The North Atlantic.
Updated: Sep 22, 2018
Chasing Waves Across the Pond
Wikipedia defines a "storm chaser" as: "The pursuit of any severe weather condition, regardless of motive, which can be curiosity, adventure, scientific investigation, or for news or media coverage." Some do it for the sheer thrill, others for analyzing and collecting data for meteorological purposes. The movie "Twister" brought viewers into the center of the vortex and displayed the adrenaline those witness to the fierceness of tornado activities and how it can wreak total destruction. I'm not obsessed with watching barns fly off into the sky in pieces or watching cows fly (as they did in "Twister".) I am of the curiosity and adventure type where waves and big seas are one reason I frequently head out to sea. I love the ocean.
I haven't yet experienced a 100-foot rogue wave or storm of the century. Key word: "YET." However, I did get into some Force 10 gales and thirty-foot seas crossing the Atlantic. As a wave chaser, there were some memorable events on over 30,000 miles of crossings.
The motion of the ocean does wonders for me. I sleep soundly. Engaging with the swells, counting the sets of wave tops in anticipation for the next round of pitching, rolling, and pounding is a daily affair. The force of friction between the hull of the ship moving at 20 plus knots and water is the chemistry that moves tens of thousands of tons of steel in ways that are beyond our control. It sets in motion a reaction – the pitch and the roll.
Since July 2016, I've crossed the Atlantic ten times racking up over 30,000 miles of the North Atlantic on seven ships. I chase waves seeking out serenity, a respite from reality, and rough seas...
Queen Mary 2 July 2016
Queen Mary 2 October 2016
Queen Elizabeth January 2017
Celebrity Eclipse April 2017
Queen Mary 2 August 2017
HAL Westerdam November 2017
Queen Victoria January 2018
HAL Koningsdam April 2018
NCL Jade April 2018
Queen Mary 2 July 2018
As a reference, I rely on a web site praised by surfers seeking out the best swells and surf around the globe: https://magicseaweed.com. I'm in touch with the ocean and what to expect on each sailing - in advance.
If you prefer calm seas, I apologize. The motion of the ocean has an adverse effect on some. I have two responses. First, there are land-based vacation options. Second, Bonine. Ships move and when the seas change, as they frequently do, motion ensues. Stay out of your cabin and eat apples. If the pool is open, use it.
My first cruise was in 1967 on Holland America Line's SS Rotterdam - 38,000 tons. As we sailed south from New York to the Caribbean, an August sailing through the Mid Atlantic, the swells were about twelve feet. Our first night at dinner produced some pitching and rocking and Mom explained that tomorrow, we would be traveling near Cape Hatteras, known for its elevated sea conditions due to the contrasting ocean floor from its shoals to deepening cliffs. This area of the Atlantic is known as the Graveyard of The Atlantic. Twelve-foot swells aren't much and Capet Hatteras can get wicked. The ship's motion sparked curiosity, a fondness for the sea and intrigue - the obsession was born - like a kid in a candy store.
Ten years later, I would experience some of the roughest seas ever - remarkably on the SS Rotterdam, as we sailed from Nassau to Bermuda through a hurricane in near fifty-foot seas. The 38,000-ton ship wrangled through the fury in a "confused sea." A condition I have never heard repeated since that event. In the same storm, QE2 lost one of her forward cranes and lengths of her railings. A satellite print-out (high-tech for the late '70s) depicted the waves as high as QE2's deck seven. The night skies were bright green. Inside the Rotterdam, the center stairwell's central structural columns were latched together with steel cables adding strength to the ship (I suspect.) Surprisingly, we were allowed out on Upper Promenade deck in small groups to witness the storm's fury as waves rifled by at the same height of the deck. Through all of this, Rotterdam always felt safe and secure, designed and built for plying through about anything in front of her. Rotterdam was a world-class built ship with a deep draught and powerful steam engines.
Enter the North Atlantic. The North Atlantic is infamous for big seas, particularly in the winter months and potentially during hurricane season. As I write this, "Florence" aimed at the Carolina's, produced forty-foot seas off the eastern seaboard. While not Drake Passage, located at the Southern tip of South America where one of the world's most renowned stormy seas, also known as the “Sea of Hoces”, based on the conditions, the North Atlantic can be fierce.
