With a long swell rolling towards the shore we arrived at the Huatalco pilot station. However the angle was just right and the dock itself only had a gentle wave running of no more than a foot, so the ship would lay steady alongside the pier when inside. No moving gangway and thus no danger to the guests. There was a lot of swell in the little bay where I normally turn the ship around to go stern but I prefer to dock stern in, as it is easier to leave in an emergency and also because the bow “cuts” the swell when it comes in, while with the stern exposed it “bangs” under it. The only danger is, that during the swing, the swell gets hold of the ship and makes it roll. There is a simple cure for that; swing so fast that the swell does not get the chance to get a grip on the ship and start that pendulum motion. Luckily the S class swings the best of all the cruise ships I have been on or seen and thus we spun around like a caroussel on a high. The pilot is still amazed everytime he sees me doing it. 45 minutes after he was on board, we had swung around, backed up to the pier, put out the ropes and the gangway and got the authorities on board. The latter is always the hardest one, because invariably there is one among them who seems to be convinced that if not all 10 lines have been made fast, the ship will drift away and he/she might fall in the water due to a shifting gangway. So the faster we are, the quicker the ship gets cleared and the quicker our guests can “invade” the port.
Note: the brown color in the middle of the wind area (near the bottom of the chart) indicates about 30 to 35 knots. We had a quite a bit more wind while we were sailing in the “green area” – 25 knots- of the weather chart.
With the Statendam guests taking over the port of Huatalco, it was for me time to turn my thoughts to the crossing of Tehuantepec tonight. The weather forecasts were indicating a slight dip in the expected wind velocity but with a great “maybe” expressed by the forecasters. For this area the forecasters are normally wrong anyway, so when they start talking about maybe, then it is time for me to make up my own mind and to get very concerned. Still I have to go that way, so the safest option is to sail close along the curved coast line where this funnel wind gets the least chance to really pick up in momentum. The problem is that it adds 25 miles to the voyage and that costs me $ 5000 in fuel as I have to run an extra engine all night. Still safety comes first and thus the plan was to follow the coast and the moment it started to look better, or not getting worse, to turn South East and head directly for Puerto Chiapas pilot station.
With the plan made up, the Statendam went to battle stations. The ship was prepared for bad weather, an announcement made to the guests that they would be locked in for the evening, bad weather checklists consulted, ballast tanks readied and final rounds made to ensure that nothing could blow away. With applying my rule of thumb for this area, ” take the forecast wind and add 25 knots” I was expecting 50 knots of wind during the period between 2100 hrs and 0100 hrs.
However Tehuantepec had a surprise up its sleeve. In the late afternoon it had changed its axis from NNE to ENE and that meant that the flow now did not lay perpendicular to the coast but on an angle towards Huatalco. So instead of the wind starting to pick up around 9 pm, it started at 6.45 pm. But as the angle was now more towards the bow, there was less initial list so we had it easier to control it with the ballast tanks. Going closer under the coast did not make that much of a difference except when we turned our heading directly for Puerto Chiapas where we could bring the wind onto the stern quicker.
By 9 pm the wind started to die away and that made everybody happy, including me, because now I did not have to sail all the way along the coast and could switch off that extra engine. So only $ 1000,– extra spend and while keeping the safest situation at all times. Maximum winds observed 59.2 knots, which rates as heavy storm on the Beaufort scale. (Hurricane force winds start with 65 knots.) I was not that far off with my rule of thumb.
Tomorrow we will be in Puerto Chiapas , where I will arrive at the pilot station at 0700 hrs. There should be no wind, only still some swell running but for that I have stabilizers.