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Around the World with Captain Mercer: Mumbai, India

Captain Jonathan Mercer

March 28, 2012:

Our passages up the coast of India have been busy. Apart from the coastal trade shipping, there have been vast amounts of fishing vessels. Every coastal community seems to have a fleet of these boats, ranging from reasonably large, in the 9-10 metre range, (28 feet or so), to small dinghy-size boats. They mark their nets with dimly-lit buoys, which are difficult to spot and in addition to this, the smaller boats carry few lights and what they do have are presumably powered by a 12V battery, as they are ‘dim’ to say the least.

Consequently, the officers and lookouts on bridge watches have had their work cut out, avoiding not only the boats, but the nets as well. A review of our courses steered during these coastal transits seldom reveals a straight line for any length of time, instead a zig-zag pattern is the norm as they deal with each boat (or boats) and their nets as and when they become a challenge.

Having safely negotiated these waters, we arrived at the pilot station off Mumbai at 0455 this morning, I having been on the bridge since 0330 in order to supplement the Bridge team in a congested area.

The approach to Mumbai and the ‘Ballard’ terminal, (where we dock), requires the utmost concentration and communication between those on the bridge. Our pilot, although on board, says little and leaves the conning of the “Amsterdam” to us, a situation I far prefer, as each and every pilot has a different way of doing things and ultimately I am responsible, even though a pilot is on board. I am often asked about the master/pilot relationship and it is a strange one; although a pilot can con your vessel, he is not responsible for it, any mistake he or she makes, comes down to me. I often explain to guests, in terms they can understand, that it is similar to someone walking onto the flight deck of an aircraft and telling the pilot and co-pilot that he is going to take the plane onto ‘final approach’ and land it, with the proviso that if something happens, it is the flight-deck crew who will take the blame. Thankfully, most sea-pilots are extremely competent and their ‘local knowledge’ invaluable and seldom, if at all, does a situation arise.

The channel leading to our dock is not marked with buoys and negotiating through the scores of anchored ships, either side of it, is an arduous task. Having done so, we make the final turn out of the channel and the approach to Ballard pier. We are now at right-angles to the main current, which in our case, is pushing us to the south at an alarming rate, allowing over 12 degrees of ‘set’ as we head towards the pier.

Our docking is further complicated by the fact that we have to go starboard side alongside, this is because our break doors, (the doors we use for gangways), are not evenly distributed on our port and starboard side; we have to go starboard side to, so that we can use 2 decks for our gangway, the rise and fall of the tide necessitates us shifting decks up or down, dependent on the tide height.

Going starboard side alongside results in us having to push our stern through the current; normal seamanship would have asked for us just keeping our bow into the current and using it to set us slowly alongside. Ours is not that case, having to get the stern through the current and then counteracting its effect to go alongside gently.

All this achieved, we are tied up by 0645 and the attractions of Mumbai await our guests and crew. I was last here long ago, too many to count, (over 30 years actually), however it was always a fascinating city and still is. A city, the most populous in India, has around 12 million inhabitants. There are still many buildings from the days of the British Empire, now used for such as libraries and museums. Some buildings though still retain their ‘old’ use, the Post office and the Railway Station, for example. All buildings though are of the classic ‘Victorian’ era, imposing and huge. Near the renovated Taj hotel is the ‘Gateway to India’ a stone arch, of vast proportions, which was built by the Brits to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.

The city itself is full of vehicles, from carriages to hand-carts, people are everywhere, some dressed in suits, others in rags. Two-lane roads somehow transform themselves into 3, sometimes 4 lanes as cars, buses and lorries compete for precious space and speed. Traffic lights seem to have no function at all, instead a system of ‘giving way’ seems to be the norm.

Some of our guests return here, after leaving us earlier to take overland tours to the Taj Mahal and Agra, they return tired but happy, their tours being well worthwhile.

We sail at 11 o’clock tomorrow night for Safaga, Egypt, the gateway port for Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, pyramids and camels will be their next adventure.

  • Jill

    Your accounts of negotiating your way into the various ports continue to be fascinating. The details add to the various passenger blogs. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  • Rich Franz

    My wife and I are booked on next year’s round the world cruise on the Amsterdam and we have recently found your blog. Love reading the ship handling information.

    We are using your reporting along with other blogs by passengers to help make the time go while we wait for our chance to circumnavigate next January and to get some information on those ports which will be included in next year’s voyage.

    Thanks again.

  • Frans Jonges

    Captain Mercer

    Is it possible to make some detailed pictures of the art paintwork from the superstructure on the front site of the Amsterdam specially made for the world cruise
    Because I am very interested how it lookslike

    Thanking you in advance for your assistance
    With kind regards
    F Jonges

  • charlotte squarcy

    Following your journey, even as I ready my golf game for the spring back her in New Jersey. This is realy fun to see what I’ve missed by only taking a segment of the Grand Voyage, but it whetted my appetite for more HAL adventures!
    Alaska next and with plenty of friends in tow. There are a lot of baby boomer generation just retiring now, so you’ll be stuck with us Captain! Regards…

  • Bradley Elliott

    This was my 3rd World Cruise via the Amsterdam. I would just like to say Johathan Mercer wsa the best Captain I have ever sailed with. We made it to ports other captains would have sailed past. We sailed around storms and zoomed through pirate water with amazing speed. I for one look foward to sailing with hime again on the 2013 World Voyage.

  • Harry Jones

    Good Day Captain Mercer,
    Sounds a lot more fascinating than docking here in San Diego. Of course Captain we always have a berth for your Sir. Interesting hearing about places I’ve been in my 30 yr Navy career before working for the Port District. Fair winds & following Seas Captain.
    Harry Jones

  • Sue & Elliot Axel

    We miss Capt. Mercer on the Nieuw Amsterdam. We will be sailing on our 5th Transatlantic on the Nieuw Amsterdam this fall, and have looked foreward to our cruises with him.

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