The legendary Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 on the Hudson River in New York City, October 16, 2008, as she departs for the final time.

27 January, 2012

Tourist Navigation - QE2 Style

"Tourist Navigation," a phrase used to explain what the Captain of the ill fated Costa Concordia was attempting to do the night of the tragedy was a phrase I had never heard before until I heard the translation of the initial interview with Captain Francesco Schettino after he had fled the scene.  People are quick to point fingers at Costa, since they apparently authorized a similar stunt back in August of 2011, concluding then that Costa must share blame in the incident or even worse, that Costa directed him to perform this stunt.  In the end, it really doesn't matter.  After all, it was their Captain on their ship.  Costa is paying the price for this, period.  I do find it bordering on insanity, though, that some actually believe Costa  would have approved that exact course and that speed that this captain took.  Ultimately, it is the Captain's responsibility to plot a safe course and it appears that there was a severe lapse in judgement that led to this accident.  Plain and simple human error.  Not failures of equipment, or stupid orders from management, but in failure of judgement by the Captain. 

It was dark.  Passengers were either at the show or eating dinner.  No one knew of the "tourist navigation" except a select few crew and those people onshore who were alerted of the event.  No one should buy the Captain's flimsy attempt to justify this maneuver after the fact.  This was one foolish stunt done by a captain who will pay for the consequences for the remainder of his life.  I frankly don't care if Costa knew the captain was going to deviate from course and do this.  It really is irrelevant.  It was his course and speed that was reckless and irresponsible.  He's in command of the ship, whether on bridge or not, and not from Costa management back on land.

Contemplate this; turn ten seconds late and the ship would have ended up on the rocks.  Turn ten seconds sooner and Concordia arguably would have escaped this move unscathed and we wouldn't be writing and dwelling on this tragedy.  Approaching the island at 15 knots in a ship of that size should never have been contemplated.  This course and speed left no room for error and was done for absolutely no reason other than to show off.  The ship could easily have stayed a safe distance offshore and still performed this "bow." 

The picture above illustrates "tourist navigation" done the right way by Captain Ian McNaught on QE2.

While on board QE2's final lap of honor around the UK back in 2008, a trip which in retrospect, essentially was totally "tourist navigation,"  Captain McNaught announced the night of October 2nd that the ship would be making an early morning close pass of the port of Douglas on the Isle of Man.  This would be a special treat for those on board and onshore;  QE2 had never made a port call to the Isle of Man.  This would be her first and only, even if it was only a "flyby." 

QE2 and Cunard have one strong Isle of Man connection.  The Isle of Man is famous for their commemorative stamp issues, many of which feature Cunard ships.  There would be a commemorative issue for this occurrence, of which I purchased one on board, signed by the Captain himself.  Clearly, while this event wasn't officially listed on the voyage itinerary, it was a completely pre-planned event.

I managed to make it up on deck for the arrival in the early morning.  Daybreak was imminent and while the ship had slowed, the wind was bone chilling.

With the decks freshly washed down, the ship still lit up, and the sun on the horizon, the lighting could not have been better.

As we approached Douglas Harbor, the ship slowed to a crawl, but not the wind, which was blowing offshore.  This is as close as we were going to get.  In this photo, the wide angle lens makes it appear a bit farther, but still, we were a very safe distance offshore.

Off to our starboard, several smaller vessels arrived to take a closer look at us (lights off on the horizon).

The rugged shoreline of the Isle of Man reminded me of the coastline of Scotland.  Someday, I must return to the home of Thomas the Tank Engine!

 Actually, I really wasn't the only crazy one up here. Those passengers who got up and made it up to forward observation deck were all on the other side.   Damn it was cold!

You could actually make out cars lined up along the service road lining the cliffs.  I highly doubt Captain McNaught had alerted the island via Facebook we were arriving!

At absolutely no point did anyone view this as a dangerous, showboating maneuver.  That thought has never entered my mind on any cruise.  Captain McNaught had developed a bit of a reputation over the years for not putting QE2 in harms way, playing it safe to not head into port if the weather conditions were precarious, thus earning the nickname "no ports McNaught" from many.  QE2 is old school, without the maneuverability of the current crop of cruise ships, and thus required tugs in all ports. Good captains know the limitations and handling characteristics of their ship and McNaught respected this.  Plus, no captain in his right mind would want to put the Most Famous Ship in the World back in the headlines as was done previously with the Martha's Vinyard grounding incident of the 90's.

