On the Bridge of MS Prinsendam

March 9, 2015

St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.

Not every Holland America officer likes serving on Prinsendam; at least that’s what our American Express representative tells me.  It has an old fashioned bridge, different from the other ships.  The newer ships have, what airline pilots call, a glass cockpit.  You sit surrounded by monitors and can control everything on the ship with the flip of a switch or the twist of a joystick.  I haven’t seen such a bridge so I don’t know.   But I understand that the other ships have more or less standardized bridges, so if you can run one ship you can run them all.

Denis, the navigation officer who earlier in the cruise conducted the on deck starwatching sessions and got me hooked on a star watching iPhone app gave us a tour of Prinsendam’s bridge.  To say it is an old fashioned bridge is stretching it a bit.  It is a 1980s bridge, looking somewhat like the set of the Enterprise in the mid-range Star Trek series.  It has no big wheel for a helm, no brass engine room telegraph.  But rather it has lots of buttons, big, lit, colored buttons, and joystick slider faders rather like a 1980s TV control room.  The helm is sort of like an airplane yoke.  And things are spread out.  Denis shows us the auto pilot.  It can steer the ship in a straight line but can’t steer a plotted course.  Old fashioned.

This bridge certainly has made some changes in the 27 years the ship has been sailing.  GPS navigation has been added, and the sextant is stowed.   For Denis it is almost a hobby, a curiosity from the past, but he does know how to use it and enjoys it sometimes.  The chart table is gone; the paper charts were stowed away last year.  New computer screens have taken over.  The paper charts are still available, just in case.  But changes over the past 27 years are evident.

For me the most interesting part of the bridge tour was the ship monitoring.   There are several maps of the ship with little red LED lights marking them.  If red LED light comes on the officer of the watch sends a security person to check.  If it is in a stateroom he calls the room to see if anything is wrong, and calls the steward to check at the same time.  If several red lights go on at the same time in one area he punches the button for the first stage alarm.  The ship has installed cameras in parts of the ship and there is a big flat screen TV to monitor those cameras.  The officer of the watch can look at those areas if an alarm lights up.  If he sees smoke or flame he punches the button.   This is what happened with the incinerator fire we had earlier in the trip.  One of the engineering crew called it “our barbeque.”  (Btw, earlier in the cruise they gave us a tour of the stores area including the area where the incinerator fire happened and explained what they did.)

The other monitoring I found interesting is a large screen, probably not original on the bridge, which shows stresses on the ship that can be used, for instance, in moving fuel or water to different tanks to lessen stresses and smooth out the ride.  When the deck officer sees a squall coming he can move water around in the tanks to control the ships list.  He can smooth out the ride that way.  I have a picture of this screen in the post below.

We also saw the ship’s stabilizer controls.  The stabilizers are large fins that are deployed to control roll.  However, when whales are present you can’t deploy them.  If a whale hits a stabilizer it could bend it, make it impossible to retract, and affect the steering of the boat for the rest of the voyage and making docking very difficult.  Not to mention what it may do to the whale.  In the Antarctic, parts of Norway and Alaska the stabilizers are not deployed because of whale concentrations.

We ended the tour on the docking bridge where we saw the controls allowing the ship to maneuver in tight spaces.  There are two bow thrusters and a stern thruster that is on a pod that pops down and can turn 360 degrees.  Denis showed us pictures of the stern thruster.  From the docking bridge we had a great view overlooking St. Thomas’s “Crown Bay”  a former navy port converted to cruise ships a couple of miles out of Charlotte Amalie.  As we left we got a good demonstration (by now we were not on the bridge) of the use of the bow and stern thrusters as the ship backed out against a following wind and aligned itself to sail out the channel.

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