- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

Category: CaptAlExport (page 2 of 203)

27 July 2018; Oslo, Norway.

Today we experienced a Norwegian heat wave as the temperature rose to 34oC in Oslo and that even with all the cold water around and in the port. Even on arrival at 07.00 in the morning it felt more like a Puerto Rican arrival than sailing into a Norwegian port. Still for me it is better than the other way around and having to stand on deck with cold toes. Getting to Oslo takes a long time. We had the pilot this morning at 02.15 am and it was not before 07.15 when we approached the dock. Oslo Fjord is 56 miles long and although you can do the first part with about 19 knots, the second port varies between 10 and 15 knots and that costs time. Luckily the scenery makes up for getting out of bed early. With the majority of our guests (families) it is different; they seem to prefer sail-a ways as they all congregate around 08.00 in the Lido before going ashore. I suppose it works easier with the kids. Do something “boring” in the evening creates fewer tantrums, than in the morning when you have to get them all organized. I am not into children but I have the greatest respect for parents. Today I saw a Ma and Pa breaking up a serious alternation between three or four siblings about a soda card. It was really funny to watch the face of the Bar Man who was stuck in the middle. He has two children himself and he knew exactly how to handle this but could not as they were guests and he was a  crew member. Listening to the noise, the lack or abuse of a Soda card was a very traumatic experience for one of the younger ones. For those who do not know, a Soda card is a sort of charge card which only works on soda’s and a lot of parents give one to the kids so they do not have to borrow the cabin key or abuse their own. Works very well and I have seen cool guys buys cola’s for the “most beautiful woman in the world” they just met on the cruise.

Arrival Oslo. Please note, there is not a single cloud in the sky. As in other Norwegian ports they have started building on all the old cargo docks and here in the middle a large huddle of apartment building has been erected in the last two years.

While the guests were exploring sweltering Oslo, we had something else going on. TOWNHALL. Americans will know what it is, it is when politicians come to the (small) town to press the flesh, ask for votes and sometimes even listen to the audience. Holland America has taken that concept over but not for politics but to come to the crew at sea to explain what the office is up to. Not an easy gig as they do a ship everyday with travel in between as well. Thus we had V.P’s and Directors from Hotel, Nautical, Human Resources, Finance, and Interior on board today, to meet with the ships staff, have a walk around the ship, do target meetings but above all, hold a town hall in the Main stage.

The Main Stage gathering. With 800 crew members on board it is possible to fill all the seats but the (few) guests left on board are still entitled to their service so not everybody is there.

Our company is very good at communicating with the fleet by means of regular email updates but nothing beats a live presentation with the option of Q&A afterwards. Thus was presented to us how the company was doing (doing very well, higher occupancy rate) what the plans for the future were (Nieuw Statendam on time and an expansion of the Music Walk) and what the plans were for the crew. The last one is a very important one, and at the moment, more than ever. The cruise industry is expanding rapidly with a lot of big ships and those big ships need a lot of crew. And the other cruise companies know that Holland America has the best crew, so they are trying to pinch. Most of our crew do not want to leave but they also have families and there will be a moment that there is: “an offer they cannot refuse”. Thus the Q&A is very important for the policy makers to find out what the crew finds most important and most of the time it is not salary as such but often the side perks and conveniences around it. Luckily the trust between the ships and the head office is good enough that the crew really can speak freely and thus there was a good and meaningful discussion to day.

The leader of the team Sr. Vice president Guest Experiences and Product development, Mr. Michael Smith.

We were at another dock today. A cargo dock as there were more cruise ships in port. Although the dock assignment is always puzzling in the ports, it does not make much difference as the port of Oslo is laying around the City in a sort of crescent moon with the curve to the outside. Today we were at a cargo dock on the west end and from there you could walk directly to the town square. The Regal Princess was at the Akerhus dock under the castle and from there you can walk directly to the town square. The Albatross was docked at River quay and from there you can walk directly to the town square. The walk from the Regal Princess is the most scenic one as you walk under the City castle and past the old port.

This was our last port of call and tomorrow we have a sea day on the way back to Amsterdam. And there it is supposed to be a bit colder: only 28oC / 82oF. ……… but we will see,

26 July 2018: Kristiansand, Norway.

It has been about 8 years since I have been to Kristiansand and I was not impressed with the (nautical) changes. They built a new cruise dock and because (I think) they wanted to save money on concrete; the dock is too small for a ship of the size of the Koningsdam. Although we can have our two gangways on the dock, the ship either has to move aft to have good headlines or to move forward to have good stern lines as there are not sufficient bollards available to tie the ship up in a safe way under all circumstances. Today we have beautiful weather as Norway is suffering from a heat wave but it can blow here considerably and then the situation would not be good for your heart. The old cruise dock has been given over to new apartment buildings and they did not pay for having cruise ship people peering into their apartments so we cannot go there anymore.

Approaching the cruise terminal as seen from the mooring deck. The port is industrial, not as picturesque as Stavanger but once past one block of warehouses the downtown area is right there.

