A visit to the bridge (and lagniappe)

November 25, 2019 • 9:00 am

First, Happy Thanksgiving! (If it is Thanksgiving; I’ve lost track of time. I wonder if they’ll have turkey for dinner.)

Today’s travel report will be a short one, for I have many pictures of Port Stanley and of penguins to process, reduce the resolution for posting, and label. Right now I’m catching up to Friday, when in the morning we positioned ourselves for several hours along the famous Elephant Island. (We didn’t “anchor” because we don’t use an anchor.)

First, though, below current position as of 5:30 a.m. Monday. We’re still in the Falkland Islands, where we’ll be until Tuesday evening when we head for the end of the trip at Punta Arenas. Here’s our current position on the ship’s map, and a zoom out so you can see where the Falklands lie.

We left Port Stanley last night and steamed through rather tumultuous seas, heading to today’s destination, privately-owned Carcass Island, home of Magellanic penguins and many other birds. (We won’t land for several hours, and I’m surprised there was so much sailing from Stanley to where we are now.) The name comes from a Royal Navy ship that surveyed the island in 1766. We’ll have a brisk seven-mile round-trip hike to Leopard Beach (no leopards or leopard seals there).

Our position this morning:

And our position relative to Patagonia.

The ship’s Panomax cam shows us an overcast sky and some moderate wave action in the sea. If I were prone to seasickness, which isn’t the case, I’d be pretty green by now! (Note the weird bumpy appearance of the water, which must be some glitch with the camera.)

But back to Friday. In the afternoon, as on our last trip, we were allowed to visit the bridge for 15 minutes. This time, though, there were a few photos I wanted to take that I didn’t include in the report of my previous visit on November 11. (Has it been two weeks?)

First, I wanted to show the entire bridge from both port and starboard views (aren’t I good with the lingo?) Here’s the view taken from the port side (it’s crowded with visitors). You can see the two captains’ chairs in the front, and the navigator’s station in the foreground.

Starboard view of the bridge. You can see it’s quite bright.

There are two chairs for the captain and co-captain, but I not sure what you call the people who steer the ship but aren’t the Boss Captain. That Boss in the guy to the rear with his left hand in the air, expostulating on the ship. The other two “captains” are in the chairs. The person who is in charge of the ship’s movement when I took this picture is the woman in the middle. All captains and subcaptains stair fixedly ahead, presumably looking for obstacles (the ship was on autopilot during our visit):

But the ship is steered manually, as when we’re going through channels, avoiding icebergs, or docking. And below is the “ship’s wheel”: the device used to steer this behemoth.

I presume the forward position of the handle adjusts the speed, while its direction adjusts the heading. When we were on the bridge, the woman in charge had her hand on this device. I asked the Boss Captain (I didn’t want to interrupt the woman at the “wheel”) why she was using manual steering if the ship was on autopilot. She turned around and said, “I just like to hold onto it”, and everyone laughed.

They have a complete duplicate of the steering setup on the port side of the bridge for use when docking. The ship always docks with the port side by the pier, as that’s the side the gangway’s on. Apparently they need a view of the pier when landing the ship.

I showed some of the digital readouts in my previous post, but not this one. It apparently shows the status of the watertight doors (shades of the Titanic!), the signal lights, the fire alarms, and the emergency stop panel, whatever that is. Perhaps readers can add details

The navigation board, effectively a big iPad, shows us heading straight through the Drake Passage:

There was a memento on the bridge commemorating the ship’s official christening on November 8, when Karin Strand, the ship’s “godmother,” broke a piece of ice over the bow (see my photos here). The statue, a gift from the MS Midnatsol, appears to be a penguin, and has the inscription below:

Antarctica, 07th November 2019

That’s very sweet!

MS Midnatsol is the Roald Amundsen’s predecessor as the company’s excursion flagship, and was beside us during the christening. (She’s even larger than we are, carrying 1000 passengers—twice as many as the Amundsen.)

The captain’s cabin is right beside the bridge, and they leave the door open, I suppose so we can peek in. I did, and took a photo. It’s not very different from my cabin, and certainly isn’t luxurious.

The Expedition Team posted maps by the science desk showing our routes from Punta Arenas to Antarctica across the Drake Passage, and then our voyages around the Antarctic Peninsula. Here are the two maps:

Finally, here are the penguins made by passengers during the “clay and paint penguin workshop” held for those who wanted to show their artistic bent. The products vary in quality, of course, but I like the prone chinstrap penguin in the second photo.

