- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

25 June 2019; Narvik, Norway.

Last night we sailed through the Inside Passage from Tromso to Narvik. There is an outside but the inside passage is shorter, more sheltered and much more scenic. About 3 hrs. down from Tromso the ship has to go under a bridge and for that you have to be the size of the Prinsendam or smaller. So the big boys have to go back outside if they would have wanted to go to Narvik. That is not often the case and it is also not that often the case with other cruise ships. This because Narvik is not really a cruise port and that is the reason why Yours Truly has not been there either. Nor my Lord and Master, and she has been out there for a long time as well on (really) small ships and she did not make it here either. But the ms Prinsendam is the Elegant Explorer and keeps going to ports to offer the guests something different, even if it is not the wildest thing in life. I am happy as I put another “dot” on my world map at home.

Narvik is located in a sheltered bay at the end of a fjord. It takes about three hours from dock to pilot station. The dotted line on the electronic chart shows the route of the ms Prinsendam on arrival. The port is ice free all year around as the endings of the Gulf Stream just reach Narvik to bring warmer water.

Narvik is a mining town and a modern town. No old castles, fortresses or quaint little streets. There are a few buildings from the 19th. Century, including the Seaman’s Mission just outside the port, but the rest is fairly new. It also did not help that Narvik was very badly damaged in the 2nd world war and many allied soldiers are buried in the war cemetery. Historians will know about the great naval battle of the port here in 1940, plus a large battle on the landside as well. Narvik is a nice sheltered bay, and an ice free harbour all year around. Directly connected to the North Atlantic Ocean with the option to shoot up the Inside Passage which we used last night. So “War-People” with an eye for strategic locations have always been focused on the port.  The Germans won those fights in the end and achieved their objective of denying the enemy all the iron ore that was coming from mines in Sweden.

This is downtown. The statue on the left: mother raising up her child, is called Life out of Chaos and was installed in 1956 to commemorate the period of 1940 – 1945.

To enable the “dot on the map at home” we had a quick look in town which was easy as the company had laid on a shuttle service mainly to get out of the port as the distance itself was not that far. One bus could easily maintain a 15 minute service but was even then hard pressed in the mid afternoon when many guests tried to return at once after having seen the local sights.

Never thought that I would post a picture of a Shopping Mall escalator system in my blog but due to the lack of the any other high lights on the main street we had wandered into this Shopping Mall behind the station. And we were not the only ones.

I came across many guests in the two small shopping malls in the town so I assume that for the town these were the main attractions. For the real interesting stuff you have to take the tours into the country, up the mountain (they have a sky lift here to a mountain top) and around the town.

The show lounge filling up. When all crew were in and all had their cup of coffee and a cookie, the counter stood at 389 in attendance. This is not the complete crew, as there are always crew who have to work,  keep the ship safe, keep the lights on and get the lunch ready on time. (And the beer cold…………)

For those who did so in the morning would not have seen all the crew streaming into ships show lounge for a special meeting. Today was the International Seafarers Day and every shipping company in the world was asked to pay some attention & give some recognition to their employees and especially to take into account the topic for his year, Gender Equality. I do not know how much you can do on a cargo ship with only 10 or 20 crew but on the cruise ships you can do a lot. Hence this morning’s meeting. Holland America has never had much issue with Gender Equality or In-Equality. The Dutch Seafarer law does not recognize male or female, just seafarers, Ladies were always paid the same. Already since the 1960’s when the first Dutch Lady Officers started sailing. Also going through the ranks, there is not much of an issue. We were very close to getting the first female captain but then she opted for pilotage on the Thames. We have a Lady 2nd engineer who could make Chief Engineer if she hangs on, and we already have Female Hotel Directors and Environmental Officers.

All the recognized crew together for a groups photo.  Or most senior member of the Prinsendam team, Debbie, mentioned below is a very retiring Lady so she parked herself with the flowers received in the back row.

