Excerpt from: Love and Courage

By day two, Saturday, the cabin fiasco had been settled, and Hugo and Elizabeth were pleased to settle into their quarters. They shared a crowded, four-bunk cabin with a Mrs. Newman and her eight-year-old daughter, who were on their way to see family in Finland. Saturday was a beautiful, clear day at sea, but that evening, a thick fog rolled in, engulfing the ship. Around midnight, Hugo was jarred from his sleep by a jolt, as though the boat had struck a rock. The engines stopped turning. Curious to know more details of their situation, Hugo dressed and started upstairs to the deck but was stopped by the steward. The steward informed Hugo that the heavy fog had caused the captain to idle the engines. Hugo returned to the cabin and relayed the developments to his wife and bunkmates, knowing full well that the ship was too still even to be idling in open waters. For an hour, the ship remained quiet and motionless in the water, but as high tide came in, it was released from the grip of the rocks under its hull, and the engines restarted. Sometime around 4 a.m., the listing ship struck a larger cluster of rocks, ripping holes into the steel sides, and the SS Kristianiafjord very slowly began to sink.

Passengers, still in their nightclothes, swarmed the upper decks, anxious to board the emergency life boats. Initially, to test the viability of the boats, two lifeboats were lowered to the water with only two crew members inside. Once assured, the diligent crew began to load twenty-five to thirty passengers per boat as they emptied the ship. Once eight to ten boats had been loaded and lowered to the water, a crew member decided it was time to fill the two empty boats that were now bobbing beside the ship. He used a thick rope to fashion a sling as a seat and asked for volunteers to be lowered to the floating rescue boat. When no one volunteered for the daunting task of being the first down, the sailor grabbed Elizabeth by the arm and demanded she go. Elizabeth, absolutely terrified, pulled back her arm and launched a punch right into the crewman’s face! Her fist landed with such force that he fell backward onto the deck! As Hugo would later recall again and again while regaling his family with the story, “That skinny little thing knocked that sailor to the deck!”