Onward and upward. Magellanic penguins today!

50 thoughts on “A visit to the bridge (and lagniappe)

  1. Very nice photos. Nice to know every day is not smooth sailing out there. Hard to tell much on the instrument panel but maybe a lot of it is monitoring various and vital mechanical items on the ship.

    1. Nope. That’s normal for being aboard, concentrating on shipboard things not the outside world.
      Forgetting birthdays, forgetting to call home (even assuming that is possible), forgetting day-of-week or date of month is perfectly normal.

  2. but I not sure what you call the people who steer the ship but aren’t the Boss Captain

    Chekov and Sulu I believe are the correct terms.

    NB minor typo: “captains and subcaptains stair fixedly ahead”

    1. We call the person who steers the helmsman, even if the person is female. The issue of changing the name has just never come up.
      The helmsman is an unlicensed (not an officer), almost always an AB, working in the deck department. There is also always a watch officer. The captain does not stand a watch, so he comes and goes as he feels comfortable.
      Additionally, there is usually at least one lookout on duty. Sometimes, during the day and in good weather away from traffic, the helmsman can also be the lookout.
      AB (able bodied seaman) is not an entry level position. It requires lots of sea time and experience to attain that job. Most ABs are not working towards becoming an officer, although some do.
      The officers usually come from a maritime academy, or in Scandinavia, a specialized program at university. You start as a cadet, then, after graduation, take licensing exams to become a third officer. As you acquire skill and sea time, you move incrementally to 2nd officer, chief officer, then captain. People on large ships seek “unlimited tonnage, deep sea” licenses. Inshore and smaller vessels have lesser requirements, but a similar structure.

      A third officer is also certified as an AB, and will sometimes work as an AB prior to getting an officer’s job. My company required new 3rd mates to work as an AB for a year with the company before becoming eligible for a 3/m job.
      Ideally, officers on board have licenses for the next job up, so that they can fill in if needed.

      Each deck officer has specific duties that go with their job. It can depend on the company, but the 3/m usually inspects and maintains safety gear, the 2/m is in charge of navigation equipment and planning, and the c/m is in charge of cargo, stability,security, and management of the crew.
      There are a lot of career 2nd mates, who like working at night and doing navigation planning.

      And that is how that works.

        1. IIRC a bosun or boatswain is supposed to see to all the equipment, riggings, decks, etc. are in functional order. (S)he is not supposed to steer the ship, like the helmsman does.

          1. The bosun is like the senior NCO on the ship. He or she is the head of the deck gang, qualified as an SB, and the most senior unlicensed person on the ship.
            But the bosun is assigned a watch, usually with the 3rd mate. That does require the bosun to take turns at the wheel. At least that is how it works with my company. Standing the 8-12 watch lets the bosun earn at least four hours of overtime per day.

      1. Just a few additional comments.

        On merchant vessels which have a rudder, the helmsman is generally only in wheelhouse (bridge) when maneuvering in close quarters – entering or leaving port, for example. If there is a pilot on board the pilot instructs the direction he wishes to steer to the watch officer who then relays that to the helmsman who is standing at the wheel.

        In open sea there will generally be only a 2/O on watch who will make manual corrections to the course if required (collision avoidance, for example). The ship is on autopilot. There may also be a watchman assisting the watch officer when sailing, for example, through areas where there are fishing boats. In the event of any unusual conditions (fog, for example)the watch officer calls the Captain to the bridge for instructions.

        I suspect it is quite different on the cruise ships. I have seen the Captain docking the ship (from the bridge wing) using the joystick. The cruise ships generally do not need tug assistance. So there is probably not a helmsman in the traditional sense.

        No anchor is required because the ship has dynamic positioning (DP). Press the button (or click on the command in the navigation system) and the thrust pods and bow thrusters will keep the ship on location.

        There must be onboard at least one deck officer that is qualified to operate at a higher rank in case the more senior officer is incapacitated. So there must be a 2/O that has a C/O ticket, and the C/O must have a master’s ticket. (The Captain is the master of the vessel).

        Despite all the electronic navigation assistance, the ship is still required to keep paper charts of all the areas in which is it licensed to operate and these charts have to be updated manually.

