Friday, September 16, 2011

A Personal Briefing by Captain Arma


Map picture

I just enjoyed a fascinating experience which I want to share with everyone. Shortly after I finished writing this morning about our status, the Captain gave a general update to everyone over the PA system on our progress, but concluded by saying that if anyone would like to visit the bridge, that he would conduct a personal briefing and explanation of our situation. All we had to do was to register our interest with reception, and we would be taken to the Bridge in groups of 20. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, and was, therefore, among the first group.

Captain had prepared all the navigation charts, weather charts and printouts for us to see. It became apparent very quickly that our situation was potentially much more serious than I had realized, and it also became apparent that the Captain is a wily and quite experienced seaman, who was boasting just a little at having outsmarted the situation and the competition – but more on that later.

First as to the issue of Maria; until yesterday morning, Maria had been progressing northward along the Atlantic coast, pretty much as forecast, staying over the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream and moving rather slowly. At this point, the Captain had decided on the run to St. John to seek shelter. However as the morning progressed, the Captain noted that two High Pressure systems had developed, one on each side of Maria, and he correctly deduced that they would alter the course of Maria, and literally squeeze her northward at a rapid rate. So, at this point he started to calculate alternatives if that proved to be the case, which within a few hours it did. From a slow moving storm, Maria suddenly picked up speed to over 60 mph, and the high pressure systems nudged her out of the warm Gulf Stream and over the colder Atlantic.

One of his alternatives had us running to Sydney, Nova Scotia, but with the advancing speed of Maria, he showed us where we would have collided with extremely dangerous conditions with winds over 100 mph and waves of over 30 ft. At the same time on an updated weather chart, he picked up the beginning development of two different low pressure systems, which he described to us as systems that would be sucked into Maria. One of the passengers remarked that this had the markings of “the perfect storm.” “Well,” the Captain remarked, “it would not quite be the perfect storm – I encountered that at this same location in 2006, but it will be one of the most dangerous of the season for shipping.” He then said “the Perfect Storm” occurred with not just two low pressures fed into a hurricane, but three, which is what, happened to him not so long ago.

Seeing the trap developing, he then developed the plan we are following today, which is to run south around the storm and allow it to pass off our right side, and when it has moved north, for our ship to turn in behind it and make a run for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Because the storm is so fast moving, he expects that by staying 300 miles from the center, we will find that while rough, the water will not be so dangerous as if he had stayed north and tried to cut in front of the system.

Apparently his experience has paid off. One of the Cunard vessels made a wrong call and has had to abandon its course and head to the open ocean. With any luck, they hope to join us in port in Halifax. However, the captain of a Holland American vessel did not see what was coming and got caught by surprise and in the process some passengers have suffered injuries and the ship has been damaged. I got a little lost in the Captain’s discussion because he is an Italian, and while he has good English, his accent at times makes him difficult for me to understand. He was explaining how the Holland American Captain allowed the huge waves of the storm to come from behind the ship, which is a very dangerous situation. Captain Arma was explaining that in that situation the ship cannot make any turn without running the risk of having the propeller come out of the water. That is what happened to this ship, and the runaway propeller tripped the automatic systems and the ship suffered a “blackout.” Until the situation could be brought back under control, the ship was helplessly adrift and at the mercy of the seas. With a twinkle in his eyes, the Captain explained that just in case, he had order our ship to take on water last night as ballast, so that we are now much heavier and riding much lower in the water, in order to minimize the risk from something like that happening to us as we try to get around this strong system.

For the next 12 hours conditions will worsen, and in all likelihood, we will experience strong winds and high seas. As soon as he can, the Captain will try to turn west and eventually northward to reach Halifax. We will be at sea all day today and tomorrow, arriving into Halifax on the following morning. However, the Captain said that if it is humanly possible to reach Halifax tomorrow evening, he will do so because everyone on this ship needs a rest, including himself. He said that he had not been able to sleep for the last three nights. He described our crossing as one of the most difficult he has experienced. First we had the low pressure off Waterford, Ireland; then we had to experience hurricane Katia; and before we even had time to catch our breath, we have now had to deal with hurricane Maria. That should be quite enough for one crossing.

At the end of his presentation, I did ask if the ship had enough Johnnie Walker Black to insure I got through the evening, and the Captain replied “certainly, and I will have another bottle sent to your cabin immediately as an insurance policy.” Everyone laughed, and we all thanked him for taking so much time to update us on the situation.


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