Cruise ships have come a long way since the days when hundreds of dockworkers used to assemble each vessel bit by bit on gigantic slipways before launching the finished product into the water with an almighty splash.
Nowadays most ships are built in sections, in dry dock (a dry area with a rectangular basin to allow water to flood in), with prefabricated cabins slotted into the main structure before the whole ship is gently ‘floated out’ for the finishing touches.
Even so, many maritime traditions live on in the 10 stages of preparing a ship for its first paying passengers.
1. Steel cutting
Here’s where it all begins - the first piece of steel is cut by computer-controlled machinery to start the whole construction process. Representatives of the shipbuilder and eventual owners gather in front of invited guests and media to push the button on a multi-million-pound project. It is much like the tradition in housebuilding of ‘breaking ground’ by digging a single spade into the earth.
2. Keel laying
A few months later, gantry cranes lift the main basis of the hull (the keel), weighing hundreds of tons, into dry dock. This might be combined with a coin ceremony where specially struck currency is welded into place as a good luck token. On some ships, the coins are left in a position where the public will eventually see them on board.
The tradition is thought to date back to Roman times when coins were placed in the mouths of men killed in battle to pay Charon, the mythical ferryman, to transport the dead across the River Styx. By placing coins on a ship, sometimes underneath the mast, the crew would be able to pass into the afterlife if it sank. They don’t put that in the cruise holiday brochure.
3. Hard hat visit
The yard will organise a tour of the ship while it is still being built to give cruise line executives and the media an idea of what the finished product will look like. However, most of the areas on board will still resemble a building site with trailing wires, uncarpeted stairs and bare metal. “How will this ever get finished in time?” is usually the most overheard comment as hundreds of workers weld, hammer and crawl about the floor. It normally does.
4. Float out
It’s time for the ship to touch the water - or, rather, the water to touch the ship. Floodgates are opened in the dry dock to let the sea in and float the vessel out of the yard.
The first water to touch the ship is caught in a bottle, sealed and often displayed in the captain’s office. Dutch Captain Emiel de Vries, of Holland America Line ship Koningsdam, said: “You walk in and think, ‘Ah, there's the bottle. Everything is good’. If I would walk on a ship and it’s not there, I would find that odd.”
This ceremony may be attended by a ‘madrina’, a kind of initial godmother to the ship, who may also break a bottle on the bow for good luck. A chaplain will also give a blessing.
Ships constructed inland - and, odd as it may seem, there are some - will be guided by tugs along a river in a process known as a ‘conveyance’ until they reach the sea.
The old way of sending a large ship down a slipway was fraught with danger:
- 124 shipworkers died when SS Daphne flipped on to its port side and sank shortly after its launch in Scotland in 1883.
- A backwash created when HMS Albion launched on the Thames in 1898 threw 200 spectators gathered on an old wooden bridge into the river, drowning 34 of them.
- In 1907, the Italian liner Principessa Jolanda capsized and sank upon launch.
5. Sea trials
This is the time to put the engines and navigation systems to the test. The captain will take the ship out for a kind of ‘test drive’, putting it through its paces with tight turns, high speeds and ‘hitting the brakes’ to check everything is tickety-boo. Noise and vibration levels also have to be low enough for the ship to be certified as a passenger vessel.
Once all the boxes are ticked, the ship is handed over from the ship builders to the new owners (the cruise line) in another ceremony. A ‘log book’ is signed by both parties, the shipyard’s flag is lowered and replaced by the cruise line’s.
The phrase ‘log book’, now used for cars as well as ships, comes from the old way of measuring a ship’s speed by weighing a log at the end of a line and counting how long it took for the rope to play out. The line was also marked by coloured rags tied at regular intervals - hence the word ‘knots’ to indicate nautical speed. From the word log, as a written record, we also get ‘captain’s log’ – as in Star Trek – and ‘blog’, a shortened form of ‘weblog’.
7. Shakedown voyage
Crew will be brought in from other ships to see how the newcomer performs with a few selected customers on board. Any rough edges in the operation of the restaurants, bars and cabins have to be sorted out before paying passengers embark.
8. Inaugural voyage
Often ships are built in Europe but destined for the US. On the way from the yard to a stopover port, such as Southampton, the inaugural voyage gives the media, travel agents and other guests a sneak peek at all the new features of the ship. Sometimes this is combined with the shakedown or even the maiden voyage.
The big event, when the ship is named by a godmother (or, sometimes nowadays, godfather or even godparents). Famous godmothers include The Queen and Sofia Loren. Invited guests see a bottle smashed against the hull - often televised to screens on deck or in a main theatre - in a centuries-old maritime custom. The drink is normally champagne but might be prosecco in Italy or English sparkling wine in Britain.
Vikings used to spill blood during a ship launch as an offering to appease the Gods - thankfully now it has been replaced by alcohol. Only occasionally – as when Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, launched Cunard’s Queen Victoria in 2007 – does the bottle refuse to break.
10. Maiden voyage
If the ship is delivered ahead of schedule, the advertised ‘maiden voyage’ might be proceeded not only by a shakedown and inaugural cruise but even a ‘pre-maiden’ trip. However, the cruise line will still ensure the maiden voyage is one to be remembered.
The term ‘maiden voyage’ was first recorded in 1901, but the use of maiden to signify ‘the first time’ dates from the mid-1500s. The most famous maiden voyage – for all the wrong reasons – was, of course, Titanic’s in 1912.
Aside from any technical problems that arise and regular maintenance, ships should give years of service before they are called back into dry dock for a refurbishment. Carpets will be replaced, cabins freshened up and restaurants and bars changed, moved or replaced. Sometimes, as in the case of Silversea’s Silver Spirit, the ship is lengthened. Cruise ships tend to have a long and varied life. Cruise & Maritime Voyages ship Marco Polo entered service as Aleksandr Pushkin in 1965, for the Baltic Sea Shipping Company. Many ships are sold between lines - the recently launched Marella Explorer, for example, used to be Celebrity Galaxy, the ship that launched the career of Jane McDonald.
But eventually they have to leave service and go to scrap, as with Pacific Princess, otherwise known as the famous ‘Love Boat’ from the eponymous TV series. Others, like the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, become museums; or hotels, like the QE2 in Dubai. It’s all a long way from that first steel-cutting...
By Dave Monk, The Telegraph
Re-posted on CruiseCrazies.com - Cruise News, Articles, Forums, Packing List, Ship Tracker, and more
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