In retrospect, McNaught actually lived up to his nickname on this trip as well!  Our first port of call was to be Cherbourg, France on this trip, but this was changed due to high winds.  QE2 would never call on that port again.  As McNaught would say, his ultimate responsibility is the safety of the ship and passengers.  No arguments with me there.  Not a shred of doubt ever entered my mind that this was not his highest priority.  With the Concordia disaster, that unwavering faith is still very much present in my mind in regards to Cunard and their captains, but has been shaken somewhat with Costa, a line we have cruised on three times in the past. Is their a culture amongst the management and crew of Costa that would allow this to happen?  Questions in this line of thinking will need to be addressed in the various investigations and trials that no doubt will follow.

With our speed still at a crawl, Douglas Harbor was now at our stern.  Definitely not making 15 knots here!  I'd guess more in the neighborhood of 6-8 knots.

The ship then began to speed up and make a turn to starboard.

As seen here, as the ship is turning, the stern naturally swung wide, similar to what Concordia would have done with a last minute course correction, which ultimately resulted in the large gash and remaining boulder in her hull as her hull swung around and hit the reef.

Early morning sun on the horizon, a photographers delight for early morning light.

QE2's iconic open bridge wings in the dramatic early morning sun. I could have stayed here longer, but the wind and temperature forced me back indoors.

This was one of the few times I was able to be on the forward observation deck to enjoy the morning sun over the bow.  It was still cold, but worth it all.

With the Isle of Man to our stern, we were then off to Liverpool for QE2's final call which would include a memorable concert in the Liverpool Cathedral, and then glorious fireworks display at sailaway.

Now that is how "tourist navigation" is done!  Captain McNaught, and all Cunard Captains past and present, thank you all for a safe passage and the peace of mind we were aboard the safest ships in the world commanded by expert captains.

16 January, 2012

Costa Concordia - Threading the Needle

Full disclosure here:  I am a fan of cruising on Costa Cruise Lines.  We had three outstanding cruises over the years on board the Costa Victoria and Costa Magica.  I have followed the series of events as they unfolded with the Costa Concordia with dispair and utter disbelief at what appeared to have transpired.  My prayers go out to all affected by this tragedy.  Credit must be given to the crew of the ship for safely evacuating as many as they did is such a short time and also for the inhabitants of Isola del Giglio who helped comfort the dazed 4200 passengers and crew that made it ashore.

While there has been alot of anger and peculation on how the evacuation was handled,  I am sure that the procedure will be intensively studied to learn from this tragedy in the coming weeks.  The following are a series of images I posted on my Facebook account since the tragic accident occurred.

Marine AIS tracking, missing some data, but showing the overall course of the ship.

As reported here, with AIS data, it appears the ship attempted to navigate this treacherous passage!  There were conflicting reports from other AIS sites, including the one I use all the time Marine AIS (first screen capture above), but their data had a huge gap from the time the ship was making over 15 knots to the time it was essentially stopped off the shore where it settled.  I was a bit sceptical of the first site since it was in Turkish and required translation, but somehow they had access to missing data.  Or was it all fabricated.....conspiracy theorists rejoice!  Maybe in was a massive electronics blackout/power failure due to those pesky capacitors that some were adamant was the cause, in as much so as I was so adamant that this had to be operator error. So I attempted to test out the the hypothesis that the ship did attempt to make this passage.  Using the Marine AIS site satellite view, with uses Google Earth, I crudely roughed in the size of the ship.  Unfortunately the screen capture software I used did not allow me to draw the ship on an angle, but you get the picture above of just how close and utterly stupid a move like this would be.

As further pictures became available, the enormity of the damage became apparent.  This posting, clipping a news wire photograph, was my attempt to decipher how that boulder became lodged in the side of the ship.  It was clear that the ship caught on the top of an outcropping, probably causing the sideways movement as mentioned by the captain himself in his unbelievable interview after the incident.

