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11 March 2018; Gustavia, St. Barthelemy, France.

The challenge with French islands in the Caribbean is, that they are often more French than the home country itself. And as a company you cannot do very much about it. We were here today on a Sunday and most shops were closed. If I was a shopkeeper and knew there were 1200 eager shoppers coming ashore, I would be open. But no it is Sunday, so we go for Sunday lunch.  We had scheduled ourselves and had received confirmation that we could send the first tender ashore for the authorities to clear the ship at 07.00 hrs. We think that they suddenly realized that it was a Sunday and the agent advised to tender before 07.45 which is………….. very close to 08.00 hrs. The captain did not accept that, called, and reminded the agent ashore that we had confirmation for 07.00 hrs. Then it “c’est bon” again.

When we came to the anchorage there was a yacht on our preferred spot, luckily it was a small one and that gave us enough space to anchor behind it. But we could have been a lot closer to the port if that space had been empty, saving the guests a bit of a wobbly tender ride. But the anchorage is open to everybody, first come, first served; and thus the yacht had picked the best place sometime before.  It is a free for all to pick your spot, except of course if your name is Abramovich, then you get the best spot. But because we had to stay further out, so the ship could float clear of any danger, it became a long tender ride to the tender dock all the way inside. Because our guests are asking for more variation, the company is forced to mix these sorts of ports into the equation and thus to offer a mixture of new and old, known and unknown. The coming ports we will dock and that should solve all the going ashore issues.

From the Electronic chart. The yacht was in position A, and if she had not been there then we could have moved the anchor so much more forward, that we just would have been in the lee of the rocks (in yellow) and who have missed the swell of the ocean rolling in, what now affected our tender service.

When we go at anchor the main discussion is, apart from where we drop the hook, how much chain will have to go down to anchor safely. Safely means the anchor will not drag and the ship stays nicely in position. A lot of people think that it is the anchor which keeps the ship in place. This is not the case, it is the weight of the anchor chain and the friction it causes with the sea bottom that holds the ship. The ships anchor is only the anchoring point of the chain so it can lie on the bottom of the sea. If we would just use the anchor and no extra chain for weight, we would constantly drift away as the anchor would simply break out of the ground with every movement of the ship.

Normally the rule of thumb is the depth of the water in chain length and then two lengths extra. We speak about anchor lengths of chain. Each length is 15 Fathoms or 27 meters or 90 feet.  So if the water is 10 meters deep, we have to put at least 3 lengths of chain down. Then there is the distance from the sea bottom to the anchor winch which is normally also about a length with the end result of 3 lengths under the water and the 4th. length coming up out of the water to the anchor winch on deck. Now when the wind is blowing, we always add one extra length. If the holding ground is not good, then we add another one. If the holding ground is rock, then the chain will easily move over the rocky sea bottom and has not much grip. In Half Moon Cay (where we are on Friday) we have very dense sand with an enormous grip and there we could probably anchor with just three lengths of chain.

Today we went to six on deck, which meant the 5th length was just under water and in 20 meters of depth we had 4 lengths with the anchor on the sea bottom. 5 lengths would have sufficed here but we had a strong Trade Wind blowing so we added one length of chain for insurance. That meant we had a total weight of 35000 pounds (17000 kg.) of steel lying on the sea bottom to keep us there. I think nobody would be amazed to realize that the ship also stayed there.

We stayed until 15.00 hrs. and then set sail to Castries, St. Lucia where we will arrive at 08.00 hrs. Castries is located in a sheltered bay with two cruise ship docks and a downtown cargo dock where cruise ships also go when the port has a busy day. And it looks like a busy day as we are together with the Aida Diva, the Wind Surf and the Star Breeze.

Weather, mainly overcast 29oC / 85o F and a strong Trade Wind breeze.

In yesterdays blog I mentioned that departing St. Thomas in the evening, gives a very nice view. Here my amateuristic attempt to capture Charlotte Amalie sail-a-way.

  • Roger Tollerud

    Captain A,
    Again by reading your blog I learned something. I thought it was the anchor that held the ship in place and had no idea of the importance of the chain.
    Great sail away picture!
    Roger T

  • Ruud Hartog

    Hi Captain Albert:
    I have a headache from trying to follow your anchor chain length math. I will try again tomorrow. Meanwhile I am sure you understand it so I don’t worry about the ship……Ruud

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