Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Cruising Life, 2010: Chapter 2

(The view of Old Town from the protected harbor.)

Today: San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This feels much more like a proper city. Wikipedia says the city population is 420,000 with a total metro area of about 2.5 million. The entire island is home to about four million people. We, of course, saw only a little portion of it. The cruise ship docks are near Old San Juan, the original settlement, which is preserved today to look like its 18th-19th Century origins. When I flew in there for work some years ago (the MD-11 doesn't currently serve SJU, or at least I've never been assigned it) we stayed at a nice hotel on the beach just outside Old Town. Our cruise literature says it's not wise to wander alone between the relatively safe old and new sections of town (apparently what's between them is suspect). The ship was in port today from 1:PM or so (after a spectacular arrival past the old Fort Morro on a hill overlooking the entrance to the city harbor) until 10:30 at night. Susan and I went ashore right away at 1:PM and walked the streets of Old Town looking at shops and generally taking in the sights. We sat at a fabulous outside tapas bar for a light snack about 5:PM and were back on ship by 6:30 or so.

Old San Juan, anyway, is charming, and filled with the usual tourist stuff. But the setting feels authentic with its blue-brick cobbled streets and pastel-colored stucco buildings in Spanish style. I'd like sometime to get a more extensive look at the city. I vaguely remember our crew bus ride from the airport to the airline hotel, which went through the newer part of the city, but we saw none of that today.

(Looking back at our ship.)

(The blue cobbles are everywhere in Old San Juan.)

(Young Puerto Rican scientists hard at work evolving Bird Flu.)

(A cruise ship group leaving SeƱor Frog's wearing a group balloon hat! They were toasted and raucous and hilarious!)

(A floating city.)

(Holland America wildlife!)

I was particularly fascinated by our docking procedure in SJU. We steamed into the harbor and sat idling adjacent and perpendicular to the cruise ship docks for half an hour, the ship hovering in the middle of the harbor by means of its bow thrusters and azipods. Our pier had a cruise ship already on one side, and we were to tie up across the pier from her. The wind was blowing a steady 30 knots, directly abeam the pier, so that the ship already tied up was being blown sidelong into the pier, and we were being blown away from our side (toward an adjacent pier). So before the docking maneuver began we sat facing directly into the stiff breeze and perpendicular to how we needed to face for docking. As it turned out, we were waiting for some help getting into place.

I was puzzled to see the tug boat arrive and nuzzle up to the side of the ship and start pushing, since my understanding was that the combination of bow thrusters and azipods enabled the ship to maneuver quite deftly without any assistance--indeed in five cruises I had never seen assistance for any maneuver. But I didn't know how much wind they could cope with, and it struck me as I watched the maneuver that the wind may have been beyond the capacity of the bow thrusters to cope. (Or, I thought later, the use of a tug might have been insurance in case of a mechanical problem with the bow thrusters during docking; for a thousand-foot ship, it's all pretty tight quarters.)

(Our parking place is next to the orange-topped building center, on the same pier as the other ship. Yet another ship could then park at the other pier to the left, which would be very close to us.)

The tug boat nuzzled up against the port side about 1/3 of the way back from the bow and appeared to power up to what seemed about 30%. Then the ship used its thrusters and azipods to slowly pivot 90° to the left until it was pointing the correct direction to dock. At this point the tug seemed to increase power substantially, to maybe 50-60%. Our ship was still using its bow thrusters, but in shorter spurts, and as the ship pivoted the tug stayed in place so that it was pointing about beam-on to the ship at the end of the pivot. The ship then crept in towards the shore, and as it did so it became increasingly sheltered from the wind by the ship already at the pier (which was comparatively right next to us), so that the tug was less and less needed--as indicated by the constantly-decreasing wake behind the tug as we inched forward. Once we were fully in the other ship's wind shadow, the tug backed away and with a toot headed across the harbor for its next assignment. Fascinating, seamless and if you sat in your deck chair you'd have seen nary a shudder in your martini glass. Of course, this is how every large ship was once handled, and usually with a small army of tugs pulling and pushing. Bow thrusters and azipods have completely transformed ship handling, but they are relatively recent additions to the seaman's arsenal. I'd have loved to be on the bridge for the maneuver (or on the tug, for that matter)! I wonder at what communication passes between them, obviously nowadays by cell phone or radio. But it was most professionally done.

(The picture shows no hint of the howling breeze blowing straight at us here. Hard to imagine that so small a boat could be much assistance to something so large as us, but like a pit bull, the tugs are all muscle.)

(Our work is done!)


Tomorrow: St. Thomas.


Dzesika said...

The colors. Absolutely entranced by all the colors!

wunelle said...

The color palette is definitely different down there than ours in the Midwest; but the most astounding color was the water at Half Moon Cay. We must have commented to each other 20 times about the simply stunning clarity and deep blueness of the water there. It's one of those colors that just tickles some deep animal part of your brain! Amazing.