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Ocean Liner History and Stories from the Sea, Past and Present. With an In Depth focus on Holland America Line

10 October 2018; Cartagena Spain.

The good ship Koningsdam docked at Cartagena as scheduled and could look forward to a nice day. There was some talk about a chance of thunderstorms but also that the temperature might go up to the mid 80’s which is not bad at all for Autumn in October. Although Spain is known for its summer / sunny weather it can be quite cold here during the winter time with only the noon time temperature being half reasonable. Early mornings and evening can still be very chilly in the periods between September and April. But today was a good day.

The dock in Cartagena. Photo taken from the starboard Bridge wing of the ms Noordam in 2001. They had just finished the new dock layout with dolphins and catwalks.

Cartagena tends to be a bit warmer and have less rain than the surrounding area as it is laying in a sort of Valley with high mountain or hill ranges on either side. The Romans already knew about that and established a large presence here. For cruise ships it was a bit of a hidden gem and Holland America added the port to the cruise schedules on a regular basis only after 2001. Yours truly was with the Noordam the first one to make a regular call here and to see if we could bring in larger numbers of guests. 1200 guests were a large number in those days. The Authorities had shown foresight and had put in a complete new cruise terminal by rebuilding and extending the old cargo & ferry dock. However their foresight did not go too far into the future as what accommodated two ships easily in 2001 was not enough a few years later and thus they extended the pier and now it can handle two mega liners without too much of a hassle.

A Photo from almost the same location. The year 2016 and seen from the portside bridge wing of the ms Rotterdam. Docked in front, the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. the catwalks have gone and the main pier has been extended.

It is a nice and sheltered harbor which only has to deal with nasty winds if they blow directly from the south. The other 3 points of the compass are quite well protected by the mountains. Swell is never much of a problem as the entrance to the harbor is protected by two piers which force the ships to do a zig-zag when coming in but as the in-rolling swell is not very good at zig-zagging, these piers serve their purpose very well. That makes the captains very happy on most occasions and the shore side does its best to make the guests happy at all times.

The port of Cartagena. Please note the mountain ranges enclosing the port as a horse shoe. The two breakwaters are overlapping and keep the swell out. The ship alongside is our old Westerdam (II) which left us in 2004 but still sails around quite happily until the current day.

Cartagena is one of my favorite ports, although I have not spent enough time there to fully appreciate all that it has to offer. Due to its sheltered harbor it was founded more than 200 years BC and after the Carthagians, came the Romans, then the Moors (read the Ottoman empire for the area that is now Turkey) and then it became Spain and it remained focused on its harbor. With a change of owners came war, decline and then time of prosperity again, so there is a lot to see in the area with ruins and artifacts from all these periods. Even the Art Noveau Period (my favorite art style) is present with numerous houses and apartment buildings from the 1920’s and 1930’s when Cartagena had a merchant boom due to the nearby mining industry. A lot of important history was also created during the period of the Spanish Civil war when the city was the last major stronghold in Spain to fall during the advance of General Franco.

The Roman Theater in Cartagena. I am always fascinated by the fact that the Romans managed to get their acoustics so well done that a voice from the stage could be heard – un-amplified – over the whole spectator area; while we are still messing around with amplifiers and microphones to get the same result. (Photo Courtesy: Spain tourist Info web)

For those not going on tour to look at antiquities, the old town is very nice and very south Spanish. It is NOT sitting directly on top of the port as there used to be an inner Sea here which dried out and was then built upon in the 20th century, so if you take the wrong turn you could miss the old watering and eating spots.  But there is enough to do for everybody as long as you have done your homework or listened to our EXC Guides. And if all else fails, there is a Big Red Bus with a sightseeing loop, to help you make up your mind to find out what you want to do during the day.

We stay in Cartagena until 18.00 hrs. and then after zig-zagging out of the port set course for Ceuta, Spanish Morocco. And that is a Spanish foothold on the North Coast of Africa. Again a port which only gained cruise ship prominence in early 2000’s. Less in favor by ship captains as it is open to the prevailing winds from most sides.

Those winds are not expected to be an issue tomorrow but there is a chance of 70% of rain in the morning petering off to a 30% chance of drizzle in the afternoon. Not that great for our guests but no doubt the locals will be very happy as they do not get that much of it.


  1. Thank you for sharing such interesting information. Our first HAL cruise was to Alaska early ’90’s on the former Westerdam. I was told it had been previously the Homeric of Home Lines. This had special meaning as we sailed on her in 1964 from Nassau to New York City as part of our honeymoon.

    Is the picture in today’s blog that very same ship?

    We’ve done so many HAL cruises and are looking forward to the next in May.

    • Thank you for reading my blog.

      No, this Homeric was built in 1988. you were on the previous one which sailed for Home Lines until 1974. This Homeric had been originally built for Matson lines as the Mariposa in 1932 for their service to Hawaii.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

  2. Thanks for the information about Cartagena. We will be there on Nieuw Statendam’s Premier sailing, and we are really looking forward to it.

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