- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

07 December 2011; At Sea.

Today was our first of the two sea days that will bring us back to Fort Lauderdale. We need the first one to cross the Middle part of the Caribbean Sea on an almost northerly course and then the 2nd day to sail North of Cuba in the direction of Southern Florida. As long as there is no Canal through Cuba that would shorten the route, it will always take two days from the South Carib to get to Florida. In the course of the night the wind decided to abate and by morning there was just a gentle breeze blowing from the North East. That will remain so until we enter the Windward Passage where it will increase to wind force 5 and that wind will stay with us until we come to Florida. We will notice less of that wind while sailing North of Cuba because the Bahamian Islands will act as a windbreaker. Plus a north easterly wind is a partly following wind and thus on deck it will be nearly wind still. A great way to end our cruise. We have been quite lucky with the weather as it has been blowing quite extensively in the Carib and Gulf of Mexico but while in the North Pacific we were either too far away or in the lee of the Middle American mountain ranges to notice the influence. The only real wind we had was in Tehuantepec and that we always expect and know how to deal with. In September and October this good weather can be expected but when the winter cold fronts are starting, the story changes and thus I find that this cruise we have been very lucky with the weather.

 Yesterday I wrote that I was not so happy with the clearance of the ship in Cartagena and the word “clearance” is a word I use occasionally when local officials come on board to “clear” the ship. What is this then all about? A ship is a country in itself and a cruise ship even more. So when this floating foreign piece of Independent territory arrives in a port, the local authorities will want to know what they are dealing with. Most often extensive files of information have already been emailed ahead and that often results that the final clearance of the ship at the dock is a matter of only minutes. The USA, Russia (in all its current variations), China and India have the most time consuming clearance procedures. The USA with its increased routines since 9/11 and the other country’s due to its officials. In many country’s it goes fairly fast and quite often the officials follow the routine advised by the ship, to get it over with as quickly as possible, while still complying with the local requirements. Unless combined (as in the USA with the CBP) a boarding party is mostly made up by immigration Officials & Customs Officials; then there are Health Officials, somebody agricultural, a harbormaster, a port/terminal manager and the local agent of the company. The latter is the one with the local and language knowledge and who will try to makes things go as smoothly as possible and keep the delays to the minimum. They need to see the ships certificates (the bundle of paper that forms our ships passport); the passenger and crew lists, which are then being scrutinized to a smaller or larger degree; the Health declaration, (death or ill persons on board) and lists of what we carry on board for stores, provisions, water, fuel and spare parts.

Customs makes a parade through the ship, to seal all the shops and lockers that contain tax free articles. Agricultural noses around the kitchen to check for garbage and bugs and the rest who do not have an official function in the proceedings, look important and eat pastries. It varies from country to country, how it goes and what it takes to clear. The headache that we have is, that it can even differ from port to port. Proceedings in Fort Lauderdale are different from Key West and different again from Tampa and that is still in the same State.

In Russia proceedings can change during the day and in India the total number of officials might top 65. (World cruise 1993)

In ports where we only visit (e.g. no guests embarking or disembarking) things are normally easier and the ship gets permission as soon as the officials board to start letting guests ashore. This is called; “The ship has been cleared” and the paperwork is done while the guests can go on tour already. Also in Europe, where now most countries are part of the E.U, it goes faster than in the past. Once cleared in a first European port, the following ports only verify what was done before.

The day after tomorrow we will enter a USA port. Coming from a foreign (e.g. non-American port) that means that everybody has to go through the clearance procedure of the CBP. Fort Lauderdale has a very fluent procedure whereby everybody is cleared in the terminal, while going off the ship. A process which starts as soon all the luggage is ashore. Crew is done after the guests and boarding crew normally before disembarkation starts, to keep the terminal empty.

But that is still a day away and there are still many things for the guests to enjoy, including a lecture by yours truly. Normally I have a full house but today I have to compete against nearly wind still and sunny weather on the outside decks and that draws crowds as well.`


  1. Sue in Nebraska

    December 9, 2011 at 2:23 am

    Hi Captain Albert,

    We sure enjoy your blog. I have 2 questions:

    I’ve often read where the immigration clearance can take hours in Russia. Why is this? I’m very interested in taking a Baltic cruise some day.

    Also, and try not to laugh too hard, but a couple of weeks ago you were talking about the ballast tanks, etc. I’ve been on 4 Alaska cruises with HAL, and wonder if: when all the guest run to one side of the ship to look at something, can you and the officers notice, and do you have to watch for listing or something like it? Or, does it not matter at all. I’m sure this is a silly question to you, but we landlubbers have been wondering.

    We really enjoy all the technical details. Thank you for all you do, and maybe we might be able to be lucky enough to sail with you one day.

    Sue in Nebraska

    • Hello Sue,

      there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers..
      This hopefully isn’t one:

      Clearance: The russians stamp each passport/seamans book as part of their operation. With a “fast russian” they just open the page and stamp. In a fast port such as St. Petersburg that happens a shore in a booth, same as an airport. With a “slow russian” sitting on board: We open passport, we look at photo, we look at face. We look at collegue: ??? agree same face??? yes!!, we stamp passport. Next person: we look………. etc. With 1200 guests that can take hours and if they get the chance they do it on departure again. This is Vladivostok. For your Baltic cruise you should have no problems at all.

      Ships listing. Yes, if all guests are on one side, such as in Glacier Bay for the glaciers, the ship can list about a degree. We expect it and we then do compensate with the ballast/heeling tanks.

      thank you for reading my blog

      Capt. albert

  2. Captain Albert
    I just watched you sail out of Fort Lauderdale on the portcam.
    I was wondering about the rules or laws about when you can blow the ships horn.
    Most of the time ships leaving Port Everglades they sound the horn. A while ago two HAL ships really had a sound off.
    Once in awhile there are no horns.
    Are there guidelines? Is there a cut off time for ships horns–like none after sundown or 6pm? Are there rules against excessive horn blowing?
    Are there rules for all ports or is each port different.
    Thank you.

    • good morning,

      the rules are normally: the official signs for navigational safety. In some ports you are not even allowed to use the horn at all. But Port Everglades is different. There are a lot of cruise guests living in the white apartment blocks near the fairway. Those who favor Holland America have quite often a HAL flag displayed on their balcony and always come out to wave. Some have search lights and there are two balcony’s with bells.

      So apart from HAL ships greeting each other (three long and final acknowlgement one short at the end) we also make a lot of noise to greeet those people. Other company captains might not like seeing those hal flags, so they keep quiet.
      thank you for reading my blog

      Capt. Albert

  3. Captain Albert,

    Thank you so much for answering my questions. That is VERY interesting about the listing. I thought you were going to say you didn’t notice any difference when the guests move from one side to the other such as in Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier. Amazing what all is going on “behind the scenes” while us “cruisers” are enjoying our vacation, totally oblivious of it all! 🙂

    Thank you again!! Happy Cruising to You!

    Sue in Nebraska

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