February 3, 2023

The world’s most challenging cruise ship routes

7 min read

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(CNN) – Getting on a big ship under any circumstances is not a trivial feat, but some routes, such as the sandstorm, the narrow Suez Canal – are infamous. Last year, a container ship was blocked. – Or Alaska’s windy, glacier line waterways are particularly challenging.
Andy Winbo, a master ship that has helmed ships all over the world, says CNN Travel Difficult routes are often characterized by “bad weather, lack of space for maneuver due to natural hazards and lack of navigational aids”.

These factors will affect any ship, but multi-decorated cruise ships may be more affected by their size.

“The higher the plane, the bigger the wind,” said David Pemberg. Pemberg is a retired cruise ship captain who has worked for decades on ships operated by P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises.

When long-distance ships collide with the wind, they run the risk of slipping – a term used to describe a ship that is flying ashore. To counter this effect, the plane has to be flown at an angle.

This trick is more difficult when passing through waterways such as the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal. In these narrow lanes, ships should also avoid colliding with the sides of the canal.

“If they pass at high speeds, it causes the edges to erode, and drag some sand from the sides and into the middle of the canal, which is not good because it makes it less shallow. Causes shallowness, “explains Pembridge.

Although the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal have some common features, there are also key differences between the Egyptian waterway and the South American Channel.

Where the Panama Canal is largely forested and vegetated, Suez is surrounded by a flat desert, meaning poor exposure to sandstorms.

And while the 120-mile Suez is largely straight, the nearly 50-mile Panama Canal “runs in and out of the islands,” as Pemberg points out, this topography adds another dimension to the challenge.

“It’s a different kind of problem, but it still requires a lot of concentration,” explains Pembridge.

Ships passing through the Panama Canal will also have to go through three different sets of locks. In recent years the locks have been widened to better accommodate large ships, but when Pemberg was traveling on a regular route, its ship was only a few feet away from the sides of the locks. Will

In Panama, mechanical engines also help to pull cruise ships through locks, while in particularly narrow sections of the Suez, tugboats help guide large ships.

“It’s usually a long day for the team on board, because you start and you don’t stop until you cross the other end,” says Pemberg, who passes through both channels.

The role of the pilot

Cruise ships are assisted in the Suez Canal by local expert ships, called marine pilots.

Cruise ships are assisted in the Suez Canal by local expert ships, called marine pilots.

Soeren Stache / picture-alliance / dpa / AP

All ships operating in Suez and Panama are assisted by local mariners.

These ships, known as sea pilots, board the ship at the beginning of the channel and work closely with the ship’s crew to ensure a safe passage.

Both the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal are “mandatory pilot areas” – meaning pilots are not optional, they are required by law.

Pemberg suggests that the working relationship between pilots and captains is not always smooth.

“It’s another one of the obstacles, sometimes, depending on the level of competence and the personalities involved,” he says.

“The pilot must legally instruct the cause and speed of the aircraft. But at the same time, the owner of the aircraft always has the responsibility of safe navigation of the aircraft and it cannot be revoked from the pilot.”

In some areas, the role of the pilot is less important, and is not necessarily a legal requirement. But in more difficult ports and waterways – such as Suez and Panama, or in the waterways around Alaska, their role is important.

Captain John Herring was the captain of a research ship before becoming a Marine pilot in southeastern Alaska.

Herring told CNN Travel that there are two main reasons why pilots board planes in certain areas.

“First of all, we provide local information about road hazards, waves and currents, weather, marine life concentration and more,” he explains.

“Second, because of the independence of the ship, we do not subject objective decision-making to the economic pressures of the ship’s schedule. The captain is an expert on his ships and we are an expert on Alaskan waters.”

Southeast Alaska is an essential pilot area, partly because it is prone to strong winds and currents, and partly because of its marine ecosystem.

Herring says Alaska’s coastal waters are rich in marine mammals. “Whale watching is a favorite pastime of travelers, but the bridge needs constant vigilance to avoid close encounters.”

