It’s no surprise that nearly every ship cruising the Caribbean during the fall is steeply discounted. Fear of hurricanes even keeps some of the most experienced cruisers from even venturing near the region. However, while it’s true that ships do directly encounter these climatic behemoths in the oceans of the world, it’s a different story in the Caribbean.
Probably no one has more experience with Caribbean hurricanes than a ship’s captain. We asked Carnival Destiny’s Captain Leonardo Francolla to tell the story from the bridge.
According to Captain Francolla, hurricanes never arrive by surprise. “Ships receive advisories by radio, satellite, fax and e-mail from the U.S. Weather Service, the Hurricane Center in Miami and the U.S. Coast Guard,” he says. “On the bridge, the position, speed and direction of the storm is then tracked on a computerized nautical chart. Making allowances for possible changes in the direction, speed and storm force, the future positions of the storm are compared to the itinerary of the ship,” Captain Francolla explains.
If a hurricane does threaten a port on the ship’s itinerary, the Captain will consult with his senior officers and decide to alter the ship’s course in the interests of safety, also advising the cruise company so that new port arrangements can be made.
According to Captain Francolla, “The advance timing of a decision to alter course is based on the size of the area affected by the storm, it’s force and the distance of the ship from an alternative port. It also depends on how much time is needed to notifiy the alternative port and make arrangements.”
Staying in port during a hurricane is never an option, according to Captain Francolla. “A ship is much safer at sea, where she has room for maneuvering. A hurricane’s tremendous wind can cause the moorings to break and push a ship aground or against another vessel in the harbour. Another threat is ocean surge, which may come with a hurricane,” he says.
When new ports of call are substituted, what are your chances of experiencing at least some bad weather? It depends. According to Captain Francolla, “It is possible but, since we’ve selected a new course to avoid the the storm, the effects, if any, will be minimal. Of course we try to comply with the printed itinerary, but there have been instances when the whole cruise has been rearranged with different ports. This is due to passenger and ship safety or the inability of a port just affected by a storm to accommodate the ship following a hurricane.”
The Carnival Destiny Captain says he’s yet to directly encounter a hurricane in the Caribbean. “So far the timely advisories of the Hurricane Center in Miami, which keeps a watchful eye not only on the Caribbean but also on the Atlantic where most of the hurricanes are generated, have given us the advance notice necessary to successfully avoid them,” he says.
Mike Moulin, Captain of Princess Cruises’ new Grand Princess, summed it up well: “It would take a pretty stupid captain to get caught in a hurricane,” he said.