- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

12 September 2009, Lisbon, Portugal.

It is a long way in to Lisbon and thus arrival tends to be early. In order to be docked by 7am, you have to start approaching the port by going up the river by about 5.15am and that means that by 4am the initial preparations are being made already. It was very busy this time with ships; a whole procession was heading towards the sea buoy. The nice thing was that each ship had a slightly different arrival time and every ship could line up seamlessly behind each other without any danger or acrimonious exchanges over the VHF. Ahead of us was a small coaster, The Tina –C, and behind us was another one. This one was followed by the Seven Seas Voyager and behind her was the Costa Atlantica. For the rest there were several other ships coming in as well, but I do not recall their names. There were ships coming down the river as well and we passed one near the sea buoy and another one just before the pilot station.

The river Tejo is an estuary river and its entrance is quite wide and thus shallow with a bank that covers half the entrance. Therefore you do not want to meet ships at exactly that location. We all want to be in the deepest part of the river and then it can be quite narrow. The pilot station for Lisbon is located near Belem tower and that is 10 miles up the river. There is an alternative option and that is to go to Cascais north of the river mouth and embark the pilot there. Some ships, especially those who have never been to Lisbon do so but most ships make their way up river themselves. It is not that difficult either. The river is covered by a very strong pair of leading lights denoting the mid channel and the shallows on the starboard side are very well marked with buoys. There are three challenges to navigating here. The first one is the current, the ebb and flood are quite strong here and when you make the 90 degree turn into the river itself you can be set north or south considerably. The second is if you meet ships that refuse to move a little bit out of the leading lights so you can pass. The down stream ship goes to starboard a little bit and the upstream ship does the same. You can not both sail in the leading lights at the same place. If one ships refuses to do its bit than the other ship has to move quite close to the edges of the deep water part and that is not pleasant. The third item are the fishermen who of course are always sitting on the course line.

Today we had no issues, although we were prepared for them all. The navigator kept monitoring the position in case we were being set over, while I conned the ship up river and kept an eye on the traffic. The opposing traffic stayed just outside the leading lights and as I did the same, we passed at a safe distance. The Tina –C ahead of me dealt with the fishermen and as I was following her at a distance of a mile, I had clear waters to proceed. By 6 am, we had the pilot onboard as planned and we proceeded to our dock.
There are three major passenger ship docks in Lisbon. Alcantara, which is located under the bridge. This is the location where in the old days all Transatlantic traffic left from. It is the largest dock and used for the big cruise ships or those who have a turn over in Lisbon. It also has the biggest terminal. The 2nd dock is Rocha about a mile or so further up river. It has room for two medium sized cruise ships. Then there is Santa Apolonia another fives miles up river and that is where the seven Seas voyager went.

Tomorrow there will be the Costa Luminosa, the Funchal (taking our dock), the Pacific Dream (docking behind us) and the Grand Princess coming in.

We docked nicely at 7am at Rocha by swinging around just past the bridge and letting the flood current push us towards the dock. In principle ships always dock with the nose in the current as it is much easier. Stopping a ship by going against the tide with the engines is much easier than trying to “brake” the ship to stand still while it is being pushed forward. So when you travel up and down the river Tejo and you see ships docked with the nose up stream, you can be almost certain that this ship arrived on the ebbing tide. The other way around and they arrived on the flooding tide.

By 07.15 we had the gangway in and the authorities came onboard to shuffle paper work to clear the ship. I had a lot of paper work to shuffle as well, as tomorrow is my last day onboard and the hand over takes a lot of documentation.


  1. R. Taylor. Trinidad West Indies

    September 13, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    I am going to miss your daily blog reports. Enjoy your well deserved time off. When do you return?

  2. Thank you for your blogging. It’s been a fun, and at times, very “interesting” read, especially on the days the Prinsendam ‘surfed’.
    Best wishes for a relaxing vacation.
    I look forward to reading more about the Prinsendam’s adventures when you return on your next contract. 🙂

  3. Captain Albert
    We have been enjoying your blog. Our friends, Richard & Catherine Ewan are aboard and they gave us your blog connection. This has been such fun to be able to follow their trip. Will the next captain have a blog? Enjoy your time off and a good rest. Thanks

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