- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

19 Feb. 2019: At Sea

Yesterday I ended my blog with the remark that this cruise was not POSH. That does not just apply to this cruise, but basically to all cruises, unless you are on a world cruise which only travels one way.  POSH comes from the old days of the British Empire, when company’s such as P & O Lines maintained regular liner services to the colonies in the Far East. P & O still exists as  P & O Cruises but the British Empire is long gone.  In the heydays of this travel between the colonies there was no air conditioning on board and even worse, many of the ships had a black hull. This to cover up the soot of the coal smoke coming from the funnels. Once the ships became oil burners, the white hulled ships showed up, as the soot was reduced.  The black color absorbed the heat and thus these ships were only a means of transport; nobody took them for a cruise through the Red Sea so to speak.

The ss Rawalpindi of P & O from the early days of 1900. Black hull,  brown superstructure and those two colors are not really conducive to keeping the ship cool. I have thus far not found any reference in the HAL archives that POSH was also done on the North Atlantic, hence a photo of ship from P & O.

The clientele quickly figured that if the sun was not burning on your cabin all day, then that cabin was considerably cooler than the other ones. Hence they booked POSH  = Port Out Starboard Home as the ships sailing from England to India and beyond had the sun on the starboard side when outward bound and when coming back homeward bound,  had the sun on the portside and thus they booked cabins on the opposite side. POSH cabins. Of course the shipping companies were not stupid either and charged more for the privilege.  Quite a bit more. Hence we now have in the English language the word “posh” if you buy something expensive that you really do not have to buy. A Rolls Royce is posh, because it is more comfortable to drive than a Toyota Prius but that car gets you there a lot cheaper and as fast. (Plus it is a lot easier to park).

What does this have to do with this cruise? Well you cannot buy POSH on a cruise ship; your cabin is yours for the duration of the cruise. You get 50% of the Caribbean weather on your balcony, either when going down from Fort Lauderdale or when coming up to Fort Lauderdale.  So at the moment the guests with the portside cabins have 25+ knots of Trade Winds blowing onto their verandah, enhanced by a bit of salt spray at times, and the starboard side is happily sitting out of the wind while the portside balcony’s struggle.  To and from the Panama Canal when the wind is on the stern or on the bow it is all even.  But once we leave Puerto Limon, it is the starboard side that gets all the wind.

Only on a world cruise when you travel either only westwards or only eastwards you can avoid this. Then you can scrutinize the route and see what you prefer. Shade or Sun.  My wife and I do the same ashore. When we go to London by train or by express coach we check where the sun will be most of the time for the journey and then book seats for the other side. Even with good air conditioning on the train or in a coach, it does get warm when sitting on the sunny side. (And yes the sun does shine in England, at least in our region which is the driest part of the country)

The ms Zuiderdam rounding Cabo Maisi the most eastern point of Cuba. There is a Vessel Traffic Separation scheme, there to keep South and north bound ships apart. Apologies for  my reflection in the photo but it was a very sunny day. The red dotted line is our intended track.

We sailed this morning through the Wind Ward passage and as the sun rose at 07.00.  it shone brightly on the coast of Cuba on our Starboard side with the light house of Cabo Maisi clearly visible at 07.45 hrs.  It made it a lot harder to see Haiti on the portside as we had to look into the glare of the sun.  So this time only a gloomy view of Haiti for the portside balconies but a clear view of Cuba for the starboard balconies.  It takes about 4 hrs. to sail through the complete Windward Passage as the island of Hispaniola (which is made up of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) is quite large.

Tonight we will have another exciting happening.  A Super moon. The moon is coming very close to the earth and as it is a clear night we should have a good view.

Tomorrow we continue to cross the Caribbean Sea and we should have nice weather again but very windy.

18 Feb. 2019; Half Moon Cay, Bahamas.

Well this cruise started very well. The sea was as smooth as a mirror when we approached Half Moon Cay and the sun was happily shining with just a few clouds in the sky. I had been told that we would be the only ship here but when we arrived the Nieuw Amsterdam showed up as well.  I should have checked myself as it is clearly on the sailing calendar. With two ships in there could be about 4000 guests ashore but in reality probably no more than 3000 as a lot of our guests have been there already a few times and opted to stay on board. And that means that the island is still very sparsely populated and there will be no fights over beach chairs.  There might be a fight over a Bar chair as Captain Morgan, the bar we have inside a pirate ship, is spacious but limited. Only solution to that challenge is to get to the bar as soon as you arrive and not move anymore.

The Nieuw Amsterdam lying a bit further out. The two big shore tenders, Henry Hudson and Anne Bonny are going between the ship and the shore.

The whole operation of the island is a joint venture between the local Bahamian staff and the crew of the ship or ships that are visiting. The local staff lives partly on the island (those who look after the horses and the island manager) and partly on Eleuthera Island nearby and come by Holland America ferry (The Half Moon Clipper) every morning to the islands.  They man part of the retail shops and other outlets, run the tender boats and sightseeing boats, plus provide the security and the transport /infrastructure.

