This was a very early arrival. We run a full day tour from Santo Tomas by airplane to Copan and Tikal for the Mayan ruins. The local airport has no runway lights and that means that the plane has to take off directly at sunrise so that the full length tour can be done and the plane can be back on the ground in Santo Tomas before sunset. That meant for me a 3 am wake up call for a 4 am. pilot boarding. Taking into account the sailing in time, the docking time and the time needed for the clearing of the ship, I had to be early. Santo Tomas is reached through a 6 mile long and very narrow channel. It is also very shallow and that means that you can not go any faster than about 10 knots. The water can simply not flow away any faster under the hull and more power on the propellers does not gain a significant increase in speed. What was unusual today was that it was very windy on arrival. Nearly 20 knots blowing along the dock. Wind is always the biggest enemy of a cruise ship captain and the only way to deal with it is to turn it into your friend and use it to your advantage. Thus I lined the ship up with the dock while still in the middle of the harbour and with the wind a little bit on the sb bow giving us a gentle push toward the dock, we came slowly alongside. I had to go slowly as I had only 30 feet clearance to a docked ship behind me and about 50 feet clearance to the mud flats ahead of me. However we were docked timely and the tours made it on time to the airplane(s).
I had something else to organize that morning, a donation of 150 matrasses to an orphanage. We have on board a mattress exchange program for the crew whereby on a cycle of two to three years all the matrasses in the cabins get renewed. Instead of trashing them in Tampa, we found out last year that we could donate them to an orphanage in Santo Tomas. The local navy takes care of the transport and we make a few people happy. My presence is not really needed for the off loading but I found out last year that it helps. The navy ratings are very much impressed by all the gold on display so they do not dally around but get the off loading done quickly and efficiently. The faster the better, as the Housekeeping crew has to do it in between cleaning the guest cabins so the least time lost the better it is for all. Three weeks from now we have a second donation of another 100 and that will complete this yearâ€™s exchange program.
What is also very nice here is the send off that the ship receives from the taxi drivers and the tour operators. The moment we pull the gangway, they all line up with their cars in front of the ship and start a claxon concert. I always answer extensively with the ships whistle and they always try, by combined effort, to be louder than the Veendam. Today we had also two childrenâ€™s groups dancing for us, one with traditional dancing and the other group giving a samba display. For the guests it was a nice sail-away after a nice port day. The weather remained over cast with a little breeze and that meant that it was not that hot in the port. Normally the sun shines and there is not any wind at all in the whole port area. Temperatures can easily reach 95 to a 100oF with a very high humidity.
I tried to get out of port as quickly as possible as it is a very tight run to Cozumel. The schedule for this cruise is based on a Costa Maya call. However thanks to Hurricane Dean the piers at Costa Maya have been destroyed and now we have to go to Cozumel which is 90 miles more to the North. Thus I have to absorb 90 miles in my sailing schedule and that is without taking into account the wind and current that will be against me as we still have this North Westerly wind blowing since Belize. Costa Maya is supposed to be back in operation by the end of 2008. Let’s hope so.