March 10, 2009 St. Thomas welcomed one of the worlds biggest "Royals" Wednesday morning, and Capt. Ted Strazicic of Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas, said he felt like he was "coming home again.'
Strazicic sailed the massive Independence safely into harbor at 6 a.m., assisted by the harbor pilot and West Indian Co. dockmaster Mark Sabino. How could three men maneuver the behemoth so swiftly and precisely to the dock?
"It's the Azipod and the dock extension," Sabino said.
Work on the WICO dock was completed in 2008, the third and last phase of strengthening the 3,150-foot dock to accommodate the new mammoth ships.
The Azipod is a thruster that allows ships to be more maneuverable and enables them to travel backward almost as easily as forward.
"We couldn't have done that the last time I was here, in 1997," Strazicic said. "Now, with the dock extension, three ships can dock at the same time."
Independence shared the dock Tuesday with Explorer of the Seas and Liberty, but it was clearly the "alpha" ship, 1,112 feet long – longer than three football fields – gleaming white, graceful, with a distinguishable bow and stern.
Edward Thomas, WICO president, bustled around the Welcome Center, arranging a proper welcome for the royal visitor, with Mocko Jumbies and steel pans.
Glancing around Havensight Mall, Strazicic said, "I feel comfortable here it's a very good feeling. That's not normal in every port." Gov. John deJongh was on hand to greet the captain and accept the compliments.
As the two chatted, they discovered something other than a mutual fondness for St. Thomas. Strazicic is from Croatia. DeJongh expressed a similar fondness for the captain's home soil.
"I was in Dubrovnik in a study program when Tito died in 1980," deJongh said. Strazicic said he graduated from high school in that year. "Well," the governor laughed, "that dates me."
Independence, a Freedom-class ship with a capacity of 4,000 pasengers plus 1,450 crew, could easily accommodate the population of a small town.
The 160,000-ton liner was built in Finland and is bigger by 8,400 gross registered tons than Cunard's Queen Mary 2. On Wednesday, another Royal will visit, Liberty of the Seas. (See: " Danish Company Coming to Volunteer on St. Thomas.")
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