- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

02 December 2011: Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala.

Puerto Quetzal is always fun in the early morning, when you are trying to extract information out of Port Control. I have been coming to this place on and off for the last 10 years and I still have not figured out what the function of Port Control is. When you call the pilot an hour or so before arrival it is invariably Port Control who answers and never the pilot. They always have the standard answer: “pilot on arrival” and that is as far as their knowledge goes. Questions about wind in the port, swell at the entrance, ships movements around that time, are either met with a deep silence or with the remark, “ask the pilot”. And the pilot never answers. If you have never been there and are not used to it, it is very irritating. Especially for a cruise ship that runs on a tight schedule. After a few calls you get used to it and approach the issue from another angle. Just block the port entrance. That does have the required effect. Suddenly the pilot finds a VHF and a whole flood of information is coming out. Wait at the sea buoy, ship coming out passing port to port, no wind, no swell, pilot transfers from outgoing cargo ship to incoming cruise ship. In the mean time port control is advising the outgoing cargo ship that it has to go anchor, something the captain of that ship already knew, as the pilot on his ship had just told him so. I hope that before I retire, I will one day find out what this Port Control exactly does.

Screen shot of the ships eletronic chart, showing the 180 turn by curvning around the inner breakwater until the stern is lined up to go astern.The pilot managed to get on board at 05.07 and we sailed into port; making a 90 degree turn, making another 90 degree turn and then backing up to the dock. By 05.55 we had the gangway out and were cleared with the tours streaming ashore. The good thing about the port of Quetzal is this cruise terminal dock that they built. It is a floating dock and that means we never have to fuss around with the gangway because of the tide going up or down. I still had to list the ship to port as the pontoon is very low for our door but we could keep the ship in that position all day as the pontoon when up and down with the tide in the same way as the ship.

Cargo ship colleagues always ask me, if cruise ships are top heavy as they seldom see a cruise ship completely straight up in a port. Of course we are not but it is an understandable question as with cargo ships they use a long gangway that can be adjusted to any tide or height. They can do so as they do not have to deal with 1000 or more people going off and coming on, not to mention the “rolling material” that is used by quite a few of them. There is one way of avoiding this and that is to have a movable gangway inside the ship. That is with a door of two decks high and an inside gangway that goes up and down with the outside level. Crystal ships have them and I have seen something similar on the Aida ships. The negative part is that you lose interior space in the ship and thus every company looks at it one way or the other. Holland America does not want to lose space and thus we have a list in tidal ports.
By 3 pm we were on our way again to the Panama Canal. I was in a hurry as tomorrow morning we will get some bumpy weather while passing Nicaragua & Costa Rica. Not bad weather, but strong adverse winds which eventually will whip up the waves and those two things together will cost me speed. So each minute I can gain today and tonight while it is still wind still is a bonus, to be used to balance out the reduction in speed to tomorrow. We have to be in Panama by 1800 hrs. on the 4th of December but I want to be a bit earlier as we have a lot of people going on tour all at the same time, also 600 guests do not all fit in one tender. So I have to start the shuttle service earlier, to get them all off in the hour before their tour departs. 600 guests means 8 tender loads and with 4 tenders, that should work, depending if there is swell running at the anchorage of course as that really slows things down.
So tomorrow we have a windy but sunny sea day with a bit of a rocky ship

1 Comment

  1. Jennifer MacDonald

    December 4, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Thank you Captain Albert, for you blog. I am thoroughly enjoy reading your day reports.
    My husband and two friends, are coming on your ship on April 13th.
    We ae so looking forward to it, it is on our bucket to do list.
    Will be reading your blog everyday and getting more excited

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