The town itself is located in a nice big bay and has a large natural harbor where a large size cruise ship can anchor; close to the tender dock and very close to the city. The town is a very pleasant place to walk around in and the soft ice creams are of a reasonable price. For those not on tours, the downtown area is very nice to spend a good amount of time in. For those going on tour, this is our port of call for Norwegian scenery and things from the olden days. Blessed with a picture perfect day guests could have gone on a full day excursion inland and visit original Norwegian towns or go on cruises of the archipelago around Kristiansand to admire the dramatic scenery of the islands and the surrounding area. If you want to get a good impression of “rural Norway” without having to climb up a steep mountain, then this is the place for you. If you want to do something nautical, just behind the cruise terminal is a little museum ship from 1911, which played an important part for Norway in two world wars.

A 195 feet long Norwegian coaster from 1911 has been turned into a museum ship. http://www.hnsa.org/hnsa-ships/ds-hestmanden/

But that is for the guests, the crew were otherwise occupied as it was drill time. In accordance with international Maritimes Law (SOLAS) all crew shall attend at least one boat drill and one fire drill each month. As it is not nice for the guests to shut the ship down while ALL crew are at drill, we have a drill each week so 25% of the crew attends an in-depth drill. Then once a month all the crew has to attend a fire drill. This does not mean that they all have to run around with fire hoses but they have to be part of the evolution. For today the ship had split out the various drills; the fire squads had their compulsory weekly drill and 25% of the other crew went through the motions of dealing with lifeboats and life rafts.

With a bit of creativity you can do a lot with 2 tables, six luggage bins, a bit of tarpaulin and four sailors.

When I am on board I try to offer the ship a little bit more than just the standard drills, simply because I have more time to prepare for something more extravagant. Thus we went for a Helicopter crash on deck. We use helicopters for Medical Evacuations and luckily never has anything happened on any of the cruise ships anywhere. Helicopter pilots involved in this work are highly skilled people and so are the crews of the cruise ships. The pilots drill and train and so we do. Our nightmare is the situation where the helicopter hits the ship during the hoisting evolution and then crashes onto the deck. Although helicopters are made more and more of non-burning material (Kevlar) and have special fuel tanks, it would still be a messy affair. Thus we have to protect the ship and we also would like to save the 4 helicopter crew that is normally involved. So I built a crashed helicopter on the forward deck. With 2 pilots stuck in their seats, the winch man stuck in the back and the patient in the stretcher having crashed back onto the deck again.

Two teams in position. One with water and the other with a foam hose. The fire fighter standing up with the red helmet has a thermal imaging camera ($ 10,000 worth) and will check for all fire is out. Then they can release the hoisting wire of the stretcher and remove it to the medical team waiting in a safe area. The other casualties were more of a challenge as they had (simulated) burns, broken legs etc.

Once the area has been made safe by two fire teams (And two teams a deck higher who protect them with extra water & foam hoses), the rescue of the four crewmen can start. Afterwards there is a debriefing where each detail is looked at for lessons to be learned and skills obtained for future use.

Tomorrow we are in Oslo, which is the last port of our cruise. Oslo port is close to down town and here the focus is on shopping and local sightseeing. I heard today a few ladies getting highly excited about the shopping prospect and the Gentlemen considerably less as Norway is not cheap.

Weather tomorrow: The Norwegian heat wave continues: 36oC / 96oF, full sunshine and very little wind.

25 July 2018: Stavanger, Norway.

I had been waiting for it: warm weather brings low hanging clouds, very low hanging clouds. And while approaching Stavanger a white woolly world descended upon us and did not clear until we were almost in the port itself. And thus the fog horn wailed its warning every 2 minutes over the waters advising everybody that we were out there as well. Most commercial ships now have so good radars that it makes a sound signal almost obsolete, were it not for the small craft out there for whom it is not compulsory or who are just too small. The warmth of the port did then help to burn it all off very quickly.

Early morning at 08.30. Not too many people around yet.

We docked at the same spot as on the 20th. of July only now we went bow in as that worked out better for the 2nd ship, The World which came in shortly afterwards. For those who do not know what The World is, it is the only large apartment cruise ship in the world. A sort of floating country club and owned by those who have an apartment on board. Once every so often they all vote on where they would like to go (or where they NEED to go to be seen in the appropriate places) and then the captain cobbles a schedule together. So there must have been a decision to go to Norway for one reason of the other as the ship is now here. Maybe it was the Party-Fest around the old port the reason as it is still going on and even expanding as some larger eat & drink locations have been erected. Including a sort of Beer Garten with a fisherman theme. But as I find paying 10 dollars for a beer a little bit over the top (Norway is not cheap for booze), I joined the deck officers on the bridge wing and we observed it all from high above.

The Engine Control Room port side. Showing the Main maneuvering stand. The two red boxes are the :Lock out – Tag out protection, which means these engines are not on priority standby.

Today a little bit about the technical happenings in the ship. Yesterday we put medical inside a water tank and while we did so it was all carefully monitored from the Engine Control Room. Nowadays there are camera’s everywhere so one single person can keep a complete engine room fully under control and direct a 2nd person in the engine room to where human attention is needed. I put the emphasize on the word person as the days that it was only men who were engineers are long gone. More and more Ladies are filling the ranks and we have a female Staff Chief Engineer in the company, who will make Chief Engineer in the not too far future.

