenly sink completely without having time to escape. With the noise of the plates smashing a few people had jumped off the rail in to the water – this caused a panic that everyone should get in to the water before the boat sunk. I remember sliding along the handrail and then the next thing I know I’m hanging off the rail with my hands and my feet dangling towards the water. Then I let go (must have been one of those real sink or swim moments!) but I don’t actually remember thinking this is it or I having a flash back to my childhood. So I slid down the deck and in to the dark cold water that was full of debris from the boat, bits of wood and plastic, diesel oil (the smell of diesel oil can take me back there in a flash). I remember swimming towards a piece of wood and grabbing it and there was another girl holding on to it as well. She said to me “quick swim the boat is going down and it will drag us under”. Then the two of us grabbed a life-ring that a Greek fisherman had thrown out to us. Everything else happened in slow moment from then on – getting picked up by the fisherman on his small boat with my new friend (sadly, I cannot remember her name now), the fisherman taking his trouser belt off which caused me and my friend to panic thinking he was going to assault us (I honestly don’t know what he was thinking or going to do at the time) so we started to scream really loud and we got the attention of the Greek coast guard. Then we were safely on the coast guard boat with blankets wrapped around us and being taken back to the shore. I have a vague memory of seeing the boat actually sink fully before getting out of the water but the image is really dim. Back on the shore I managed to find my other school friends and teachers and then we had go on to another cruise liner that was moored there. This just added to the scariness of everything – getting back on another boat. Not that is was going anywhere but it was the only place to put 600 people. All ten of us where placed in one cabin and I remember there was brandy being passed around to calm us down. That was a long night – speaking to my mum was really hard as I didn’t want to cause a scene as she was really upset. Lots of crying, talking and not much sleep happened that night. The next day we flew home.
From the few reports I found online (there isn’t many) it said the boat sank in 40 mins and only 25 children had to swim to safety. Also, sadly I know that two passengers and two crew died that night. I can’t really remember much about getting home and afterwards but I do remember having nightmares and the doctor wanted to put me on anti-depressants which I didn’t take. I went on an art school trip to Paris the following year by boat – I stayed outside for the whole of the crossing. I can go on boats as long as they are small and I can see outside. Unfortunately, I don’t see any of my school friends that were involved in the disaster now, either it was just because we grew apart or we didn’t want to have something like that in common with each other. So, that’s my story and most probably explains a lot of my phobias that I have now.