The Half Moon Clipper about to come alongside. The two sailors (Lifesaving attendants who look after the lifeboats and the access doors to the ship) are ready to receive her. The sailors are connected to the ship by safety harnesses so they will not fall in the water and drift away if they would slip on the platform.

Food and drink comes all from the ship(s) and what is left, goes back to the ships. If there are two ships in, then one ship will provide the food and the other the beverages.  The cook-out house for the barbeque and the bars are manned by the ship’s crew and they go ashore with the first tender as soon as the ship is cleared. Although it is our own island, it is still part of the Bahama’s and thus every ship call, a Customs officer comes over from Eleuthera Island to clear the ship.  Getting crew and supplies to the island and back needs a lot of coordination but after so many years of doing this,  we now go to Half Moon Cay since autumn 1997, the checklists are now so refined that we can almost predict how much the guests will eat and drink and thus plan well in advance.

The Half Moon Clipper arrives alongside the cruise ship(s) upon arrival and then loads everything that has to go ashore for the day onto her aft deck and before the first guest is even ashore, all the food and drink is already there and carted by small tractors to the various food outlets.

We have shore tenders available and if there is only one ship in then they provide the whole shuttle service for the day. This works very well as the capacity is so large that with 4 runs the ship is completely empty.  When there are two ships in then there is a pecking order. The largest ship gets the shore tenders; the smaller ship will run its own tender service. With the understanding of course that if the smaller ship has challenges (late arrival, not all ships tenders available) then arrangements are being made to share the burden.

This we also did today. Although there is not much difference, the Nieuw Amsterdam is marginally larger than the Zuiderdam and thus in accordance with protocol she got the shore tenders. But the captain of the Nieuw Amsterdam helped the Zuiderdam by staying farther out, so the Zuiderdam tenders had to cover only a short distance.

The radar picture, the land and the Nieuw Amsterdam are reflected as green and the Zuiderdam is the little white boat just off the shallow water indicated in blue.

Holland America allows no more than two ships at Half Moon Cay together and then you can share the setup. When there are days that there are no HAL ships calling, other ships from the Carnival family can call here and so on occasion we see a Carnival ship popping up.  We never see Princess, also part of the family, as they have their own island called Princess Cays. From the ships bridge you can see the ships lying at anchor there. I think it is about 8 miles away from our island. But our island is of course much nicer, not because it is my opinion, but also because Port Hole magazine has said so.

We always stay here until 15.00 hrs.  and we try to have all guests back on board by 14.30 so we then still have 30 minutes to round up any stragglers as there are always a few who really do not want to go back. Thus the island manager and his team make a complete sweep of the beach and the accommodation behind it to get everybody back on time.

Tomorrow we are at sea, sailing down the Windward Passage into the Caribbean. The weather will remain fine as per forecast. Just more wind as we enter the Trade Wind zone. Ever heard of POSH???   Not on this cruise………………….

The weather for today. But there is no cloud insight, so it will be nice tomorrow as well.


17 Feb. 2019; Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

With so many cruise ships coming in, and so many big ones, the arrival parade started quite early as some ships docked nose in and some ships docked nose out.  The choice between one and the other has mostly to do with work that has to be carried out on a specific side of the ship. All captains like to dock nose out; always easier for departing. Most of the time you have sufficient time on arrival to swing first before docking as Customs and Immigration do not start until 07.00 hrs. But captains do not always get their way as work might be needed at a certain side of the hull. Such as painting something that can get the Staff Captain very excited, or an underwater inspection that can get the Chief Engineer very excited. Then there might be life raft or emergency chute inspection which also demands a choice between portside and starboard side.  To get that all done properly, the arrival parade starts early in the morning.

The ms Zuiderdam entering Port Everglades harbor this morning. (Screen capture from Pt. Everglades Port Cam, by Lesley Schoonderbeek)

Today the first one was the Majesty of the Seas who arrived at the pilot station at 04.30 hrs. and went starboard side alongside. Then the rest came in with the Koningsdam going starboard side, the Celebrity Edge starboard side, the Nieuw Amsterdam starboard side, the  Zuiderdam portside (nose out), the Celebrity Summit portside (nose out)  and the Regal Princes  starboard side (nose out).  And then there were also still cargo ships coming in and going out.  The pecking order depends on the dock and the size. The Koningsdam docks at pier 26 and thus has to go in first as the Celebrity Edge goes to 25 and once there blocks half the fairway.  Same for the Nieuw Amsterdam, it has to get in before the Zuiderdam docks, as when in, the Majesty of the Seas and Zuiderdam are completely blocking the exit.  And thus the parade has to be really fine tuned to get the ships in, in the right order, to swing around if needed and to get the gangway out for 07.00 hrs. to start the turnaround day.

These are all the docks in Port Everglades. The numbering is still from the days that the ships were a lot smaller.  Dock 22 and 21 merges into 21 when the Zuiderdam docks, and 16,17, 18 become one dock when an Apartment of the Seas comes in.