Living in Miami, I seek out sailings that would coincide with approaching low pressure areas or big seas. I sailed through Irene on Imperial Majesty's Ocean Breeze from Nassau to Ft. Lauderdale, Gordon on Carnival's Imagination in the Western Caribbean, Katrina on Imperial Majesty's Regal Empress, and Sandy on Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas.
As a virgin at crossing the North Atlantic in 2016, it had to be Cunard's Queen Mary 2. My first of four QM2 sailings was July 2016 - an epic voyage that paralleled life-changing events on a personal level. This first crossing was not rough, but I wasn't chasing waves this time. I was entering a new dimension in my life. Following my first crossing, I decided to write a book - so I did; "Divine Crossings, One Man's Destiny" (www/qm2divine.com.) It's a hardbound photographic chronicle, and essay, of my experience on QM2, and my life. One crossing was not enough to satisfy this daunting task. I never wrote a book before and had just started taking pictures with a good camera. It took three more (QM2 crossings) to get it right. Since my first QM2 crossing, I learned one thing: to never again say "I should have."
Two of my four QM2 crossings were rough - October 2016 and July 2018. On the 2016 crossings, I woke one morning to some heavy seas witnessed from my balcony and the motion of the ship. I wandered up to Commodore Club, the foremost-forward facing lounge on Deck Nine and admired the twenty-five foot seas with gale force winds (force 10) - the kind where the tops of the waves are blown leaving a trail of surf.
The combination of the view and the pitching of the ship, most prevalent the very front the QM2, were just what I implore. Twenty-five-foot seas are nowhere near the threshold of QM2's competencies, but it was enough to sink your derriere into any seat. The ride was great and the North Atlantic was delivering in grand fashion. I sat and watched the boiling ocean for hours. Westbound, heading in the opposite direction of the growing seas, the North Atlantic would calm herself.
In April 2017, I Sailed through tropical storm Arlene on Celebrity Eclipse's Tradewinds Transatlantic crossing from Miami to Southampton. It's amazing to take an eight-minute UBER ride from my home to the port of Miami and embark in Europe.
It's a much more relaxed way to gain six hours and there's no jet lag.
Arlene was the second earliest tropical storm to develop in the Atlantic on record. Furthermore, it had the lowest central pressure of any Atlantic storm recorded in the month of April.Arlene formed between the Azores and Bermuda where we had ported for a scheduled overnight stop. The storm went in a circle sustaining the ocean conditions for days subsiding about 500 miles from Lisbon. It was a cold, windy, rough, crossing. A bumpy ride, Arlene and the Eclipse were not to be my roughest crossing.
My balcony stateroom was about as far aft as you can get - the second to last on Deck Nine, number 9366. One evening, as the seas became very rough, the stern shook, shuttered, and wobbled violently. I though the aft of the ship was going to break off - we would be eclipsed. This is what makes cruise ship design different than an ocean liner. Cruise ships bend, curve, and twist to conform to the ocean's impacts so they don't break up. Their bow is wide - the ship has to push its way through the waves. Ocean liners such as QM2 cut through the sea with a narrow, sharp bow which flairs out slowly towards the middle of the vessel, just one of the several features that differentiate the two..
In January 2017, I sailed on the first leg of Queen Elizabeth's world cruise, an eight-day crossing from Southampton to New York. I was keen to sail with many whom would circumnavigate the globe for close to 100-days. One of the few remaining items on my bucket list.. Of course, it was freezing cold - it was January. Knowing this, I packed a winter coat, gloves and a ski cap along with my tuxedo - requisite Cunard attire, especially this trip. I was upgraded to a Princess Grill suite for no apparent reason but gladly accepted the offer. I needed more than a dark suite.
Cunarder's never dismiss an opportunity to stroll or jog along the promenade regardless of ocean conditions, temperature, or time of year. In fact, the pools, both of them, were open and used frequently by several of the guests. I opted for the ships's indoor spa pool which I savored every day.
