- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

14 Dec. 2016; Costa Maya, Mexico.

We had a good day to day in Costa Maya, a day we shared with another 6000 guests coming from the Norwegian Jade and the Rhapsody of the Seas. All the 3 berths were full and we were once again on berth 3 which gives the shortest distance from gangway to the resort itself. On arrival there was little wind and that gave a head start as during the day the normal trade wind picked up under the influence of the sun. This wind builds up waves and those waves make the ship rock alongside the dock and if the ships movement becomes too much the ropes start breaking.  If you arrive with very little wind, then the buildup of waves has to start from scratch and by the time you leave (for us at 15.00 hrs.) the waves are not that high yet and thus the ships are not moving so much yet. During our last call, there was a weather front coming through and the last 4 hours of our call the captain had to put the thrusters and Azipods on to glue the Oosterdam alongside and reduce the strain on the ropes. Today it was a lot better. Also the Oosterdam was half hidden behind the other two ships and that helped as well.

View from the shore side of Coata Maya Pier. the ms Oosterdam was docked where the ships with the stern towards us.

View from the shore side of Costa Maya Pier. The ms Oosterdam was docked where the ship is with the stern towards us. (Photo Courtesy, Costa Maya Tours)

I am always greatly concerned about breaking ropes, especially at the bow as they run under various angles to the bollards ashore. If they snap, they can whip over the dock. Hence the bow area is roped off and local security is very good in stopping guests, who cannot resist the urge to take a bow shot, from scooting under the ropes of the no-go area.   For the aft ropes there is less of an issue as they are all under 90 angles. When those break, they break on the edge of the chock where they go inboard and then the the breaking force settles on the piece which is inboard and the outboard part falls in the water. Hence we can let guests walk on the pier along the ship to the resort.

The cruise terminal is fr far out from the main land and a shuttle service is in place over this long bridge to an artificial island with the cruise terminal.

Progresso. The cruise terminal is far out from the main land and a shuttle service is in place over this long bridge to an artificial island with the cruise terminal.

Although Costa Maya is an artificial port, conceived and built purely for cruise ship tourism, its location makes sense from a strategic point of view. There is nothing else in the area. The next three cruise ship ports, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Progresso are more than a 100 miles to the north. Cozumel is often full, Progresso has a long channel in and a very long pier to walk over as the area is shallow. Playa Del Carmen suffers from wind and current. It is not really Playa del Carmen itself but Calica a few miles to the south. Calica means gravel pit and that is what it is, a bulk carrier port for exporting gravel. Long ago they built a small cruise terminal and cruise ship dock there but it really only works for small cruise ships with a lot of maneuvering power.  When you go in you have the Gulf Stream full on the beam and thus it can be difficult to steer exactly right into the entrance. The current is strong, the entrance is small and the shallows are nearby.  Then the moment you are inside you have to make a 90o turn to starboard to the dock and the moment you do that, you get the Trade Wind full on the beam, which sets you towards the dock.  The smaller the ship, the more room you have. Carnival tried it for a while and had planned to improve the place but at the moment there is no large cruise ship scheduled there at least until 2018.

Playa Del Carmen itself has a small pier for ferries and Holland America used to stop here in the 1990’s. We then landed our tour people with a local ferry as a quick way for the tours to go Chichen Itza as from there it is about an hour with the bus inland. This local ferry then also brought them back in the evening while the ship was docked in Cozumel. Keeping the ship in position off Playa while the local ferry lay alongside was not easy due to the current and the return trip with this ferry could be really fun and games. If the wind was from the north and thus blowing against the Gulf Stream, then the whole sea surface changed into a sort of washing machine and the returning guests would have to endure a 45 minute real roller coaster ride……… with the expected results…………  Thus we gave up on that and as we hardly go to Cozumel anymore other Maya destinations such as Tikal have been introduced.

We sailed at 15.00 hrs. and around 8 pm. tonight we will pass the island of Cozumel on our portside. Normally we can just see the lights at the horizon. Tomorrow is our last sea day while the ship heads for its final port on the cruise, our home port of Tampa. Weather looks quite good, there is a frontal system moving over Cuba, but I think we will be far to the north before it reaches the Yucatan Channel.

It looks like clear skies all the way to Florida.

It looks like clear skies all the way to Florida.


  1. Thanks for taking time to write. We will be sailing on the Oosterdam on Friday. Can’t wait! Nostalgic trip for me as my father came to the US from Holland in 1907, as an infant, on the Noordam.

  2. Interesting discussion and insight on breaking/snapping ropes/lines. Does this happen frequently?
    Also re Costa Maya, it is my understanding that this pier was built by Cozumel merchants who simply wanted a second shot at cruise ship tourists…..Ruud

    • Good morning,

      No it does not happen that frequently, you need a lot of swell/ ships movement before the stretch is out of the ropes. So it is a fairly rare occurrence if we have a season with average weather. You are correct about Costa Maya, it was constructed with local money. While in other ports such as Cozumel, Carnival Corporation invested at least in one pier, they were also involved in Progresso and were planning to do something in Calica / Playa del Carmen. Costa Maya is a purely local affair.

      Thank you for still reading my blog. In April it will be 10 years.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

  3. Missed Career at Sea

    December 15, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    Thank you for reminding your readers, Captain. So it will be for me in December of that year.

  4. Great article. Very interesting. I’ll be on a Blues Cruise in early Feb. & was doing a little “research” about Costa Maya as I’d never heard of it before. Landed in Cozumel many years ago & took the ferry to Playa del Carmen then the tour to Tulum. Sounds as if I might just stay on board for the one day we’re there! Fair seas, Captain! Thanks.

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