This was one of those days, that did not look very good, but the ship made it work and it turned out well later. The Veendam sailed with a slow speed from the pilot station of Cienfuegos around the west point of Grand Cayman and then approached the anchorage of Georgetown. It was a whole parade as the 3 other ships were following behind us. We could see as soon as it started to get light that we had two challenges: 1. The wind was from the wrong direction and we could not anchor. All the ships would veer the wrong way and come too close to each other or to the reefs or both. So the whole happy club had to stay on the engines and drift, but drift so little that they still would not come too close to each other. 2. This wrong wind, caused by the same system which made us stay away from Cienfuegos yesterday, brought a large band of nasty looking clouds over the island. And nasty looking clouds come with lots of nasty wind. Extra wind pushes up the waves and that causes challenges for the safe tender service.
Luckily the regular wind pushed those clouds away and by 09.00 hrs. we had regular Grand Cayman weather, sunny with nice small bands of white Cumulus clouds. Only the wind itself was still from the wrong direction. But for that we have the Captain and his navigation team and they played all day with the ship to keep it in position. Newer ships have D.P. or dynamic positioning. The GPS (Global Positioning System) is connected directly to the propellers and bow thrusters and it keeps the ship in the same spot, give or take a few feet. A navigator has only to sit behind the screen and make sure that it keeps doing what it is supposed to do. The Veendam is from an older generation. Although it has all the maneuvering gadgets, they are not connected to any automatic system, you cannot push a button and let it goe by itself. The captain has to push his own button and do it all by himself. (Or delegate to the Staff Captain on other Senior Officer)
To drop the anchor we need a steady North Easterly wind and not a Northerly wind as we had today. What we do then, is we sail towards the reef outside Georgetown harbor. Grand Cayman is nothing but the top of a mountain pinnacle which rises up for a 1000 feet from the sea bottom. So we anchor on the ledge where the water is about 30 feet deep. That is where the anchor is and that is where the bow is. The stern is still floating over the 1000 feet depth. As all 4 ships anchor nicely in a row, they all get a little area assigned where they can drop the hook. To make sure that this goes right, the pilot boat comes out and parks itself above the exact location and then the captain brings the ship, read the anchor, exactly above the pilot boat. If he over shoots, the bow will hit the shallows, if he stays too far out, the anchor will miss the reef. Once in position the pilot boat moves away and the ship can drop the anchor. Thus far no anchor has hit the pilot boat yet but there have been a few close calls where a too eager officer on the bow did not wait long enough for the pilot boat to be completely away. The anchor goes down and then the ship goes sideways so that the anchor chain is laid out over a section of the reef and the pilot in his boat advises if things are going well.
He does this with all four ships in a row and if they all do the same thing then each ship ends up 180 meters, or one cable, or 1/10 th. of a mile away from each other. That is not much but as the wind blows against all the ships in the same way, they all are being pushed to deep water and line up behind their anchor, which is hooked into the reef and keeps the ship in position. But that only works if the wind is exactly north east. Which it normally is, as that is the direction of the Trade Winds. Except when a weather front further north causes the wind to come from a different direction as was the case today.
With four ships in, out guests had to share downtown, and the tours and the beaches with 12000 other guests and that made for a busy day. Still it can be worse. On the 20th of March the Nieuw Amsterdam is in with some really big boys and together they will put 20,000 guests ashore. Not much can be done about it, cruising is becoming more and more popular and with ships on the 7 day circuit, so they are all in the same ports on the same day at the same time as they depart and return to Florida each weekend.
From Grand Cayman we will sail back to Fort Lauderdale with a day at sea tomorrow and then in Fort Lauderdale we will start a cruise to the East Caribbean. By tomorrow the wind should be in the south east as it is still under the influence of the weather front up north. That wind will remain a challenge for the coming days.