Captain Jonathon Mercer has been at sea for 40 years, ever since he didn’t make the cut to become a BOAC (now British Airways) pilot and his parents suggested he instead try a life at sea.
During a special briefing on the bridge of the Nieuw Amsterdam, the newest ship in the Holland America Lines fleet, he divulges that he has never once regretted following his mum's and dad’s advice. With close to 2000 passengers and a crew of nearly 900, it’s a big job to assume the overall responsibility for safety and harmony for all those onboard.
On the bridge we learn that there are four officers involved in navigation at all times: two officers on watch and two charged with the task of steering. Those on watch are looking out for those smaller items which radar might not detect. From this high position we are privileged to see the volcanic island of Stromboli, a wisp of smoke lulling all into a (probably) false sense of security as we sail close by.
The Nieuw Amsterdam is guided by two Azzipods – a new form of technology, based on the theory of outboard motors which removes the need for gearboxes and propeller shafts. Each Azzipod can work independently of the other and rotate through 360-degrees, making this large vessel very manoeuvrable – a feat we are to witness many times as we enter and leave various ports in Italy and Greece.
Captain Mercer works three months onboard and then takes three months break, at home in Florida. Interestingly, the rush to build even more cruise liners means there is a world-wide shortage of officers – some 35,000 are currently needed to serve on vessels already afloat or under construction. With half time on and half at home, it sounds like a great life – if you’ve worked the necessary time (many years) to achieve the required qualification.
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