We set sail with grandeur and fireworks - it was a world cruise and fairly mild when we departed but the temperature dropped quickly as we entered the North Atlantic on day two. This crossing was special. The Princess Grill suite was amazing and dining up above in the semi-circular Grill - twelve decks above the waterline was sublime. I ate every single meal in that Grill. It was a gift.
Queen Elizabeth's Captain, a fine mariner, had a challenging time reporting on sea conditions. We were assured each passing day during the noon bridge advisory that the seas would subside (I couldn't care less.) They never did. By the fourth and fifth days, we were in eighteen to twenty-foot seas. Add ice on the decks, a force nine gale, sleet, and snow and this was about as honest the North Atlantic in January can get. I'm in candy land.
On our last evening as we approached New York, the wind had to be gusting to sixty-eight knots. The canvas up on deck acted like a wind instrument emulating the sound of an approaching freight train. There's nothing like sailing up the Hudson - it's epic and was icing on the cake for perhaps one of my more memorable crossings.
In the summer of 2017, it was Queen Mary 2's port call in Halifax that lured me into this voyage. I finally had an opportunity to get some exterior shots of QM2 for by book - the only missing component of the 200 pages. This was a smooth crossing but I had work to do and achieved the objective by renting a fishing boat for $200 as soon as we docked in Halifax. The boat captain took me out into the harbour where I captured the amazing missing book photos. It was a sterling day. Another compelling reason to book this voyage was the availability of one of Queen Mary 2's single suites on Deck Three at an affordable rate, rarely available at any price.The rest is history. The only absent component of this voyage were rough seas. This trip was an introduction to the wonderful single suite, Halifax, and some new found friends.
Crossing on the Westerdam in the fall of 2017 proved to be the calmest of them all. Hardly any seas to speak of for the exception of one day where the swells were maybe six to eight feet. Nothing. This however was the longest stretch of sea days I have yet to experience - eight of them, from Cadiz to Ft. Lauderdale. The Westerdam is a fine ship with a really tight crew and some contemporary updates from her last refit earlier in the year.
Enter 2018 - a busy year for crossings. Four this year to date - with one upcoming voyage from Lisbon to Ft. Lauderdale in October on HAL's Princendam. I have been desperate to sail on Princendam for years. Just too costly until a deal came up on this twelve-day crossing. This will be one her last under the HAL flag. Next year, she will be transferred to her new owners, Phoenix Reisen. A photo essay from this journey will prevail, I assure you.
First on the calendar, Queen Victoria's first leg of her 2018 Exotic South American Journey. We sailed from the UK to New York in January departing Southampton at sunset and in tandem with Queen Elizabeth. Fireworks and a ship parade led us off on an eight-day westbound crossing which would be prove to be one of, if not, the roughest in my crossing career. So rough, both ships were forced to alter courses diverting to the Azores, replacing our scheduled and highly anticipated stops together in Bermuda. I was to shoot the Queens paired up for an upcoming book, "A Pair of Queens." Sadly this would not happen.
We sailed in tandem (at least for a day) with the Elizabeth. After a set-back on our side tending to a medical emergency, we caught up to her in very rough seas. Of course, this was the photo op of a lifetime! Just look below as QE takes a header.
NOTE: If you didn't know, Queen Elizabeth and Victoria are not ocean liners. Queen Mary 2 is the only ocean liner operating today. The Elizabeth and Victoria actually share basic footprints of a cruise ship design conceived in the late 90's for several other ships under the Carnivale Corp Plc. umbrella. The design evolved in the late 90's from Vista Class to Signature Class to today's Pinnacle Class. The current and most recent iteration: HAL's Koningsdam and Nieu Statendam at 99,000 tons, soon to be shared by Cunard's yet unnamed slightly larger newbuild at 115,000 tons - slated for delivery in 2022.
The seas presented some issues, particularly dining in Britannia, the main dining room at the stern of the ship. Service got a bit sketchy. It was loud with lots of cavitation from the azipods. Several passengers took their seats and left soon after. It was rough back in Britannia and noisy. The wait-staff were a tad challenged. Of course, I got a seat at the very back overlooking the wash. Goodness, it was bumpy. The Eggs Benedict however were delish.
