For the second part of my sea phase I spent two months on the Windstar cruise ship Wind Surf, sailing around the Caribbean, Atlantic Ocean, Canary Islands and Mediterranean.
The MSY Wind Surf is a hybrid cruise yacht, powered by diesel electric generators and five huge sails, making her the largest sailing vessel in the world. She has a cruising speed of 12 knots and is capable of making this speed under sail alone and in the right conditions. With some 300 passengers and 190 crew members, she is relatively small in the industry. Nonetheless this means she can reach smaller ports just not available to larger cruise ships.
I flew from Paris to St. Maarten and joined the ship in Philipsburg with some other new crew members. I’ve never travelled on a cruise ship before so it was a very new experience. After inductions, paperwork and meeting lots of new people I was quickly into uniform and even being asked by guests for directions around the ship!
We set sail on the ‘Classic Caribbean’ cruise, a week-long tour of the Caribbean islands visiting as far south as St Lucia. In keeping with all tours of the Caribbean, the ship was at anchor in nearly every port given the shallow draught. This allowed us to visit remote places.
The other cadet onboard had two weeks’ ship-time remaining. He was able to give me a good idea of what would be expected of me and how I would be included in the team. I initially joined the 8-12 watch with the 3rd Officer, Sofia. She is Swedish and has worked her way up from Ordinary Seaman to Officer over 10 years, so knew lots! I worked 8-12 in the morning and evening followed by work on the deck including helping Sofia carry out checks and maintenance of the life-saving appliances and lifeboats.
It was a steep learning curve in the first few weeks: the ship was always at sea during the 8-12 watch, and with just the OOW and the QM on the bridge I had lots to learn. Sofia involved me in everything she was doing on the bridge – from explaining traffic situations, using the radar, operating the heeling tanks, to communicating on the VHF. In a short period of time I managed to know my way around the bridge and the equipment enough so that I could be of use!
Something that differs Windstar from most other cruise lines is the open-bridge policy. This means that guests are allowed to walk onto the bridge at any time while the ship is at sea. Answering all the guests’ questions has actually helped my learning. I started to learn more about the equipment and processes so I could adequately answer any question. I really did enjoy meeting lots of new and interesting people on the bridge: everyone had a keen interest in the ship and came from all over the world.
By week three a new cadet joined and I wasn’t the new person anymore. This didn’t stop the Officers playing jokes on us both. I think it’s a rite of passage as a cadet!
I moved to the 4-8 watch which meant much more broken sleep. I now worked with the 2nd Officer Aline, and her watch nearly always involved the arrivals and departures. Just after getting to the bridge at 4am we would start preparing for the ship’s arrival, bringing another engine online and communicating with the port and pilot. I learnt lots about pilot boarding and readying the ship for port.
For the rest of this first month we continued the ‘Classic Caribbean’ and ‘Yachtsman’s Caribbean’ cruises. Each week we would meet new guests and the days were never the same, which I loved. There were so many highlights this month, not least being involved in all parts of ship life. I went ashore with the crew and saw lots of new places. As the weeks went on, I was given more responsibility and ran the anchoring party forward with the OOW, relaying communications to the bridge.
I also monitored the raising and lowering of tenders when at anchor.
By the end of my first month I felt confident onboard and was amazed at how much I had learned. We departed Philipsburg for the last time, setting sail across the Atlantic to Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
The Atlantic crossing took 13 days on one heading and at the same speed all the way. With only 36 guests onboard, it was an ideal time for maintenance tasks around the ship so the Chief Officer paired me and the other cadet with deck crew. Every day I worked with the Boson and Carpenter – we went all over the ship undertaking a variety of maintenance tasks: everything from watertight and weather-tight doors, chipping and painting and greasing – we were involved in it all.
The huge sails require a lot of work too; we greased all working parts to keep everything in good running order. They are the largest sails in the world, and together would cover one quarter of a New York City block. This is the unique feature of the ship and why many of the guests choose to come onboard.
Sailing away from each port involves the ‘Sail-away’: a dramatic unfurling of the ship’s sails set to the music ‘1492, Conquest of Paradise’. For many of these departures I helped on the bridge by operating the hydraulic controls to unfurl the sails and also by standing by each sail to radio communications back to the bridge. Once they are fully unfurled and billowing in the wind, witnessing the sails is like nothing else.
The days passed and on approach to Santa Cruz de Tenerife it seemed so strange to see land; everyone was out on the deck watching the horizon. We had been used to seeing nothing but the open ocean and plenty of whales! The Caribbean was by now a long way away and the temperature was much cooler. From Tenerife we made our way hosting a private yacht charter round the Canaries and north to Lisbon.
For all ports of call after Tenerife I was able to experience berthing and coming alongside, as there was no need to anchor at any of these ports. The Chief Officer often sent me forward to the bowsprit to give distances from the bow by radio. I witnessed lots of ship handling and management of the mooring operations from the bridge.
In my final week we set sail for a cruise called the ‘Treasures of Southern Spain & Morocco’. We were now sailing in much busier waters: from Lisbon, through the Strait of Gibraltar, calling at various ports before heading north to Ibiza and finally Barcelona. I was thrilled to be able to show my family around the ship in Malaga, so they now have a good idea of what I’m getting up to!
As with all ships, crew regularly come and go, and we said goodbye to some good friends over the last few weeks. My final week came round all too quickly, and before I knew it I was packing my things ready to leave in Barcelona. I said goodbye to all crew members I had become good friends with over the past months and walked down the gangway. I hope to be able to return to Windstar one day and very much hope in the future to sail with some of the crew again. I am really grateful to everyone for including me in the team and allowing me to be so involved. I was lucky enough to see some amazing parts of the world, meet great people and to learn so much.
Deck Cadet, Maritime London