Today I was the first one off the gangway at 07.00 hrs. As the CBP had promoted me to “Down liner”. This is a person who joins a ship halfway during the cruise instead of during turn over day in the American home port. I do not know if that makes me more dangerous than normal but while normally I go at the end with the in transit guests, now I had the honor to be processed first and get my stamp of approval.  The stamp was the same, the CBP was as friendly and professional as always, so why the difference I have no idea.  Next time Fort Lauderdale it will be back to normal and I will march with the In-Transit Guests to the CBP booth at the very end of the dis-embarkation. Once we have all been scrutinized and the “zero count” has been announced (= all guests and related off), we can march straight back on board.

While waiting this time to be allowed back on board, I was watching the world go by and it is really amazing what sort of impact the cruise business has on this area. Apart from all the guests going to the airport or on buses or to the car park, there is this enormous number of shuttle buses to service the crew. Our changeover was about 80 today that is normal: 10% of the crew on board and that was two big buses full. Then there are about 25 (today maybe even more) crew shuttles going to the Southport, Galleria or the Sawgrass shopping mall. Quite a few of the drivers are ex crew who somehow ended up in Florida. And they offer cheap transportation to the necessary hot spots (read: supermarket and money exchange)

You would think that a sherrif is more at home on dry land, riding a horse or driving a car. But the sherrifs department also has a “wet side” with patrol boats.

Another large group of important people is the Broward County Sheriff Department. I spoke  to one of the police officers ( I wonder if he would also be a sheriff and his female counter part a Sheriffin, or that only the big boss is called a sheriff ?) who was guarding the cross over and he estimated that over 150 officers were involved today with safe guarding the port. When I asked him if he was really needed for directing pedestrian traffic to the taxis; he said”if you would see the paperwork involved in an accident, you would want to be here”. And he was right; while we were talking a dear old lady, pushing a suitcase almost her size, started to cross completely oblivious of any traffic, just with full focus on the waiting taxi. And then I knew. But there is a mixture of police / sheriff assistants and security guards who do it all and with 20,000+ out and 20,000+ in, it is not a simple job. Security, assistance, protection, K9, water way patrol, fire engines and medical rescue all in one group; turning it into an enormous smoothly running operation.

We left nicely on time and we are now on our way to Half Moon Cay, if I remember the schedule right, we will be by ourselves and thus 2000 guests will have ample space as the island van handle about 5000.

Weather:  79oF / 26oC full sun and very little wind. I hope the guests packed sun block 50, as it will be warm.


16 Feb. 2019; 2nd Day at Sea.

With a brightly shining sun the ms Zuiderdam continued its return part of the voyage to Fort Lauderdale. We have already left the North western part of the Caribbean with the Yucatan Channel and by 16.00 hrs. we were abeam of Havana Cuba in the Straits of Florida.  In the Straits the navigators start searching for the most optimum speed by trying to find the center of the Gulf Stream. For this we are aided by current charts which we receive every day from the NOAA and from other Meteorological authorities who collect Satellite Data, then turn the data into charts and beam them on a daily basis to everybody who can receive them.

Most of the charts are free and in the public domain but some of the highly detailed ones are by subscription only, as somebody has to pay for this vast array of satellites that are being used to collect weather data. Some of these companies have the option to collect information data (because they also pay for it) from all sorts of sources, American, Russian, Chinese, and European without politics getting involved. Holland America also subscribes to some of these organizations and we have more than one as each of these companies has special expertise in certain areas. The most important one is WRI or Weather Routing Incorporated and the subscription we have with them, enables us to import the planned ships track straight into the routing program, so the ship sails through the actual weather chart. I cannot put a current map on the blog, copyright is a hot potato here, but the below gives a good idea.

A sample page of the weather services offered. The black line is the intended course. The pink line is the advised route to avoid most of the bad weather. It is a longer route but as the ship will not be slowed down by the bad weather it might still be faster. Plus there is the bonus of a little extra push from the Gulf Stream.

This is a routing map from Florida to the New York area. And apart from the weather, they also predict ocean currents. So yesterday the captain could play on the computer screen with the intended route of the Zuiderdam and by moving the route a little bit to the West or to the East catch the best current for approaching Cabo San Antonio, the west point from Cuba. This is a feature called Cruise Surveillance and that gives 24 /7 actual weather and current information. Plus the system rings the bell, if there is something nasty coming with options to do something about it.

It all helps to keep the guests safe but also happy as we get real time information provided by the constant stream of Satellite data. That does not mean that we do not rely on our own observations anymore.  The navigators look out of the window and when possible do something that is peculiar to the cruise industry; we sail around rain clouds.  Nothing is more irritating for guests if they sit happily in the sun and then suddenly get drenched by a rain shower. In the Caribbean Sea that rain might be warm but it is as wet as it is at home.  But while at home your house is stuck and you get what Mother Nature pushes your way, at sea we can see the edges of the rain down poor and if the width of the cloud is not too much, we can sail around it.

