- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

27 November 2007. At Sea.

Today is our second regular sea day and again we were blessed with beautiful weather. Advice from the engine room is positive about progress being made with improving the output on the propellers and thus the speed but it will be a few days before it will make a significant difference.

As I already “blogged” in the past about the Old Bahamas Channel, Cuba, Hispaniola and the Puerto Rican trench, this time something about a fairly unknown group of people on board: the Upholsterers.

Apart from dry docks, which only take place every two years or so, most maintenance on a cruise ship has to be done while sailing. With the wear and tear of all materials on board the life cycle of carpets and soft furnishings is not much more than 2 to 4 years. Curtains maybe a little bit longer. Thus there is a constant renewal process going on. Each Holland America Line ship has two Upholsterers on board while there is also a roving team of four more who move around the fleet. On a regular schedule which is made up by the Interiors department in the home office, step by step curtains, carpets, chairs and couches are renewed. Sometimes by just exchanging the fabric, sometimes by re-covering it with a complete new design. That makes is possible that a ships lounge looks totally different today when compared to a number of years ago while no structural changes have taken place.


The upholstery department has a workshop in the bowels of the ship where also most of the fabrics are being stored, as the ship carries small amounts of each sort of fabric on board for regular repairs. In the past the upholsterers used to report to the Chief Officer and for a period of 7 years, when I had that function, I learned a lot about the business although not having trained for it at all. But that is what makes a sailor so versatile and that is what makes a job at sea so interesting, there is always a different angle to it.

Nowadays the upholstery department falls under the Facility Maintenance Manager. This is a fairly new function, created about two years ago. The company recognized that to run an engine room or a bridge you need licensed Sea officers but for regular ships maintenance that is not a necessity. So a licensed officer can now spend more time on items that requires a license instead of thinking about bed ruffles, glass curtains and high or low pole carpets.

Most of the work of upholsterers can be done un-obtrusively. Nobody notices it, if a chair is gone for the day or that work is being carried out on the curtains. Different is it when it comes to carpeting. The new carpet comes on board in large rolls and those can not be carried through the ship or up and down the staircases. Luckily all the hal ships have this massive observation deck on the bow. There is where we store the carpet and that is where the carpet gets cut to size for laying in the ship. On the Veendam we have at the moment quite a bit of carpet laying on the bow, under a tarpaulin, waiting to be installed when we have the chance. At the moment here on board they have just finished the couches in the piano bar (new design) and are now working on the main show lounge (regular replacement).
When that is finished, then it is time for carpeting again.

With the tendency in the cruise ship world to go to lighter colors, carpet needs to be replaced more often, as lighter carpet stains so much quicker. A darker color makes the ship look less cheerful and thus the designers tend to go for more and more pastel colors. A trend that is not always appreciated by the chief housekeepers of this world nor the Facility managers.

The carpet that comes on board the ship is not the same as the carpet that you buy at home. It is specially woven in a similar way as hotel carpets and it is also fire retardant. Many a passenger ship fire in the past was “enhanced” by the cork dry and highly inflammable carpet in the corridors. Nowadays there are strict rules for the specs for ship carpet. That makes replacing not cheap but safety comes first. Most of our carpet comes from the Netherlands, where Holland America has a long standing relation with the Desso Company.

Guests do not often realize how important these skilled craftsmen are that we have on board and how important they are for the presentation of the interior of the ship.

Tomorrow we have another day at sea. A cold front behind us is coming closer and should bring some more wind and rain in the afternoon. Also there is a large wave field moving in from the North Atlantic and thus the ship will start to pitch a bit tomorrow.

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting information. I find it facinating to learn what goes on behind the curtain that produces a wonderful experience. Thanks.

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