Upon leaving Gibraltar we had to deal with a new navigational challenge. Whale waters. Around this time of the year, there is a (voluntary) slow speed system in place in the most narrow part of the Strait of Gibraltar. Over the years the sightings of whales have increased and collisions are now occurring. The participation in the system is voluntary and as Holland America cares about these things we went through at slow speed. Although it looked like it, that we were the only one doing so. Fast ferryâ€™s, containerships, navy boats all came blasting by at full speed, while we chugged along with 13 knots.
There are more whales in the area than in the past. It seems that the whale hunting moratorium, in place since a few decades, is starting to pay off. More and more whales have been sighted in the Mediterranean itself and also in the bay of Gibraltar. In April we saw a number of them when we sailed from Cadiz to Barcelona, near Ibiza. They are difficult to see, as they do not play around as the Humpbacks do in Alaska. No breeching, no tail wagging and no big tail coming up before they go down. So we have extra quartermasters on the look-out to try to spot the exhaust plumes. If we think that they are coming too close, we change course to other way, and if we can not discern any moving pattern, we slow down until the whale has decided to go somewhere.
This time we did not see anything, just a whole fleet of fishing boats racing across our bow from Africa to Spain. The unnerving thing iwith those boats is the way they perceive safe distances. While we like at least 3000 feet in open waters, they are quite happy with a 100. When we steer away to create a bit more room, they sometimes have the unpleasant habit of steering closer so they can wave at the guests.
Arrival Lisbon was another early morning. It takes approx. 45 minutes from the sea buoy to the pilot station at Belem tower. So if you want to be docked by 7 am., you start the approach at 5 am. When you get to the sea buoy you have to slow down, as you go over the bar. Normally there is about 8 meter clearance under the keel, but if there is a combination of low tide and a big ocean swell, it can be considerably less. When the ship goes at full speed, a phenomena called squat occurs and that can increase the draft by 2 meters or more. Count it all together and you are coming close to touching the bank. By slowing down you reduce the squat and thus increase the under keel clearance. Coming in we measured 7 meters under the keel, and going up (with the tide going up the river) we had 10 meters.
Once clear of the bar, we cranked the ship up to full speed as was a very tight run to get to Vigo on time.