- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

24 October 2007, Belize.

And then the Weather changed. Predictions until late last night were given a light SE breeze with a chance of showers. On arrival at the pilot station it was blowing 35 knots from the North West. During the night a cold front has come down from the Gulf of Campeche, that is in the South West corner of the Gulf of Mexico. Normally these cold fronts move North East across the Gulf but occasionally a system just changes direction and comes SE over the Yucatan Peninsula. The weather forecasters have not figured out a way yet to predict this phenomena. This NW wind can create havoc for the ships going to Cozumel as it makes docking there rather difficult. If the wind is more to the North then to the North West it is oke but if it is more to the West then to the North West it all starts to depend on the amount of thruster power that a ship has.

For Belize it is not a problem; it just means that the tender ride is going to be a bit rough as the wind whips up the water over the shallows and that causes a short and bumpy swell. For the ship it just means that it lists a bit more when we go around the corners. To get to the Belize City Anchorage we have to go through a winding channel and that means that the wind is first on the sb side, then on the port side and then on the starboard side again. Because the course changes follow each other very quickly, there is not enough time to use our ballast pumps to correct the heel. Thus we list one way and then the other way until we make our final approach to the anchorage and can then we can find a balance against the wind and come upright again.

Belize is a unicum as here we use shore side tenders. Due to the shallowness of the bay, the distance to the port is considerable and if we would use our own tenders, then it would mean tender rides of 30 to 40 minutes. This would make it impossible to maintain a regular tender service without having to wait too long as the ship only has four tenders and you need about 10 to cover such a distance effectively. The moment the ship comes at anchor a whole armada of fast boats approach the ship of all sorts and sizes. Bigger boats for the tours, smaller boats for the independents. There is never a wait or a delay and it all goes very quickly. The boats cover the distance to the shore in less then 10 minutes and it is a very efficient operation.

Currently two cruise ship docks are being constructed in Belize. First there was only one, instigated with help of the big cruise company’s but now another contractor has started as well. The boat operators expect that when both docks become operational, the fast boats will not be needed that often anymore, so they already start to sell them and some are moving over to shuttle buses. We will have to see if it works out in the right sequence. The docks are supposed to be ready by 2009 and hopefully until that time there will still be enough boat here to cater for the days when there are multiple ships at the anchorage. We were the only ship today with more than enough boats to choice from.

On the anchorage it was very breezy, with wind gusts up to 30 knots, making it necessary to maintain a good lee side for the boats when they moor alongside the platform. Most of our guests are not boat people so they need a steady boat to safely transfer. They way we do that is by keeping the stern thruster going. We use the anchor that will keep the bow into the wind and with North Westerly wind in Belize that is the port anchor. During windy conditions the ship yawns behind the anchor. Yawning means swinging to port and starboard, to and from. The ship will move one way until the anchor chain comes taut and is then pulled back the other way. Especially with the wind blowing on the funnel, pushing against the funnel, first on one side and then on the other side, makes the ship move considerably. To stop this movement from occurring we use the stern thruster. We choose a heading about 15 degrees off the wind, set it on the computer push the button, and the stern thruster is automatically guided by the computer to keep the ship on that heading. As the bow is almost in the wind, only a little bit of power is needed to maintain a steady ship but the computer makes minor adjustments all day long. A thruster on in operation means an extra engine has to be in service to provide the power and that is not good for the daily fuel consumption. Nothing I can do about that very much as the comfort of the guests comes first.


  1. Capt. any idea how long it is going to take to repair the pier at Costa Maya destroyed by hurricane Dean?

  2. Thank you Captain Albert. Your explainations are answering questions I have had in the past. While I see a cruise from a passangers point of view it is good to know why things are done, the reason behind the way they are done and when they are done.

  3. Capt. I would like you to address these questions for me please. Recently, in St. Kitts cruise ships have opted not to berth because of weather related issues. Wind of above 30 knots broad side being the main culprit. I am not sure if you are familar with the St. Kitts port but can you say wehter the ship could dock in that condition and if so how can it be done? Please feel free to assume all other weather and marine conditions in which this could be possible? In addition, if it is not possible what changes to the facilities might be necessary to birth a cruise line of about 300ft in lenght and with a capacity of about 3000 passengers? Thanks in advance.

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