One rough night in seven
A tip from Princess cruise directer Martin Ford about trans-Atlantic cruises:
"Be prepared for all sorts of weather and sea conditions."
On my cruise, we had fine weather and relatively gentle seas. The Mediterranean in mid-October was predictably warm from Venice to port stops at Naples and Civitavecchia (for Rome), Italy; Cannes, France; Barcelona and Cadiz, Spain; and Lisbon.
If you stayed out of the wind, you would be warm.
Our only rough night was the first one out of Lisbon, on our 800-mile crossing to the islands of the Azores. All night, in near gale force winds, huge foamy swells of ocean whooshed off the bow, raining spray as high as the top decks.
About midnight, I stood for a few moments on my balcony until, shivering and drenched, I headed to bed, only to be awakened half a dozen times during the night by creaking walls or a vibration as the ship hit a serious force of water.
The rest of our journey was peaceful. After a sunny day at sea, we found another at the port of Ponta Delgada in the Azores, below, about 800 miles west of Lisbon. I did a long walk on our last piece of terra firma. Then, the Emerald Princess set a straight course for a five-day run to Ft. Lauderdale.
A straight line longer than a curve
As anyone who understands navigation knows, straight is not the shortest route across the ocean. Our course, 255 to 256 degrees, was explained by Fergus Stewart, third officer on the Emerald Princess bridge, which is the control room that juts out from either side of the ship, high above the bow, to give pilots the best views of nearby waters:
The shortest distance between two points (the Azores and Ft. Lauderdale) would follow the curve of the Earth. But that course, in the Northern Hemisphere, would have taken us toward the north. Anticipating better, warmer weather toward the south, the captain chose a straight course -- a rhumb line -- from the Azores to Ft. Lauderdale.
Our course was about 40 to 50 miles farther than if we had followed the curve of the Earth. Fergus said that repositioning cruises set a course even more to the south later in the fall, so a ship might take six days to get across the Atlantic from the Azores instead of five.