The starboard side of the ECR. Where the Engineer of the Watch monitors everything via computer screens but also large TV banks which switch location every 10 seconds or so. The buttons to the right are the shutdowns for the ships ventilation.

While we were downstairs giving medical a hard time, we were carefully monitored by a Filipino 4th Engineer in the Engine Control Room. As we have a hard time filling all the ranks with Dutch, British and engineers from the Balkan, we now also recruit for engineering officers in the Philippines. Philippine crew came first to Holland America in the late 70’s in skilled petty officers jobs such as carpenter and upholsterer. Then in the mid 80’s they came as cooks and as bar tenders and then they also popped up in the Front Office. In the early 2000’s, the quality of the engineering schools in the Philippines was raised to the level that they gained recognition from the Dutch Flag State licensing authority and now they have the option to join Holland America as well. And also in the Philippines ladies opt for engineering jobs.

The engine room of the ms Koningsdam is almost completely automated. Everything can be monitored and operated from a keyboard in the Engine Control Room. So the watch keeping downstairs consists of walking around to see “why it still works” and to ensure that it keeps working or to carry out repairs. With a new ship the number of mechanical repairs is not so great but as everything is electrical, changing PCB’s and related is much more prominent than it was in the past. The ship has four main engines, from the German brand MaK, which produce a maximum speed of 22 knots. This means that we normally can do our cruises on 2 engines, have 1 on standby and one under maintenance.

The Engine room in simple lay out. Four main engines, each connected to an Electric Generator. In converters the electric energy is transformed into a maximum of 21 MW power for each Azi Pod which takes care of the propulsion. Some of the electric power generator is diverted for operational ships use. Making available power sources of 440 V, 220 V, 110 V, 24 V and 12 Volt.

We will sail from Stavanger around 18.00 hrs. if we leave on time, as no doubt the guests will want to linger as long as possible in a port where so much is going on, with such good weather. But then we sail for our next port Kristiansand, west of Oslo. There is also a port called Kristiansund but that port is somewhat smaller and thus one of the Prinsendam specials. At least if you want to dock in downtown.

Weather for tomorrow: A sunny Norway day with temperatures around 25oC / 77oF. Good for me as I am facilitating a helicopter crash fire drill on the outside deck.

The good old days. When strong men turned the wheels that let steam into the turbines. No air conditioned Control rooms and simple clicks with the computer mouse. Guts, Brawn, Muscle, Perspiration……… and going deaf from the engine noise.


24 July 2018: Flam, Norway.

Sailing into Flam. This is the last turn before we arrive at the end of the fjord where Flam is located.

Flam is located at the end of Sognefjord and that is a long way in. For the first part it is quite wide and the ship can run at sea speed after boarding the pilot. Then it gets more and more narrow near the end, that is where it gets very scenic, and the speed has to come down to 15 and then to 10 knots. This reduction in speed has to do with not creating waves as there are boats moored at the various hamlets en route but also not to upset other floating items such as kayakers which can we found here all over the place and not all of them took their common sense with them when jumped into the kayak.

This is basically the whole town. all centered around the railway station. The trains are ready to take all the guests coming from the ship. You can do a 7.5. hrs. tours, a 3.5 hours tour and a 2.5 hrs. tours -un escorted. the long one is part coach trip and the shorter one includes lunch at the top of the mountain where the train stops to go back down again.

In Flam the focus is on the railway so it is our pure shore excursion port. In the coming days we have Kristiansand, Stavanger and Oslo where guests can do their own things and get about all over the place. Here in Flam it is more limited. There are souvenirs shops, eateries and restaurants but the main idea is to go on the train (Flamsbana) or take a shore excursion by Coach. The bus tour takes you inland and to local visits but also to have you experience the Stalheimskleivane which is the steepest road in Norway. I have done that tour in the past and if Norwegians say that the road is steep, believe me it is steep. It also offers some very nice pieces of scenery (horizontally and vertically…………… straight down)

We can still surprise the medical department. None of them had ever been in a tank before. Mr. Dummy was very well looked after.

While the guests are doing their best to fall out of the train, to fall off the Cliffs and to fall in the Fjord (we have had that all happen in the past), ship side dealt this morning with somebody who had fallen in a tank. Simulated. One of the most dangerous activities on board is tank cleaning and we have to do it once in a while. For structural inspections or to get sediments out which had settled down after long periods of use. Oil tanks are particularly nasty but also ballast water tanks as the seawater we pump in is not always pure.  The Koningsdam is only 2 years old and thus cleaning is not an issue yet but inspections have to take place.

The engineers had potable water tank nbr 1. empty for quite a while and also open for quite a while and thus it could be considered a regular space in the Engine room as long as we took precautions; as there is normally only one way in and out. But what an opportunity to do a tank extraction with a casualty and give medical a chance to get familiar with the inside of a tank. In a real situation, we will not even let them get close but this time they could see what it really looked like, what sort of injuries crew could sustain in there and to exercise how to get a stretcher up the stairs. There is nowhere in the ship safety construction regulations that engine stairs need to be wide enough to accommodate a full stretcher team so it can be challenging.