A rain shower somewhere in the Mediterranean. The edges of the rain coming down are quite well defined so depending on the direction the rain clouds is traveling the ship can go to port or to starboard to avoid all of it or at least most of it. (Courtesy, unknown photographer on the internet who took this photo near Lipari Italy)

When I started sailing in 1981 for Holland America things were not yet as strictly regulated as today, so we had a lot of leeway to play around with the ship. And we developed a sort of competition between the watches to see how close we could sail past a rain cloud without getting the ship wet. The first prize was for the navigator who stayed dry but with sticking his arm out, outside the bridge wing, could feel the rain.  To ensure that there was no cheating or telling fibbies, the Quartermasters (our helmsmen) were the official referee’s.  Still it was a bit of luck if you managed to achieve that as rain clouds move as well and not always with the same speed; and there is always wind in the clouds and that can change the equation also. But it was a nice diversion in the days that the Statendam IV plodded happily on 10 day cruises from Miami down into the Caribbean.

The good old days. Yours truly with colleague, navigating. No radar or electronic chart. We used the bearing compass and a paper chart. SS Statendam IV  Feb. 1982.

We are sailing for Port Everglades Pilot for just after 06.00 hrs. It is going to be a whole parade of ships again. In port we expect the Majesty of the Seas, the Regal Princess, the Harmony of the Seas, The Nieuw Statendam, the Nieuw Amsterdam, the Celebrity Edge, The Celebrity Summit and our good selves. That is well over 20,000 guests, not counting any crew. Somehow I am quite happy that I do not have to fly from Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow.

Weather: As predicted, a sunny and warm day 28oC / 83oF with a gentle breeze.

15 February 2019; At Sea.

Today we had our first sea day with beautiful weather and it looks like it will remain so. The frontal system of yesterday dissipated and the next one coming will only bring thunderstorms on Monday and we will be in Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday. And that should be a warm day as normally between systems the wind dies down. The route we are taking runs roughly along the east coast of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico before we reach Cuba and the Straits of Florida.  I use the word roughly as it is not a straight course.

Roughly our route along the east coast of Middle America.  As you can see from even this scale chart there are a lot of shallow areas  (white) and this course is much less straight than what I have drawn

There are a lot of reefs and shallow banks on this route and thus the course line is not as straight as we would like it.  Also there is a lot of current in this area and what we do is then let the current push us a little bit off course  (to the West) until we come out of the current and then adjust the course again. This can be over a distance of some 20 miles while we are set to the West but then by catching the flow of the Gulf Stream (going North East) we come back on track again and even gain some miles.  And in this day and age of saving fuel, every mile counts. So why fight the current by trying to stay on the dotted line, while the current later on pushes you back again anyway?

The shops were quiet today with the displays screened off: waiting for the grand re-opening.

We have on board something unusual going on: our shopping mall is closed. Normally on the last two sea days, the guests shop to their hearts content, especially if Curacao and Aruba did not give enough satisfaction or souvenirs for the family at home. The guests had been advised of this at the beginning of the cruise, so I hope they all took pre-emptive measures.  But there is a good reason for this. Holland America is changing its concessionaire.  Shops, Casino, Art and also BB King and Lincoln Art are a form of concessions with which Holland America has a contract. They do not belong to the company itself.  For years and years we had a company called Starboard, there roots lay (really in the mists of time as we are writing 1960’s here) in an English company called Alders. They were then absorbed in an outfit called Greyhound and they became subsequently part of this company called Starboard.

There are several of these tax free cruise ships concessionaires out there and every so often the contracts are renewed for another period. I am not privy to what these contracts entail but I know it is a mixture of what revenue part goes to Holland America but also if our guests enjoy the products which are sold on board. On one side that is hard to achieve as the complaints will always be that the prices are too high, on the other side the guests have a picture in in their mind of what they think they will find in the shops when they come on board.  And as Holland America carefully notes what is in the comment on board forms, the opinions of the guests = potential shoppers = is carefully taken into account.

For reasons unknown to me, the contract has now changed and hence by Fort Lauderdale we will have a new shop organization. No doubt they will be carefully watched by our guests and the products intently scrutinized. I am regularly exposed to this process when my wife and I are making a cruise with another company and her Ladyship descends on the shops for an in-depth review.  Thus I have learned that different concessions do different things and thus I hope that this new company (it is called Dufre) will bring merchandise on board the ship which will please the guests.  Only downside is, I will never get my series of ship magnets complete now. Have to keep an eye on eBay for the missing ships.

A bit of nostalgia. The shopping mall on the ss Rotterdam from 1958. Named after its namesake in Rotterdam the Lynbaan.

What most guests do not know is that the shops originated from a private side line by the ships barbers around 1900. Gentlemen would complain that they had forgotten something or the other, while being shaved, and the barbers saw a nice bit of extra income there.  It was not long before the company’s saw options here as well and by the 1920’s there were complete shops on board and on the larger ships even mini shopping malls. Normally done by the company’s themselves. That started to change in the 1960’s when it was realized that economies of scale could reduce cost and thus offer better prices to the guests (or more profit for the company) if larger numbers of ships were involved. And thus we now have shopping malls on the larger ships, run by various outside companies, and at least one mini-shop on the boutique ships.

Tomorrow we have our 2nd day at sea. With again good weather and calm seas. The guests should be happy, even without a final shopping experience.

