- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

13 March 2019: At Sea.

It is about 500 miles from Punta Arenas to the Panama Canal and that is too much to do during one night. So we have a relaxing day at sea with nice weather and a little bit of following wind which blows along the ship towards the bow. It gives the positive effect (at least for the Bo ‘sun) that the birds cannot land on the forward light mast as the flow is wrong. They keep trying it but time and time again they have to abort as they cannot take in their wings while landing. If they do that, then the lift they normally still have, when going against the wind, is gone at once as it does not push against the feathers but just glances over it and under it. For the bridge team it brings a bit of diversion as the acrobatics are sometimes quite comical. What does amaze us all is that the birds do not seem to remember what happened to them 30 seconds ago. They take off after an aborted landing, swerve out to open sea, and about 30 seconds there comes the new attempt. Which is then aborted again as the wind had not changed. And so it went on and on all day.

Most cruise guests want to see the Panama Canal at least once during their cruising days and it does become the highlight of the cruise. Understandably it is a very impressive happening, even if you see it more than once. I am way over the 100 (full) crossings and every time I still discover a new detail that I was not aware off.   For preparation and to get into the mood we get the obligatory Panama Canal flyer in the cabin, courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority (I have about 20 variations now since I got the first one in 1979) and there is the Panama Canal lecture by the EXC speaker on board. This morning it was very busy when I came by, with guests standing in the isles and entrances so I assume we have a large number of first timers (at least for the P.C.) on board as normally the Main Stage is full but not overcrowded.

When the Zuiderdam visits to the Panama Canal we never had a schedule. The ship was simply told to arrive at a certain time and then it was slotted in between the ships of the regular convoy. Going out was the same, when there was a gap in the outbound flow, that is where the Zuiderdam went. The three weeks I was on board, they were very lucky as there was a transit spot available each time the ship left the anchorage. And thus it could dock early at Colon which made the guests returning from the overland tour happy.

The Panama Canal with the width as dug. As you can see it is not that wide and hence the nickname “the Big Ditch” was invented. This is the ms Dalerdyk  one of the Passenger Cargo liners that sailed for us  on the Europe -Vancouver service. This ship was 60 feet wide, which gives an idea of how wide the Canal originally was. The photo  is from approx. 1952/1953

For a full transit it is different as you follow the convoy through the whole canal. The convoy system is still being used although the PCA (Panama Canal Authority) has been working, read planning, on getting the canal wide enough for traffic from one side to pass traffic from the other side. And the Canal has been made wider through the years but it is not there yet to make it possible for any size ship to pass each other.  Thus we still go in a convoy and thus the PTA produces a transit schedule. See below. If interested in watching the Volendam going through the Canal, PTA has webcams everywhere in the canal. However my Lord and Master at home has been reporting that the ones on the Gatun Locks near the Atlantic side are in very poor shape.

This is the same stretch of water but now looking the other way, The ship in the middle is about a 100 feet wide, Panamax size and the Canal is considerably wider, The photo is from 2011/2012.

Our schedule for tomorrow: subject too extremely much change as we can only go as fast as the slowest cargo ship:

Canal transit, receiving pilot at 06:00/14th (All times GMT – hrs.)

Miraflores Locks (East Lane)
Arriving                             08:00 hrs

Departing                          09:00 hrs

Pedro Miguel Locks (East Lane)
Arriving                              09:25 hrs

Departing                           10:15 hrs

Passing by Gamboa       11:15 hrs

Gatun  locks  (East Lane)

Arriving                             13:00 hrs

Departing                          14:50 hrs

ETD Cristobal                  16:20 hrs

Weather for tomorrow: Mainly Sunny 90oF / 32oC and no rain forecast. Rain in Panama is standard, so either they do not forecast it as the local rain forest is un “forecastable” or we are going to have a dry day. That is nice, but it will then also by sunny and blistering hot.  Sun block 50 ……..


  1. Hello Captain Albert,
    How does a ship become a flag ship ? Was the ss Rotterdam a flag ship? That’s when we first met you (before you became famous!)


    • Captain Albert

      March 16, 2019 at 7:34 pm

      Thank you for reading my blog.

      The term flag ship was invented (or pinched from the navy) when the merchant navy company’s appointed their Senior Captain as Commodore. He would received a company flag with a star in the top left (the side near the flag pole) and the ship he sailed on became the flagship as his flag flew from that ship. Holland America had a Commodore until 1968 and then the decision was made that it was a title which did not belong in the cruise age. Some company’s still have them such as Cunard and P&O . But their last commodores also recently retired and they have not appointed a new one, so maybe they have also stopped.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

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