And this was the hard part. First a 90 degree turn and then climbing up a steep staircase with a dummy weighing 160 pounds (approx. 80 kg.)

And thus we put the dummy in the tank, got the stretcher in, let two very excited nurses have a go as well and then got the stretcher with the dummy on it out. As was expected carrying the stretcher up the stairs was the hardest thing of all. We have techniques for that so if the stretcher bearers would let the stretcher slip, it would not go bouncing back down again, but a lanyard anchorman going ahead of the group would stop the slipping. In our exercise we used the full stretcher team, in reality we would probably use four strong engineers working two by two to get it done faster……………. But if all the engineers would be occupied in another emergency then the housekeeping stretcher team would still have to do it. So we train and exercise.

The good ship Koningsdam will sail at 17.00 hrs. and for those who did not make it this morning during the sail in, they now have the chance to see the impressive scenery during the sail out. We have to sail all the way back to the entrance and then enter the next fjord to sail back in again. Next port of call is Stavanger.

This was the last port of call, when we sailed south back to Amsterdam. This time we are expecting more clouds and maybe a little drop of rain in the morning. Temperatures 68oF or 21o C.


23 July 2018: At Sea.

We departed right on time as the captain needed all the time available to make it to the first port, Flam (Also spelled as Flaam unless you can do a zero or O on top of the a) on time. When we left the dock we had an escort boat from the Harbor Master ahead of us to keep the Sunday sailors and the six pack navigators out of the way. Lots of them milling around in the main channel of the IJ (Or Y in English), sometimes with floating contraptions which should not be in such open and busy waters at all. Everybody in Holland who wants to operate a boat over 15 meters or anything that goes faster than 20 kilometers an hour needs a license. But it sometimes looks like as if all skippers, varying from bathtubs, to small sailing boats, motor yachts and even the Rhine barges seem to develop a general amnesia about what was learned when sailing around a large ship. For floating things of 14.99 meters and less, it is in general even worse. The Koningsdam has a dead angle of 60 meters from the line Bow to Bridge and once inside that line, the bridge has no clue of what is going on there below and just has to hope that things go ok and the officer forward can keep an oversight. While for the average small boater 10 feet of passing distance is more than adequate, ………………… it’s not for us. Thus a traffic control boat to help us out is well appreciated.

The escort boat in position. See how close the little boats come while the ship starts to maneuver? Only the white one is visible from the bridge. These will be out of the way before the ropes are in, so the escort boat is leaving them in peace.

We are now embarking on a seven day “Viking Saga” cruise with calls at Flaam, Stavanger, Kristiansund, Oslo and then back to Amsterdam. In all the ports we stay until 5 or 6 pm. to ensure that the guests get as much scenic cruising as possible. Sunset is every evening after 11 pm. hence opportunity galore to see Norway at its best.

Just after 21.00 last night we were well into the open waters again and turned north towards Norway and the Sognefjord. And today we had a quiet day at sea. The officers on the bridge really appreciate these days as on cruises like this the port days are so hectic that a peaceful sea day is a nice way to recuperate and relax. The high light of this morning’s 4 -8 watch was: one course change of 3o to port to stay on the track line. That is one click on the button to confirm that the automatic pilot can do its job.  The equipment is now so sophisticated that we could sail into port, and almost to the dock, only on the instruments as long as there would be no traffic in the way. Similar but at the same time different to the airline industry. Airplanes normally fly in set lanes or corridors and do not meet traffic. If they do then you normally read about in the newspapers. Airlines can and do fly completely on instruments and can do this also for take off and landing. Ships sometimes follow Vessel Traffic Separation Schemes where traffic follows the same route.  But for most of the seas and ocean, it is a free for all (Mare Librium as the old folks used to say) so traffic can come from all sides.

Watch keeping on the ships has changed as well. We used to, and many shipping company’s still do, operate the 4 hours on and 8 hours off watch schedule. (Not off work but not standing on the bridge) That schedule worked quite well in my opinion as long as the captain allowed a rotation through the watches. I used to do as much as possible giving each officer in a 3 month period, a month in each watch.  4-8 was the gentleman’s watch; with time to do side duties the mornings, have a nap in the afternoon and dine with the guests in the evening or see a show. 8-12 was the party watch. Finishing at noon and the Officers Bar was just opening, finishing at midnight and in the ship or in the Officer Bar the party was just getting into full swing. Then finally there was the 12 – 4 watch. This was the lonely watch. In the afternoon the ships staff took a nap to prepare for the evening activities, so you hardly saw anybody and the same after midnight, it was very quiet as well. That is nice for some contemplation but it is not good to be in this watch month after month as it can get very lonely. In the past I knew a few people who had spent 10 years in this watch before they were promoted up into the 4 -8. One did notice a number of peculiarities that they had developed in those years and not all of them were positive. Which watch you went into depended on your seniority and if promotion was at a standstill, you could be stuck for years.

Even when it is quiet you have to be careful as the North Sea is full of these oil rigs. And the people on board there get very nervous when you come close. For ships coming too close they have a Guard Ship on duty as you can see to the left of the rig.

