So with a good weather forecast on my mind, I went to bed while the ship sailed down the coast to our next port of call Leixoes. While I was dreaming about my upcoming vacation and seeing my wife again, I was woken up by the ships whistle just before 3 am. Followed up about 30 seconds later by a call on the telephone. A rather apologetic voice advised me that he could not see anything anymore. It had become as we say in the nautical business “a very small world”, fog had settled in along the Portuguese coast. Here waters of different temperatures come together and if there is no wind then the chance of fog is quite high. The weather forecast for open waters had indicated a wind force 2 to 3 and I had hoped for that. But it turned wind still and bingo, the haziness settled in. So my presence was required on the bridge to provide mental support to the bridge team. The way it works is that the Officer of the watch continues conning the ship, his assistant does the paperwork, telephone calls and all the other issues that occur during a watch and the captain provides the additional radar watch for locating and tracking targets.
This we did and by 0600 it was time to call the pilot station and to tell them that we would be there on time, even if we could not see the place yet. Well, port control who answered, crisply advised us that the harbour master had closed the port as he could not see anything. We would be updated with an improvement in the situation as soon as it happened. By 7 am we were at the pilot station and the harbour master still could not see anything so the port remained closed. I let the Prinsendam float at the pilot boarding area, waiting for things to improve. The weather forecast had been predicting a sunny day and that normally means that the fog will burn off. If that would happen before noon time, then at least I could offer the guests a half day in port. We were not the only unlucky ones. Next to us was a very impatient container ship that wanted to get in ASAP and little bit further down the anchorage a small Dutch coaster who was less in a hurry and was just waiting for things to happen.
Nothing very much happened until 9 am, when suddenly the harbour master could see something and he opened the port. Five minutes later I was on the way, still in dense fog; and the pilot boat had a hard time finding us. He listened to the fog horn but as visibility was still less than 50 meters, and the pilot boat did not have a radar, he was still groping around a little bit. In the end he saw the foam thrown up by the propellers and he made it onboard. Indeed visibility in the port was about a 100 meters, just enough to see the entrance in between the breakwaters. So we slowly sailed into the outer basin which is quite roomy. The port itself consists of two parts entered via a narrow channel, especially if there are ships docked alongside the quays. By the time we neared that, it fogged in again and the pilot worried about going in, going out, swinging around, etc etc.
However as I mentioned before the only issue that creates a problem for the Prinsendam is wind. Wind creates drifting and that is not always easy to control. No wind and you can control the ship on the inch. So 30 feet on either side was more than enough for me and while the pilot worried, the Prinsendam slowly floated through the port and we were docked by 10.15. All the tours, although delayed, could still take place and nobody was really inconvinienced that much. Me neither as the pilot solemnly promised that all the fog would be gone by evening.
It was not and it did not. It was better than in the morning, at least at the berth but in the outer harbor it still looked bad. However still no wind so I saw no problems with sailing the same out as we came in. An additional challenge was that container cranes had been lowered over a cargo ship alongside and those cranes stuck way out over the fairway. There, were I had to go with the big funnel of the Prinsendam. As per pilot, they could not move, as they were working. However sometimes it is nice to be a cruise ship captain. Everybody knows that a cruise ship sails on time and then if it does not happen, everybody asks questions. What is the Harbourmaster going to say ……….??? So, the cranes were moved within five minutes and the Prinsendam sailed on time.
Straight back into the fog. Luckily not for long. By 11 pm. It lifted, as the air suddenly got much warmer and it was a beautiful clear night. Tomorrow we are in Lisbon and the same weather is going to prevail as well, without the foggy bit.