Weather situation of today.  No rain where we are going, and no rain expected until Monday in Ft. Lauderdale. (Courtesy The Weather Channel)

14 Feb. 2019; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

Puerto Limon is one of the two major ports in Costa Rica. There is a 3rd one Porto Moin but I have been told it is too obscure for cruise ships.  One port is located on the west coast, Puerto Caldera with attached to it Punta Arenas cruise terminal and on the East coast there is Puerto Limon.  Limon is not really much of a port. It is just a corner of a large bay with a cargo pier at the north side and a newer pier with two berths next to it. The cargo dock is lying inside the natural sea wall and that is not for nothing. The coast here is a real surfer’s paradise with swells that built up very high and then roll freely into the bay. Very exciting for surfers who come in droves to this coast to ride the waves.

The country of Costa Rica with its access ports.

Very exciting as well for the captains of the cruise ships as cruise ships are not meant to surf and if they try it then they most likely bash into the pier or are lifted on top of it. So we do not like swell rolling into ports. And Costa Rica has this feature both on the west coast as well as on the east coast, although Puerto Limon is normally worse than Puerto Caldera.  Thus they built the cargo pier in the lee of the beach to make it possible for cargo ships to dock and lay relatively still alongside while cargo operations are going on. The pier next to it is for cruise ships and that pier is much more exposed to the swell than the cargo pier.  The only option would be to extend the sea wall / breakwater much further so that the swell does not reach the docks anymore. I have not heard about any plans to do so, so in the meantime the captains worry.  Cancelling Puerto Limon is not an easy decision as there is no plan B available. The nearest port is Colon in Panama and we have come from there. Any other port cannot be reached with a sort of regular schedule unless you make it a night call.

The port itself. This is a stock photo from the internet showing a MSC cruise ship also on a quiet day, otherwise she would be nose out. The best dock is the cargo dock but with only two berths it is always occupied with cargo ships.

Thus the captains worry but today is all worked out. The swell never reached more than 2 feet and thus the gangways did not move very much and it was safe to step on and off the ship.  The Island Princess who has been following us since Cartagena was on the east side and because of the swell she docked nose out. If the swell would hit the ship, the bow would cut the wave and there would be less movement. If the wave would hit the blunt stern then there would be a fair chance that the wave would lift the stern up and that makes the ship move.

Very nice. The Island Princess acting as a wave breaker so we could slide forward and nose in. This photo was taken from the forward mooring deck. Hence you can see  all the ropes and heaving lines hanging out.

We docked on the west side and because the Island Princess was now acting as a sort free-of-charge swell stopper we could go nose in as that is easier for the gangway setup on the Vista Class ships.  As usual the port has a small tourist market, what we would call a Flea market. But since the 80’s I have not seen any 2nd hand stuff anymore at these markets and thus the word ”tourist market” is better in my opinion. In the good old days, these markets were indeed flea markets as apart from fleas being sometimes present in the blankets; there were often also 2nd hand items and simple antiques for sale.   

We call at both ports of Costa Rica for the Eco tours and for visiting the Capital of San Jose which is a two hour drive up the mountain.  Because of the tropical rain forest, there is a lot of rain and that results on a regular basis in mud slides that block the roads and then the roads have to be dug clear to allow traffic to continue. Then there is the creative interpretation of the Traffic Regulations by the locals and that often results in the roads being blocked by assorted piles of metal, which then have to be cleared. Thus the ships seldom leave from these ports on time, as the returning tours are often delayed because of this. Luckily there is always some leeway in the cruise schedule, so the ship can catch up if we have to stay another hour or so.

After Puerto Limon we will have two full days at sea, before we are back in Fort Lauderdale which is the end of the cruise. The weather looks good, at least for the first day. There is a weather front laying over the Bahamas and tomorrow we will have more insight if it will affect us much or not.   

A cold front laying over the Bahamas. The name cold front is relative as it only means a few degree less in temperature than without the cold front.  (Courtesy: The Weather Channel, Caribbean Weather Maps)

13 February 2019; Panama Canal and Colon.

The Zuiderdam has been sailing on this service for quite a while and hence the Captain and his team have become experts in dipping into the Panama Canal and out again.  So today was pure routine, although it was a hot routine. Although it was somewhat cloudy at times, the sun burned down upon us all day and there was not much wind to help cool things down a little bit. That was a pity; but on the other hand it is also good as a cool breeze gives the impression that it is not so warm and then the next morning you find out that it was very warm and sunny when you start to imitate a well-cooked lobster.

Believe me, much closer it not an option. It was still a bit overcast at sun rise but it was not before long that the sun burned it all away,

We do what we can to help with the battle against the glaring sun and we put tents on the forward mooring deck, where most guests want to be, to see the ship being pulled into the locks with the locomotives. The Zuiderdam is a Panamax ship which means it has the maximum hull seize that fits into the old locks.  And because we fit in the old locks, we do not go into the new locks as that would be wasting fresh water. Thus only the very big boys are assigned to the new locks and hence the old locks are (still) much busier than the new locks. Many a cruise company has already asked if things could not be combined and do both  size locks but the Panama Canal Authority is concerned about the fresh water consumption and thus the new locks are only used when needed and not for cruise fun.