Since the arrival of the full time double watch system, two officers on the bridge at all times, the company has been experimenting with 6 and 2 and 5 and 3 hour watch systems. Basically to see if more rest hours could be taken in one block and to give some more time off. With the old watch system, taking out the side duties and eating and sleeping, you had to swap watch hours to get some decent time ashore. Now the hours are more together. In the end the company decided on 5 and 3 hours. As an example, the dog shift does 22.00 to 03.00 in the morning and then 09.00 to 12.00 hrs. The officers are off from 11.00 hrs in one go to 22.00 hrs. again. Or they do 00.00 hrs. to 05.00 hrs. and then 09.00 to 12.00 hrs. Again a nice long stretch of time off. The officers on the ships like the system and they also rotate through the watches during their contract. Nobody gets bored and everybody can get a share of the good life.

Late this evening we will be at the pilot station and then we enter the Sognefjord which is the longest and deepest fjord in Norway. All the way at the end is the town of Flam, known worldwide for its railway. We will be docking tomorrow morning and I will be forward again with the senior cadet to get the ropes ashore. Not just to get the ropes ashore but in accordance with Holland America Line standards and there is a big difference there.

Weather for Flam: Overcast with a chance of showers in the afternoon and 73oF or 23oC. It looks like that we have the real Norwegian summer weather back.

22 July 2018: Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

It was 02.15 this morning when the Koningsdam arrived at the Pilot station. Because of the sail in via the Vessel Traffic System, the captain had already been called an hour earlier, so he had a long morning as the ship only docked around 06.30 hrs. Then it was back to bed for him but not for very long as by 11 am. there was movie crew waiting for him to take shots for an American travel program. And then there was still a regular day to be followed by Guest Boat drill. Then departure again which will take until 21.30 tonight……………. And then we have guests asking, if the captain went ashore for the day because we are so close to downtown. Sometimes I wished that all the guests in the company read my blog, if it was only to understand how busy a ship’s captain is nowadays.  The days of the “jolly old salt” standing on the bridge and having not much to do besides arrival and departure are long gone. After 3 months in command, the ships captains are tired, very tired and ready for 3 months off.

Good ………………. That was my moan and groan for the day.

Ijmuiden Locks and the port of Amsterdam. Courtesy of an unknown publisher on the internet, who must have been thinking the same thoughts as I did.

The only option to avoid this long time of sailing in and sailing out again is to dock in Ijmuiden. It makes us as captains very happy as it is barely an hour from the pilot station to the dock as you do not have to go through the Ijmuiden locks. Plus you avoid the slow run through the North Sea Canal all the way to downtown. Some company’s do so and then run a shuttle service to downtown Amsterdam and for the turnover of the guests it is not a problem either. It takes as long from Ijmuiden to get to Schiphol as it does from Amsterdam.  Our Prinsendam has done it in the past for turn over calls. Although currently she is docking downtown Amsterdam but her calls are very infrequent and she has many guests on board for several voyages. And for them Amsterdam is a regular port of call and then…….the closer the better.

The ms Koningsdam aerial photo taken during her maiden arrival in Venice in 2016. She does fit in the cruise terminal in Ijmuiden but unfortunately the train does not stop in front of the cruise terminal. (Photo courtesy Holland America Line)

But; For the Koningsdam it is slightly different. The Koningsdam sails with a very large number of Dutch Guests often 50% or more. And a lot of these guests come to the ship by public transport. Central station is only 5 minutes away and you just roll with your suitcase down to the ship or take a taxi for the short distance. (If we had bicycle storage on board, I would not be amazed at all if a lot of them would come by bike towing a wheelie box with the suitcases behind it. Nothing unusual as everybody bikes in Holland, even the King and Queen. For those guests it makes good sense to park the Koningsdam right in downtown. Also this morning there was a long and steady flow of Dutch guests rolling their suitcases to and from Central Station. I could not get a photo of this phenomenon as we were just docked too much behind the Mövenpick Hotel.

Behind us was the Seven Seas Navigator and if she had been just a little bit longer then we would have been a little bit more forward and be able to peak around the hotel.

Departure Amsterdam. Coaching the senior Cadet on board so this photo is from the forward mooring deck. to have a good view of the city, the ships bow has to be where now the red harbor patrol boat is. She will later keep the “six pack navigators” out of the way when the ship sails through the canal. To the top left the rows of river cruise vessels. This was a group of 14 with more further down.

Apart from the SSN, the port was full with Rhine cruise vessels. River cruising has become extremely popular in the same way as deep sea cruising. I made my first Rhine cruise in 1972 as my mother loved it and in every town along the river we were the only ship in. Now that has changed drastically and I counted 20 river cruisers getting ready for their next cruise. As a result they were docked 4 deep or more alongside. Ships varying in quality from 3 star to 6 star and there is even a catamaran version out there that has a regular size swimming pool inside. Most of them were leaving today, with quite a few of them doing the same ports,  so they only way to avoid all this congestion is to sail on a Monday or Tuesday, when you follow “the crowd” instead of being part of it. In the same was as you see less cruise ships in the ports of the Caribbean and Alaska if you are on a 10 day cruise just because most ships are sailing on Saturday or Sunday so with an odd day departure you stay out of that cycle.

