Saturday, June 16, 2012

Vacation 2012, #15: Etc. and Wrap-Up

One last entry to finish the deal.

I've commented on all this before, though now I'm too lazy to look back and find it. 

The tendering operations of a large cruise ship are a thing to behold. The tenders themselves--which are the ship's lifeboats, normally stowed on davits about 50-60' up off the water, suspended up over the promenade deck--are pretty substantial boats in their own right, and I'm always amazed that two or three of them on one side of the ship can go up and down without the cruise ship registering this in the least. The fact that the ship can deal with hoisting boats of this size--twin-engine diesels with 100 person capacity or more--from a secure position high above the water line down to the surface and back is spectacular. And they not only do so safely, the ship relies on these tendering operations to exercise these boats and ensure that everything is ship-shape (it would suck to need a lifeboat and find it hasn't been run in 10 years). With some 20 lifeboats, each with its own motor and life jackets and survival equipment and its own davits, etc., etc., it's easy to forget just how much STUFF there is on a boat of this size.

And the tendering operations: The Filipino or Indonesian crew that operate the tenders are clearly very savvy about nautical matters in their own right. They have to operate these boats in all kinds of weather and must do so such as to ensure the safety of a load of mostly elderly passengers. The docking platforms of the ship are amazing as well. They're simply part of the ship's hull, a couple ton, 20-foot-square hunk of hull plating hinged at the bottom and lowered from flush with the ship's hull to a horizontal position with huge hydraulic cylinders. Then stairs are extended from a smaller door above (or some platforms are reached from indoors as well) and you walk down the stairs onto the platform to a waiting tender. The standard way for a tender to achieve the stability necessary for folks to step off and on safely is to tie the tender's bow to a short rope of pre-determined length that is attached to the docking platform, and then the tender applies power and pushes / pulls against its moorings to kind of mash itself against the platform. Thus does the tender achieve stability and keep from moving around too much. The size of the main ship is manifest in the fact that the tender's furious pushing affects the ship not the slightest. Gives one some idea of how much propulsive force is needed to make a ship like this one go, since even the tender is considerably larger than any boat most of us will ever operate in our lives. (Makes me wonder, in a thought experiment kinda way, whether all the tenders together could be harnessed to pull the ship, and at what speed?)

Seeing all this up close as we were tendered in and out from Nynasham is worth the trip all by itself.

Beyond this, I continue to be amazed at the staff on every Holland America ship. We have never had less than attentive, cheerful service, and I'm frankly amazed they can so consistently achieve this. I don't recall EVER seeing staff members having a contentious moment, either between themselves or with a passenger, and the staff seem to work constantly. The jobs are not easy ones, and I can't help thinking I'd become a little resentful of the fat, lazy Westerners who were constantly lining up at the food trough for another meal that nobody needs (I speak from experience). But everyone treats you like you're a prized guest.

Most passengers seem to feel, as we do, very happy and privileged to be lounging on a cruise ship in exotic ports, but there are always a handful who seem impossible to please. I guess this is human nature, and I fully grasp that cruising is not everyone's idea of a great vacation (though that's not Holland America's fault); but the woman who is angrily vowing to write a scathing letter to the home office because her television would not play the TCM channel needs to spend a few shifts at the dishwashing station. When the folks having to absorb her bile seem otherwise so happy and focused on making us happy, this kind of vitriol seems especially inexcusable. Luckily, we see very little of this.

One other thing: Apparently it's common practice for HAL in Europe to make a PA broadcast over certain parts of the ship as we depart the day's port. It's a brilliant idea, especially when this part of the world is so steeped with history and culture. The tour guide on this cruise, Ian, was a stunning wealth of information, and he gave these talks leaving every major stop. This was something new for us. He also gave a number of main stage talks during the cruise about things to do in port or general regional history or the like, plus he kept regular hours at his desk in the main foyer to answer questions (there was always a line waiting for him). And he stood at the gangway for hours on port days to help people and answer questions. Just brilliant. 

Anyway, on our way out of Amsterdam I noticed that we went slowly over what I could see was an automotive tunnel that ran beneath our channel. You could see the highway on either side of the channel, and see cars plunging down and re-emerging on the other side. A crazy sight. As we left Copenhagen Ian talked specifically about this, but I could barely hear him and I was not on deck to see what he was talking about. Well, on the way back a week and a half later I paid closer attention. The bridge, I learned, is called the Öresund Bridge-Tunnel (the Wikipedia article is fascinating) and it connects Copenhagen to Malmö in Sweden, a distance of some five miles. 

The first time past I thought I heard Ian say that we needed to proceed at a snail's pace over this tunnel, as we had very minimal clearance over the ceiling of the tunnel containing the cars and trains below us. And, I thought I heard him say that the ship's pools had been emptied to help our cause. Really? So I sought him out and asked him, and this was exactly right. It seems that by emptying the three major pools on the ship (but leaving the six or more hot tubs alone) we could ride about 6" higher in the water, and this enabled us to clear the tunnel in question by a scant 12 inches! To see the size of the ship, it's hard to imagine the pools account for anything whatsoever, but apparently they do.  I have to think that our 12" of clearance means we were within 12" of some minimal allowed distance to the tunnel roof, and not a LITERAL 12" clearance to the tunnel structure itself. But I wonder.

On our tour a week or so ago of the engine room we saw the fresh water production facility, another massive industrial-looking facility that can produce over a half million gallons of fresh water a day (or nearly three times what the ship needs). With the emptying and filling of the pools, we can see where some of this extra capacity is put to use.

(Inside the tender.)

(Port throttle forward, starboard in reverse; holds the tender tight against the boarding platform.)

(The sadness of the cruise's end: no more towel animals!)


So, a fantastic vacation. We saw a bunch of new stuff, had a fabulous time on the ship (except for Susan's cold), ate well, slept well, and enjoyed being off the grid for almost three weeks. A great way to recharge the batteries. When we went to Europe in 2007 we both felt that we were a bit spent by the end of three weeks, and this time too we were maybe ready to come home a couple days before we were done. We finished up with a couple days at sea, and it might have been good to just catch a flight out of Helsinki (which some people did). But no complaints. With a little time past, the trip seems better and better.

(Because you lose track at sea.)


dbackdad said...

That info about the tunnel was fascinating ... and more than a little scary!

As for the "TCM" lady, it's remarkable how little perspective some people have. I guess being keen observers of the American political system, this should come as little surprise to us.

Great stuff and pictures. Iowa has not proven quite as entertaining ... yet. I will endeaver to make it so. Some alcohol may aid the situation.

wunelle said...

Ha! We're all counting on you! ;-)

I enjoy about Iowa that my blood pressure seems to drop by about 20 pts when I cross the border. Or it used to; they've become politically a bit nuttier since the progressivism of my youth. I remember a relentless push for improvement in selves, in farming, in everything. They seem to have caught a bit of the tea-bagger bug lately.