Tuesday, May 4, 2010

At Sea - Our Port Was Closed!

Around 2:30 am we noticed that the motion of the boat was increasing and we were sliding all over the bed, hummm – what’s happening? We mostly ignored the pitching and rolling and as long as we kept our eyes closed and dozed, we were okay as far as seasickness was concerned. The motion gradually increased as it dawned and the challenge was to get out of bed and on deck successfully. The crew had placed seasick bags every few feet all over the boat but I made it okay to the open deck. The photos do not do justice to how rough the seas were! For a video of the seas, click here. Note that the 439 ft Royal Clipper is pitching pretty good.

Looking out over the ocean, I saw why a 439 ft ship was pitching and rolling so much. The seas were huge, at least 25 ft waves. The peaks of the waves were level with the third deck. The next time we’re in port, I’ll try a measurement. In talking to one of the crew in the deckhouse, he said the winds peaked at 70 mph! We were out in winds only 5 mph short of hurricane force! We all camped out in the lounge near the middle of the boat for the least motion and managed to keep everything down. Movement in the boat was a stagger as the swells hit the boat broadside and rolled it from side to side. Chairs, tables, dishes periodically crashed adding to the general pandemonium. There were a lot of people looking not so good but I never actually saw anyone throw up although they might have done so in the privacy of their cabin.

We took solace in the promise of a calm port on today’s agenda but then there was an audible groan when the steward announced that the port they were scheduled to enter was closed!! We guessed it was due to the weather (70 mph winds!) and now we were faced with two days at sea instead of just one – and in this weather! The passengers were not happy. For a second video of the seas, click here. We later learned that the ship rolled 8 degrees off vertical in the seas. Now that doesn't sound like much but consider that the ship is 54 ft wide and depending on the details of the roll, the up and down motion by the rails amounts to 10 to 15 ft! It's like being in an elevator for 24 hours with it going up and down 15 ft at a time. Worse, the cycles were not predictable. You would think, ah, the seas are calming and then, wham, another series of rolls and pitches!

Breakfast was bread and water but not for everyone. The crew seemed entirely unaffected as were some of the passengers. I guess you can get used to anything. We started feeling better by lunch time and went down from the lounge for something to eat. All the ports in the dining room were shuttered, I guess as a safety feature in case the window was hit by a wave and broke? With that you couldn’t see out and had no horizon to use as a reference to counteract motion sickness. As Ann sat down at the table, the boat started a larger than usual roll and it pitched Ann out of her chair onto the floor and into a lady sitting at the next table. No harm was done but it gave you even more caution. There were people stumbling all over the place (but not the crew – they were steady). However, eventually even I got used to it. Ann was better than me and even returned to the room for our stack of crossword puzzles, I continued to occupy the upstairs lounge. A return to our enclosed room towards the front of the boat where the motion was greater was not in the cards for me although I was able to stomach a short return later in the day as we all grew more used to the motion.

The rolling continued all through the day and night, side to side, fore and aft. Fortunately, we gradually grew used to it and we ate dinner at 8:00 but did not order wine this time. We discussed at great length why the captain didn’t alter course so the rollers didn’t hit the ship broadside which caused the severe roll. We sure had plenty of time, he was only doing 7 kts instead of the usual 12 kts in order to arrive at the next port on time and not early. On top of everything else, we were motoring with very few sails up, in fact we were a sailboat in name only. If we had any sails up at all, it was usually just the jibs and almost never the large, square sails. All this brings up the disadvantage of any type of ship that must sail to a schedule. They have to make ports at certain times. 70 mph winds, no problem – got to go! Needless to say, if it were on our boat we would have stayed in port. That’s the advantage of not sailing to a schedule, go when the weather’s good. It gives you pause about sailing in cruise ships in the future.

Dinner that night was a full affair, no quarter was given to the rolling of the ship with the exception of using low glasses instead of the stem glasses usually on the table. The dinner servings had the usual flair with the courses decorated and displayed to the equal of any fine restaurant I’ve ever been in. Ann and I had roast duck, delicious, and dessert came surrounded by a small cage made of white and brown chocolate. How did they do that? Especially under the conditions that must have existed in the kitchen with the 25 foot seas!