We had a very peculiar day today as far as the elements were concerned. I had expected a steady current against us of about 0.75 to 1 knot but instead it fluctuated between zero and 1.5 and there was no discernible pattern to it. It was similar with the wind, sometimes it followed the forecast of 10 to 15 knots and sometimes it suddenly breezed up to over 20 knots. I had not often seen that before in this area. “This area” was the Old Bahamas Channel that runs all the way above Cuba towards the Windward Passage. With a speed of 18 knots it takes about 24 hours to sail the whole length of the island before we can turn to the South. This time we were sailing closer to Cuba as we were sailing in the Eastbound – right hand lane- of the various VTS systems that regulate the shipping here. The closest we get to the Cuban land is about 5 miles. 3 miles is the territorial waters boundary and the borderline of the VTS is another two miles away. The closet point we see is called Pta Lucretia, which I assume is named after a Roman Catholic Saint. I thought that with the Fidel Castro era all these sort of religious names would have been erased but they are still there. With the recent visit of the Pope I am not that amazed anymore either.
My morning started with the safety meeting of new crew. When new crew boards, they have to go through quite an extensive indoctrination program. The newer the crew is (new to the company or new to the ship) the longer the program lasts. They all get their first hour when they board, so that they know where their emergency station is and what their function is and what the basic routines are. Completely new crew get a buddy to take them around until they are settled in. Then the next morning a more extensive briefing takes place which can take up to 2 hours. It starts with an introduction of the ships staff, yours truly and the various heads of departments. This is then followed by presentations from the Human Resources Manager (all about how to survive on board), The Lead Medical Officer (how to stay healthy on board), The S.E.H. Officer (Environmental rules and training) and the Safety officer (basic training of fire extinguishers, watertight doors and emergency procedures). Then the crew is taken around in small groups and shown various shipboard safety features. In the first following port they all have to attend the abandon ship drill, even if it is not their boat or raft number that is coming up.
For certain critical crew, such as traffic control (stairway guides) and boat/raft commanders, there is an extra training before the ship sails, so they are fully versed with the routines of the ship. The company routines are standard for the whole fleet, but the ships layout is not, nor is the design of the lifesaving equipment. So most crew spend most of their first day on safety training and only when that is done, they can start doing their regular job. That is one of the reasons why the company specifies the times that should be spent on the handover of the various functions, just to make sure that no corners are cut and crew having to catch their flight before a proper handover has taken place.
Typical layout of a Vessel Traffic Separation Scheme.
By midnight tonight we will go around the corner at Cabo Maisi, the most eastern point of Cuba and enter the Windward Passage. We will sail through the same Vessel Traffic Separation Scheme and it will be interesting to see if all the ships are behaving themselves. It is not so difficult to do so but there is always one; you just have to find them.
Tomorrow should be another good day, although there might be a chance that the ship will be livelier if the Caribbean swell is under the wrong angle. Still it should not be more than a gentle motion. I always find that difficult to announce. People tend to listen with only an half ear to the announcements, hear the word motion and then assume that there will be bad weather the next day. So it is better that they feel the gentle movement of the ship in bed and rocking them back to sleep for a late morning rise. I will explain during my Voice from the Bridge at lunch time tomorrow what they can see out there for wind and waves.