Friday, January 16, 2009
Cruise '09 E
Today was our first bona fide beach day for this cruise. Grenada looks to be more developed, certainly than Dominica, but perhaps even more than St. Thomas. We took a water taxi right from the cruise ship terminal--we were the only ship in port today--directly over to what was touted as the island's best swimming beach (prime snorkeling spots were a bit further afield) and spent the day in the water and beneath an umbrella on a beach chaise. On our way back to the ship, though, we chose to take a land taxi instead, and the island looks utterly charming. I'm almost sorry not to have spent the day looking around St. George's, except the beach was spectacular. There is a much higher proportion of what we mainlanders might think of as "normal" houses here--maybe 40-50%--versus the standard ramshackle island construction. There is quite a busy harbor here in St. George's, and there is a goodly proliferation of restaurants and hotels. The few roads we saw seem much nicer than any we saw on Dominica, and it seems generally a more prosperous place. The cabbie said the island's population was about 100,000.
As I say, the beach itself did not disappoint. The water is continuously amazing: a 100 billion gallon bathtub. It's very warm and clear enough to see downward for tens of feet. It seems to have a high salinity, though I don't know what the mean is. The endless miles of sand come from pulverized coral, so everything has this off-bone color. Walking on the bottom, one continually steps on old, smoothed pieces of coral, which I couldn't help obsessively dredging up with my feet and throwing further out. Once in the water, it's hard for me to extricate myself, as it's just so buoyant and beautiful. An endless white sand beach in front of lush rain forest with brightly colored shacks and palm trees everywhere. What's not to love?
Well, one thing not to love is my new lobster-colored skin. I generally tan very easily, but SOME kind of head start is needed to avoid just going from white to red in a single afternoon. And clear water, it turns out, is no impediment to solar energy whatsoever. Ah well; I feel well-compensated for the sunburn.
The ship slips in and out of its moorings always completely unnoticed. Obviously, something this massive could be easily damaged if it hit a pier (or whatever) at even a very slow rate of speed, but I'm still surprised that I have never felt even the slightest deceleration when we dock. It's also fascinating to see the number of lines used to hold the ship at the pier--I counted eight each front and rear, plus a couple of spring lines running along the length of the hull--18!. And each multi-layered braided nylon line feels solid as wood and is bigger in cross section than my forearm, and all are held so tight that they appear straight as an arrow despite quite long spans. One could tight-rope walk up them and they wouldn't deflect a bit. Some winch system, a very powerful one, must be responsible for this, as a person could not lift but a couple feet of this kind of rope (a single person struggles to lift the braided loop over the bollard when the ship departs).
The little booklet I bought which answers cruise questions says that one of the big tests a new ship must undergo is the "crash stop," an emergency stop where full reverse is suddenly selected from cruising speed. This ship takes six minutes and 1.3 miles to stop from 21 knots (a typical cruising speed)! That makes a train look nimble. The book says that we would be rudely awakened by the maneuver if we were, say, eating in the Vista dining room, but I can't imagine that the ship could accelerate or decelerate so much mass in a very perceptible way (as opposed to making a hard turn at speed--we'd surely notice that). My point is that it may be no great mystery how the ship always accelerates away imperceptibly; everything naturally happens slowly with so much mass. But docking is another matter, as the pier is unyielding and we'd feel it if we contacted it at even a few inches per second.
The rotating azipods and the bow thrusters enable a huge and massive vessel to do very delicate maneuvers without tug boats or other assistance. Thinking back to my visit to the bridge of the drydocked Queen Mary in Long Beach, I have to wonder if they could possibly have achieved the same degree of smoothness with much cruder means available to them. They needed to be tugged in and out of their berths, and the steam engines, controlled by engine telegraph, must have had much cruder gradations of power application and taken much longer to respond to a request. This ship, by contrast, permits very fine adjustments in real time, with no middleman in the chain, and thrust applied in any direction. (I thought about this as I looked closely at the Queen Mary's bridge and thought of the great old ship steaming into New York harbor to one of the great piers on the Lower West Side. Actually, that post really hits a nostalgia nerve for me now, with the Noordam so fresh in my mind.)
And yet there are always thumps and bumps being transmitted thru the structure of the ship, sometimes more than others. Here in port in Grenada, for example, the ship is bumping all the time as though it were gently touching bottom (which I very much doubt it is), with the gentle jolts springing through the spans and structures of the ship. I'm thinking these sensations may have something to do with the ship's tenders, a couple of which have been deployed today, but I'm not sure (looking now, I see there are no tenders out of place, yet the gentle jolts continue. So much for that theory). (I later discovered the source of the jolts: the stern of the ship sits just a few inches out of the water and we were docked such that the ocean swells were running straight into the stern of the ship where the water would be trapped under the stern. A surf-like splash would result along with a gentle shudder. I saw / felt this at a later stop as well.)