As a part of a continuing series of guest blog entries from the senior leaders of the Royal Caribbean International brand, I have asked Captain Bill Wright, Senior VP Marine Operations and soon to be first Master (Captain) of Oasis of the Seas, to give his first-hand perspective on the recently completed first sea trial of Oasis of the Seas. Obviously it was quite a “Wow.”The hotel lobby in Turku, Finland is buzzing even though it is only 3:00 am on Monday morning, June 8, 2009. Pick-up vans and taxis are lined up to take the 65 Royal Caribbean employees who will join some 270 yard workers and vendor specialists and technicians to the ship yard where Oasis of the Seas is in final preparations for going to sea for the first time. The yard has only allowed a one hour boarding window from 3:30- 4:30 am with departure scheduled for 5:00 am to ensure the right tidal and wind conditions. Ironically, the first nautical mile of her first voyage will be one of the most challenging she will ever face. With only a few feet of water under her keel and a channel to navigate that is barely wider than her beam, conditions must be perfect.
As we arrive at the yard a new day is already breaking at latitude 59˚ north just a few weeks before the summer solstice. Boarding is efficient and everyone is issued a flashlight and an extra pack of batteries, a lifeline on a ship that is 90% dark with only limited areas having power for lights.
I was happy to see that my stateroom was on deck 12, the Bridge deck, were I would be spending a lot of time. My balcony had a dramatic view overlooking Central Park and the glowing morning sky.
The bridge is bustling with last minute activity and the yard Captain, Ari, is briefed on the ship’s state-of-the-art navigation and maneuvering systems. I am only onboard as an observer as the ship is still owned by the yard and I will first take command on October 28th, after delivery.
The day is perfect with almost a dead calm and a cloudless sky. Three tug boats will assist the Captain during the critical first nautical miles from the yard and the challenging, yet breathtaking, six-hour transit through the Turku archipelago; a snaking route through the thousands of islands between the yard and the open sea.
Finally, with four of the six main engines online, all lines are let go and Oasis of the Seas slowly moved away from the dock keeping a speed of less than one knot for the first hour of her first voyage.
Once clear of the initial shallow and narrow channel from the ship yard, the first of hundreds of precisely scheduled sea trial tests began with the testing of the massive anchors and windlasses in 70 meters of water. Each anchor is lowered to the bottom and control tests are made to ensure that the measuring devices are calibrated correctly between the forecastle and the bridge for how much anchor chain is out .
It takes over ten hours for the ship to depart the archipelago and for the first time she has a clear and open ocean horizon off her bow. The transit and tests have gone without a hitch and there is a noticeable sense of relief on the bridge now that Oasis finally has deep water under her keel.
With her tug escort left behind and now in open water, the first stress tests are conducted on the main engines. Speed is slowly increased and the engines and three azipods (the 360˚ rotating propeller units that give the ship her remarkable maneuvering abilities) are closely monitored in myriad ways to ensure proper performance. All goes well for the first few hours then suddenly the port pod shuts down immediately, followed by shut downs of the center and starboard pods. Everyone is concerned; especially ABB the manufacturer of the pods, a shut down of one pod should not cause shut downs of the other pods. Power is quickly restored to all three pods by replacing the thyristors, the equivalent of massive fuses, however the root cause of the shut downs is not known. Again, power is slowly increased as before when the center shuts down, this time however, the port and starboard pods remain online. Although ABB has their most senior technicians onboard they are not able to identify the root cause of the shut downs. There are concerns that the thyristors are central to the shut downs and there are not many spares remaining onboard. With time running and scheduled tests not being conducted, it is decided to airlift new fuses and an additional ABB technician to the ship by helicopter.
Six hours later and 12 hours behind the test schedule, the helicopter arrives with the ABB technician and a new supply of thyristors. With the new thyristors in place, speed is again increased to full ahead with no additional propulsion shut downs and testing again continues.
Although the pods are now operating at almost full load, there is still concern about why all three pods shut down the first time. The center and starboard shut downs were not related to the faulty thyristors for the port pod and suspicion is directed to the software programs that control the pods. ABB does not have a software technician onboard so it is again decided to airlift one to the ship, this time from Switzerland. He arrives less than 24 hours later and is quickly able to identify and solve the problem.
While the pod shut downs caused great concern due to the tight sea trial schedule, it should be understood that this is exactly why sea trials are necessary. Complex systems such as the pods cannot be tested at the yard; the ship needs to be at sea to experience full loads.
Although delayed, the testing schedule proceeds 24 hours a day so rest is taken only a couple of hours at a time. It is a very unique and special atmosphere on the ship during sea trials. With only 316 persons onboard, all walking around with hard hats and navigating with flashlights, it is somewhat surreal, especially thinking that in only a few months Oasis will come completely to life with over 5,000 guests enjoying this remarkable ship.
The testing continues around the clock without any further set backs. Speed trials are held and Oasis breaks a top speed of over 24.4 knots at 100% power and easily meets her contract speed of 22.7 knots at 78%! Finally, at 1:00AM on Friday morning we were ready for the test I was looking most forward too, maneuvering! This is the time where we get to do things with the ship we will most likely never have the chance to do again. Like a “crash stop” to determine how quickly the ship can stop from full speed, putting the helm “hard over” at 20 knots and finding out what her top speed is going astern!
Test after test, Oasis amazed everyone with her performance and stability. Even the most extreme maneuvers could not get her to heel (roll) more than just a few degrees, unheard of for a large cruise ship! We have always said that ships with pod propulsion are the “sport cars” of ships, with that in mind, Oasis proved herself to be nothing less than a Formula 1!
The remainder of the tests went as planned and despite the initial delays, all planned tests were completed and we arrived back in at the yard only 10 hours delayed at 6:00 pm Friday evening.
Oasis will remain safely moored at the yard until her second sea trial in late September to be followed by her final departure after delivery on October 28 with yours truly proudly at the helm!