- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

09 September 2009, Heading South.

For once my voyage planning was not sent helter skelter by un-expectedly changing weather. It did what the weather forecast said it would do. We crossed the English Channel and the tide, read the ebb current, kicked in when expected and so we gained about two knots for free for a four hour period. Then the channel widened and the tidal influence became less noticeable. Still with a smooth sea surface we could keep the speed up, we made maximum progress during the night and until this morning around
8am when we came out of the lee of England. Now the ocean swells touched the ship and we started moving about a little bit. Still the stabilizers could deal with most of it and I thought we had a very good ride. Some of our guests found it rough though. I assume it depends on what you are used to and what you expect. The wind started to pick up but as it was a following wind, it was relatively calm on the outside decks. In this way we made our way down the coast of France towards La Coruna in Northern Spain.

To get there you have to sail through the western part of the Gulf of Biscay. For most people it is a name that only connects with really bad weather. Not true of course, it is also summertime in this area, with very nice and calm weather. However it can be spooky here and very inclement. Part of this has to do with the fact that North Atlantic winds and swells reach this area after having gathered momentum for hundreds of miles and then end up in a dead pocket. A sort of cauldron of conflicting winds and swells is the result. On top of that the Gulf of Biscay is very shallow near the shore and that results in swells building up to great heights near the shore. That makes the ports in these areas very awkward to negotiate. And so people who go through this area come back with tales of rocking and rolling ships and big bouts of sea sickness. We will see tomorrow how we fare.

The voyage planning for a cruise takes place weeks in advance. Quite often the navigator can “cut and paste” stretches together as the Prinsendam has been almost every where before and then only has to morph these courses into one new cruise. Still is takes time as the world’s sailing routes keep changing by the year as each country adds (seldom removes) new requirements to comply with. Basically the navigator checks each sea mile that we will travel for all the applicable rules. When that is all done, the cruise is submitted for my approval. Then I go through all the charts mile by mile to see if I agree. Most of the time it results in minor changes. Staying further away from an island, making another approach to a port based on previous experience, or as last night, using another speed pattern to ensure a smoother ride.

When this is all done, the cruise is finalized and the schedules for all the departments are issued. When the cruise starts I have a gathering with all the navigating/watch keeping officers on the bridge. This meeting is repeated each day, as for the Prinsendam, each cruise is different. We then discuss the stretch to the next port. I explain how I will go in and out of the port and all the officers give their input about what is going on from their perspective. It is a team effort and the more input that comes from all participants, the better the end result is. That end result is then approved by me and becomes the passage plan. Final approval can come only from me, as it still ends up with one person being responsible in the very end for it all.

We only have one sea day this cruise and thus all the standard HAL activities had to be done today. The major one is the gathering of the most Honorable Society of Holland America Line Mariners. This is on the Prinsendam always a very big gathering. We have a repeater rate of over 75% and quite often we have to invite the whole ship to the two luncheons that we serve, as everybody is a mariner. As an example we had over 40 medals to hand out today for guests who made it past the 100 or 300 day mark and this is only a 14 day cruise. We are really blessed with such a loyal clientele.

Tomorrow we are in La Coruna. The weather looks very good inside. Outside it is expected to calm down as well as a long disturbance south of Portugal hopefully does not develop.
The guests will have a sunny and warm day to look forward to and it will let me worry about the swell near the port entrance.

1 Comment

  1. Captain Albert’s most interesting blogs sometimes call up thoughts that he is the only one navigating the ship. Therefore it is good to read that he applies (the ideas of) Bridge Rescource Management in having daily meetings with his navigating officers and discussing how, where, what and when of all issues involved.
    Thanks Captain Albert for giving us an insight into your very interesting and responsible high office (it is much more than just a job!).

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