The company had made $1000 available to give recognition /prizes to a number of the ships complement who had been selected by fellow crew and officers. Hence the gathering in the show lounge; where Captain Jeroen Schuchman and Human Resources Manager Julie Berndsen presided over this special function. 23 Officers and Crew members were recognized. For reasons of being very cheerful, to giving good service, or going beyond the call of duty by also helping out during crew events or organizing Philippine Independence day on board, from All ranks and from All Departments. I do not like to single any of them out, there are all wonderful, but still I would like to give one Officer a special mention and that is Debbie Balch. I think she is the most senior crew member in the company as well, having clocked up 45 years of exemplary and faithful service, and a lot of those years she has spent on board our beautiful Prinsendam. Those who read this blog while on board; why don’t you drop by the EXC office and say congratulations? I am on my 39th. year with the company so I understand how long 45 years is. But achieving this in Shore-EX is different. Standing in the wind, in the rain and the burning sun; dispatching tour buses in the most weird and wonderful places in the world; and then having to deal with the “compliments” of the returning guests if the tours did not live up to expectation.

Tomorrow we are at sea, so everybody can re-charge their batteries for the last 3 ports. Geiranger, Flam and Bergen. The weather still looks good, not wonderful but no storms expected while we sail down the coast of Norway to the entrance of Geiranger Fjord.

Today I have to groups photos. Some more of the Un-sung heroes without whom not a single ship will sail.

First our Recycling Team. Although almost all the food prepared is consumed by Guests and Crew alike there is still a lot of packaging which comes back. We can burn, but we can also recycle and that is the preferred Holland America method. And thus we have small team of four waste handlers as their official title is, who sort all that can be recycled in stacks (carton), compact it (plastic bottles and cans), or crush it (glass) and give it ashore for further processing. We did so today in Narvik. Money from the recycling goes into the crew-fund. What cannot be recycled is incinerated on board.

The Recycling Team of the Prinsendam, The man in grey is the foreman assisted by three helpers. They are part of the Engine Room Crew as recycling is technical and uses a lot of specialized equipment. They are sitting in front of the hopper in which materials accumulate that will be incinerated.  I have a lot of respect for these guys as they work at the end of what I call “the ships chain of happiness” somewhere deep in the dungeons of the ship. There where the left overs end up and they are some of the most cheerful crew members that we have on board. 

The 2nd group is our Store room Team. They are responsible for the storing of all the  provisions that come on board. Maintaining the stores that are cold or cooled in good condition and for handing out everyday all the food and supplies that go into the ship. Most day stores in the ship have only enough capacity for one day and thus there is a never ending flow of crew members with carts to the stores to pick up supplies. Good care has to be taken that only what is handed out has been approved as otherwise the ship would run out before the end of the cruise.  

The store room team under the leadership of the Provision Master.  This picture was taken in the Food Store which is kept on a cool temperature to avoid ripening too fast. This photo was taken just after storing and thus the melons had not been separated yet from the unions and the bananas. The man in grey is the provision master.


  1. So interesting. I like that you are showing us areas and people we may not normally see when we are cruising. It ‘s nice to see some of the people who look after us as we cruise. Thank you.

  2. When you first mentioned Debbie, you did not give her last name ….thought to myself is that Debbie Balch. Sure enough further down you did give her full name. Is that her hiding behind the gal in the red cap? Come on Deb, don’t be shy 😄
    I first met Debbie in 1981 on our first cruise on the old Volendam….oh that was a fun cruise … ..12 day cruise…sailing delayed because VODM ran into severe weather coming down from Newport News, so guests were put up on old SADM for the day & transferred over to VODM after dinner. Consequently 2 ports missed but received 50% discount on next cruise, which we accepted…..62 HAL cruises since then
    Debbie was of course Shorex Manager. Is she finally retiring along with the PRDM. 😄
    Please give her a big hug from me and tell her I’ll expect an email when she gets home. Oh I bet she and your Lord & Master are having a great time reminiscing about the “old days”. We did have fun. 😄

  3. Natasha van Bentum

    June 26, 2019 at 2:11 am

    Hello Captain Albert – a poignant journey for many aboard I’m sure. I’d forgotten the Prinsendam was originally the “Royal Viking Sun”, so with every blog post we learn something new. Henri and I were part of the inaugural around-the-world cruises of the sister ships “Royal Viking Sky” (1974), and “Royal Viking Sea (1975); he was Guest Artist & Lecturer. Thank you again for your diligent postings and giving us a rare, insider’s view to life aboard ship. Do you know yet where you are headed to next? Cheers, Natasha and Henri

  4. Kaptein; my money is still on German 1/O Sabine, great lady, becoming the first female HAL captain. Time will tell 😉

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