        1. That has not been my experience. We always have at least on AB on bridge watch, and usually two.
          If there is a problem, either an internal mechanical issue or something like traffic or a floating obstruction, the first thing the watch officer does is go off of autopilot and onto hand steering. Even during the day in open sea while the ship is on autopilot, an AB is there serving as lookout who can take the wheel when needed. At night, there are two ABs on watch, who take turns between the wheel and lookout on the bridge wing.
          You cannot go to hand steering if nobody is there to steer. In heavy traffic, it is not unusual to have an extra officer on the bridge to deal with charting or the radios or whatever.
          A lot of what we do is based on what might happen in the worst possible confluence of circumstances. Even if you have dynamic positioning, the anchors need to be available, because machinery fails. That is why there is a position marked in pencil on a paper chart. When the screens all go blank, you still need to know where you are.
          Other people have other experiences, but those are mine from over 20 years at Maersk.

          1. I have sailed as a technician on VLCCs and have seen a single watch officer (W/O) alone on the bridge during daylight hours in open seas. At night there was an AB up top as a lookout. One dark evening the W/O identified that we were on a collision course with a vessel coming from the opposite direction. He raised them on the radio and both ships adjusted their course to pass red-to-red (they turned to starboard). He did that by adjusting the heading on the autopilot.

            Coming down the Straits of Malacca at daytime was very different. There were a lot of people on the bridge, including a helmsman. That’s not open waters.

            But different operators have different rules. I’m not suggesting that my seagoing experience is anything like Max’s.

            BTW, VLCCs are very large: up to 330M LOA and 60M beam. I was once on a US Navy aircraft carrier and the hangar deck looked like the deck of a VLCC (minus the pipes). I think I was the only visitor that was not overwhelmed by the size of the carrier. It was 1000ft long.

            On one trip we had bad weather during departure from the loading port. The ship was rolling and you could see the deck flexing. That ship, which had been involved in a notorious accident had been built for the Alaska trade, so it was very strong!

            1. I guess that is why I should qualify my observations as such. In our company, the officer might be found alone briefly on the bridge during very good conditions, but briefly. An example might be if the mate sends the AB down to get more coffee, as an example. But that is a matter of a few minutes, and a fairly unusual occurrence.
              Of course in minor traffic situations where the heading is only changed a few degrees, it is done on autopilot on our ships as well. I like to make sure that each helmsman gets regular practice steering the ship by hand, so that he or she will be competent to do it when it matters. It is not a simple thing to do properly, and much practice is required. Great hilarity ensues when a visitor is allowed to steer at sea. There is a big delay between moving the rudder and the ship responding. The ship veer a bit off course, the visitor steers in the opposite direction, but when the ship reacts, it goes way too far in the other direction. Every swing is larger than the last, and it is not uncommon to find the ship 90 degrees from the original course.

              But as Steven wrote, different operators, different rules. My company is one that has always had a well deserved reputation for proactive safety and antipollution measures. Most Scandinavian shipping companies share that.

              The flex thing is something you never really get used to. On container ships, there is a place called the pipe tunnel, which is essentially a hallway running under the main deck on both sides, for most of the length of the ship. The point is that it is a narrow, straight passageway, often 700 or more feet long. My job involves checking it daily. and in weather, the flex is particularly visible there. And just freaky at times.

              1. Max, as I suspected, you were working on container ships. That’s a rather different proposition to a VLCC. Container ships have very poor forward visibility because of the deck cargo and you are moving nearly twice the speed of a VLCC. Having lookouts on the bridge wings makes perfect sense.

        2. To be clear – although with MS Roald Amundsen no anchor is required [because DP] it does nevertheless have anchors – there will be rare occasions when active station-keeping with thrusters isn’t possible.

          1. Also if it is necessary to remain in place for a long time it would presumably not be energy efficient to use the DP. Dropping the anchor doesn’t consume any energy at all (and winching it back up again is unlikely to use as much as extended use of the thrusters to maintain position).

            1. I really don’t know what to think for sure. I looked at the track of MS Roald Amundsen when she was off VERNADSKY RESEARCH BASE for a few hours [picture below] & she was allowed to drift in the current for almost a kilometre [say 6 ship lengths] & then she was powered back to position – rinse & repeat 4 or 5 times. I am amateur guessing that with bergs [big & small] in a current, it makes most sense to drift with the current & then recover position every half hour or so.


