- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

22 November 2011; At Sea.

 I was indeed woken up to a hazy morning with hardly any wind outside and that remained so until noon time. Then we left the shelter of the Mexican coast behind us and started to cross the lower end of Bahia de California. Here within two hours the wind force increased from nearly zero to wind force seven, which is called a Moderate Gale in sailor language. So much wind was not predicted at all but as with the tehuantepec wind this is a funnel wind coming down the stretch of water between the Californian Peninsula and the Mexican main land. With a good high pressure system above Arizona and a low pressure system in the North Pacific a strong air flow is created that is nicely guided through this natural North-South stretch of water. It is not as strong as tehuantepec and not as common, as it needs a good low pressure system in the Pacific. This time there was one, as further out in the Pacific Tropical storm Kenneth is blowing and that storm created a nice “ pressure hole” off the Mexican coast. With us being in the open sea part it meant that we kept this windy weather for the remainder of the day. The good thing is, if this wind remains blowing from the same direction, then we will have no wind in Cabo San Lucas, as the mountain ridge, north of the bay, will provide a good shelter. That means that we then have won half the battle. The other part is the Pacific swell coming in and about that I will only find out when we get there. 

The swell in Cabo San Lucas is of a most peculiar sort. Out in the open, deep ocean water rolls in from the general direction where it was once produced. Then coming to the coast here, it is being pushed up on the continental shelf so it starts to follow the contour of the land. When coming close to the shore, where the water depth suddenly decreases from 200 meters to 20, it rolls ashore and then bounces back. You can really see a ripple in the water coming back from the beach. That can create a very un-pleasant situation if the final angle of the swell is just wrong. Normally you can make a lee with the ship and shelter one side from wind and sea. With this “bouncing back swell” that does not work as your regular lee side is now under the influence of this returning swell. The only way to alleviate this to go in as close as possible to the western shore in the bay. Thus that is the place where every cruise ship captain wants to be.

To avoid fighting among the ships captains, the port authorities have established 3 anchorages and they are assigned depending on several criteria. First the ship that visits the most often will get the best anchorage. If there are more ships that call with the same regularity and on the same day, then the biggest ship will get the best spot. If more ships are calling on the same day, then that rule also applies to the 2nd and 3rd anchorage. That means for the Statendam, only calling once every four weeks and being a small ship, that we always get the 3rd anchorage which is the furtherest out. The one that is the most exposed to the Pacific Ocean swell, including the bounce back. The only option I then have is to stay on the engines, e.g. drift south of anchorage nbr 1. The authorities really do not like it, as you are effectively blocking the approach to anchorage nbr 1.

Still if you are assigned to anchorage nbr 3. and you are on short call, then they do allow it. That is why I could drift during last call at the entrance of the marina because I was assigned nbr 3, and I was on a short call. Tomorrow it should be the same again, and if needed I will drift again on arrival. After most guests are ashore, I will then slowly move to the assigned anchorage.

Looking at the days after Cabo, I am keeping an eye on the swell running off the Californian shore. The autumn storms are in full force north of Vancouver and with clockwork regularity severe storms are rolling in from the Russian side of the north Pacific. Nicely following that curved shore line of Alaska and then blowing out in the area of Ketchikan-Prince Rupert-Vancouver. Those storms produce large wave fields that ripple all the way down the American West Coast. My concern is, is how close they are going to be to the Californian coast? South of Oregon the coast of the USA is arching back to the East and the wave fields are more or less staying on a straight line.

That means that the Los Angeles –San Diego area is most of the time spared most of it. If we do get those waves, then there is nothing I can do about it as we have to go that way but it is important for the speed. If the ship starts pitching on these waves it slows down and I will lose speed. Then I have to put more engines on line which is unpleasant for the guests as higher speed against the waves means more pitching and is not good for the fuel consumption either. Thus if I know that these swells are going to affect me, then I am better of leaving with full speed from Cabo, build up some plus, and then slow down when we reach the wave field.

Tomorrow at 06.30 I will be approaching Cabo anchorage and then we will see what the world has in store for us.

1 Comment

  1. Yes……we had two storms ‘visit’ on Monday and Tuesday– some areas had 60 knot winds. Not the type of weather that would make it plesant to dock in Seattle (or Vancouver). The really wet season is in full swing now. Only this year, the US’s NWS finally installed a radar on the Washington State coast so Seattle can see the rain coming before it hits the urban areas– and it looks like radar coverage of the Strait of Juan de Fuca is improved too.

    Happy 30th Anniversary with HAL! I hope you can sail as captain for many more years– if not, more time for ‘busmans’ holidays! 🙂 (I have finished catching up– sorry this wish is late…..)

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