At the anchorage. The tenders shuttle the short distance to the shore and with two landing spaces we can get a 1000 people ashore in an hour. The guests then walk under a covered walk way up to the coaches for their tour.

It was a bit of a quiet day in the Canal and thus we were early, which is good. Normally the Zuiderdam arrives at the anchorage inside Gatun Lake at 09.00 hrs. but now we were already in tender operation by that time. Thus we finished early as well and then this afternoon we ended up in Colon by 15.00 hrs.  The captain is normally already a happy camper if the ship is alongside by 16.00 hrs. but there are cruises that it goes past 17.00 hrs. or even later. Then the guests coming back from the overland tour have to wait until the ship has come in and the gangway is out.  And there is nothing worse than 800+ hungry guests who are afraid to miss their dinner. When coming back they still have to go through ships security and scanning and that does not do anything either to stop the moaning and the groaning. But this time there will be no problem as the guests can roll straight off the coach back on board. Although the terminal here in Colon has some shops and restaurants it is not big enough to make 800+ guests happy while waiting. Hence the Captain tries his best to get there as early as possible but it is all decided by the dispatcher and the lock master who decide the locking sequence. Luckily today we were very early.

This is a stock photo from the internet. Colon has two cruise ship terminals and as the port is getting more and more ships in, they are now building more port facilities to right which is still brown wasteland in the photo

When we are in the Gatun Lake we drop anchor as close as possible to the shore side tender pontoon to shuttle the tour guests ashore as quickly as possible. It is only a run of 1500 feet between gangway and shore. So the ship is brought as close as is allowed, the anchor goes down and then the Azipods and thrusters keep the ship on location as close near the shore there is no room to swing around. There was even less room today as the Island Princess parked itself next to us two hours later. She had also sailed two hours later from Cartagena.  We could also have stayed purely on the engines, with the anchor housed, but then the Panama Canal pilots have to stay on board as the ship is – technically spoken – sailing in the Lake, even if it does not move.  So we drop the hook and the pilots go home happily, to be replaced later on by new ones for the reverse part out of the Canal again.

This is a very early day for the guests as the ship is at the pilot station at 05.00 and the Panama Canal narrator started making noise at 05.30. It is still dark then but the lighting of the Canal is so good that the narrator can still point everything out that there is to see and to explain about the workings of the Canal.  And because we were early the guests saw the inbound part of the journey through the locks before it was getting really warm

So today was a good day, although it was a very warm day, after the sun had established itself firmly above the horizon.

Tomorrow we are in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. The challenge with this port is the swell, which can run straight into the harbor and build up to quite a high amplitude. It is not uncommon for cruise ships to cancel as they simply cannot stay alongside.  For the tomorrow is looks quite good, the predicted swell outside is only 6 feet and the angle is not pointing directly into the bay around which the port is located. But that is a prediction so we will see what we get when we get there. What will be certain is that we will have another tropical day. Partly cloudy with temperatures of 28oC & 8oF and 72% humidity.


12 Feb. 2019; Cartagena, Colombia.

When there is bad weather in the offing, then as a captain you always have to decide: how much are you going to tell the guests, how much detailed information to be given, what is enough to prepare them without confusing the message. Once you have done that, the waiting game starts until the bad weather comes through and you can find out how good your predictions were and if real life –ship in storm- equates to the guests perspective. The understanding achieved by the warnings given. There is no captain in the world who minds to be called a liar if the weather is less bad than he/she predicted but at the same time there is the nagging feeling of will they believe me next time or will they just think that I am always exaggerating.

That was also the situation last night. The ship moved considerably about between midnight and 3 am. but it was not as bad as expected as the waves were just a little bit lower than expected and more important, the angle was just a little bit better that predicted and thus the stabilizers could do a better job.  In the early evening we had guests on the outside decks “waiting to see the bad weather” and if course there was no bad weather, just a bit more wind and the predicted swell which should have caused a lot more movement than it did. But when you do not know what is exactly going to happen it is better to batten down the hatches and come through unscathed than to go the other way and have broken legs (and worse) all over the place.

Meet and Greet on the pier. This is something the company has been experimenting with. Due to the high workload of the Sr. Officers  it is hard for them to be in the ship all the time. The guests want to see the captain but he is busy with clicking away 400 emails or worrying about the weather. So now we do gangway meet and greet. This is today on arrival with Captain, Hotel manager and other Sr.Hotel staff engaging with the guests, while they are coming off the ship and are waiting for the tours.

Most of the guests were in bed anyway as we had an early arrival today, as Cartagena is a short stay with a full focus on the special tours here. That is what all the cruise ships are coming for, thus also the Norwegian Star and Island Princess were in port with us today.  So a good 8000 guests and crew could go ashore but as the stay is not a full day, it was mainly the tour people who were going off. For shopping Curacao and Aruba, our two previous ports are much better then Cartagena, but the ECO tours are very good. And then we also now have a hop on hop off bus for those who have done the tours already. The ship sells tickets for these tours and it gives the chance to do some sightseeing on your own, while still being back on board on time.

