When you take a cruise anywhere in the wotld, there is almost always a good chance that, at one port or another, you will have to go ashore by tender.
That means that the ship will anchor offshore, and you will transfer down an inclined gangway into a smaller tender boat, often via a floating platform. That incline can vary greatly depending upon tidal or swell conditions.
The tender in question might be some local, hired vessel, but more often than not it will be one or more of the ship’s own, motorised lifeboats. There are crew on hand to guide you every step of the way and, as long as you follow their instructions, there is nothing alarming about the process.
In fact, it can be a bit of a joyride, bumbling ashore in a small launch as it splutters across the sparkling briny. For sure, you will never get a better opportunity to take pictures of your mother ship as she sits out in her natural element.
But tender operations anywhere are always subject to certain weather conditions. With the cruise industry’s rightful insistence on passenger safety as a priority, no captain worth his salt is going to put tenders in the water if he considers the sea conditions to be even remotely dangerous or uncomfortable.
So sometimes, this can cause the inevitable cancellation of a certain port of call, owing to the already cited sea conditions. Similarly- as I have just witnessed- thick, sudden fog can also play havoc with a scheduled tender service, too.
Obviously, this can cause disappointment. But you always have to bear in mind that a ship, even the most luxurious, is not a hotel. It is subject to the causal effects of wind and wave alike. In short, it is not an immovable object.
More than once, I have heard a tidal wave of moans and groans as a captain announces that he has had to cancel a port of call due to just such conditions. Do these people honestly imagine that the captain does this deliberately, in a determined attempt to spoil their day? Obviously not.
I have heard these same naysayers whinge that the sea looks perfectly calm from where they are standing. Perhaps so. But, down at the shell door near the waterline, that same sea might look much more unpredictable. And, at the end of the day, it is the duty staff- and ultimately the captain- that would take the blame for any mishap at a tender station. You can imagine the law suits rolling in like storm clouds.
I would far rather sail with a captain that displays an overabundance of caution, rather than one who might ‘wing it’ (unfortunate phrase) to keep a handful of blowhard passengers appeased. Missing out on a port of call is unfortunate. But the Titanic disaster it is not.
And you need to exercise patience when getting on and off the tenders. Loading each one at peak times can be a slow, time consuming process. Not everyone can bound up or down those slowly moving step ladders at lightning speed. And, often as not, it will be the same process in reverse when you return from your day’s foraging around some palm splayed foreign paradise.
And, of course, it takes time to organise the whole process from on board. The ship must first stop, and drop anchor. Then the shell plating doors have to be opened, and a floating pontoon lowered to sea level. Then the gangway has to be rigged and lowered, down to the pontoon. Only then can the boats be lowered into the water, released from their davits, and come around to the pontoon to get ready for the first, shore bound passengers.
Ashore, a reception and security area has to be rigged up on the quayside; a visible focal point for passengers that also acts as a first line of protection for the ship, her passengers and her crew.
And, of course, the whole process has to go into reverse when the last tender returns to the ship. Anyone who has watched the entire, labour intensive slog involved in just preparing a ship for tendering ashore will appreciate the complexities of the operation, and the time involved in just getting everything safe and ship shape.
But-tendering is a slice of the cruising adventure as a whole, and it can often be tremendous fun. The views alone often make it a rewarding little jaunt. You just need to be prepared to have a little patience, show a little courtesy and yes, sometimes, just grit your teeth and wait your turn.
Of course, none of this is rocket science. But, based on the trips I have done thus far this year, it’s amazing how many people seem to forget it.