Unexpected Sea Day

Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, Sept 3, 2017:  As Prinsendam pulled out of Reykjavik the PA chimes alerted us to a message.  It started normally for a sail out with the Captain on mic, “This is your disembodied voice from the Bridge, Captain Dag.”  But there was a tone in his voice that told us that we were in for some bad news, and he delivered it.  “Because of high wind and a long tender ride, in the interests of safety we have canceled our call at Heimaey.”  It is the main town of the Westman Islands.  I was disappointed because I have been interested in these islands since a volcanic eruption in the ‘70s where the town was evacuated and boats hosed down the lava stopping it from sealing off the harbor, and at the same time creating a natural breakwater that made it a better harbor.  This at the cost of many homes further up the slope.  But we had good weather in Greenland and I don’t mind an extra day at sea so I was not too sad.  Captain Dag told us that we would substitute Scrabster, the northernmost port on the Scottish mainland (an oxymoron), the port for Wick and Thurso.  We would get in at noon in a day and a half.   He also gave us a warning.  The seas were going to be rough so if that affected any of us, or if we had trouble moving on a moving deck “Take a pill and go to bed.”

The Prinsendam is an older ship with a deeper keel than newer Holland America ships and has good seakeeping so I didn’t find the sea day so bad although I did notice the ginger they put out every night as we left the dining room was completely gone.

During the day, the staff put together packages for Scrabster.  We got a lecture on the place, we could hike along the cliffs either to the Northernmost point on the British Mainland or to the Scrabster lighthouse.  We could also take the shuttle bus they had arranged to Thurso and could, there, enjoy a “Sunday Roast” a traditional Brit dinner with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings, in a local pub.  The royally inclined could visit Mey Castle, the home of the late Queen Mum to see what a homey sort of lady she was.

As noon approached we were in the Prinsendam Crow’s Nest (forward observation lounge) to watch the sail in.  While the Prinsendam has great seakeeping abilities she showed her limitations when we tried to land.  In the Captain’s Q&A early in the cruise he said the bow thrusters were not powerful enough for a ship Prinsendam’s size.  The Chief Engineer added that the stern thruster was an after-build, a retractable pod.  He said that they could not buck a 15-knot wind.  It was blowing 40.  While we watched the smaller and nibbler ferry leave, the Captain decided not to dock but, since we were sheltered and the seas were calm in the harbor, we would anchor and tender.  What followed were some strange movements of the ship as we dropped anchor and kept moving.

“This is your disembodied voice from the bridge, Captain Dag.  You can probably tell that something strange is going on.  We are dragging anchor.  The anchor cannot hold us in this wind so we are canceling our call in Scrabster.”  He told us we were heading for Kirkwall in the Orkneys but we could not land until 7PM after another ship left the dock.  He warned us that we were sailing into an “Atlantic Oscillation” caused by the interaction of an Icelandic low and an Azores high.  So “take a pill.”  We left the harbor slowly so had some “scenic cruising” although I took my pics through glass, it was almost too windy on deck to stand.

We sailed into Kirkwall harbor a little before 7 but, again, there was strong wind.  We were eating dinner and could hear all sorts of scraping, like rubber on metal (which it was) as we were pushed into the dock.  We missed Scrabster but would have a Sunday evening in Kirkwall.  We were hoping for some good pub Sunday music sessions.

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