What is left from a 200 meter long cargo pier. You can see the support of the pier jutting out of the water. Each house, building, factory or other construction in Amsterdam has these, either from wood, stone or concrete. Without these supports, everything would just slowly sink into the muddy underground.

A little bit of nostalgia. When sailing out, we passed “Het Stenen Hoofd” (The Stone Head) now flat and due for redevelopment. But between 1905 and 1930 Holland America had this pier in lease (and the wooden one before that) for its ships that called at Amsterdam.

Het Stenen Hoofd in her glory days. This drawing is hanging on all the S and R class ships of the company, somewhere in a guest corridor. On the photo the ss Amsteldijk (I of 1901) .The tower housed the office of HAL for its Amsterdam business.

Tomorrow we are at sea and it has been promised that it will be a sunny day but maybe a bit breezy. We are on our way to Flam in Norway which is a tight schedule, due to the long sail in into the Fjord. So the captain is putting the pedal to the metal to get a bit of time up his sleeve as with fjord sailing you never know what can happen.

21 July 2018; At Sea.

After a glorious day the good ship Koningsdam set sail for Amsterdam early last evening. In Amsterdam this cruise will end and we will turn around for the next one. Stavanger had provided us with a cloudless day and made Norway look at its best. (And there are not that many days when Norway looks at it best, as it can rain here profusely) Because of this extensive high pressure system that is lying over the area, we had a nice day to day as well and we will also have a nice day tomorrow.

The isobars are very far apart. So hardly any wind and no wind means no rain clouds coming in from the Atlantic. (Both diagrams are courtesy of a weather site called Seaweed)

The wind picture today. Just a gentle breeze on the North Sea and even less around England.












Not everybody is happy about this very good weather. At home in England they have imposed the first hose pipe ban. This means that individual households are not allowed to water the garden or wash their car. Quite an achievement for a country that is known throughout the world for the amount of rain it gets. But it indicates how little rain has fallen recently in the area. The Netherlands are coming closer to this situation as well, although there is plenty water around, it is not evenly distributed. The greater part of the west might be below sea level, the east is well above and thus water shortage might become as issue here as well. The west is also dealing with a very peculiar issue and that is that the dykes are drying out.  The dykes are there to keep the water away from the low lying land and that that do very well. But the parts that are above water are now drying out and the strong clay of which most of them have been made is starting to pulverize. Thus there are now boats sailing around the canals and water ways which pump water up and spray it Fire brigade style over the surface of each dyke.

None of these problems here on board. The North Sea is only there to float in and we make all our own water on board, also courtesy of the North Sea. We do try to load water in port if it is cheaper than producing it on board; but often we can make a lot of water by using the hot exhaust gases from the engines before they are released into the outside air. For that purpose we have Exhaust Gas boilers fitted in the funnel and that water does not cost us anything to make as the engines have to run anyway.

British Admiralty chart 301, re-issued by the Norwegian cartography services.The North Sea. Everything that is purple is either indicating a boundary, an under water cable or a Highway at Sea.

Sailing in the North Sea is nowadays a major headache and the place is getting so full and (over?) regulated. Thus we are following the vessel traffic separation schemes and being southbound we are basically right in the middle of the North Sea. In the good old days we could have hugged the Dutch Coast while coming down and save a few miles here and there. But there were so many ships doing that, that several bumped into each other and now the routes are (compulsory) spread out. Even if we wanted to deviate it would be hard as to starboard we have oil rigs and to port we have wind farm parks. Thus we have to find our way in between them and that has been made easier with the Vessel Traffic Routes.

British Admiralty chart 125. Approaches to Ijmuiden. The Koningsdam will join the VTS where the triangle is located above the other purple blocks. It will merge here with East /West traffic coming / going to England and/or to Dover Strait. The pilot will join where the purple blocks of separation zones stop.

Early tomorrow morning we will make a 90o turn in the middle of the North Sea, a turn to port or to the East and then follow the approach channels to Ijmuiden pilot station. That will be around 02.00 in the morning and the pilot will board 45 minutes later. From there is about 4 hours to the cruise terminal in downtown. The Koningsdam will take 4 hours as it will swing on arrival so we can dock nose out. Because of the size of the ship, we go a little bit into the port than shorter ships as we go to the main turning basin. More about that tomorrow.

If we did not have a these regulations in the North Sea, our time at sea could be about 5 to 6 hours less but with the increased chance of hitting somebody who decided to do the same thing.

Weather for tomorrow; Partly Cloudy skies with temperatures around 26o C / 78oF with a gentle breeze.


20 July 2018; Stavanger, Norway.

Stavanger is the oil capital of Norway and although North Sea oil operation is a little bit in the doldrums at the moment, it is still an important part of the economy. It made Stavanger very rich and created very good living circumstances for the locals. Hence there are sufficient hotels to stay in and the company had no problems finding me a place for two nights. Today real life starts again as the Koningsdam promptly docked at 08.00 in the port at the same spot where the Seabourn Ovation was parked yesterday. But where the Ovation was docked bow in, the Master of the KODM preferred docking Nose out so the ship had its stern toward the end of the port basin. There where all the food stands were yesterday and still are today. I assume that the Festival will last until Sunday evening at least.