              Red square = 1 kilometre
              Ship length = 1/7th kilometre [140 m]

              I looked at the literature [Hurtigruten Line, Rolls Royce & elsewhere on station-keeping in hybrid vessels with side thrusters etc] & there’s no mention at all of anchor deployment. Perhaps they’re used only as a backup measure? My wild guesses are:

              ** Anchors & bergs don’t mix well – better to remain potentially nimble rather than taking the time to up-anchor.
              ** It’s a fairly novel design for a cruise ship [although old hat in the world of cable/pipe laying, deep sea drilling etc], so maybe DP is under test all the time on this ship.
              ** Station-keeping is nearly always in an inlet or bay [no current] where little power is needed to stay on point
              ** DP might be more comfortable for passengers in rough waters

              P.S. According to Glass Door, DP operators earn around $170k in the oil fields 🙂

        3. No anchor is required because the ship has dynamic positioning (DP). Press the button (or click on the command in the navigation system) and the thrust pods and bow thrusters will keep the ship on location.

          Having spent literally years more on vessels in DP mode than when under way, DP is a major feature. If the DP goes down it is a General Purpose Alarm – all marine crew to designated emergency positions (fire teams, search teams, engineering teams, marine teams, well-control), all undesignated personnel to muster and head count at internal muster points carrying evacuation gear. You’d know if the DP goes down.

          Somewhere downthread there are assumptions of anchors being available/ usable. The chain locker space or wire cable reel is unlikely to have room for more than a couple of hundred metres of chain )or wire), so in anything other than the shallowest of water, the idea of anchoring is pretty moot. Not that anchors will actually hold you in place against the drag from heavy weather. They may buy time to get the engines or switchgear fixed if that is the problem, but that is a different thing.

          By the way, if you’re within about 5 cabins of the chain lockers, you’d know about them being used to deploy an anchor. But that’ll probably be crew-country, not PAX country.

          1. Understood. I was referring only to using DP in benign conditions when ferrying passengers to shore and back. I should have made that clear. It’s not likely that the Roald Amundsen is going to need to declare and emergency because it can’t hold it’s position to a few meters. If you are on a drilling platform or auxiliary vessel it’s a completely different ballgame.

            As for anchoring, the VLCCs I used to go on would have to drift when in Tokyo Bay because it was too deep to anchor. That was the only time when an engineering officer had to be on duty outside “office hours” because the ships were certified for unattended engine room operation outside those hours. There was no START button in the wheelhouse if you needed engines at 03:00 to correct a dangerous drift! You needed to call an E/O to start the engines.

            1. If you are on a drilling platform or auxiliary vessel it’s a completely different ballgame.

              Very variable. In 3km of water, we could go to around a 100m off location before having to worry about the LMRP and slip-joint. Obviously, we kept most of that leeway “in the bank”, but when we had to pull and change one of the DP pods we’d sometimes get to 20m offset.
              Shakedown job. Things were breaking left, right and centre. Allegedly the ship had three fires between the construction yard in Shanghai and Rotterdam for the derrick package.

      1. The coxswain, if I’m not mistaken is a helmsman (steering the ship) that is also responsible for the crew. On smaller boats basically the skipper.

      2. Cox’n is in command (including navigation, comms and steering) of a small vessel with a scratch crew of various others. In my experience, it is an additional job duty to a full-time task, with specific duties in an evacuation. So, for example, a crane operator might also be cox’n for one of the lifeboats.
        They would be assigned other staff to that boat, but circumstances might mean not all of them are available. So our crane operator/ cox’n might have a motorman or electrician (to help handling the TEMPSC’s engine, and getting it re-started), a bridge officer (with RT – radio-telegraphy including Morse) ticket) and a couple of ABs (able seamen, one for each end of the boat’s bomb releases, or tying up ; also, recovering bodies from the water) and a person with a first aid ticket. Obviously, some of these may be called away for other duties, so the crew needs to be over-manned and flexible. At evacuation, they arrange amongst themselves head counting, reporting to bridge, and stowing and locking-down of evacuees into the TEMPSC.

        Likely, practices differ in detail according to ship’s flag or owner’s preferences.

  3. The captain’s cabin is right beside the bridge, and they leave the door open …

    Hope the crew doesn’t boost his frozen strawberries …

  4. There is usually an “emergency stop” button on the bridge, which stops the engine in the rare emergency where it must be stopped, but the engineering staff are not in the engine control room due to some emergency. It is pushed only in the direst of circumstances.
    There are also emergency stop buttons for things like the ventilation systems, which are always secured if there is a fire. Those systems, and the watertight doors, are tested regularly.
    On some ships, the vent stops and fire doors are tied into the general alarm, and you need to hold a bypass button to keep those from shutting when you hit the general alarm.

