- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

28 November 2011; Puerto Vallarta.

Because Puerto Vallarta is such a quick arrival, we do not have to arrive that early and so I could set my pilot ETA for 0700 in the morning.  Sunrise is about the same time and that is always a perfect time to arrive. Although Puerto Vallarta does not have the problem; there are many ports where quickly after sunrise the wind starts blowing and that makes docking less easy.  The air gets heated up over land and creates a sort of local high pressure system and a strong wind blows for as long as the sun is shining. It is a typical phenomenon in Greece, where they call it the Etesian winds. Although the Greek islands can be a windy affair anyway, especially around ports such as Rhodes and Mykonos, it really pays off here to try and dock before sunrise. Dubrovnik & Kotor Montenegro are similar places where the local “Bora” wind can really make your life difficult. The problems with those two ports is that you want to arrive in day light because going in and out is so scenic. Puerto Vallarta is protected by mountains and that means that the wind funnels over the mountain tops and only touches the sea surface about 3 to 4 miles from the shore. We saw that again this morning. 8 miles from shore it was blowing 25 knots but at the pilot station 1 mile offshore it was wind still.

Wind still weather makes it a lot easier to enter Puerto Vallarta. The Statendam is just short enough to be able to turn in the harbor basin but it means that you have to slow down while going through the very short port entrance. That makes you lose your steerage and thus you have to keep the ship under control with the thrusters. There is only so much they can do and the less wind the better. It is for that reason once clear of the entrance buoys, the ship gets swung around and goes sideways to the dock.

With the windy weather of the last few days bringing cooler air to the region, it turned out to be a perfect day with temperatures not going higher than the low 80’s. That is a cool day for Puerto Vallarta.  Hopefully the guests all found it the same and enjoyed the town accordingly. For the crew it was an unexpected bonus as well, as the lifeboat drill, with the lowering of the boats, was now not such a warm affair as it could have been.  P.V is an ideal port for drills as there is normally very little wind and if there is wind, it is blowing from the southwest and then the ship provides a lee side for the exercises. 

You might wonder why we are so concerned about this.  Getting away from the ship is not a problem. Good weather or bad weather, the system has been designed that you can lower away under any circumstance and that is of course the objective; getting the occupants away from the imperiled ship under any circumstance. That is what we train for and that is what we are able to do, although we hope that it will never come to pass. During trainings we have the challenge that the boats also have to be returned to the ship and hoisted back up again. There are very few requirements in the law that deals with that, the focus is on getting safely into the water and away from the ship.

blog lifeboats

The lower block hanging in the falls (the iron wires) guided by a crewmember into the forward release hook of the lifeboat.

To hoist up the boats they have to be hooked in again and hoisted up. This can be a very dangerous operation when there is swell running along the ship and the hook in part, connected to the boat, moves up and down with the boat and the lower block, connected to the falls, has to be guided into this hook- in-part. Those blocks are quite heavy, the lifeboats quite big and thus it can be dangerous for the crewmember assigned to carry out this task. Secondly lifeboats are designed to be full, full with 90, 100 or 150 people. When we exercise there is only the crew inside and thus the boats lay very high on the water and easily get caught by the wind and get blown away. That makes it complicated to bring the boat under the falls and keep it there until the lower blocks are hooked in…………. Therefore we always hope for nice weather so we can do our realistic exercises but can avoid the dangers inherent with retrieving the lifeboats.

My highlight of the day was to go shopping to Home Depot for glue, bolts and nails for several projects we have running on board the ship. Normally a ship orders through a ships chandler who can be very adept in getting what you need, but charges accordingly. A Captain with a $ 30 taxi fare can get most things much cheaper and in Mexico the prices are really good. So today I made my little contribution in helping to keep everybody occupied and saving the company a considerable sum of money.

Tomorrow will be a beautiful day with no wind while we sail southbound for our next port of call Huatalco the Santa Cruz.


  1. Never knew a captain had so many skills. We try to imagine you shopping in the Home Depot, but for a really good cause. We have also been shopping in Wall Mart in Puerto Vallarta and it looks familiar. but still you right away feel and see your are not in US. This counts even for us people coming from the Netherlands.

  2. Dear Captain,

    Dear Captain,

    Again great to read about the different aspects of the ports you and the Statendam visit. As Thanksgiving is now behind us I am wondering how HAL decorates all the ships for the coming holiday-season. Is there a special department for ships decorations throughout the year? Is there a special company? And with a normal change over day already so busy as you described recently, how does this fit in with the normal ship operations?

    Behouden Vaart,


  3. In the past we indeed often have seen ships lifeboat lower into the bay and sail around.
    Shopping in Vallarta is a pleasure, be it in Old Twon(Our favorite) or indeed around the port at Walmart or Galeria Mall.
    Very soon we will leave The Netherlands again for a long winterstay in P. vallarta again and will see Statendam in port on Dec. 26.
    Prettige Kerstdagen.

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