Numerous discussions were taking place via Facebook and Cruisecritic regarding why the list to starboard and not to port, given the the enormity of the gash that was now clearly visible.  I postulated along with others that the ship might have been unstable and due to the free surface effect of the water in the ship, when the captain appeared to turn the ship into port, the starboard list was triggered that ultimately lead to the roll over.  I then began to wonder if there was damage, possibly even more severe than what we can see on the port side, buried beneath the water on the starboard side of the ship.  Surely, it would have been quite possible that the ship bumped the rocks on both sides while attempting passage.  With the ship 112 feet wide and the passage maybe 200 feet, it left little room for error, hence the title of this post.

Next, underwater photos of the damage began to surface on the Internet.  While it was hard to decipher what you are looking at, the railings can be seen and the damage looked much more significant than if the ship just rolled over and hit the shore/rocks at her final resting place, in my eyes anyway. This had to be unseen damage on the starboard side since the port side was out there in full view and obviously, the rails would not be underwater.

Later in the day, an interview with the captain found its way on to YouTube, with the captain unbelievably answering questions by himself, without a lawyer present.  He looks completely in shock and very nervous.  Here is another video with analysis of his body movements.  This was done before the person making the analysis knew that the captain had been arrested, which is very interesting.

Throughout the day, the initial death claims thankfully kept dropping as Costa began to account for the ships passengers and crew that understandably had gone off in many directions once they made landfall, making generating an accurate missing passenger list difficult.  The island was overwhelmed with approximately 4200 people quite unexpectedly in the dark of the night.  Logistics for Costa to get their passengers back to the mainland and safely home must have been a nightmare.  How do you plan for such an event?  I have to give the crew credit for safely evacuating that many people in such a short order, probably two hours, off the doomed ship. 

Sadly, there are reports that the Captain Franceso Schettino was derelict in his duties, perhaps leaving the ship early and not sending out a Mayday call.  Costa, shockingly, released the statement above, confirming that the ship was too close to shore and that Costa safety protocols had not been followed.  Clearly, Costa was throwing their captain under the, with this statement.  For the cruise line to come out so quickly and so forcefully against the captain, I speculated that they must have compelling evidence against him, or they are risking further defamation of character lawsuits. 

So what's the Cunard connection here for me?  Besides my previous affection for Costa, these events have dragged Queen Mary into the discussion.  Comparisons have also been made of QE2's famous grounding off Martha's Vineyard.  Reporters, eagerly capitalized on Queen Mary's recent capacitor failure incident and to try to link it to this accident as written here for example.  Actually, the incident is over a year old, but only recently a fleet wide safety alert was issued alerting ship owners and operators of the issue. 

Seeing the ship all lit up as it was close to shore, coupled with various reports of passengers explaining that the power only went out after the loud bangs and violent ship movement led me to conclude that there was no mechanical failure.  Looking at the AIS telemetry, it was pretty damning that with either AIS track, the ship made a deliberate track towards the island and there was plenty of time to correct their course if it had been an inadvertent mistake in navigation.  As the ship came dangerously close to shore, surely the officer on watch would have to have been aware of the ships position, possible lights from the island directly in front of them and perhaps, one would hope, there were numerous alarms going off.  Perhaps this added to confusion on the bridge.  All this will come out in the days ahead. 

Late this evening, a poster on Cruisecritic posted yet another series of AIS tracking screen shots here, one of which is shown above, showing exactly what the Turkish site had initially posted.  Pretty damn convincing evidence if this is actual data, but not if if only a simulator.  Costa Concordia approached the passage at 8 knots!? Absolutely no margin for error and totally reckless and irresponsible on the captain's part to even attempt this.  Let's see if this is for real or not!

I am eagerly awaiting further pictures of where the ship attempted to squeeze through to definitively answer this question.  Surely the rock outcroppings will show damage, displacement, and the ship's paint.  Divers eventually found the rock outcropping that QE2 scrapped her way over, covered with red antifouling paint, matched to her hull.  That rock now bears the name "Queen's Bottom."  What will this area be renamed as, the Schettino Passage?

12 January, 2012

Interactive Winter Crossing - January 10, 2008

(note: check back over time as I add more information to these posts, such as additional video, menus, etc.)

