Monday, November 22, 2010


First published May, 2007

Greta Kosan still inside the docks with the gate closed. Vessel not floating yet.
You get to the ship at the previously arranged time, taking into account the height of the tide due to the need of a decent under keel clearance only to be informed that a sea chest valve is leaking and it will take about 45 minutes to fix. No problem we are still inside the tidal window, why not go for a walk around the shipyard and take some pictures with the sophisticated photographic equipment I keep in my pocket (Nokia N70…).
After completion of the repair on the engine room I am finally called by the dockmaster and get to the bridge where I am received by the relieving captain, who is happily drilling holes on one of the bulkheads in order to place an electronic display, together with the person that should be doing that, the electronics technician… he tells me the other captain will be coming soon.

When the “other” captain gets to the bridge I give him the passage plan and explain the intended manoeuvre. Taking into account that the main engine is not working, two tugs will be used. By this time I have to ask the relieving captain to stop the drilling on the bridge as I can not communicate conveniently with the tugs and the people ashore with all that noise…
The dock gate is now opened, the aft tug is fast. I ask the captain to test the bowthruster only to be informed that it will not work unless we wait for another 45 minutes. As the shipyard had supplied the information that the thruster would be operative we have to pass two more lines ahead in order to control the bow when coming astern.

I go to the bridge wing with the two captains and I realize they are both worried that the dock is quite narrow for the ship’s breadth. Yes it is, but it was already when the vessel came inside, unless the ship got bigger or the dock narrowed (this is what I wanted to say but kept to myself)… In fact the ship is about 16,5 meters wide and the dock about 18 meters, so no problem we have already docked vessels with 17,8 m breadth (for those asking how is it possible for the shipyard to work on the side hull I must say that after passing the gate the dock widens about 1 meter).

Not too much available clearance, but what can you do?...

We decide not to wait for the bowthruster because now nobody knows when or if it will be ready so I start to move the vessel with the aft tug pulling slowly, when we are joined on the bridge by the company superintendent. And this is when the two masters begin to be really worried about the new paint job (the masters are from a Far East country, and, in the presence of their European company superintendent they tend to become uncomfortable, there is obviously a cultural matter that makes them fear that if something goes wrong their job will be at stake) … 

When I heard from one of the captains “it’s very close on this side, pilot” I had to answer “it’s very close on BOTH sides, captain…”. The superintendent laughs and goes on his business, giving the chance for the masters to relax a little bit. Unlike the docking procedure when we usually say to the more worried masters that if something goes wrong they are in the right place to repair, on the undocking manoeuvres, with the vessel looking brand new and everybody proud of that new paint work, there is always an extra anxiety on the bridge.

Drydocking or undocking is always a difficult task, particularly with a “dead” vessel and the wind blowing on the port quarter. But everything goes fine, no scratches, no indentations, we pull the vessel out, make fast the other tug on the bow, swing the vessel and go starboardside alongside on another berth (easier said than done…).

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