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Around the World with Captain Mercer: at Sea

Captain Jonathan Mercer

Feb. 5-7, 2012

Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012:

The day opens with more blustery weather and once again I am grateful for having used 2 anchors, their combined weight, with cable is about 40 tonnes and she has held like glue for our stay. The area we are in is a ‘weather machine’; storms come in from the west every 7 days or so and when they do, hold onto your hats! The wind is so strong at times that mini-waterspouts form, in Alaska they would call them “willi-waws”, I’m not sure what they call them here, however they have the same effect.

A small ‘exploration’ cruise ship docks at the pier and has to use 2 massive tugs, almost the same size as her, to get alongside. I was offered the ‘Madones’ pier yesterday evening, after an occupying cruise ship had departed, however I declined. The pier is relatively short for our length and is built almost beam onto the prevailing winds, we would not be able to hold her there even if I could have got alongside in the first place.

I have been in regular contact with our corporate office, trying to plan a new schedule taking into account the 24-hour delay and the need to try and call at some of our scheduled ports. A final 2 o’clock conference call and we are set; Easter Island, Papeete with a slightly longer call for bunkering fuel, Pago Pago is shortened to 5 hours and we miss Lifou, New Caledonia and make our way to Sydney, Australia, on schedule.

I study weather forecasts from 2 companies that we subscribe to and the Chilean Navy site, this is very accurate, however it unfortunately doesn’t give forecasts as such, just conditions expected for the next 24-hours and a future surface analysis. It’s amazing how much they sometimes disagree, however on this occasion they reach, (almost) the same consensus…’s going to be bloody out there.

We weigh anchors at 1800 and turn for the transit of the Straits of Magellan and the Pacific, now we’ll find out who’s correct…..

Monday, Feb. 6:

The passage to the open sea takes almost 11 hours. The wind hasn’t eased its battering, although the seas are relatively calm until around 4:30 a.m. The guests have enjoyed the Superbowl during the evening, we had a superb arrangement in the Queen’s Lounge with all the food one would expect when ‘tailgating’.

Very early morning and I am on the bridge 45 minutes before we are expected to encounter the first of the seas outside, it’s dull, overcast, windy and raining, just as one would expect.

The Evangelista lighthouse appears through the gloom on our starboard side, its a solitary light piercing the darkness in an otherwise dreary scene. I am told by our Chilean pilot that 2 men live there and stay for a year, for heaven’s sake! Imagine sitting on a pinnacle of rock, surrounded by stormy seas for that length of time, talk about solitary confinement….

We begin to ‘smell’ the weather, first a gentle pitching and a slight roll, this slowly increases until by 6:30 a.m. we’re in 45 knots of wind, gusting 60, there is a swell on our beam of 5 metres, or about 16 feet and I am unable to turn to starboard, (north), because of the coastline, so we have to grin and bear it.

Two hours later and still in winds of 45 knots, the sea and swell have really increased by now, 7 metres or 23 feet swell and 4m, 13 feet of waves caused by the wind. I have altered course, I am not heading straight for Easter Island, instead I have chosen I more northerly heading, the intention being to ‘run’ with the swell coming from almost astern and therefore ease the rolling; it means we have to take the seas head-on, however it is short, no length between each crest and thus we sail through them rather than being dropped into them.

By 4 p.m. the conditions haven’t changed that much, gale force 9, touching 10 at times, it will be early tomorrow morning before we are through the worst and able to turn to the west, towards Easter Island.

Most, if not all of the guests a experienced sailors, having cruised with us many times and the conditions do not phase them, the ship is busy, people out and about, some mentioning to me how much they enjoy this weather (?!), it makes them feel as if they’re on a ship……..

Tuesday, Feb. 7:
We continued on our north-north-west heading throughout the night, the high swell negating the possibility of turning towards Easter Island just yet.

The clocks went back during the night, the first of many as we head west across the Pacific. I am on the bridge, coffee in hand, at 0700. The wind has swung, as predicted to the south-west, it’s still blowing at 40 knots and as a result, there is a 60 mph relative wind across our open decks, no walking on deck 3 for a while……

The swell though has decreased, down to around 4 meters and has lengthened in its ‘period’, it has become longer and lower. The sea is still rough, however turning towards Easter Island looks feasible. I ask the officer of the watch to start a slow turn to port, in 5 degree increments, waiting to see the effect of each alteration before commencing the next. We complete our final alteration and the ship is taking it reasonably well, we settle on 305T, Easter Island is ahead of us, albeit 1800 miles away.

By 0830 the sun has come out and we are looking at rough seas; the wind has increased to 50 knots, mother nature is having a final fling at us, gale force 9, almost a storm force 10. The further west we get, the better the conditions should be. The Chilean Navy’s prognosis shows an isolated area of strong wind and high swells and we are in it, no way round it, other than going as far north as Valparaiso, this is not possible because the distance is too far, there comes a time to bite the bullet and go for it, get through it as fast as is safely possible.

Captain Mercer is at the helm of Amsterdam’s 112-day Grand World Voyage.

  • Maria Carmen de Munoz

    Captain Mercer, you are a superb writer. So much that I felt in the middle of that storm. You should write a book when you retire. Thank you for a wonderful blog.

  • Kelly Koper

    Excellent blog Captain…wife & I are cruising sailors & will be on the Amsterdam world cruise next year…hope you are aboard!

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