It has been a few days since I ‘put pen to paper’, we are now anchored off Monte Carlo in the principality of Monaco, on a sunny, cool day. There is snow on the peaks of the southern range of the Alps, a considerable change since our last call last month.
Our beautiful “Nieuw Amsterdam” is looking slightly bedraggled today. While the majority of cruises we sail are in perfect weather, occasionally mother nature throws a curve ball at us and the past 3 days have been such a time. I use the adjective ‘bedraggled’ because we are caked in salt, the result of the mother of a storm which we have had to pass through, not once, but twice; (we are gluttons for punishment :)). Our first encounter was on our voyage from Livorno, Italy (and the gateway port for Florence), to Barcelona, Spain.
After leaving Livorno and passing 50 miles north of the tip of Corsica, we began to get the first hint of what we were about to encounter as we moved west. A terrific storm was brewing in the central Mediterranean and in particular the area south of Marseille, France, an area already notorious for its strong winds, caused by the Mistral, winds that rush down off the French Alps, through the valleys and out to the open sea. These local winds are always there, however now they were being exacerbated by two weather systems, one over Spain and another over southern France, the collision of which, combined with the Mistral, resulted in winds of over 70 mph. There was no way round them, we had to get through the Golfe de Lions.
In such situations we take several precautions, we can ballast the tanks, (with sea water), to sink her lower in the water and make her heavier; we can either fill, or empty tanks which are not full, (the movement of the water in half-full tanks causes an effect called ‘free surface’, where the liquid in the tank ‘slops’ from side to side and increases the motion of the ocean. (Try filling a frying pan half full of water and carrying it across the room, any movement of your hand causes the water to ‘slop’ from side to side and you spill it, this is free surface at work). We have ‘heavy weather’ checklists, which the crew adhere to, stowing away movable gear, (such as deck chairs), closing off and emptying swimming pools to name but a few, it’s an endless list actually.
It was just as well we had prepared as the forecast 50 knot winds, (55 mph), transpired to be 70-75 knots, around 80 mph. Spume was being driven off the crests of enormous waves which, fortunately, we were not heading directly into, but at more of an angle. With high-sided vessels, in winds such as these, one experiences an anomaly due to high pressure on the windward side and low pressure on the leeward side. The air is sucked up on the ‘sheltered’ side and develops into a fine mist, which then blows as high as the funnels; after a few hours of this, the water evaporates and we are left caked in salt, it gets everywhere, hence we looking ‘bedraggled’; our lovely blue hull is almost white, as we never had the opportunity to start washing down while in Barcelona and besides, knowing that we had to go our into it again, there seemed little point.
Now we had to go back through it. As we departed Barcelona, I told our guests about what was in store for us 80 miles away, once we had cleared the Spanish mainland. I’m sure many of them thought the captain was crazy, as they basked in Spanish sun and light winds :). Sure enough as we cleared the mainland, wham, we were into it, but now, after blowing for 3 days, the storm had intensified. Massive swells and now winds of 75-80 mph greeted us. I had to slow down as there was no way we could safely keep any speed required for Monaco. Every ship we saw on radar was hove-to, lying head to wind and sea, making barely enough speed to keep steerage under the dreadful conditions. I tried several combinations of course and speed, trying to keep movement of the ship as comfortable as possible, (if such a condition exists for non-mariners in a storm). Eventually, I bit the bullet, there was no way we could continue in the direction we had to take, nor the speed, which would see us still in the storm in the morning. So, we made a ‘run’ for it, literally turning through 90 degrees and putting the wind and weather behind us, no matter that we were heading for Corsica instead of the south of France, it worked; the howl of the wind decreased, we managed to pick up speed and movement of the Nieuw Amsterdam became much more acceptable. I had hoped that, once across to the east of the storm, conditions were such that we could alter towards our destination, Monaco and sure enough, by 5:30 a.m. such conditions prevailed, we had finally reached a point where we could actually head for our destination, instead of ‘somewhere to the east’. We arrived off Monaco none the worse for wear (although still caked in salt :)), in glorious sunshine and calm seas. It was if we were on a different planet and now, we start getting the pesky salt off 🙂