This was a serious low pressure we sailed through and Commodore Christopher Rynd kept us informed and up-to-date spending precious time with passengers and a glowing map and the significance of the storm. It took up a wide swath of the North Atlantic and persisted for days. What a gift.
I strategically select my staterooms. Strategic in the sense that optimal exposure to the ocean and any potential wave shots are paramount. On this crossing, I was able to secure the most forward balcony cabin on Deck Four, Number 4001. Waves broke over the balcony and I repeatedly got soaked each time I poked out for some shots. My vase full of flowers flew across the room after a wave bomb-shelled us. Just add water. The pictures were great. However, if you like to sleep, avoid this cabin. In moderate to rough seas, the motion of the ship rattles everything in the stairwell forward. The inner structure of the ship just shook violently. Next, expect waves that break against the bow every few seconds are going to make a lot of noise. So much noise, forget the television. It would be the two to three minutes between sets of swells that I could dose off, but not for long.
Welcome to Praia De Vitoria, Bermuda's replacement where we arrive at around noon and were to overnight. Luckily, I got out early and walked into town returning just before sundown. Luckily, because the next morning, the weather had turned and no one was permitted off the ship. Piles of freight containers, those big forty-foot metal boxes, were blown over like matchboxes from the wind. Our scheduled noon departure, even with tugs, didn't happen and it took three attempts over the next three hours to push off due to the simple fact that our thrusters were no match with the fifty-mile-an-hour wind bursts. Finally, at around 3:30PM, we made it out to sea.
Rough seas ensued as we headed towards to next port, Cape Canaveral some 2,200 miles west. Enroute, it was business as usual on any Cunard ship. Anyone for a swim?
We arrived in Cape Canaveral as planned. It was a gorgeous day and time for the beach. The sun was a welcome change from the chill of the North Atlantic. One more day and we would arrive in Ft. Lauderdale - the end to a good chase across the Atlantic on a fine ship. Thank you Cunard and Commodore Rynd.
Next, it was HAL's eastbound crossing on Koningsdam , my second voyage on this Pinnacle Class built, 99,000 ton Dutch ship detailed in my BLOG "HAL'S DUTCH TREAT." I was met with surprise on the second morning at sea, when a voice yelled out my name. It was VAL, a fine lady from Greece. A friend from Westerdam's crossing the previous November. This is what life in all about when you travel on ships frequently, particularly crossings. Again, I was lucky to secure a balcony stateroom. Number 4011 situated just a few back from my Queen Victoria stateroom 4001. FYI, these staterooms have super deep balconies. More than twice than other balcony cabins and they are only on deck four forward and aft.
This voyage would take us from Ft. Lauderdale to Horta and Ponte Delgada in the Azores followed by two stops in Spain; Catagena and Malaga ending in Civitavecchia, Italy. Horta was not to happen. No room for more than one tender at a time. We switched ports to (one guess) Praia Da Vitoria.
My second visit to Praia Di Vitoria in four months (one more would follow!) This time, I spent the good part of a beautiful day walking through the quaint streets of this little town, almost a village. The weather would abruptly change mid afternoon with the winds picking up significantly.
As we made preparations to sail out of Parai De Vitoria, the wind was gusting to 40 knots. This near identical scenario to what we had experienced in Prai De Vitoria mirrored the Queen Victoria departure in January. The Koningsdam's updated engineering capabilities exceeds that of the Victoria and with its thrusters, at 100% for quite some time, we pushed us away from the pier after the first attempt while continuing to fight the the winds.
The Atlantic was moderately rough until we reached the Strait of Gibraltar - an event you never want to miss, even at 3AM. It was a rough crossing from the Azores to the continent - about 14-16 foot swells.
Checking in with my surf-AP, MagicSeaweed, I noticed some conditions in the Mediterranean indicating the seas would be growing to 12-14 feet. A low pressure was building and our transit from Spain to Italy would be bumpy. It was, and during lunch in the buffet, our second to last sea day a large swell hit us broad side us and everything went south. Everything, from the food to the tableware was on the floor. I saw us list into the swell and it must have been ten to fifteen degrees.
