Captain Birger J. Vorland welcomes a handful of guests into the spacious Bridge of Crystal Serenity as the ship cruises along the coast of Tunisia, soon to pass Algeria en route to Spain. This space is his comfort zone, having spent more than three decades helming ocean going vessels – 13 of those years aboard Crystal ships. Within moments, he is guiding us through an overview of nearly a dozen screens showing maps, military grade radar systems, charted courses and sea conditions.
The scene is one of superficial contradictions, as the Bridge itself is a comparatively sparse space in relation to the famously elegant lounges and public areas aboard Crystal Serenity. The ship’s “steering wheel” is reminiscent in size of an arcade racing game, nothing like the four-feet-in-diameter wooden contraptions imagined from old world maritime tales. However, upon further inspection, it becomes apparent that the true luxury of the Bridge lies within these panels of state-of-the-art technology and capabilities.
The approximately 30-foot span of computers and accompanying screens enables Captain Vorland and his team of experienced bridge officers to assess with astonishing precision everything from the depth of the waters beneath the ship (currently 6,200+ feet at our spot in the Mediterranean Sea), to the fuel consumption rate of the ship’s current path and speed as it continues into the varying sea conditions ahead.
Radars are designed to track any other vessels within a specified range of our vessel, using the AIS (Automatic Ship Identification system) to identify the craft, as well as measure its current distance from our ship, what its closest distance to us would be if we both continue on our current trajectory, and at what point in time this distance will occur. This is invaluable for the Captain and his team in determining whether another craft will at any point get too close for comfort – and if so, to determine what evasive action needs to be taken.
Crystal Serenity’s technological efforts extend well past the Bridge on deck 11, down beneath the ship, where the bulbous bow of the hull, the entire hull itself, and the PODs have been coated with a brilliantly engineered paint that is designed to ensure the slickest travel through the seas. This seemingly small component of the sixty-eight thousand-ton ship’s construction is anything but. The silicone based paint – which Captain Vorland helped campaigned to implement on Crystal Serenity during his seven and a half years as Vice President of Nautical Operations in the company’s Los Angeles headquarters – not only requires less application due to it being a “loose less paint”, but finishes with a surface so smooth that its propulsion through water actually preserves fuel consumption.
Like any company rooted in transportation and a corresponding commitment to the environment, Crystal Cruises is always considering fuel consumption and its efficiency. For instance, each of Crystal Serenity’s six generators utilizes roughly 1.4 tons of fuel per hour. Per hour. Thus, the ship rarely employs all six generators, as one is sufficient for all hotel operations while the ship is docked in port, while three are currently in use as the ship spends the day at sea at a comfortable 18 knots. Likewise, if a tender port (that in which the ship is anchored offshore, rather than docked landside) has particularly windy sea conditions, or have depths too deep to anchor in, the Captain may choose to use the ship’s Dynamic Positioning (DP) system, which enables the ships computers to keep the ship in a particular position spot by using the PODs and the thrusters with remarkable accuracy.
Always at the forefront of its industry in so many ways, Crystal Cruises has outfitted its ships with technology that is virtually unheard of in the consumer market. Several of the Bridge radar systems, developed by navigation and radar programs specialist Kelvin Hughes, boast military grade capabilities, the only systems currently employed by the civilian market. Still, like every facet of Crystal’s operations, it’s the people who make the difference. The Captain and his team of expert officers manning the helm of the award-winning ships know well the nuances and split decisions that cannot be made by a machine.
“All of these systems are incredible, but still, they can only show you what’s already happened and try to predict what will happen in the future,” says Vorland. “Looking out the window, using your own judgement and experience – that’s the only way to really assess what is currently happening and how best to manage it.”