Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Ship Without a Captain

A ship without a captain

Ok. So Pierre has left the boat and that leaves Glen the engineer and myself. So the question in everyone’s mind is “will DJ get the skipper position now??” The answer is maybe, kinda, sorta!! Allow me to explain.

In the short term the answer is more or less, minus driving the boat. In the long term the answer is, maybe in the not too distant future. You see it all comes down to the driving experience. I’m the first to admit that I don’t have a ton of wheel time. However, I do have wheel time and the time I have had behind the wheel of Gloria’s Sun is significant because it was some of the most technical and challenging driving you will ever really get. And I mean anywhere in the world. Sure I haven’t had the unpleasant experience of motoring through the perfect storm, but the reality is from a technical side that anytime you are in open water the biggest challenge is keeping your eyes and ears open for other vessels and rogue waves. You might also get caught in a situation where you have to dock during really bad wind and current conditions. That in my opinion is the biggest concern and challenge, but of course if you keep yourself appraised of the weather you can for the most part avoid that all together.

I was lucky. I was First Mate for Pierre and he wanted me to take over Gloria’s Sun so he let me drive as much as possible. I was also lucky in that the boat was based in Ft. Lauderdale and cruised the Bahamas quite a bit. Now if you compare cruising in the Bahamas and cruising in the Mediterranean it’s like comparing Calculus to Algebra. Algebra is moderately difficult for a lot of people, but Calculus leaves most people with smoke billowing from their ears. In the Bahamas you have significant tidal swings, currents and super shallow depths with reefs everywhere. This necessitates using all your captaining skills and using them well. In the Mediterranean you have negligible tides and currents, nothing in the way of reefs and until you get within a mile of shore Aquaman would have a hard time finding the bottom.

But it’s the experience I received driving in Ft. Lauderdale’s canals, ICW (Intercoastal Waterway) and most importantly the New River which I think was worth its weight in gold. The New River is a winding river which rarely has less than a 2 knot current and sometimes it can be 4-5 knots. Now you normally would travel the river at a tick above idle, 6-8 knots. So if your facing a 5 knot current you are barely moving and if that kind of current is on your stern and your not tied up to the dock you’ve made a huge mistake. Normally you would navigate it during slack tide when there isn’t any current. Unfortunately for Gloria’s Sun it was docked down a shallow canal and we had no choice but to enter and exit the canal at mid tide when the current is fastest. So after backing out of the long and narrow canal, yes backing out, we would reach the New River at about the worst possible time with regards to current.

The New River is also a very narrow river,’ we ain’t talkin’ no Mississippi!’ There are only 3 places along it that are wide enough to turn a 90-100 foot boat around. At those points it’s about 200 ft. wide. The rest of it of course varies but for the most part it’s about 60-100 ft. wide with boats docked all along either side. It also has a lot of traffic on it including the World Famous “Jungle Queen” site-seeing paddle boat which takes up quite a lot of room and is constantly cruising up and down the river. I can’t forget to mention the hordes of small boaters many of whom have never heard of the rules of the road. And then you have the occasional tugs tied up to the bow and stern of superyachts. That’s because 110 ft. is about the limit for negotiating the New River under your own power and control. If you’re larger than that and decide to go for it and get into trouble no one is going to be surprised and I bet the insurance company would just laugh at the claim. Lastly I should mention the 3 draw bridges which sometimes require you to hold your position at zero speed, sometimes with other boats ahead and behind you, until they are raised. And as some cruel joke there happens to be at one of these bridge holding areas a water pipe which shoots out 1000’s of gallons of water sporadically without warning and can easily push the unaware into the far bulk heading.

Then there is Port Everglades. Ft. Lauderdale’s main inlet which is also busy with all kinds of vessels including Cruise ships, cargo ships and during the air and sea show even huge Navy ships which of course you can’t get anywhere near without a warning shot across your bow. The whole point of this is that like New York if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. That’s the point I intend to make with Jazz’s owner, Neil, as soon as I can have a sit down with him when next he returns. From the start, for the trip to Monaco, Carlo a Benetti captain was slated to come along. Neil is also planning on finding a delivery captain to make the trip. There is the possibility of an MCA teacher coming along to give us a course on GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress Signal System). So with himself and I that would make 5 captains for the trip. That’s a lot of stripes!

So where does that leave me? Well I hope to have a better idea of that after my sit down with Neil. We haven’t yet discussed my drive time and experience so I think maybe he thinks I have none. That will be rectified. Whether or not he will give me the skipper position this winter I don’t know. He has said that he wants to get me drive time and a skipper’s position whether it’s on this boat or another. He is also giving me the opportunity to become “indispensable” as he put it. Essentially being the captain for the time being on all accounts except actually driving the boat. However he has put out the help wanted sign for another captain, but maybe I can convince him to give me the whole enchilada. We will see. For now I’m buried under an avalanche of work between learning all the systems, preparing for the trip to Monaco, interacting with contractors who don’t speak English and schooling myself on all the MCA regulations for the boat. But I’ll bore you with those details in my next blog. For now we are planning on making the trip to Monaco in less than two weeks so I better get back to work on the passage plan…….

Captain (sort of for Jazz) DJ