Size Matters

Lead Line — August 2000
By Richard Thiel

Size Matters
Voyager is bigger than a nimitz-class carrier.
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Two loves have defined my life: those of my daughter and of boats. The former caused me to do something I never thought I'd do, and the latter kept it from becoming a debacle.

My 15-year-old daughter has always wanted to vacation on a cruise ship. To me this was heresy--a young woman raised aboard boats who has laughed at Force 6 conditions and is lulled to sleep by the sound of thrumming diesels longing to spend a week on a floating amusement park with a couple of thousand Bermuda shorts-clad tourists. Little wonder I resisted for almost a decade, until last spring, when at my insistence, we went skiing. To make a long story painfully short, she fell, tore some tendons, and ended up in a cast for a couple of months. Steeped in guilt, how could I not grant her wish this year?

So I booked a week on a cruise ship, but not just any cruise ship. This was the world's largest, Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas. There are no words to describe the dread I felt at the prospect of being abandoned by my daughter when she inevitably hooked up with other baggy-clothed kids.

You're probably expecting me to say that I actually had a good time. Not exactly. I didn't have much in common with my fellow passengers--all 3,840 of them--and frankly didn't try hard to bond. But the ship! I was captivated and astounded by her and spent the week exploring her. Unfortunately, no one would let me into her bridge or engine room, so what I learned I managed through stealth, guile, and a few well-greased palms.

Voyager is 1,020 feet long, roughly a third longer than the next largest cruise ship and, by the way, nearly three times the LOA of Al Salamah, currently the world's largest privately owned yacht. But don't think length, think gross tonnage, a measure of volume. At roughly 140,000 tons Voyager is bigger than not only the QE II, a mere 81,000 tons, but also a 100,000-ton Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. She has a 158-foot beam, draws 29 feet, has 14 decks, and carries 1,181 crew.

And she cruises at 22 knots, thanks to six 17,140-hp Wartsilla diesels, each weighing 185 tons and lubricated by 3,700 gallons of oil. Because everything onboard operates on electricity, including the propulsion motors, each diesel drives a generator. While all six are rarely on line at once, if they were, their total output would be 756,000 volts. There are three props, a centerline fixed one flanked by forward-facing "azipods" that can be steered through 360 degrees, eliminating the need for rudders. There are also four 4,000-hp bow thrusters, four stabilizers so massive they must be retracted into the hull for docking, and a 500,000-gpd watermaker.

It took just two years to build Voyager, not much more than most megayachts, using similar techniques, like plasma-cut steel plate (one inch thick) and explosive welding of the aluminum upper deck to the steel lower decks. Like some yachts, she was certified by Det Nortske Veritas, a process that is said to have consumed 61/2 man-years. She reportedly has the largest bridge ever built, but much of the equipment is familiar, if considerably more complex, such as a GPS/chart reader and vessel monitoring system. And a promotional video shows the captain taking Voyager away from the dock by working a joystick and a pair of small single-lever controls.

As a boater, I can't say I really enjoyed my time at sea aboard Voyager. With all that mass and virtually no roll, there's no sensation of being at sea. And when you're 200-plus feet off the water and there's loud music everywhere, there's no chance to smell or hear the sea either. But viewed as an engineering accomplishment--and the biggest damn boat ever--Voyager of the Seas was one hell of a vacation.

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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