Sunday, June 05, 2005
The cruise industry is booming, but meeting the immediate demand is a problem: The most common way to add space is to build new ships, which requires at least three years lead time and hundreds of millions of dollars. Peter Fetten, a naval architect and vice president of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, had a different idea — add on, similar to the way a homeowner might bump out to add an extra bedroom, but on a much huger scale.
As he strolled past the line's massive Enchantment of the Seas at the Keppel Verlome Shipyard in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Fetten described plans to simply cut the ship in two and add a new middle section to create space for 300 additional passengers. "It's far faster than building a new ship," said Fetten. "We can react to market demands or popularity of new ships much faster." The idea appealed to Royal Caribbean because it would add capacity for $60 million, a fraction of the cost of a new ship. And Enchantment would be out of the water for just one month. While some ships have been expanded this way in the past, none has been done as quickly nor completely out of the water in a drydock. "This is just an engineering question," said Fetten. "We can fly to the moon, so we can cut ships." Enchantment of the Seas was launched in 1997. It measured 315 feet long, 105 feet wide and 12 stories tall. Enchantment weighed 74,000 tons. Fetten's plan would add 73 feet to the ship's length. Crews at the shipyard took just two days last week to cut the ship in two with circular saws and torches. The crews cut through the steel outer hull, the watertight inner hull, interior spaces, thousands of cables, pipes and ventilation ducts. They even cut through the swimming pool on Enchantment's top deck. When the cutting was done, a narrow line was visible from top to bottom and inside daylight spilled through the cut line. The next part was the trickiest — spreading the two parts of the ship apart wide enough to slip in the new prefabricated middle section, which held 151 ready-to-occupy staterooms complete with furniture. Deep in the drydock, Enchantment's keel was had been raised onto skids that rested on Teflon rails. The design called for hydraulics to push the forepart of the ship along the rails until it was wide enough to install the new section, also pushed by hydraulics. The next day, the hydraulic cylinders began pushing. Time-lapse pictures provided by Royal Caribbean reduced the three-hour operation to just seconds. They showed the front section of Enchantment moving smoothly forward until a gap was visible. The new middle section moved slowly but surely into the gap. It fit with 1/6 of an inch to spare. Next will come 12 to 15 days of work to weld the ship back together and connect the cables, pipes and ventilation ducts. But when the welding is all done, will it float? "Yes!" declared Fetten unequivocally, "and it will be watertight." That test will come in less than three weeks when Enchantment will be back at sea. Completely refurbished, Royal Caribbean said, it will begin carrying passengers by early summer. Enchantment of the Seas