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Captain’s Log: Dec. 14, San Juan

Captain Jonathan Mercer

Remiss of me, I know, however the past week seems to have flown by and little time for ‘blogging’, so to make amends I have deliberately made time to sit at my desk and write.

As you know, last Sunday found me off Half Moon Cay, conducting a medevac, before proceeding towards San Juan. Fortunately, because the diversion was relatively short in distance and time, we only need one of our smaller 8-cylinder diesels for a while, to regain the lost hours, thereby minimising our fuel usage.

I don’t often write about docking procedures. To our guests it should (and does, I trust), appear to be a seamless operation. There are times, though, that the ship and her capabilities are tested to their fullest, and Tuesday was one such day.

The morning of the arrival at San Juan brought us very strong easterly winds of +35 knots, caused by a high-pressure system to the north of us. As in previous arrivals, the sea-state was not at all suitable for embarking a pilot outside the approaches, so I told them to stay inside in the relative comfort of calmer water and I would come to them.

The entrance to San Juan harbour is a narrow one, marked by a buoyed channel, with El Morro to port and some nasty shallow reefs to starboard, (on which there was a spectacular swell breaking). With the wind as it was, I made an ‘unconventional’ approach — had I stayed on the leading lights, the wind would have had too much effect and pushed us down towards the reef. So I decided to go well east of the leading lights and then sweep in, more like an approach from St. Thomas.

As we got closer to the buoys, I let the wind, which has a huge effect on us, push the stern downwind (and consequently the bow upwind), it worked out perfectly and we entered the channel just as intended. Now it was time to put the brakes on, because I had kept the speed up, (to reduce the wind’s effect) and now had to slow down for the channel and the pilot. This was achieved, however, as we cleared the lee of the Old Town, the wind struck us again, sweeping down the intended approach and near the ‘E’s’ capabilities.

We were stemmed for #4 pier on the west side, which meant we had to, at some point, turn beam on to the wind. We crept up towards the end of the pier, head to wind and then, when 80 metres or so off it, I let the bow fall off the wind. Whoops, bad timing! Just as I did so, mother nature decided to throw a very strong gust of wind at us, no way would she handle that! A quick abort and pushing the bow back, we waited, head-to-wind, watching the anemometer.

A few minutes later and the gust had passed, I tried again, passing the end of the pier by metres, the thrusters going full power towards it, yet still we got no closer. It was the point of no return, I had to get the bow in the lee of the (relatively) high terminal building, once inside that, life would be easier, (a little anyway), so I picked up speed, one pod holding the stern away from #3 pier and the bow as close as possible to #4. We ‘shot’ forward, getting into the slip as fast as prudent seamanship allowed. Sure enough, although our superstructure towered over the terminal, there was a little respite on the bow and we got alongside and in position. Frank de Vries, our Chief Engineer (and of Sinterklaas fame), told me afterwards that we were maxed-out on the thrusts, there wasn’t another kilowatt left while we were docking.

Some lines ashore and then, the wind increased, full power on thrusters and pods again and even though we had all our lines out, for the next four hours, with winds up to 40 knots, I kept the thrusters and pods running — we needed to, just to ensure undue strain wasn’t being put on our lines.

It was quite a day for other cruise ships, too. The “Solstice” decided that they weren’t going to their assigned berth and instead took the other side of the pier and the “Carnival Triumph,” docking the other side of our pier, had a battle staying far enough off it. All in all a day we would rather not experience again.

When we left, the wind had ‘eased’ (?) to 25 knots or so, and the pilot disembarked while in the bay (sensible man ☺). Speed again was our friend and with no reduction required to disembark him, we transited the channel at as fast a speed as was prudent. It was a relief to be in the open sea, even though it was rough.

In St. Thomas we were in Crown Bay with the “Noordam,” both of us docking within 15 minutes of each other, our ‘little’ sister looking resplendent. Departure brought us much hooting of whistles and waves to each other as we left for Half Moon Cay and she for Dominica.

Friday morning off Half Moon Cay and once again, the weather was not at all pleasant. This time caused by a frontal system passing over us, and consequent rain squalls and high wind. After 90 minutes of trying various headings and positions in confused, rough sea conditions, I reluctantly cancelled our call, as tendering guests ashore would have been far too difficult.

We proceeded towards Port Everglades, where, at 5:30 in the morning, the wind was still blowing and the temperature was more akin to a spring day in England. I had to use a tug — wind inside the confined harbour made it necessary for our swing, before we backed down to #26 berth.

We have had auditors on board all week. As the ‘E’ is new, it was time to update some of the certificates issued after delivery, this one was flag state (Netherlands) issuance of our Safety Management System and our ISO 14001 certification. Another audit coincided with it, that of our Dutch Workplace inspection, an audit of our Safe Working Practices, basically. Both were successful, I’m pleased to say.

One cruise over and another about to begin, however Saturday provided no respite. We had two TV crews on board and yours truly, along with our Hotel Manager Mark Pells, had to do an interview — stardom at last! One TV crew were filming for the Travel Channel and another, in-house, for HAL public relations.

I can stand on stage in our show lounge in front of hundreds of guests and not have the slightest qualms, however, I have come to the conclusion that standing in front of a black thingy on a tripod is not my forte. Memorised answers, emblazoned in my brain, seemed to mutate into drivel the minute the camera rolled. Nevertheless, the producer seemed happy and I gladly reverted back to my familiar task, commanding my ship.

We think Captain Mercer does pretty well in front of a camera. Here he explains the extra deck on the bow of Eurodam. — Editors

I am meeting an ever-increasing number of guests who read our blog. It is very pleasant, being able to discuss posts and know that somewhere out there, people are reading it. Last night I met some wonderful guests from Atlanta, from AtlantaMinis (sic), enthusiasts of Mini’s and Coopers, who invited me on a road-trip, (something I have always wanted to do). Another guest mentioned that I haven’t mentioned our change of uniform, so the grapevine works ashore too?? True, we are doing away with the white uniform as you know it, instead we will wear black trousers and white, short or long-sleeved shirts, with or without tie, depending on the climate. Formal uniform will remain though. Personally I’m all for it; ’whites’ are the devil to keep clean and respectable after the first few hours and after sitting down in them, the starched knees of the trousers stick out so much that one appears to have a deformity in the region ☺.

I leave in three weeks, Jeroen and Pam return on Jan. 3. We alternate the holiday period, I work this year, he the next. When nearing the end of contract, I have to complete inordinate amounts of paperwork, over and above the norm, (which is still inordinate)! End of contract reports, handover reports and appraisals to name but a few — one reason why I haven’t blogged until now, my two fingers have been typing like crazy, but on ‘ship’ matters, my apologies.

As I write, heading south once more, we are once again in a frontal system. This season has thus far been uncommonly bad for frontal systems and subsequent weather. Not that I have any control of it, however, our guests expect sun and balmy seas. It almost reaches the point where it almost makes one feel guilty. Can anyone control weather out there? If so, do tell!

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