Leaving the top of the world behind; we set sail on a South Westerly course for Iceland where we will visit three ports and by doing so sail around half of the island. First on the list is Akureyri which is tucked away at the end of a fjord on the North side of the island and more or less in the middle of it. From Spitsbergen to this place is one straight course line except for the fact that the island of Jan Mayen is in the way. So when we approach that one, by tomorrow morning, we will have to change course temporarily in order not to hit it. This area is notorious for fog, caused by the proximity of various currents, all with a different average temperature and one moist weather system after the other coming over it. I had been warned and the warnings were true.
Visibility remained good until 2 am. in the morning and then my phone rang. There was the Officer of the Watch on the line to advise me that it had become “a small, small world”. Although it is an area very devoid of shipping you still have to take the required precautions for sailing in restricted weather. Watertight doors are being closed, the engine room goes on fog watch (Sr. watch engineer in the control room in case we have to make an emergency maneuver) and the fog horn goes on. Every two minutes it shouts its message out, letting everybody know that the Prinsendam is there. Even if we do not have any ship on the radar we still use the fog horn. Not all ships show up on the radar, especially polyester ones are hard to detect and it would not do to suddenly crash into a yacht of which the skipper is not aware of anything going around him or her.
If I am expecting prolonged periods of reduced visibility, I split up the standbys with the chief officer. He takes the 0600- 1200 and the 1800 to midnight shift and I take the other 12 hours. As the whistle is located right above my bed room, in the radar mast, it is not always easy to sleep but eventually you get used to the continuous rhythm and it just becomes white noise; in the same way as you do not hear the A.C. blowing in the cabin after a little while. I hope that the occupants of the suites in my area can do the same, as it is the one time that the occupants of balcony cabins do not have the best of all. However safety comes first and so we blow the horn every two minutes. Although we do not manually do that, there is a little automaton that takes care of this.
Whistles or ships horns, vary with the ships size. The bigger the ship, the heavier the tone. The Rules of the Road, or the Collision Regulations, specify a certain frequency for a certain size ship. That is why a small tugboat normally has a high piercing whistle and a super tanker a very deep basso voice. It helps with giving you an idea about what is out there. Still two ships of the same size can have a different tone in their horn. The Prinsendam has two whistles/horns and they do not sound the same at all. One has a much fuller sound than the other, although the tone height is nearly the same. When we use the whistles for meet and great I normally use them in tandem to get the most impressive sound.
Today we had only one whistle running and it blew all day and night as the fog was continuous. Sometimes with visibility of less than 50 feet but always less than those three miles that regulate the border between good and restricted visibility. This area, called the Greenland Basin is a sort of roundabout for currents. To the East, going up all the way to Spitsbergen is the Gulfstream, which by that time is renamed in the Norwegian current and later the West Spitsbergen current. To the West is the East Greenland Current which is coming down along the east coast of Greenland. That flow “bumps” into the North coast of Iceland to the South and then partially bears off East, into the direction of the warmer Gulfstream. The result is a sort of mixing effect in the middle, to the North and South of Jan Mayen Island and the results are impressive fog banks that can stretch for 100’s of miles.
The fog remained with us all day and we will have to see if Jan Mayen Island will appear out of the fog by tomorrow morning. We should have no problem finding it. As it is from volcanic origin, the one large mountain on it, called the Beerenberg (Dutch for Bear Mountain) rises up 2277 meters above sea level. That is a good 7000 feet high and over.
Note: due to operational reasons I have been asked to extend my contract onboard the Prinsendam. This has resulted in the fact that my schedule for next year has greatly changed. Please have a look at the separate page (see right hand side) Notes for the Reader & my sailing schedule.