Today we stepped onto African soil although in a European setting. Ceuta is a fair distance from Cartagena and thus our arrival time for today was 13.00 hrs. with an equal late departure time of 23.00 hrs. Thus this is the official evening call port which Holland America tries to include in each of its cruises, where possible and where feasible. With Ceuta being Spanish, there is sufficient night life to sustain an evening call. Apart from that, the later departure gives the chance to run tours into Morocco and as the buses are sometimes stuck in border control for a while an early departure does not really work anyway.
For the Navigators on the bridge, this is an interesting area. Thus far our courses took us away from the beaten path but this morning we entered the Vessel Traffic Separation Scheme which keeps the flows toward the Suez Canal and the flow of ships coming from the Canal separated. This VTS system is on the north side close to Spain and Ceuta is on the south side as it is part of Africa and attached to Morocco. It was part of a much larger Spanish area which is now Morocco but several small bits still belong to Spain.
Ceuta is about 8.5 square miles in size (18.5 kilometers) and is not much more than a city perched on a peninsula. Quite strategic, being close to the Straits of Gibraltar. In the same way as the British still have Gibraltar, the Spanish have Ceuta. Politically a very complicated situation but as they both allow cruise ships for a visit, it works for us, and here we are.
Thus the Navigators had an an enjoyable time; zig zagging between the ships going East towards the Eastern Mediterranean. That brings them into contact with all sorts of ships including those where the watch keeping standards are …………… let say…………….. a little bit looser than with HAL. That means that we cannot expect or assume that the other ship will keep a good lookout and will take action when required to do so. Thus we follow the good rule: If you recognize an idiot, sail around it. This morning there was one out there who would have fallen under that rule but luckily he was far away. Every time he heard somebody on the VHF, he would answer with: “are you calling me ?” without identifying himself, so nobody got very far in finding out if he was indeed the ship they wanted to talk to or not.
Once you are through the flow of traffic, it is a matter of keeping a good eye out for the fast ferries (catamarans) racing in and out of Ceuta and then it is just sailing into the port under a slight angle and the cruise terminal is right there. A slight angle as the dock is a bit to the West but also angled so it lies in line with the predominant wind. Cruise terminal is a big word, it is a big pier with the Harbor Master Office at the end, but a small shed near the Gate that made up the complete cruise facility. In the olden days this pier was not use in use for cruise ships and we had to make a 90 turn to the west and then dock at the outer breakwater. That could be very nasty as there is often a lot of wind here and the old docks were 90o onto the ship so you could drift all over the place. The cruise ship dock has now been repaired and the wind is most of the time on the bow and the ship can dock without drifting.
This means that tonight the Captain will just go astern and sail backwards out of the harbor instead of swinging around; as backing out is the easiest maneuver. Especially with Azi-pods it does not make much of a difference whether you sail making headway or sail making sternway. For the guests it is an interesting port, especially as the Saharan influence has caused a certain disdain for rules and regulations that we take for granted. Our shore excursion booklet goes to great lengths to explain that visiting the local markets is a great experience but also that it might be a bit heavy on the Eyes and Nose when walking around. Plus there are always numerous “collectors” around who are very eager to add your photo camera to their already extensive collection. Carpets are cheap and of good quality here and there are always a few enthusiastic souls who buy a big one without realizing that they have to fly home with it as well.
We will be leaving Ceuta between 22.30 and 23.00 hrs. get back in the VTS for the western flow again and then sail for Cadiz in Spain. So we will be playing around in the North Atlantic Ocean for a while. Cadiz can be very cool under the influence of the North Atlantic Ocean but tomorrow it should be sunny with temperatures around 25oC or 77oF with very little wind. That will make it very nice on the ocean boulevard but a bit warm in the old town.