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Captain’s Log: Weather Challenges of the Caribbean

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, this Captain’s Log was temporarily misplaced. We publish it tardily today, with apologies to Captain Mercer. — Editors

On our way south again after a previous week which had left much to be desired in terms of weather. Grand Cayman started wet and blustery, we ‘hovered’ all day on our engines and thrust as the anchorage that was assigned to us, #4, well, I wouldn’t put a rowing boat on that one, let alone us, so opted for the safer alternative. The “Ryndam” was in with us, she too ‘hovering’, discretion being the better part of valour. 🙂

A flotilla of cruise ships departed that afternoon for Cozumel, us, the Ryndam, a Carnival and an RCI ship, we lit up the Caribbean as we proceeded to the same destination. The weather was not much better when we arrived, although the sun was trying to come out, the wind was particularly strong and docking the Nieuw Amsterdam on Langosta pier required some concentration. Cozumel berths are all affected by what becomes the Gulf Stream, except here it runs (usually) north along the ‘wall’, a matter of yards off the berths themselves and can affect approaches considerably, definitely a case of “Mk 1 eyeball”, judging set and drift as the effect of wind and current can change in the blink of an eye. The Ryndam was more unfortunate, she does not have the benefit of the power Azipods and her berth was similarly affected by the elements, after a vain attempt at berthing, she had to cancel, unable to counteract that wind and current safely.

By the time we left, the wind had eased and we didn’t have to do much to get off the berth, wind and current did it for us. Heading north I made most of the Gulf Stream affect, pushing us along at over 2 knots more than our rpm dictated, but I knew we would lose it after 3 hours or so as we moved east out of its influence. Round the western tip of Cuba and I pored over the internet, trying to find an interactive map of Gulf Stream position, many noted sources were off line or not updating, however found one at the John Hopkins University page which was updating regularly. The courses we had laid-off on the chart took us slightly south of where the Gulf Stream appeared to be, so we altered about 20 miles the north, where I hoped to catch its influence earlier. Sure enough, around 3 in the afternoon, the rpm on our speedpilot, (cruise-control to you landlubbers 🙂 ), started to drop and our speed picked up, we had found the stream and I could take diesel generators off and conserve fuel. We didn’t take the shortest route to our destination of Fort Lauderdale, instead following the axis of the Stream and using its power to pull us along.

From left: Captain Mercer, Chief Brandel of CBP, Sally Stirn of HAL, Sgt. Santalucia of Broward Sheriff’s Office and Cmdr. Dave McClennan of USCG

Fort Lauderdale on time and 30 tons of fuel under budget, berthed once more at pier 26 and the morning’s event, a plaque and maiden call ceremony, somewhat late, but what the heck….. Dignitaries from the port, Mayors of Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, (the Florida one, not California 🙂 ), representatives from the Customs and Border Protection, Police and Coast Guard, we had quite a crowd. Apart from several plaques I received the keys of Broward County and Fort Lauderdale, I’m not quite sure what the benefits of these are, keys to the vaults, maybe the city gates? No matter, it’s the thought that counts and they are truly lovely tokens.

During the proceedings, one of the guests inadvertently welcomed “Royal Caribbean” to the port, an audible gasp echoed around the room and I could not quite hide my astonishment, he quickly corrected himself, obviously too many ‘welcome’ speeches recently. 🙂

We are now heading for Grand Turk and there is no sign of improvement in the weather, strong north-east trades, showers and a rough sea, which our stabilisers are coping with. I’m hoping against hope that tomorrow morning sees some decrease in the wind, as the berth at Grand Turk is built such that it is at 90 degrees to the prevailing north-easterlies and if it stays this strong it’s going to be a challenge docking.

For those of you waiting for news on the granddad front, Sam is still ‘laden’, pesky ‘thingy’ has not arrived as of the evening of the 22nd, we are all still waiting with bated breath and by ‘we’ I refer to most of the crew of the Nieuw Amsterdam and some of the guests, we’re all in this together. 🙂


Captain Jonathan

Jonathan Mercer is master of Nieuw Amsterdam.

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