    1. It is pushed only in the direst of circumstances.

      It is also “Molly-guarded” in every case I’ve seen.
      Most of these sub-systems are routinely controlled from other rooms (ballast control, ship stability, main electrical room – it varies from vessel to vessel) but with significant duplication to the bridge, in the event that – say – the electrical control room is unavailable due to being CO2-flooded due to an electrical fire.
      I’d bet that the Big Red Switches were within the reach of the people Jerry noted as being “on the stick”. Or in a cabinet with a boring cover secured (but not locked) against inquisitive fingers.

      1. On our ships, the button is covered, but also really pretty. It is translucent white, but with red illumination from within. It looks super important, and clearly wants to be pushed. But I have been able to resist the impulse for decades.

        It is like the “main drain” on “Joe Vs. the Volcano”.

        1. I don’t know that film, but I can guess.
          Some people can’t resist those bright buttons. The last case I heard of at second hand (I knew the participants and witnesses), the offending person was sent to rust to death in Indonesia.

  5. Also, I suspect the bridge crew is staring fixedly ahead to avoid being distracted by conversation with the passengers.
    I think if you saw them under normal circumstances, they would be scanning in every direction, and the officer would include the radars and nav plotter in those scans.

    1. Big insurance issues. A lot more liability risk for one PAX income (and every trip, an argument about a discount).

  6. What ,you mean to say ships no longer have them big wooden steering wheels with the sticky out bits all around the edge , i am depressed .

    Never mind just seen a tiny kitten on the interweb making a Alaskan Malamute get out of it’s way ,that has cheered me up some .

    1. Some ships still have wheels, although they are normally aluminum. The big wheels were big because of the torque required to turn the wheel. Nowdays, the torque is an adjustable feature, added to give it the proper feel.

  7. (Note the weird bumpy appearance of the water, which must be some glitch with the camera.)

    Nope, it’ll be the camera working as expected.
    I wasn’t sure until I saw that picture, but the name “PanoMax” strongly hints that this is a “line scanner” camera, not a 2-d array chip.

    Many of us may remember participating in the occasional “whole school” photo, where everyone is sat/ stood/ perched on benches in a semi-circle around a camera position. The camera would rotate on a pivot to scan from one side to another of the school, and inevitably at least one spotty little oik would appear at both extreme left and extreme right ends of the image.
    This camera is a variant on the same. One line of pixels is scanned, the apparatus steps one unit around, another line is scanned … and it does a full 360degrees (implying a PanoMax 270 and PanoMax 180 version too). Software assembles the lines into a conventional JPEG image at [demand or clock or rev-counter].
    Critically, as the ship pitches and rolls (but not yaws), the position of the horizon line changes compared to the structure of the camera.
    Go back to the school photo idea, but the two-end spotty oik uses a pogo stick for transport instead of running. The eyeline would trace an approximate sinusoid. So would the shoulder. You can see that in the wave traces out towards the horizon. It gets a bit less regular towards the vessel, and towards the port and starboard sides as the roll has more effect than the pitch. The different length of the vessel in fore-aft and port-starboard axes would mean different frequencies in different directions.

    You can see 14 cycles of wave motion per revolution of the camera. If it’s a one minute revolution, that would be a 4.3s pitch/roll period. Which is probably a bit uncomfortable for humans, so I’d posit a 2-minute cycle for an 8.6s period.
    You can see no large icebergs, bergy bits, or other ships in the field of view. I’d bet that the ship has an archive of all of these images, and on some scheme (see “clock” trigger mentioned above) they’re stored to a removable device. Like a dash-cam for ships. Insurance companies would love it.

  8. for I have many pictures of Port Stanley and of penguins to process, reduce the resolution for posting, and label.

    Is there room one day for a “how to” thread on how different people address problems like this? I’ve got my necessary image processing down to about 3 sec/ image on average, most of which is deciding what are the salient points in an image and writing that into the image. That goes in at the start of the procedure, and at the other end comes a folder of images where I can search for subjects by name (keyword, or tag in today’s technobabble, I think), as well as reduced-resolution images for the wife to email to Babushka, Dochchik and the trampling hoards of Farcebook.
    If I prepare a “contact sheet” for the day’s photos (thumbnail, file name & size) that probably puts the processing time up to 4 sec/image, on average. But it makes finding particular images later a lot easier.

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