- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

08 March 2020; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

By 06.30 we entered the Bahia de Banderas at which inner end Puerto Vallarta is located. Being located at the end of the bay is really very nice, as the town thus misses the brunt of the storms that come by during the hurricane season. Only, on the rare occasion that a hurricane turns into the bay, is there a real problem but that is seldom.  In the good old days Puerto Vallarta was a sleepy fishing village frequented by celebrities and made famous by some movies. It is understandable that famous people liked this place as it is not as hot, hot in as further south and if you still find it too hot, you drive up the mountain and it is nice and cool.

And cool is was this morning when sailed into the bay. Temperature around 16oC/61oF very pleasant to be out and about.  We were indeed the only cruise ship in port and thus we docked at Pier 1 which is the cruise terminal. The captain had once again decided to put the Pedal to the Metal and arrived early in case the local Health Authorities wanted to carry out an extensive inspection but I think they had heard the good news from their colleagues in Manzanillo  as we were cleared without any wobbles.

This is the electronic chart with our Path width for sailing out of the Bahia de Banderas after departure. We use a fairly narrow safety corridor while in the bay, and once in open waters  it gets wider in size. Having to do this is all part of the legacy of the Costa Concordia, to ensure that a ship will not go “sightseeing” outside  the most ideal safety margin.

I have been coming to Puerto Vallarta since 1982 and thus have seen it grow. Back in 1982 we had to anchor as there was not even a good pier, only something small and dilapidated for small cargo ships. On the other side was what somebody with a lot of optimism called a navy base and there were 3 apartment blocks/high rises. We liked those very much as with our bad radars and the early morning haze, it was our easy way in. We just aimed for the middle one and all was well in the world.  Then a new pier was built in the winter of 1983 and the port was dredged somewhat. That made it possible for a ship dock at the pier and a second one to go inside and lay behind two anchors and ropes ashore next to it.

In the winter of 1984 that was the Star Dancer which was a ro-ro ferry/cruise ship and which tried to set up cruises where you could take your car with you. That did not really work as there were not many Americans who were willing to take their car to Mexico, so the ship ran more or less a regular cruise and the car garage remained empty. Later, they built cabins in and a casino I believe. I will never forget that ship as I had to pay for the ships postcards when I went for a visit; and even the cheapest Greek outfit that was in the cruise business did not do that.

With the big boys in port, it can get quite  tight for everybody to fit in.

Then Pier 2 came, which we now call the Wall Mart Pier and then, a few years ago, Pier 3, the Navy Pier. (Although the navy has nothing to do with it). The Navy docks have improved through the years as well but they are now wedged in between a large Marina and Pier 3 cruise ship pier. Originally the harbor was just a natural swampy pond but by walling it in with Piers and dredging it out, it is now a regular harbor. And because it is deep enough, some very big ships go in and sometimes it only just fits. With the bows and sterns only a few meters away from each other and the ships having to come in the right sequence otherwise it does not fit. Today, being the only ship, we went nose in and once clear of Pier 1, swung the stern around and then went astern alongside.  But if Pier 3 is already occupied and you are a very long cruise ship, you might have to sail in stern ways and then angle around the knuckle of the pier.

Although the cruise business is important, many tourists come for fly-stay holidays and thus the town is always busy. Opposite the port is Walmart, Sam’s Club and a Shopping Mall called the Galeria and thus traffic is very busy as well. A lot of our guests go and visit Wal-Mart only to find out that it sells the same stuff as it home but in Spanish. For our crew it is heaven, cheap shopping just across the street and therefore they always hope that we are at Pier 2 or 3, as that is a lot closer to Wall-Mart than having to  walk all the way around the Cruise Terminal. But if you are the only ship, this is where you go as the shop keepers in and around the cruise terminal want their pesos as well.

For the romantically inclined: This Puerto Vallarta Walmart by night.

We stayed here until 20.00 hrs. and then sailed out into a nearly flat sea passing the local pirate ship that was on an evening cruise. In the past they used to salute us with a gunshot but as that generated complaints from guests on one or two ships, who thought they were under a real attack, it does not happen anymore.

6 Comments

  1. Roger D Tollerud

    March 9, 2020 at 3:17 pm

    Captain A,
    We cruise the Mexican Riviera all the time and for the last several years have tied up at pier 3. My question for you is at pier 1 is the old Mercado that was a fun place to shop and have a drink still operating or did it close because the new construction went on for so long that they couldn’t survive? At our age it is too far to walk to find out for myself. 🙂
    Thanks and regards,
    Roger T
    PS loved the picture of the three ships tied up in the harbor.

    • Captain Albert

      March 10, 2020 at 2:16 am

      Thank you for reading my blog.

      The Mercado “as such” is still there. But as with most things, it has been “improved”. More glitz less rustic. I used to go there for a drink when I was a junior. About two years ago I left the ship in Puerto Vallarta and the cab driver had to stop there for a moment. I think his wife was working there. As I was on a fixed price for the airport I did not mind. My nice bar now had TV’s all over the place and new tables and chairs = plastic chairs. But the place was heaving so I could not find fault with the owner’s business insights.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

  2. Hi, Capt. Albert,

    I hope this note finds you , crew, staff, officers, and passengers well, easily passing all “Health Inspections” as you return to the US.

    Reading those words in your note, immediately brought to mind one of our cruises with you as our Captain, ( 2010 ? Antarctica, Prinsendam).
    Over the long sailing, we ran into a few “hick-ups”, one of them a Noro-Virus- kind outbreak, and to this day, whenever we learn about such potential emergencies especially at sea, your superb handling of that episode comes to mind. Some of our co-passengers were not very happy campers to have their perceived “entitlements” and freedoms curtailed for the duration of this incident. Your calm, understanding, but unyielding, effective authority was a study in leadership at the time. Because of that, difficult passengers were handled with the same courteous authority by the ship’s staff, knowing their Captain backs them up. This made all the difference in the world to us, your guests, and kept a simple “incident”, from growing into an emergency. Reading now about the current CoronaVirus nightmare, we can only wish such a Captain as you on board each of these ships.

    I wonder if in your current work-program and schedule, there might be time/ opportunity for a class in leadership in situations such as this. Especially to give back-up to those members of staff not used to stand their ground vis à vis uncooperative passengers. I know this is already done for ship-evacuation etc. , but dealing with an ongoing quarantine situation , is an added wrinkle in the game.

    Wishing you , and all of you, the very best,

    Almuth Ewing

    p.s. I still read your posts every day. If possible. They have been my always interesting companions during these years of my unexpected cancer-journey confinement. Thank you !

    • Captain Albert

      March 10, 2020 at 11:06 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, and the trip down memory lane. I remember that cruise very well. You might be pleased to know that with my current function as Fleet Master of the company, which is basically Quality Assurance in a supporting role, not auditing, I give leadership classes when I do familirization classes for new joining officers.

      Thank you for still reading my blog, and I hope your illness is not too incapacitating.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

  3. We were set to sail on the Royal princess out of san pedro last Saturday (03-07-2020) yet our cruise was cancelled. So my question is from where did you sail from? (port)….

    • Captain Albert

      March 11, 2020 at 3:33 pm

      Thank you for reading my blog.

      The Rotterdam left on 25 February from Ft. Lauderdale and arrived 11 March in San Diego. We will sail again today from San Diego and go back through the Trans Canal to Fort Lauderdale. And are all hoping it will go well. The ship & company are taking all the precautions needed as advised by the Health experts & authorities.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

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