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Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

22 June 2009, At Sea.

It is a fair distance between Warnemunde and Helsinki as we basically have to sail almost the whole Baltic Sea from SW to NE to get there. Luckily we had sunny weather although it was a bit nippy due to the fact that there was an easterly wind blowing of a force 4 and the ship was generating a force 4 as well. Resulting in a combined wind of force 8 on the deck. However as it was the first real day at sea, most guests were occupied with enjoying what was happening in the inside of the ship. On the aft decks and the centre Lido area there was of course shelter enough to sit in the sun and out of the wind.

This is a very port intensive cruise and so makes it a bit difficult to keep some of the standard Holland America routines going. The Captain’s Welcome onboard toast, normally on the day after embarkation now took place today on day three. The first evening we had the Kieler Kanal/Kiel and the second day Warnemunde with a 10 pm. departure. Thus we had the welcome toast today. From tomorrow on we will have six port days in a row and that means that onboard life will be rather low key in the coming days with the focus on going ashore and enjoying the tours.

The Baltic Sea is a very busy traffic area due to the multiple ports around it and the large hinterland of Russia. According to the pilots the recession has hit over here as well as traffic to and from Russia is down by about 30%. The Russian economy is mainly driven by oil and gas and with the oil prices having been low in the last period the buying power of Russia was greatly affected. That has a snowball effect on all the shipping in the Baltic. However with 30% less it was still very busy. To avoid as much problems as possible, most of the Baltic shipping is now travelling in corridors, created by Vessel Traffic Schemes in places where traffic is converging from various areas. Most of these VTS schemes are supervised by traffic stations ashore that plot all the ships coming by and they are not slow in advising or admonishing (a lot of the latter) when they see a ship doing a peculiar thing.

The most active one is Tallinn Traffic which oversees the South side of the water area between Finland and Tallinn. This is where the ships enter an East/West corridor and basically steam in a continuous row of ships towards the Russian shores. Tallinn Traffic is rather busy with keeping an eye on all these ships as there are on a regular basis ships that display rather original idea’s in the way they apply the Rules of the Road. Navigator’s licenses have different grades depending on the size of the ship and in combination with also different levels in English proficiency; you do get very peculiar ways of solving traffic issues. Today we overheard a conversation that went as follows: “I am going home, so I follow my course and my speed. If you go away then no problem. I no slow down because otherwise late”. The response from the other side was un-intelligible but somehow the issue must have resolved itself as we did not see any collisions or hear desperate calls over the VHF.

In the middle of the Baltic lays an island called Bornholm. This was of great significance for shipping in the olden days. When bad weather came over the Baltic, the ship would look for shelter behind the island at whatever side there was the lee side. There they would ride out the storm and then continue again. That even happens nowadays as the weather in the Baltic can turn very nasty. However this was so common that in the maritime industry, the saying “lying behind Bornhom” became a general phrase to describe when a ship sought shelter behind a land mass (any landmass) to avoid being exposed to bad weather. It was even used to describe situations where you ducked away from confrontations going, like “laying low for a while”.

We will not have bad weather tomorrow. Glorious sunshine is expected with no wind and temperatures in the mid seventies. Helsinki at it’s best, plus we are docking near down town, so you can walk it.

1 Comment

  1. Missed Career at Sea

    June 23, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Greetings Captain! Just a little request if it still fits into your log about Helsinki. I know you would have already written it up but at point of entering it onto this blog – could you write which docks your were assigned in Helsinki as well as in Tallinn??
    Many thanks for more than one reason – o ja; and perhaps a picture of the “Prinse” over there?

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