The route to Cartagena.  If they were just willing to cut a small hole in the causeway at the North West side, that would save us an hour in and an hour out  in sailing time.

For us as sailors there is a good thing and a bad thing about Cartagena. The good thing: it is a very sheltered port so we can always get in and safely dock. The bad thing: it takes such a long time to get in and back out again. Outside we have to sail all the way down the coast to the entrance which is called Boca Chica, and once inside the Bay, we have to sail all the way up again as the port of Cartagena is located at the top end of the inner bay.  It could go much faster if they would cut a channel through at the northern end but they do not want to do that as it would mean digging a tunnel for the traffic and less space to build more Escobar towers. (Local name, not mine, for apartment buildings built with the proceeds from………………) So we have to sail all the way around the area with all the apartment buildings and expensive shops, what they call the Golden Mile.

To make the day even more exciting, I threw one of my special drills to start prepping the crew for the coming inspections. They always know what to do but it helps to refresh the details. The ships like to score 110%, not 100%. Part of a fire drill is saving a casualty and we have a real life dummy, that floats (costs $ 1800 to buy) and is close to life like in weight and stiffness when moving it. And thus Medical loves it as they can do CPR and a lot of other medical things with it without having to worry about cracked ribs or complaints. Holland America dummy’s do not complain. If they did, then we give them to another company………

The medical team looking after our dummy. All the equipment comes out and is used, and real CPR and oxygen is applied as if it was a real person.

The short stop means a 13.00 hrs. sailing time in order to get to Panama on time. We are always scheduled for a 05.00 pilot time as we do a double call tomorrow. First show the Panama Canal approach and the Locks between 0500 and 0900. Then disembark approx. 900 guests on tour while in Gatun Lake, and then back through the locks and hopefully be docked at Colon at 16.00 hrs. The last part we never know if we will make as the locks are controlled by the Panama Canal Authority and not by Carnival. (Maybe something for them to invest into in the future) So if the Lock Master prefers another sequence of ships to reduce water consumption then we might not make 16.00 hrs. and be there later.

Weather forecast for Panama: Tropical, sunny 29oC / 85 oF. and very little wind in the morning.  It is going to be a sun block 50 day with gallons of fresh water needed.


11 Feb. 2019: At Sea.

11 Feb. 2018: At Sea.

Yesterday I boarded the ms Zuiderdam in Willemstad after having been on vacation since December 18 after leaving the ms Nieuw Statendam when it ended its maiden voyage in Ft. Lauderdale.

During my vacation time, the IT gurus of Holland America have been moving my blog to a separate server for operational reasons.  It should not have affected anybody as I am still linked through via the HAL blog but you can also reach me via www.captainalbert.com.

Never a dull moment when you work for Holland America.

I will be on board the ms Zuiderdam for three weeks to help with preparing for an upcoming audit and to spend some time with new officers, to teach them a few tricks of the trade.

ms Zuiderdam making 10 and 11 day cruises to the South West Caraibbean and Mexico and Costa Rica.

The ms Zuiderdam is making 10 and 11 day “sunfarer” cruises to the South West Caribbean and Middle America. (This is Panama and Costa Rica, as they are officially not part of the Caribbean. At least that is what geographers tell me) so I jumped onto the ship in the middle of the cruise by coming on board yesterday in Willemstad. Main reason for that is, is that KLM has a direct flight from Amsterdam to Willemstad and that omits the need to fly via the USA. Which would not only be a longer journey but also would have meant going through American immigration. This normally means waiting in line for an hour. American airports have not progressed yet to having the option that you can travel through while staying in the international zone. I believe that Minneapolis was going to experiment with this but if it ever started, I do not know. So all flights from anywhere that go to and Hub airport in the USA result in seeing CBP regardless if the USA is your final destination.  And if CBP is busy with too many flights coming in at the same time, you can miss your connecting flight.  Thus KLM non-stop to Willemstad was in this case a much better option.  By 1900 local time I was sitting on my balcony watching the Caribbean sun setting in the sea and all was well in the world.

ms Zuiderdam at Sea
Holland America Line (courtesy Holland America Line)

The good ship Zuiderdam is under the command of Captain Bart Vaartjes (see bio on the blog) who also happens to celebrate his birthday today. And he is doing that by rocking the boat as we are expecting some turbulent seas this evening.   What is going on is, that the normal Trade Wind is a lot stronger than usual.  We are on the way from Willemstad to Cartagena and for that we have to sail north of Colombia. That is the South West end of the Caribbean Sea and when looking from here to the North East it is one open sea surface all the way to St. Thomas. Thus the Trade winds can freely push up the waves to a maximum.  Every ship which sails on a SW course towards Panama or veers south to Cartagena will get this wind and swell in the stern. And this under a ¾ angle of the stern. That creates a corkscrew motion with the ship, which is very hard for the ships stabilizers to deal with. As it is not rolling (= where we have stabilizers for) and it is not pitching (bow / stern go up and down for which we can slow down or speed up) thus the ship will move whatever the captain tries.