Likewise, icebergs and glaciers may be the highlight of an Alaskan cruise, but these icy shapes can be a problem for ships.

“The ice is hard and can damage the hull or propellers,” Herring explained, adding that strong winds and currents make navigating icy waters even more difficult.

In recent years, technology has evolved, making it easier for ships to navigate unexpected routes.

But Herring says pilots are still essential in the age of satellite technology.

“The local pilot can still safely bring the ship to port without GPS,” he says.

Water depth and local topography.

Chile's fjords and channels, including the Murray Channel in southern Chile, pictured here, can pose special challenges for ships.

Chile’s fjords and channels, including the Murray Channel in southern Chile, pictured here, can pose special challenges for ships.

Wolf Gang Kehler / Light Rocket / Getty Images

Ships traveling around Alaska will also have to contend with different water depths. In shallow water channels, ships need to move slowly so as not to create a low pressure zone beneath the ship, which could cause the ship to sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Master Mariner Andy Winbo explains that “ships can land if they travel too fast and there is insufficient clearance under such an inversion.”

Cruise routes around Norwegian fjords and fjords and Chilean channels sometimes include shallow water.

Other cruise ships offer problems because their topography is constantly changing.

Pemberg gives the example of the Amazon River, parts of which sometimes sail to South America.

“The bottom of the Amazon is constantly spinning and so it will show an island on a marine chart, and when you get there that island will not be there, it will have gone somewhere else,” he says. “It’s very much up to the pilots right now – the local pilots are the ones who know the river and know how it moves.”

The city’s ports can also present challenges.

Pemberg points to the Dutch ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and the German port of Hamburg, as well as the city of Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.

To dock in any of these cities, cruise ships must first cross a narrow channel, and how easy it is depends largely on weather conditions.

Planning and unexpected moments

Pemberg took this picture of a lock on the Panama Canal in the helm of a P&O Cruises MV Aurora cruise ship.

Pemberg took this picture of a lock on the Panama Canal in the helm of a P&O Cruises MV Aurora cruise ship.

David Pemberg

Smooth shipping requires a solid travel plan. Pemberg explains that cruise ship transit plans are usually formulated by a junior officer, and then approved by the captain. Plans will always take into account any known potential challenges – such as wind, waterway width, tides and surrounding areas.

“If you’re on the high seas, this is a relatively simple briefing – this is the course we intend to take, this is the speed we intend to take. Once you get close to land. Yes, and as it gets more involved, you begin to highlight the dangers, the currents, and the potential weather effects of anything, “says Pembridge.

“And then as soon as you get into really limited waters – that’s what happens. [Suez and Panama] There are canals – then this is a very intense briefing. “

The threat of piracy is another factor that has been considered, although Pemberg suggests it is a less serious problem than before.

He remembers the helming ships that sailed fast in the Gulf of Arden, turning off the lights at night and arranging passenger exercises.

Capt. David Pemberg, retiring in 2020, pictured near Cape Horn, Chile.

Capt. David Pemberg, retiring in 2020, pictured near Cape Horn, Chile.

David Pemberg

Weather is also taken into account when planning a cruise, but not all of the world’s preparations can be completely unpredictable.

Pemberg recalls a time when he was captaining a ship bound for South America from the Falkland Islands. The winds were forecast to intensify, but when night fell the violent gusts were much faster than expected.

Throughout the night, Pemberg and his team roamed the waves slowly, trying to counteract the effects of the wind. When daylight came, they saw how they were behaving.

“They were very, very big waves. And the front of the ship was burying itself in them and coming up again. It was perfectly safe, but very uncomfortable.”

When the weather got cold, the plane was about 30 miles away. The ports had to be rearranged and the voyage re-planned.

But Pemberg points out that although ships may face unforeseen challenges, ships and those in charge are generally prepared for obstacles.

“Modern cruise ships are well-equipped to meet all the challenges that come their way,” Pemberg said.

Pictured above: A cruise ship sailing in front of Margery Glacier in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Photo credit: Tim Rowe / Bloomberg via Getty Images

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