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Captain’s Log: Nov. 10, Grand Turk

Avoiding Paloma

Captain Jonathan Mercer

I am sure that many readers wonder how we fared with Hurricane Paloma, (now Tropical Storm Paloma). Now that we are docked at the Grand Turk Cruise Center, I can sit and write.

When hurricanes, or the threat of them, appear on the weather sites, we have an established procedure to follow. This invariably involves liaison with our corporate office and myself, both parties having assimilated the available information and the repercussions to our itinerary (and consequently our guests).

Paloma was no exception, and the wheels were turning long before this week’s cruise even started — last Wednesday in fact. We seamen are fortunate in that weather predictions and communications have become so much better in the past few years, in the ‘old days’ it was a matter of watching the barograph (which records tendencies of air pressure), and praying that one didn’t see a sudden and unexpected drop — the portent of bad things to come. Now we have the Internet and countless Web sites to provide us with information.

Despite the liaison between office and ship, at the end of the day it is the Master who has control of his ship and its destiny, however, it is always good to have opinions and, if diversions are required, the availability of personnel capable of booking alternative ports. This in itself can be a horrendous task, the fact that we might be affected also means that many more cruise ships might also be affected, therefore, trying to secure an alternative is not as straightforward as it would appear, they too may be trying to book the same port with possibly only limited space.

In our case, my decision process had left me to believe that even if Paloma behaved as predicted, I could out-run it and still make the intended schedule. I interrogated numerous Web sites during the preceding days before I and my direct superior ashore, Captain Deelstra, concurred that this would be the best option.

So, on departure from Port Everglades on Saturday, instead of making a required speed toward Grand Turk of 15 knots, we wound the ‘E’ up and made 22 knots across the Florida Straits and beyond, my intention being to get ‘over the top’ of Paloma, (well north and then southeast) in case it did not behave as predicted; (the motto here is to ‘always have something in your ‘back pocket’ and never assume anything when it comes to hurricanes or storms).

As we sailed at high speed through the Providence channels of the Bahama Islands, it was apparent that Paloma had affected many vessels. The shipping was numerous and in most cases they were vessels that one would not normally see in the area: cargo ships and container ships that had diverted from their normal track of using the Old Bahama Channel (north of Cuba), and instead taking the safer, but longer, route north.

Sunday found us heading southeast, having succeeded in our aim of getting around any unpredicted change of Paloma’s track. By Sunday afternoon I was in a situation where I could afford the luxury of reducing the number of diesel generators we were using and still keep clear of any unexpected movement of the storm. The weather was as expected, some stronger winds and the outer bands of heavy cumulus cloud with accompanying rain squalls. However, with stabilisers out, the ‘ride’ was reasonably comfortable for our guests.

We arrived off Grand Turk in the early hours of this morning, by this time Paloma had been downgraded and was a mere weak tropical storm. In fact, the local trade-winds were more of an issue for docking this morning, with gusts of up to 30 knots and a strong current off the pier at the Cruise Centre. It wasn’t my ‘prettiest’ docking, but once committed, one has little space to play with, the reef on either side of the pier being alarming close in such circumstances. (A ‘slot’ has been cut in the reef, either side of the pier, to accommodate the cruise ships and one has to keep as close as possible to the pier without contact. In conditions such as today, the word ‘pier’ could be translated to a seaman as ‘can opener, ☺).

Now our guests are walking ashore to enjoy the amenities of the Centre and the crystal-clear turquoise water and beach. Our Bridge team can relax for a while …

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