1/5/09, Day 3
I attended a little seminar this morning, a coffee-with-the-captain kind of thing, where a couple hundred of us listened to him recount the career which led him to this place, after which he gave a little guided tour slide show of some of the behind-the-scenes areas of the ship (which is a surprising proportion of the vessel, and especially interesting as we never ordinarily see these places). I can't help noting the similarities between a nautical career and a flying one. There are plenty of differences for sure, but some key likenesses as well. People start in small craft and in junior positions, and then work their way up to eventual command of larger and more sophisticated machinery. There are practical and theoretical aspects to one's studies, and a resume populated with interesting but grimy jobs which ultimately led to the easy life which one thinks of when one thinks "sea captain." Unlike my career path, this particular captain studied in his native New Zealand and then worked for years around Europe and Asia, both seeing the world via his job and also experiencing it by working for far-flung companies in several countries. Our captain, John Scott, worked on cargo ships for years before filling in for Holland America between cargo jobs (apparently the community of seamen is small enough, and the operating differences between ships such that one can do that. I can't imagine that kind of thing happening among airline pilots). He was eventually hired at Holland America as a senior officer, and rose rather quickly to command his own ship. He knows personally our last captain, John(?) Mercer, and they were among the first to have command of the new Vista ships. Captain Scott actually resided in Venice for the last few months of the Noordam's construction, overseeing things and heading up the sea trials.
This part of things--the building and testing of the ship--is fascinating almost beyond description to me. I have a similar fascination with the building and testing of a new airplane, but a $400,000,000.00 cruise ship just seems... monumental.
I took the opportunity to ask a question: I saw the Queen Mary 2 in port along with us, and my understanding is that ship is an "ocean liner" as opposed to a "cruise ship." What if any differences are there between that ship and this one? Are there places which by design this ship ought not to go?
His answer: The primary difference is one of thickness of hull, and that relates to the longevity of the ship in its planned working environment. There are no proportional or stability differences between them, as these things are regulatory and cannot be gotten around. The hull thickness does not allow, say, for plowing through things; neither ship is certified to do ice breaking. Anywhere she can go, we can go; but if we spent our life crossing the North Atlantic we would show our age more quickly. Her thicker hull is designed to keep her looking fresher for the duration of what is expected to be a 30 year career in those waters.
Not to argue with a career mariner, and one who has attained the highest levels of his profession, but I wonder if this is really the whole answer, or just one calculated to put nervous people at ease. Did ships never have a stronger moment to prevent rolling than this one having 11 or 12 stories above water and 26' below? Obviously this ship's center of gravity is below the water line or it would tip over. But it's hard for me to imagine that with only a 26' draft they could put enough weight down there to counter very heavy seas and a strong wind at the broadside. But I guess this balance business is a relatively simple matter. Still, I'm curious to learn more.
(Looking back now--as I did not before writing this post--I see I had a pretty extensive post about this same subject a year ago. At that time, Jeffy pointed me toward a good Wikipedia article about ship stability.)