VIDEO: Queen Mary 2 in Rough Seas

Posted In: Overseas Travel, Video

A few years ago, when decorating our tree we put together a “video Christmas card” and emailed it to friends. We’ve done several over the years, usually consisting of some sort of sloppy timelapse in which I drink a lot of whiskey-laden eggnog while Kristy labors on our tree. I guess it’s become a tradition.

So here’s this year’s “video card” – shot during our December 12-19 transatlantic passage from Southampton to New York. The voyage crosses more than 2000 miles of North Atlantic Ocean during a season of predictably dangerous weather. To further bolster one’s confidence, the route passes within 80 nautical miles of the remains of the RMS Titanic.

The Queen Mary 2 is the largest ocean liner ever built. As a true ocean liner, it was built differently than cruise ships. It’s got 40% more steel in the hull, for example, than typical passenger vessels of comparable girth. It’s equipped with a couple of massive Rolls Royce stabilizers. In rough seas, these extend underwater from the hull of the ship and act like airplane wings. The stabilizers are said to reduce roll in extreme weather by 90%. So the Queen Mary 2 is not only a beautiful ship, but a capable one. She has been designed to handle the North Atlantic in winter.

Even so, when you toss force 10 winds and 30-foot swells at her, you’ll notice…

We encountered two separate storms on our transatlantic passage. Both generated swells in excess of 20-feet and winds in the gale force 9 and 10 range. Travel outside to the ship’s decks was forbidden for obvious reasons. But I was able to step onto our balcony and snap a few moments of video. The wind was powerful, cold, and laced with pellets of rain. I could only stand on our balcony for a few moments before retreating back inside the cabin.

Our stateroom was located near the front of the ship, fairly high on deck 8. Ship movement is most exaggerated towards this area of the ship. (If you think about a ship’s rocking motion during a storm, it makes sense that the most stable portion would be low and towards the center of the vessel.)

Technically our stateroom was an upgraded cabin, due to its location and the fact it was equipped with a clear plexiglass balcony. The balconies on deck 8 are not directly adjacent to the water since they overlook the deck 7 walking area. This is a benefit. If you somehow managed to fall off a deck 4 balcony, there would be a big splash. Sadly, it would probably be the final splash you’d experience in this particular lifetime. If you fell off a deck 8 balcony, you would hit wood and metal instead of water. It would be painful and probably injurious, but you might actually survive.

I guess in most situations the higher staterooms are the more desirable. But there’s an ironic old saying about passenger ships: “the more you pay, the more you sway.” As a practical consequence, this meant that our deck 8 stateroom was swaying wildly for several days. The pitch (vertical motion) was much more extreme than the roll (horizontal motion). The room was rising and falling with such force that when lying in bed, we got a genuine sense of weightlessness as the bed dropped through the air! Then, as the ship crested over the next swell, we felt ourselves pressed down into the bed with significant gravitational force. Oddly, at times this sensation could be comforting; it was like we were being rocked in a giant cradle.

Of course some passengers were afflicted with seasickness. Thankfully Kristy and I did not encounter seasickness. (We did contract an unfortunate viral bug in England that we battled during our voyage, but that was no fault of the ship or weather.)

The first three days of our seven day passage were dominated by this extreme weather. Rough seas transformed life on the ship. Due to the conditions, many shipboard entertainment events were rescheduled or cancelled altogether. (You can’t exactly have a group of people dancing around on stage during this sort of storm, else they go flying into the front row seats.) So there were certainly times that we were wanting the weather to clear.

But in hindsight, it was a spectacular travel experience. The weather turned our cushy cruise into a legitimate adventure.

After a couple of days of stormy travel, it began to dawn on me how unusual such an experience would be. “You know the weather’s bad,” I told Kristy, “when you see members of the crew stopping to watch it.” And we did see this happening all over the ship. Overall, the crew amazed me as much as the ship. They displayed a remarkable ability to “keep calm and carry on” despite the challenging circumstances.

I asked the ship librarian how often she sees comparable weather. She told me that she had not experienced anything so severe since Hurricane Ophelia in 2005. So, this transatlantic crossing was rare indeed. The entertainment director said “we’ll be talking about this one for the rest of the decade.” Kristy and I will be talking about it for the rest of our lives. (Thirty years from now, you can just tell me to stop since you already heard the story… :-))

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