The swell/surf diagram for tonight. Green is to 12 feet, yellow  goes over 12 – 15 feet. So not too bad as there is no red in the picture but the waves are still high enough to make it wobbly.

Now the last few days a cold front has been coming in which has enhanced this trade wind considerably and has pushed the waves up from about a normal 10 feet to 15 feet. Any wave height of over 11 to 12 feet makes a ship move. Now we get 15 feet and add to that the normal corkscrew motion and the ship “rocks”.  Thus we will not have particularly bad weather tonight but the moving ship really makes it feel as if it is.

The captain warned all the guests and crew, and advised to stow everything safely in the cabins, to be careful walking around this evening; and hold on tightly to their glass of wine while sitting in the bar. You do not want to spill it, even if it is the 2nd glass during happy hour.

The motion will last until we turn south towards Boca Chica, the estuary entrance to Cartagena. There we will be around 05.30 and then race into the port for a docking before 07.00 hrs. There are supposed to be two more cruise ships in port so it will be a busy day.

The weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow.  Warm with a gentle breeze, as the strong ocean winds normally do not reach the sheltered port of Cartagena all the way inside.

18 December 2018; Crossing the North Atlantic, Day 8 and Final Day.

Thus today we have the final day of our crossing and also the final day of our cruise. They say that all good things must come to an end unfortunately, and thus also this cruise. I think it has been a good cruise as the weather was very good for a December crossing and the guests all look happy and the comments are positive. So we can say without doubt that the Nieuw Statendam will be an appreciated new member of the Holland America family for many years to come.

The last remnants of the frontal system of yesterday passed by through the night and today we had a regular nice sea day with partly cloudy skies and pleasant temperatures. The storm chart only gives flat seas; the rain chart does not give any rain at all, except for the system we have already passed. Also Fort Lauderdale is promising to be a dry day. With 25oC / or 73oF. and very little wind.

The Radar chart with the cloudiness in the area. There are some rain clouds far away but they should only reach Fort Lauderdale after the ship has departed.

This evening at about 18.00 hrs. we will enter the Bahamian chain of islands and then sail through the North West Providence Channel towards Fort Lauderdale. For that we have to cross the Straits of Florida. As Fort Lauderdale and its port, Port Everglades, lies a little bit south of where we come out of the Bahama Banks, we have a South Westerly course to aim for. That course will become more and more south westerly as we have to compensate for the Gulf Stream which is pushing north. The Gulf Stream is our friend and sometimes our enemy. Depending if we sail with the current or against the current.

Now we are dealing with the current under an angle, so the navigator only has to figure out the right course to compensate for the drift. The second interest is to find out where the axis of the Gulf Stream is located,  there where the current is at its maximum velocity. This is called the Gulf Stream axis and if you can find it then you will get the benefit of the “big push” when sailing in the same direction. If you go opposite then knowing the location helps you with devising a course as far from it as possible. The NOAA normally publishes a 3 day update as the Gulf Stream moves on occasion in the Straits and that can really be from all the way up the Florida beaches to all the way against the Grand Bahama Bank. And nobody really knows when it moves and why it moves. If some clever clog would be able to figure it out, then we would be able to get much more accurate data than we have now.

So crossing the Gulf Stream is basically a task of keeping an eye on the ships position and the “set” of the ship to the north and compensate for it accordingly. Normally we are out of the Gulf Stream influence when we are about a mile away from the Port Everglades Sea buoy but I have seen it that the current ran full force just outside the breakwaters and that we went into the port under a considerable drift angle. So much that even the local pilot got nervous.  The simplest solution is then to go in a bit faster as that reduces the drift angle. Once inside the breakwater there is more than enough distance to slow down again. The harbor master likes 10 knots in the channel, but if the current or wind is strong, the ship will go a lot faster to reduce the drift angle.

For the purpose of sailing under an angle and remaining in the middle of the fairway, they have installed a set of leading lights to help. The only challenge is they sometimes have parked a tanker in front of it and then the lower light is obscured. When the light was put in, the tankers were not as wide as they can be nowadays. We will be lining up in those leading lights tomorrow around 03.40, a few minutes after we have boarded the pilot. From there it is only a short hop to the dock as the captain has decided to go alongside starboard side, nose in, at Pier 26 and thus we do not have to swing on arrival. Once alongside that whole circus will start which I described a few days ago. I will be helping out to make that all go smoothly by getting off the ship ASAP and thus ensuring that the zero count does not get delayed.

And that brings me to an end of my blogging period on board the ms Nieuw Statendam. I hope you have enjoyed my daily musings about the progress of the ship towards its completion and the first two cruises which proved that the ship is a great success and a genuine asset to the company.

In January my blog will be relocated to a new server. This should not affect anybody at all but in case there is a hiccup you might have to refresh your automatic link to the blog. My first ship in 2019 will be the Zuiderdam which is on the schedule for Feb. 10. and that is also the date that my blog will recommence.

Thank you for your interest and support and Happy Holidays.

This is the magical piece of Christmas nostalgia which the Pastry Department on board has created. This is only part of the whole display. It is about double the size, including two trains. Setup outside the Grand Dutch Café for all to admire.


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