Sailing out of Ponte Delagada, we were in for a couple of rough days - forget the pilot, a deep sea tug had to be used (photo left.)
On our final day as we approached Italy. The seas smoothed out and we arrived at dawn as did Symphony of the seas on her debit sailings. My ninth crossing ended with more fond memories of Koningsdam, a renewed friendship and at this time, no future cruises or crossings to look ahead to - a sad scenario of this obsessive wave chaser. It was April and the spring transatlantic season was coming to an end, or was it?
After a couple of days in Rome (Hotel Ripa, very cool) I returned to Miami on the 111th of April. It wasn't long until the "itch" had me poking around for my next cruise. NCL's JADE crossing had been sold out for months but I noticed some availability on her April 21st crossing which was a voyage I wanted to book months ago but it was sold out - and opted for the Koningsdam. What really got me excited is that NCL's single fare deal applied to this sailing. I was on the phone and in minutes,and had an outside cabin on the JADE's April 21st crossing from MIAMI to Southampton, UK. A gift at $695 !!! FYI, I returned on Norwegian air for $350.00.
With just a couple of weeks back on land, it's April 21st and I'm off on NCL's JADE from Miami to Southampton. A quick LYFT ride over the port and I'm in the terminal and on board within 25 minutes. The JADE had undergone a refit about a year ago and was looking shiny and contemporary inside. My outside stateroom was roomy but the window was marred from exposure and abrasives so the view was somewhat fuzzy.
We sailed promptly at 4PM. About an hour out, we circled and stopped. Not a great way to start a crossing. This wasn't the first time a medical emergency would delay our progress but that's life. The seas were about six to eight feet when we left Miami and after the sun set, we were in to twelve foot swells and forty-knot winds. A great way to set us in motion for the next thirteen days.
Besides a stop in Ponte Delgada, my third in less than six months, we visited Portland - a small island off the coast of the UK and Brest, France. Two new ports for me. I loved Portland, get there if you can.
This was a bumpy and chilly crossing. It was a year ago that I crossed on the Eclipse through tropical storm Arlene. En-route to the Azores, the seas had been building and on our forth day, we were i n twenty-plus-foot seas which continue for the next twenty-four hours per the Captain. Waves from the forward promenade were spraying well over the deck - the view was great (and wet.) We were in the midst of a building low pressure area.
The JADE rides surprisingly well. Her draught is twenty-eight feet which is a bit deeper than other ships of her size. The JADE and her sisters are Jewel Class (Jewel, Pearl and Gem) members built for longer cruises. I've been on ships of the same size that didn't handle as well in large seas. One-day out from the Azores, we were cruising at eighteen knots through nine-metre seas; twenty-eight feet. It was really windy but the ship carried herself with aplomb keeping her composure except for the raging waters in the pools.
A note about the JADE. Her aft main dining room designed after the Matson Lines is in a Hawaiian theme and is gorgeous. This is one of the more striking MDR's I've dined in. While just one level, the high ceilings, light fixtures, stern facing floor to ceiling glass windows facing the wash, and artwork create an upscale decor different from anything you'll find on ships today. Of course, this is an original venue from the JADE's previous life. She was built as the Pride of Hawaii - the largest most expensive US flagged ship in history. One more JADE note. The cabins have more USB plugs than any ship I've been on. I counted six.
Sailing through the English channel on our last evening, the seas got busy again - a fine way to end another crossing on a fine ship for this wave chasing obsessed mariner. We dock early of course and I was off to see some friends in Reading, a forty-five minute rail-trip through the countryside. What I love about travel, the ocean, ships and new found friends.
Realizing how lengthy this BLOG has evolved, now a short novel, my next crossing on QM2, the 27th of July is yet another grand adventure from Southampton to New York. There's nothing like, or close to crossing the Atlantic on Cunard. The entire experience is a total departure from crossings on a cruise ship. I've detailed this crossing in a blog of its own...so journey on and join me as I continue chasing waves across the pond here:.
July 27, 2018.