Docking today was a bit of a challenge as the harbor master had assigned us to a dock that was too short for the length of the Veendam. To disembark the guests we had to use another exit from the ship and that meant docking with the nose out. However as the dock was only 90 meters long (while the Veendam is 220 meters) there was no place to put our bow lines ashore. Thus we had to use our anchors to keep the bow in position. Although not a complicated maneuver it was an elaborate one which required extra officers to handle the anchors, one for each anchor, and when going astern to the dock the officer aft had to keep me carefully advised of the decreasing distances, so I could stop the ship in time. The trick was to get the stern as far in as possible so that as much as possible of the ships side rested against the pier.
In the end we had the stern about 15 feet away from the end of the dock. We could not go any further as there was an electricity box on the dock side that would have blocked our exit door for the gangway. This sounds a bit strange but we come across these sorts of things all the time. A port will build a beautiful dock and then starts to decrease it usefulness by cluttering it up with all sorts of structures. Items that should have been recessed in the pier surface, or at least, moved away from the edge of the dock where the ships gangway will be positioned. Through the years I have had problems with bringing the ship into a perfect position because of lantern posts, fire hydrants, Telephone boxes, plant displays, bunker stations, gates and fences. It is getting better lately as port authorities discuss new projects more often with the cruise lines. Also in instances where the company builds their own docks (such as Carnival did in Grand Turk Island) the result is much better.
It is always interesting to find out what the sea bottom is made up of. When the anchor is raised again, the part of the chain closest to the anchor and the anchor itself is often covered in mud or sand. It depends on the composition of the soil if it is easy to clean the anchor or not. A lot of people think that it is the anchor that holds the ship in position but that is for larger ships this is not really the case. The anchor is the “hook in” point for the chain. When the anchor is dropped, we go astern with the ship until the flukes of the anchor dig themselves into the seas bottom. Then we continue to pay out a certain amount of chain. Most of this chain rests on the sea bottom and the weight and friction of that resting chain keeps the ship from floating away. We have formulae and rules of thumb that we apply to decide how much anchor chain we will pay out to keep the ship safely “at anchor”.
The nautical chart tells us what the seabottom is supposed to be made up of. So you see letters such as G. Bk.Sh etc. in the chart. This translates into Gravel and Broken Shells. If you then pick up the anchor, it should come up clean as gravel and broken shells normally do not stick to the chain. If the anchor chain is dirty we have powerful water jets in the recess in the ships hull in which the anchor rests. In Ajaccio we anchored in gravel and thus the two anchors came home nice and clean.