Mother Nature behaved it’self and it was not until 0700 in the morning, that a certain haziness descended over the North Sea and the world became decidedly limited in its outlook. At least the guests had had a good night before I started pulling the ships whistle. The North Sea leads to the busiest waterway in the world; Dover Channel and is thus full of shipping that goes North/South but also cris-crosses the sea from all other angles and directions. Hence collision avoidance is the main focus of a North Sea crossing. Throw in a good amount of fishing boats that, due to the very nature of their occupation, can be very erratic in their movement and you have a nice mix for some extended excitement during a watch. Thus when we loose a very important part of safe negation:, “keeping a good look-out” due to the fog, then it is time for the captain to be and remain on the bridge.
This morning, the fog came in banks, which meant that areas of clear visibility were followed by areas of dense fog. It is very difficult to see when the next bank starts as the water is colored grey due to the sun light being filtered through the clouds and as there is normally no horizon, no boundary between sky and sea can be recognized. Thus the ship runs into the fog and suddenly out of it again. That game lasted for about 4 hours and then the sun had gained enough strength to burn the vapor away. From then on it turned into a sunny and nearly windless day.
When fog occurs the bridge proceedings are amended. The main changes have to deal with taking action incase something looms up out of the log. Something that we had not seen, heard or noticed on time. The whistle is blown every 2 minutes, giving one long blast and one radar is constantly manned by a second person. So that there is constant scrutiny of the radar picture without the distractions of the regular watch keeping and thus the chance of missing a faint echo. The engine room is put on standby, which means that the senior watch keeper sits behind the controls and is ready to take action in case I suddenly would order full astern. Watertight doors are closed in the unlikely case that a collision cannot be avoided and extra lookouts are posted, to look and listen for other ships, buoys and lighthouses. The radar helps enormously with avoiding collisions in the fog and also the AIS of each ship, which appears on the radar screen, is of great assistance with gathering information so evasive action can be taken timely. Still a plastic or wooden yacht does not always reflect a radar beam and thus it does not always appear on the screen. Also those ships and boats you do not want to hit. I can not emphasize it enough to all those yacht people out there; please spend a few euros and buy a radar reflector. Secondly give a commercial vessel a wide berth, especially in the fog. For yachtsman with a 50 feet yacht, a 1000 feet might be a lot but for a ship that itself is almost a 1000 feet long, it is peanuts. Try to see it from the perspective of the navigator on the bridge 75 feet high above the water with a load of containers in front of his face.
However by the time we reached the fishing grounds, it was nice and clear. Which was a good thing; as the fishermen were living up to their reputation and were out and about in great numbers, all over the place and not always in full compliance with the Rules of the Road. We saw them from the Dutch home ports of Urk, Scheveningen, Noordwijk, Katwijk and one with a number NG that I could not recognize. As it is easier to make a large curve around them than to try to figure out what each fisher’s intention is; we moved considerably out of the shipping lane until we had them all left behind us. Behind us the Jewel of the Seas, heading for Harwich, was doing the same thing although they had it easier as they just had to follow our trail to keep clear of everything.
Tomorrow morning at 0400 hrs. We will be at the NE Spit pilot station at the Thames estuary. From there it is 3.5 hours towards our Tilbury dock. My official arrival time is 10 am. but I want to be docked by 8 am. as we expect that immigration procedures will take about 2 hours. If that works out, then the guests will be able to go ashore at the official arrival time. The weather looks very good for tomorrow, with a partly cloudy day and temperature in the mid 20’s.