Silver Spirit
Picture is courtesy of Silversea Cruises
Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit out on sea trials.
By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 11/16/2009 3:45:51 PM ET 2009-11-16T20:45:51

It’s early September as I arrive at the Fincantieri Monfalcone shipyard in Trieste, Italy. Dawn is breaking and the winds are howling down from the mountains. Hundreds of yard workers, vendor specialists, technicians, and Silversea Cruises employees are gathered on the pier to board the Silver Spirit. There’s excitement in the air as Spirit is about to taken out for sea trials.

The majority of cruise passengers probably have never heard of sea trials. But, one thing is certain no cruise ship gets to sail with passengers without going through them.

Pushing the limits
Sea trials are the testing phase of a cruise ship to check the vessel’s performance and general seaworthiness. Over the four days of sea trials, Silver Spirit will undergo hundreds of tests that assess its speed, maneuverability, equipment and safety features.

It is a very unique and amazing atmosphere on the ship during sea trials and rarely are journalists allowed onboard to observe the process. As the vessel sails out from the pier, the bridge is bustling as the shipyard Captain and crew go over the ship’s state-of-the-art navigation and maneuvering systems. Two tug boats follow Silver Spirit during the first critical nautical miles from the shipyard. The ship is buffeted by heavy winds, but you wouldn’t know it; Spirit stays remarkably smooth.

Silver Spirit’s master, Captain Angelo Corsaro is onboard as an observer during the trials. Captain Corsaro has been with Silversea since the company’s beginning in 1994. He will take command on December 15 after delivery and is excited by the ship and impressed with the work being done by the shipyard. Christian Sauleau, executive vice president, fleet operations for Silversea Cruises echoes Captain Corsaro’s assessment of the ship and Fincantieri. “Great job, the team, shipyard.”  The stakes are high for Silversea as Silver Spirit is their first new-build ship in six years. According to industry sources, the Silver Spirit costs a little over 400 million dollars or some $500,000 per berth. The delivery of Spirit will bring ultra-luxury line’s fleet to six making Silversea the world’s largest luxury cruise line.

The stakes are high for Fincantieri, too. The company has built 48 cruise ships in the past 20 years, but surprisingly, Silver Spirit is the first luxury cruise ship built there. Clearly, they hope it’s the beginning of many more luxury liner orders.

Testing continues as Spirit goes through a series of twists and turns, yes, it is doing virtual “donuts” in the Adriatic to test the ship’s stability and maneuverability. At high speeds the ship has minimal vibration. As the crew continues their testing it’s time to tour the rest of the ship.

Art deco rising
It’s surreal to walk around Silver Spirit with 500 yard workers onboard hammering, painting, testing, finishing — a far cry from the atmosphere the vessel’s 540-discriminating guests will experience in a mere few months. The ship is more finished than I anticipated — Sauleau tells me it’s around 65 percent completed — well ahead of schedule.

The best cruise deals around the worldI am escorted to my accommodations for my two-night adventure — a standard Veranda Suite — albeit one with a cot, plastic covered carpet, and paper on the windows. While the suite is technically finished the furniture and luxury accoutrements have yet to be installed. I am informed that those items are the last to be installed. One really cool addition that will be in all suites is two 26-inch, flat-panel televisions (one in the bedroom, the other in the sitting area) both televisions will hide behind a mirror when not in use.

Even with plastic and plywood covering a number of areas the beauty of Silver Spirit’s Art Deco design shines through. The ship’s architect has incorporated a 1930s feel into a modern environment by marrying traditional Art Deco lines with the use of contemporary materials including granite along with intricate wood and metal panels.  

While Silver Spirit's design mirror’s the distinctive silhouette of their existing ships it offers some new enhancements. One of the most striking is the ship’s spa measuring 8,300 square feet with aft facing teak deck and whirlpools. There are also nine treatment rooms, multiple sauna and steam rooms, heated loungers, fitness center with two aerobic studios, weight-training equipment and a climbing wall. Other public spaces include a show lounge, observation lounge, conference room, casino and sports bar, a library, internet cafe, and duty free shops.

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Silver Spirit boasts six dining venues that include some of the line’s regulars as well as two new eateries. The well-known offerings include the simply titled Restaurant — offering international breakfast, lunch and dinner menus by Relais & Châteaux, La Terrazza — a buffet style restaurant with ocean views, Le Champagne — a six-course experience in a romantic setting and the Pool Grill. In addition, the ship also has the Stars Supper Club that will offer supper accompanied with live music and dancing and, for an extra fee, guests will be able to dine in the Asian-inspired Seishin Restaurant.

After touring it was time for lunch alongside the shipyard workers — a sit down affair in the Restaurant venue where everyone was served pasta and wine. Not bad for virtually camping at sea.

Thrust buster
Over the course of the day and night, Silver Spirit goes through the paces. Test after test with rudders, thrusters, stabilizers, navigational equipment, communication equipment and a rescue boat drill. Speed is slowly increased then decreased all while being closely monitored to check for proper performance. Halfway through the sea trials a gauge shows a rise in temperature in one of the thrusters. Apparently there’s a faulty bearing and sea trials will have to be cut short to make repairs.

While the bearing issue puts a dent in the sea trials it’s the perfect example of why they are necessary. As Vittorio Facco, technical director responsible for new building for V. Ships Leisure S.A.M., told me a complex system like thrusters cannot be tested at the yard — the vessel must be at sea to check performance.

A few weeks after the initial September sea trials and the thruster bearing being replaced, Silver Spirit set out to sea again to complete the rest of its tests. “It exceeded our expectations,” said Sauleau. He told me during the third day of the sea trials, the ship experienced very rough seas with winds up to 40 knots (Force 7) with swells up to 14 feet. “In those conditions the ship was able to maintain a speed of 19.5 knots. It was very steady in the water with no vibration recorded at maximum speed and full power.”

As for the rest of the ship the outfitting of the interior is progressing very well and Silver Spirit is on schedule for its expected December 15 delivery date.Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column. And check out her blog, ExpertCruiser.com.

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