Captain Jonathan Mercer
I’m feeling somewhat guilty, all those great photos on the blog and little from me. I have something of an excuse though, days at sea on our crossing were not without their challenges. Even before leaving Lisbon it became apparent that the shortest Great Circle route to the Bahamas was going to have to change. Two weather systems were baralleling in from the Atlantic and our intended route, which would have taken us north of the Azores, was far too close to both. My day involved discussions with the navigating officer on alternatives, distances and speeds involved, as we always have to weigh the effects of such changes, particularly fuel consumption.
My decision was a ‘no brainer’ really, so instead of going for north of the Azores, I started on the rhumb line, 60-odd miles further, but not into those weather systems. The next morning after leaving Lisbon this changed, as the storm that was going to be in the western approaches had moved south and was going to affect us on our present course, so we altered further south away from where I expected the worst of the weather to be. Although, to some extent, this worked, we still had a rough and windy 3 days, however, as I studied forecasts and weather maps, I was pleased that we had not taken the Great Circle, there, 300 miles to our north, was a storm of ferocious proportions and we would have been in it.
Half-way across the ‘pond’ and eventually it began to get warmer and the sun started to poke its head out, our guests started wearing shorts which is always a good sign. Meanwhile, ‘backstage’, the weather maps were being studied once more, this time concentrating on an innocuous area of disturbance in the eastern Caribbean, which had attracted the attention of the National Hurricane Centre (and myself). What eventually became hurricane Tomas had quietly appeared on the scene. Contrary to popular opinion :), Captains have no intention of going through hurricanes and so the plotting began.
I use a small-scale chart of the Atlantic, which encompasses the east coast of the U.S. to the coasts of France and Portugal and as far north as New England and south to the northern coast of South America. This makes it easier to plot both our course and future positions while transposing the positions of the tropical storm and intended path, simple but effective. One challenge is that the hurricane has a ‘cone of probability’ path, simply put, a built-in error for forecasting, as no-one can be absolutely certain that it will go exactly where forecast. This ‘cone’ can be quite large and make precise navigation solutions difficult at times.
As the days (and hurricane Tomas) progressed, it looked as if we would get north and west of it before it passed over our track, however, because one never wants to be on the eastern side of a hurricane, particularly the north-east quadrant, I erred on the side of caution and gave the Nieuw Amsterdam a ‘burst’ of speed for 24 hours just to be sure. That having been said, the weather at our landfall, Half Moon Cay was most certainly going to be affected. Sure enough, on that Saturday morning, with Tomas some 250 miles to our south-east, our landfall was marked with strong winds and rough seas, making the possibility of anchoring (definitely not), staying on engines offshore and tendering, (nope, too rough), reluctantly, after so many of days at sea, I headed for Fort Lauderdale.
Our lovely new Nieuw Amsterdam made an ignominious entrance into her first U.S. port, 1 a.m. in the morning, with not a soul in sight except our local pilot and our linesmen ashore. She deserved better. That Sunday we were immersed in Coast Guard inspections, (first entry into a U.S. port requires this), heavy loading, almost 340 pallets of stores, fueling and transfer of our guests and their luggage. It made for a very long day, sailing at 10 p.m. and we are now on our way to Grand Turk, which, having had Tomas going directly over it, survived remarkably well, or so I’m told. We have to contend with the large swell which is still in the area and some of the remnant clouds and showers. No matter, it’s the Caribbean (almost) and it’s warm!