7:30AM and I'm on deck, virtually alone and it's still somewhat dark.  Queen Victoria is back off to our starboard side today.
Seas have calmed down and QE2 appears to be going ever so slow; less than 20 knots according to the stats on the cabin TV.  Just look at the minimal wake.  It's also light enough out to make out the brown exhaust streak in the sky from her MAN diesels.  Queen Victoria's exhaust is less apparent, perhaps due to newer equipment fitted to comply with the ever tightening emissions regulations.

Surprise, surprise, the Funnel Bar was deserted.

At this point, with no one around, I was able to examine the aluminum superstructure and document the numerous patches at stress points, correcting cracking of the aluminum due to all her years on the Atlantic.  I view them as battle scars.  At forty years old, this is quite acceptable, but in reality, the ship started experiencing these stress cracks shortly after she was put into service.  The second patch below had a patch on top of a previous patch.  Wow!  I've read that there are crew members specifically assigned to repair this while at sea.  The amount of paint on the plating is also apparent around the patch, where the paint was removed to bare aluminum for the rewelding and in the instance below, additional fasteners.

Pool was drained and netted.  Hot tubs filled, but no takers yet......

The real reason I got up early was to see if they would do anything special while we neared the location of the sinking of Titanic.  I could be wrong, but I think I caught the tail end of the wreath ceremony.  Something special was clearly going on.

Thomas was there among other crew and was that some sort of wreath on the table?  Is the window open to toss the wreath overboard?

With the decks empty, I got a chance to photograph the "bubble" in the teak deck that we had kept walking over each time we took a stroll on deck.  The teak planks in these areas had become separated from the steel plates and the deck bulged in this area, creating a mild tripping hazard that I was a bit surprised that Cunard had not addressed or had roped off.  (note: this would be corrected after the completion of the World Cruise during QE2's "wet dock" at Southampton in April)

With the skies brightening, it was time to head back in and get ready for a full breakfast in the Caronia Restaurant, looking forward to orange marmalade on toast, served in those very cool silver toast racks.  If they had sold them on board, I would have definitely bought one.  (hint, hint Cunard, make this so!)

Thankfully, today turned out to be a beautifully sunny, but cold day in the North Atlantic, perfect for exterior photographs of QE2 and Queen Victoria.  Moments like this, Queen Victoria is looking sharp, although still alot like a floating block of apartment flats with all those balconies.

All the photographers were out on deck with the perfect lighting conditions.  After talking to this guy about his camera, I definitely had big zoom lens camera envy!  I think I did pretty good with what I brought for the Sony Minicam has a decent lens, as long as there was decent light. 

Walking on deck, I was reminded of Queen Mary, having seen the scenes shot onboard for the movie Poseidon Adventure, which by the way, was instrumental in starting my facination with ocean liners in my early years.

 Another shot that reminds me of that scene in Titanic where Jack sees Rose from the deck below, looking off into the distance.  Everywhere you walk, the iconic funnel dominates the skyline!

Passengers were posing all day with the new Queen in the background.

A quick pop down to 3 Deck and our cabin, number 3129.  Here's the view forward, showing the original wood panelling.  Our cabin was considered a first class cabin back in the days when QE2 was a two class ship.

On my way back up to deck, I decided to stop by the various restaurants to photograph them empty.  Mauritania Restaurant, where we dined in 2000 is pictured here.  (Iinterestingly, I would dine here again in September in one of the tables on the left).

Another view in the A Stairway at the top landing, with the Britannia figurehead on the right and illustrating the metal balustrade extensions.

Back on Boat Deck in time for a spectacular sunset to end the day.

Back inside again, I spotted carpet repairs going on.  QE2 would be retired in November, yet Cunard was going to have her go out looking good, at least from the passengers perspective.  This would be in sharp contrast to the sad events of the retirement of QE2's namesake, which was only repainted on the side of the ship the Queen would see before the original Lizzie left Southampton for the final time in the early 70's.

Looking all the way down to 5 Deck from the top of A Stair.

From 5 Deck, looking upward.  This stairway, used daily in lieu of the lifts, helped the waistline from expanding while on board!

Dinner in Caronia was topped off with an embarrassing gaggle of singing wait staff and a very tasty cake in a belated celebration of my birthday, ending another spectacular day on board QE2.  This was what I expected a crossing on QE2 to be exactly.  The ship was truly living up to all the hype.  Transatlantic Crossings are a unique experience and Cunard has kept the the tradition alive all these years with QE2.  "The only way to cross!"