The wind force 9 winds, gusting 10, came over later than expected. They came whistling off the coast after 21.30 hrs. which was just fine by me. We sailed close to the coast already but each minute that the wind came later, the closer we came to the coast and the more in the shelter the ship would be. Because the winds had just started and did not blow over an exposed sea surface where we were, there was no swell building up and thus we were not affected at all. Apart from the whistling sound, most guests did not even notice that there was bad weather outside. Everybody was in dinner or in the show. Nobody ventured outside as the weather has been cold, windy and rainy and it had cooled down even more during the evening. A wind chill factor force 9 certainly helps with cooling down. The late arrival of the strong winds had me worrying about something totally different. How about for getting into the locks? The weather forecast from the pilots was clearly based on an earlier passing of these strong winds and the subsequent lessening of them after the centre has passed. I was getting an unpleasant feeling over me.
By 00.30 the pilot was on board and we both saw that the wind caps on the waves indicated much more than the 20 to 25 knots of wind predicted in open waters. The Lockmaster reported 25 knots on the locks and in a right angle over the locks. That did not look good at all. I had ordered two tugboats, strong ones, and so the plan was to see what could be done. Could we win from the elements with brute power ? One tugboat forward and one tug aft. Over 6000 hp on the bow and 6000 hp on the stern, not counting my own main engines. We put the ship in line with the axis of the locks and watched. Well the Prinsendam took off alarmingly. Sideways. The combined 12000 HP. was no match for the 28 knots of wind blowing against the superstructure and the even higher gusts in between. The approach to the locks at Leith is not that wide and we were drifting alarmingly quickly to the shallows. That was easily solved. By turning the ship 90o with the stern into the wind and by going a little bit astern, now against the wind, the ship could easily maintain position and stopped the drifting. Thus pilot and I were both convinced that going to Edinburgh by trying to get into Leith locks was not a good idea.
What to do next ?. Two issues to deal with. First of all there was still wind force 9 to 10 out there. If I just went to Greenwich now, it would be with very slow speed and the ship would be buffeted around by the wind and waves. I was not going to expose my ship, guests and crew to that. So I proceeded to a sheltered anchorage on the northside of the Firth of Forth and dropped the hook. By 4 am. we were safely anchored so that gave the guests an undisturbed sleep, the storm time to move further into the North Sea and me time to figure out what to do next. An alternative berth in Edinburgh was not feasible. You cannot tender with wind force 9 and going to Rosyth (where we went during the Top of the World cruise) was too dangerous as the ship could easily hit the bridge pillar with 28 knots of wind and full ebb current on the beam. To get into Rosyth you have to make a 90 degree turn while being still under the 2nd bridge.
Other ports nearby? The same weather there and docks have to be booked with some notice now as dock security has to be sorted out. Nowadays with all the security requirements you cannot just show up somewhere and ask for a docking place. In some ways the “good old days “ were indeed better. Still I wanted to give the guests an extra port, however marginal that port would be, as we now had cancelled four ports on this cruise due to bad weather (Guernsey, Foynes, Greencastle, Leith). The best option was to return to London and dock at Tilbury for a full day. I could not go to Greenwich a full day earlier as you can only go up river on the flooding tide and that would mean docking only at 1600 in the afternoon instead of 0400 the next morning. That would give most of the guests only a few hours ashore as they had to pack the same evening and disembark the ship the next day at the end of the cruise.
However Tilbury is not tidal affected. You can dock anytime. I could be there by 8 am tomorrow, stay until midnight and then proceed up river as originally planned for a high water arrival at Greenwich. So I called the agent out of bed and things were quickly setup. He still had 24 hrs to arrange the dock, organize linesmen, pilots and security people for the terminal. By 8 am I had raised the anchor and we were on the way. My 8 am announcement created considerable unhappiness among the guests but hopefully I conveyed the danger of the situation and what I was doing was the only workable option within the time constraints of a cruise that was coming to it’s end. It was still blowing wind force 8 to 9 and the waves were starting to build up. I now had to go further away from the coast due to the shallows, the sand banks and the gas & oil platforms off the British East coast. Plus I wanted to open the casino for the guests and that requires us to be more than 12 miles from the UK coast.
But here the Prinsendam really came into play. This ship can surf and surf really well. By going full speed, 21 knots, the ship was nicely out running the waves and the wind and lay as stable as a house. You had to look out of the window to see how bad it was outside. By the time I would have to change to a southerly course and the swell would start to come onto the beam, I would have enough time in hand to slow down and still avoid too much ships movement.
So tomorrow we will be in Tilbury from 8 am to midnight. The guests can take the train to London or the ferry to Gravesend, or look around in Tilbury where the old fort is open to the public. Not as great as Edinburgh of course but it sure beats bumping around at sea for two days in choppy weather.
Guess what: it is going to be sunny and there will be very little wind while we are in Tilbury. Same as we had on departure on Aug 23. I wonder why. Do they keep all the good weather in London ???