The old port of Stavanger. Yesterday my own photo of the Seabourn Ovation, this time a screen shot from the port webcam. In port also two museum ships, left the coastal steamer Roggaland, and to the right a slightly younger version the Sandnes. Both now in use as restaurants and exhibition centres. (Photo courtesy: Lesley Schoonderbeek, who has no hesitation to use Big Brother to try and keep track of me)

The Koningsdam is sailing to Norway for most of the summer and is now ending one of those cruises. Stavanger is the last port of the cruise and on the 22nd of July she will be back in Amsterdam to commence another 7 day cruise.  The ship is now two years old and this time on board I will find out what has changed in those two years, if anything.  What will be of even more interest is her sister, the ms Nieuw Statendam, coming out in December. The company has already said that there will be a number of changes based on the experience with the Koningsdam. Knowing Holland America then those changes, if successful, will also be applied to the Koningsdam. And this process will keep rolling forward when sister nbr 3, (which I call the X-dam for the time being) comes out in 2021.

Captain Werner Timmers in a glamour shot taken during a cruise when Oprah Winfrey sailed to Alaska. (Photo courtesy: Holland America Line)

The Master of the vessel is Captain Werner Timmers, who I already know from when he joined Holland America back in the grey mists of time. He then followed me up the promotion ladder as he joined the company a few years after me. His previous ship was the Eurodam and has now come over after the latest “Musical Chair” operation from Nautical Operations to the Koningsdam. One of the two earlier Koningsdam captains is now in the shipyard for the new build of the Nieuw Statendam and the other one is currently instructor at our simulator in Holland. Sometime in the future he will then rotate back into the fleet.  The alternating captain for the Koningsdam is Captain Noel O’Driscoll, lately from the Veendam, who will take over later in the season.

From Stavanger the Koningsdam will sail straight south to Amsterdam and tomorrow we will spend our day in the North Sea. Sunday morning will see an early arrival at the pilot station as from there it is about four hours to the Cruise Terminal in downtown Amsterdam.

I will be on board until August 05 and the plan for me is this time to focus on drills and provide training when I observe weak spots. And yes we will be messing around again with tenders as the sailors are very eager to get their licenses renewed. One afternoon of Captain Albert is much more pleasing than a repeat 5 day course in Manilla if their license is expired.

Middle and southern Europe is suffering at the moment under a heatwave and that makes the prediction for the weather for the coming days, quite easy, it will be warm and sunny.

19 July 2018: Between Ships.

It was not really the plan to do a blog today as I did not expect much excitement apart from sitting on the Hop on Hop Off bus. That excitement died away quite quickly as the Hop service only runs when there are cruise ships in port. Today there was one cruise ship in port, the Seabourn Ovation, but she is smallish and thus they ran the service only in the morning and not at times that I was going to be about. But the excitement returned as the Seabourn Ovation belongs to our sister company Seabourn so I can get on board with my corporate ID. And that was a chance not to be missed. On top of that the captain was Andy Pedder who had been my chief officer back in the Veendam days. Good reason to have a look, plus a sudden opportunity to talk a bit of business as well.

The harbor of Stavanger is in the middle of the old town and because it is deep the cruise ships really park themselves in down town. So when the big boys are in they really tower over the area. If it is not for the fact that Stavanger is built on the rocks on either side of the port, the cruise ships would completely dominate the sky line. Now at least the hotels and apartment buildings on the hills to the East are still a little bit higher.

The ms Seabourn Ovation. She only came in service recently.

The Seabourn Ovation is not that big but she still dwarfed the downtown port. Which was buzzing as there was some sort of local fair going on. The whole area around the water was taken up with little stands selling local produce and delicatessens and lots of food and drink. Slap bang in the middle was a Dutch cheese cart, manned by Dutch cheese sellers. With their van they travel all over Europe attending these sorts of happenings. Something they can easily do as Norway is part of the European Community as far as open borders and free trade is concerned. They do not have the Euro as a payment but kept the Norwegian Kroner and are thus an associate member.

The Dutch Cheeseman. And they were really Dutch. As you can see, the Stavangernerians like Dutch Cheese. It gave me a very homey feeling to see this.

With the Ovation, (40,000 tons and 600 guests) being brand new, the captain has plaque exchanges in every port, as each port in the coming months will be a maiden port call. Some ports have given up doing this due to the large number of new cruise ships coming in but traditional seafaring countries of which Norway is one, Stavanger is a very important port, and still honor the tradition.

Plaque Exchange. Mr. Anders Bang-Andersen, Director of Cruise Development for the port of Stavanger, Captain Andrew Pedder, Master ms Seabourn Ovation and Mr. Odd Bjorn Bekkeheien CEO of the port of Stavanger.

The size of the Ovation is similar to our ms Prinsendam but where Holland America operates in the 5 star Premium Market Seabourn in the 6 star Luxury segment. Which means a higher crew to guest ratio and nearly everything included in the price, except shore excursions and premium wines and spirits.

By the time I left, the area around the ship was heaving with people who were having a great time at this local fair. I walked backed through the old town and the shopping area to my hotel. While doing so I came through the park and although I am not often around children, I think this is quite unusual; little lawnmowers as toys; what a way to get kids into gardening while they are still young. They are just plastic toys but with a little gadget inside that gives a lawnmower noise when you push it.

