- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

09 March 2019; Puerto Chiapas, Mexico.

Puerta Chiapas can be a problematic port due to the swell that can run straight into the entrance. A swell from the West, North West or South West can cause such a surge in the entrance that a ship cannot safely enter. The swell rolls in and bounces back from the Eastern Sea wall and then sometimes bounces back from the Western sea wall as well. The fact that the entrance is barely 35 to 40 feet deep exacerbates the problem even more as the swell energy cannot be absorbed by deeper levels of water. If the swell is high and a ship would go in, it would be exposed to a rolling motion as if you are being rocked in a cradle on steroids.

Thus the first thing a captain does when his ship arrives at the pilot station is to look into the entrance to get an idea about how good or how bad it is. We have a rule of thumb:

No swell:                                                                                                                             Hurrah.

Some swell playing around the boulders of the east sea wall:                      No problem.

Swell splashing half way up the sea wall:                                                               We will roll, but can do.

Swell splashing over the sea wall:                                                                             Bad news, time to think.

We have a local pilot here, who is a mango farmer during his time off, and he comes out in his boat and while coming out he already has an idea about the situation. But after sunrise a westerly swell tends to increase often rapidly (I have no idea why…………….) and by the time he steps on board, we can be already another step down the positive assessment scale.

The port of Puerto Chiapas is just a river frontage. As it silts up very quickly, hence they cannot put the breakwater under another angle as then all the river silt will deposit inside.

Today no issues what so ever. Flat calm, as a matter of fact, I have never seen it so quiet in my whole life of coming here. Yesterday was a windless day, so there were no winds generating any swells.  And what was left from days before was a southerly swell and that does not run into the harbor. So the good ship Volendam just sailed straight in, swung around and docked. By 07.50 the pilot was having breakfast. (And probably coming back again for lunch as well, as we were the only ship in, and it is not mango harvesting period at the moment)

I always blog about navigation, safety and life on board, but a golden rule of a successful cruise, in the peoples mind, is the first and the last impression. That is why we try to start boarding before lunch on embarkation day and that is why we try to provide as much service as possible when the guests leave the ship for the final time. Not every company lets guests stay in the cabin until their moment of disembarkation. I have been on cruises where we were chased out of the cabin by extra loud music on the emergency P.A system; getting looks from a cabin steward with a face like thunder, or getting a call from the Pursers Office.  I have a hard time understanding the why as I observe our cabin stewards during change over day, and as every section has early leavers and late leavers, they simply work around it. If there is a whole section scheduled for the same time departure then suddenly Deck stewards show up to help, or other Housekeeping staff.

Wet towesl, cold drinks in different flavors, smiling crew, what else the discerning cruise guest wants after a long and hot day ashore ?  Any idea why we have a yellow fence in the background ??

But during the cruise as well, a friendly welcome back makes an impact. We have just introduced another gadget for welcome back; we now have a moveable water stand at the gangway for those coming back and needing some re-hydration. The whole happening is made up of several trolleys which are rolled out of the ship on arrival and are then built up into to a nice Meet and Great location outside the gangway.  Together with the wet /cold towels and a few friendly smiles, it feels like a welcome home, away from home.

Tomorrow we are in Puerto Quetzal, just across the Guatemalan border from here. The weather should be the same, although there we can handle a bit more swell as the entrance protection has been designed in another way.

Weather for tomorrow: Exactly the same as today, sunny and hot. But the chance of rain has changed from -10% = no chance at all, to 15% = sprinkle time in the mid afternoon.


  1. Hoi Kaptein; that collapsible and wheeled yellow colored metal “separation” barrier is placed to the rear of the canopy by Security as an additional piece of protection to prevent “non attention paying” guests from visiting the area in between ship and pier. An Australian SECO (no longer with the company) holds the current record for jumping in between the ship and pier in order to assist guests back to shore after the latter took such unintended dives. He did so on three separate occasions

  2. I am so glad you addressed those welcoming touches which are so much a part of the HAL experience. Having sailed with HAL, almost exclusively, since 1993 I can tell you that they are a definite asset. The folks at HAL watch and listen and we are rewarded with a better cruising experience as a result.

  3. Greetings from the Noordam, curently berthed at Tauranga in New Zealand. I always enjoy your posts. A very last minute cruise for us (we only booked a week ago) and got on in Auckland where we live. We have enjoyed this fine ship before in the Caribbean but no balcony cabins available for this late booking so a full seaview cabin on Deck 1 instead. Always a good thing to try new things!! I have to make mention that the ship is pristine, staff as friendly and obliging as ever. However, the drill before sailing had many confused and seemed to have changed in content since the last time on HAL, instructions delivered in a rather ambiguous manner.
    Keep up your entertaining posts.

  4. So enjoy the captains view of the working day of a ship. The insight on docking was so interesting. Thank you for your thoughts, I enjoy them as a bit of night time reading so I can nod off dreaming of my next cruise!

  5. I agree with you about the departure of the guests on some cruise lines, where you are herded out like cattle, and are made to feel like you didn’t matter at all to the cruise line. I agree, as well, that the cabin stewards can work around the ones where people leave a little later! Thank you for pointing that out! Have a great day!!

  6. William E Heck

    March 12, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you Captain Albert.

    We debarked most recently from the Rotterdam in Tampa. We had Brown 3, 8:30-9:30 assignment. After a relaxed breakfast on Lido, we made sure we had everything, and left the cabin at 9 am. No long lines, no crowds, we were at the rental car office in 20 minutes.

    This is the right way to do things.

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