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The Prinsendam Emerald

My Aunt Barb (age 61) and Uncle Art (age 73) set sail from Vancouver, Canada, on September 30, 1980, aboard the Holland-America cruise ship The Prinsendam. The first few days, of what was scheduled to be a month-long cruise ending in Asia, found them traveling through Ketchikan, Alaska gazing at the stunning icebergs in Glacier Bay. The ship made it’s way into the Gulf of Alaska on October 3 and, after an evening of entertainment by a group of young singers and dancers, they retired for the night. My aunt awoke shortly after midnight to an unusual rocking of the ship and reached for a switch to turn on the lights. Finding them not working, she woke my uncle and, in the dark, he groped around for the radio button so they could hear the garbled announcement barely audible through their closed cabin door. The message stated that there was a small fire in the engine room and all passengers were asked to leave their rooms and gather in the Lounge.

Lifeboats were lowered and passengers climbed aboard with only minor chaos or incident. My aunt and uncle managed to board quickly and were lowered down to the gulf, the small boat hitting the near-freezing water with a startling slam. Members of the crew and passengers nearest to the rowing mechanisms began to crank them which swiftly moved the lifeboat away from the danger of the burning ship. Panicked passengers managed to settle down as they all watched the rest of the lifeboats fill up with passengers and crew then lowered to the water. Waves began relatively calm around 6-7’ high but, as time passed, became much rougher, sometimes reaching 25’.

People began shouting for others to move back so the injured could escape the flames but there was very little space to maneuver. A frightening annoucement blared over the radio: “We can no longer control the fire! Go to the lifeboats and ABANDON SHIP!

After drifting for more than 12 hours, my relatives’ lifeboat was the last to be found and rescued. The passengers were lifted onto an Air Force helicopter using a wired steel basket winched to a cable. Both my aunt and uncle sustained injuries in the transfer as the winds were high and the baskets swung aimlessly on their way up. My uncle was knocked out when his head hit the underside of the helicopter but, fortunately, neither sustained permanent injury.

Passengers were transferred to either a merchant ship, an oil tanker, or a Coast Guard cutter that had all come to their rescue. My aunt and uncle spent the next 30 hours on the Williamsburg oil tanker housed in the tiny Ship’s Office with one other passenger. They were cared for as well as they could be considering there were more than 300 extra passengers aboard! They spent a day in Valdez, Alaska, where the ship docked, and were transported to Anchorage, Seattle, then eventually home to Tucson, Arizona.

Everything they had brought with them, besides the clothes on their backs, went down with The Prinsendam. My aunt’s jewelry and several of my uncle’s beloved cameras were the greatest losses. Among her jewelry was a pair of cherished emerald and diamond earrings given to her by my uncle. They took some time to recuperate then traveled east to visit family. While in New York City, my uncle replaced those lost emerald earrings with a beautiful new pair of emerald stones that dangled from a string of diamonds. She wore them for many years and later had them made into a figure-eight-shaped ring. When she passed away, in 2007, she left the ring to me. I believe she knew how much I would appreciate it. because I knew the story and we shared a first name, a birth month…and a love of emeralds.

Although beautiful, the design of her ring was not a style I would wear, so after years of trying to figure out how to honor her, I sought help from the InBloom jewelry shop in downtown Frederick. I hadn’t made an appointment but was graciously received and escorted to an elegant table by two associates, Katie and Mary. They were both welcoming, kind, and actually interested in the ring's story and my hopes for redesigning it.

We discussed several options and decided to have simple post-earrings made with the emeralds alone. Stacey’s workmanship was excellent and the result is exactly as I imagined. I’m very happy with the results, love the ambiance and decor of her shop, and deeply appreciate her craftswomanship. I’ve already made plans to bring in several more pieces and can’t wait to see what she creates!

My aunt served with the Red Cross in Europe aiding the military during the post-WWII years and continued to live a life of service to many organizations after she retired from a career in hospital office administration.

My uncle, a radiologist, taught at the University of Arizona and worked tirelessly, with the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology, to pioneer the mammogram technology which continues to save lives every day.

They were always my heroes.

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