Future Gardeners in training. If you give them a fire engine, they want to become a fireman. If you give them a lawn mover then I suppose cutting grass is the only future there is.

Our guests do love Stavanger when we call here, the old town, the petroleum museum, the country side. But not only our guests also those from  other cruise company’s and thus Holland America Line cannot get every ship to go there as the port is sometimes fully booked with 3 or 4 ships inside and sometime they are not the smallest ones.

Tomorrow the Koningsdam will arrive at 08.00 hrs. and I will join around 10 am. to see if I can start spreading “my wisdom” as I have just done on the Oosterdam. The city of Stavanger is having a few very nice days and also tomorrow it should be sunny without a cloud in the sky with temperatures of around 21oC / 70oF.

One more photo of the Ovation. the midships pool area, looking aft. Very quiet as all the guests were ashore. The round blue thing in the top middle is the sky light of the Main staircase. It runs through all the passenger decks and ends up with a glass roof. The Ovation has nearly all the public rooms aft, around this staircase and all the suites more towards the middle and the bow.

17 July 2018: Naples, Italy.

The weather front was much slower in passing by than had been forecast and the rain predicted for the very early morning hours was still lingering over the sea when we approached. All the dark clouds did disappear very quickly though while we were docking and the remainder of the day was sunny and very warm. Not so bad when you are on tour but a challenge if you decide to walk through the narrow streets in the old city. For the rest Naples was itself today with a lot of city noise, caused by cars and mopeds but also by the Neapolitans themselves who only seem to be able to communicate at the top of their voices, even when having a normal conversation. They say the people of Napoli live on the streets and I can understand why; the wife kicks them all out of the house as they are making way too much noise.

It is traditional that the ships dock noise out in Naples. On arrival in the morning it is normally wind still which makes it much easier then for departure to get out of the port.

I was forward with one of the cadet this morning. In the past few days I have guided both of them through anchoring, docking and undocking. The last few ports were simple ones, straightforward with the mooring lines and the only thing he had to do was passing on the right information between Bo ‘sun and Bridge and monitoring the safe working practices of the sailors. Today the challenge was upped a little bit here in Napoli. Because we are much too big for a cruise terminal (constructed for the “large” ships of the 1930’s) and because the Norwegian Epic had the long berth on the East side, we were sticking out by about 50 meters. That meant that all the lines were running aft to the dock and to get the lines ashore you get a local line boat. We do not like all our lines running aft as it means that there is nothing to hold the bow if a cross beam wind would suddenly blow up. Our plan B is then to drop the anchor and/or call a tugboat.

The Ormeggiatori, or linesmen using a powerful skiff to bring the mooring lines ashore.

Thus this morning the cadet had to keep oversight, communicate, direct the lines, yell at the Ormeggatiori (linesmen in the boat) and ensure that the sailors were not doing things too fast. Not easy if you have to do this without any previous experience. Luckily the Bo ‘sun is an experienced man and as backup I was hovering “benevolently” in the background. The tricky thing in this port is that the lines are very long as we are hanging over so far. So we have to pay out a lot of rope; rope that is then pulled ashore by the lines boat. If you do not pay out the mooring line fast enough, the linesmen will yell, if you pay out too much (too much spaghetti in the water), it slows down the boat and the linesmen will yell, and if you have not set things up properly, the sailors will yell. (Naples is a real good port for yelling…… ……. Everybody does it.


This was the end result. Six long lines which are normally running forward as head lines and two spring lines (not visible) which were running their regular way. We normally call this 6 and 2. Now it was more 0 and 8, but then there was no other option.

The solution to the challenge is, to first instruct the deck team in detail what is going to happen and how you want it done. Invite the Bo ‘sun to give his input as he has a lot of experience and then decide on the plan. 2nd step is to run out the ropes on an even pace that can be handled by the lines boat and also works for the sailors who guide the ropes of the mooring drums. In the meantime you have to keep up your reports to the bridge as they want to know what you are doing and how you are progressing. The bridge can see where the blow ropes are going but not the status of the belaying on the mooring deck.


This is one of the more dangerous moments during docking. The belaying of the “extra rope” on the capstan. An extra rope does not have its own mooring drum and is handled completely by hand. As it can slip from the capstan, the guiding work is done by one sailor while the rest keeps out of the way until the rope is tight and safe on the capstan.

In the end it was real team work, the cadet communicated, the Bo; sun kept the oversight and I did the yelling. When we came back upstairs to report back to my colleague, he paid the cadet a compliment because it went so smooth and so fast. (It was of course the yelling that did it but we did not say that…..)

This afternoon the good ship ms Oosterdam sails for Civitavecchia. This is a regular port of call tomorrow and not a turn around day, which we often have here. Nearly everybody is on some sort of tour, either to Rome or in the area around the port. I will be leaving the ms Oosterdam and fly from Rome via Amsterdam to Stavanger to join the ms Koningsdam. I will join on the 20th. so for two days there will be no blog. I have to wait a day for the Koningsdam to catch up with me; but I have a hotel in the center of the city, opposite the cruise terminal, and there is a hop on / hop off bus so I will be set.

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