- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

Category: News (page 2 of 2)

Captain Albert: 06 June 2009, La Spezia, Italy

Captain Albert SchoonderbeekCaptain Albert Schoonderbeek

I had really hoped that for this port it would be a wind still day as anchoring in La Spezia with wind would have been an unpleasant challenge. Well it was. La Spezia is a big cargo and navy port. There is no real cruise terminal or a half decent cargo dock available that could be used to dock a cruise ship. Thus the authorities have decided that cruise ships should anchor and tender directly to the boulevard of La Spezia. Not a bad idea in principle. Instead of needing a shuttle or paying for a taxi, the ships tender deposits all the sightseers directly in the nicest location. For that reason an anchorage is allocated that is nearest to the tender float and out of the way of other traffic. That works fine as long as there is no wind in the port.

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Captain Albert: 05 June 2009, Civitavecchia, Italy

Captain Albert SchoonderbeekCaptain Albert Schoonderbeek

The pilots had a major shuffle with getting all the ships lined up properly. I had already seen yesterday that it was going to be a busy day, so I had brought my ETA (estimated Time of Arrival) forward to ensure that I would not be delayed because of others. The only uncertainty now were the ferries who have their own schedule and just come in when ever they arrive at the port entrance. By setting the pilot time for 05.30 I was at least ahead of all the other cruise ships except the Celebrity Solstice. That ship had come in at 3 am in the morning and in order to make that time it had to race from Naples to Civitavecchia going full out. Especially as she had left an hour after us from Naples. However for that ship it is a necessity to arrive very early. With 2850 guests onboard, it takes a while to off load the luggage. If each guest has at least 2 pieces of luggage then it means that over 5700 pieces have to be off loaded. We can do about 800 pieces in 2 hours and if they do double with two shore gangs then it still takes 3.5 hours for them to be finished on time before disembarkation starts.

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Captain Albert: 04 June, Naples, Italy

Captain Albert SchoonderbeekCaptain Albert Schoonderbeek

Naples today was the last port of call of our cruise. Tomorrow we are in Civitavecchia where the majority of our guests will go home. Some have been onboard since Fort Lauderdale (April 30th) and some were onboard for only this one cruise. 22 guests that also boarded on April 30th. will stay with us until Amsterdam (June 19th) and some even beyond. Then there is a group onboard of 125 who embarked on 20 May and who will also stay with us until Amsterdam. This is one of the beautiful things of the Prinsendam, as no cruise is the same, you can just keep stringing the cruises together and eventually you will have made it from Antarctic all the way to the Arctic. Not a bad way to see the world from the comfort of the Elegant Explorer.

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Captain Albert: 03 June 2009, on the way to Naples

Captain Albert SchoonderbeekCaptain Albert Schoonderbeek

Sailing through Steno Elafonisou turned out to be a pleasant surprise. There were a lot of ships but most of them were going with us in the same direction and we were able to overtake them as we were going full out to make up for our delayed departure from Piraeus. The only moment of excitement came when a car carrier next to us confused changing course to starboard with changing course to port and suddenly started to come in our direction. However before I could pick up the VHF and ask him what he thought he was doing, the error was obviously detected and we saw a rather fast course change to starboard. From then on all was well in the world. Opposite traffic mainly consisted of three cruise ships, the Crown Princess, the Ruby Princes, the Noordam and one small coaster.

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Captain Albert: 02 June 2009, Piraeus, Greece

Captain Albert SchoonderbeekCaptain Albert Schoonderbeek

I have never been to Piraeus without something happening, something happening that made our schedule not work out as planned. This time it was no different. It seems that with whatever they organize, the Greeks need to create it from chaos (which is a Greek word to start with) first and then take it from there. I have now been coming with the ships to Piraeus since 1987 and every time something occurred that livened up the day. The good news was that it was a beautiful day; hardly any wind, temperatures in the mid seventies and we were docking at the pier location 3 West which is the official passenger terminal. That is the easiest one to get outside the dock area from. If you are at one of the other docks then there is bus shuttle to take you to and from the ship. That works well, but it takes time.

I had planned to arrive at the Piraeus pilot station at 07.00 for a 08.00 docking. However the agent advised that 06.00 was a better time. So I adjusted my ETA accordingly. Then 2 hours before we arrived there, we were advised by Traffic Control that that was not a good time at all. We had to be there at 05.40 according to the pilots as the ferries were coming in and the 06.10 ferry was early. Ferries in Piraeus have preference over all. They do not wait for anybody and Traffic Control just stops all traffic to let them go first. So we kept the speed up to the very last minute, got the pilot on board at 05.45 and slipped quickly through the breakwater towards the berth. Observing a Piraeus pilot in action is quite a sight. Lets say “creating a lively atmosphere on the bridge” is an under statement.

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Captain Albert: 16 May 2009, Messina, Sicily, Italy

Captain Albert SchoonderbeekCaptain Albert Schoonderbeek

There was less wind during the night than expected and so I was starting to wonder whether this whole bad weather thing was going to happen at all. It would not have been the first time that a weather front changed direction and throw the meteorologists completely off track. By 5 am. in the morning it even turned wind-still for a little while. However this was the “silence before the storm”. When we approached the Messina pilot station the wind gradually started to pick up and kept picking up. The pilot came on board while it was wind force four; when we made the turn into the Strait of Messina it was wind force six and by the time we were in the strait it was wind force 10.

Wind force 10. That is heavy, heavy storm. The wind meter gave a peak wind of 52 knots. This was going to be very interesting I thought. The pilot, who had just announced that he was going to retire in six months after 25 years on the job and thought he had seen it all, was slowly getting nervous. I had already ordered a tugboat for arrival to off-set the drifting of the stern that would be caused by the then predicted wind on the funnel and now the pilot was calling this tugboat every 5 minutes for a wind update. Luckily you can approach Messina to about 1.5 miles from the harbour entrance and still turn safely away. We call this the abort point and as long as I am not past such a point I am never unduly concerned. As long as there is a plan B, I am always willing to try something.

The wind in the port was about 25 to 30 knots, but full on the beam when docking, and that can be done but it can be marginal for the Prinsendam. The main problem here was that the dock is 220 meters long and the Prinsendam is 204 meters long and thus there would not be much room to play with. However some luck a man must have in life and while we were approaching the port entrance; and I was watching the distance to the abort point very closely, my plan B, the wind started to subside to fewer than 20 knots in the harbour. We were in business. At the entrance to Messina harbour is a large statue of Christ the Savior located at the end of the break water and the pilot spoke a few thank you words of relief while we were passing.

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Captain Albert: 30 April 2009, Port Everglades a.q Fort Lauderdale

Captain Albert SchoonderbeekCaptain Albert Schoonderbeek

After nearly four months of vacation, in order to fit into the captain schedule of the Prinsendam, I am back on board.

I spent a week on the Prinsendam near the end of March to get the feeling for maneuvering the ship. It is a company policy, when an officer moves to a new class of ship, or gets promoted, or both, that there is an overlap period. During that period the officer can acclimatize to the new situation and does not have to find his or her way around while having to do the new job at the same time. While for a captain the difference between handling a ship of the S and R class is minimal, there is a significant difference between the Prinsendam and the other ships of the company. With the Prinsendam we are going back to the era when the ships did not have all the gadgets and the maneuvering power of what is commonplace today. And that is something to get used to again. The Prinsendam is much closer in maneuvering characteristics to the old Nieuw Amsterdam and Noordam than it is to the S or R class.

Therefore I spent one week on board with Captain Halle Gundersen to get the feeling back “for the old days”. Captain Halle has been with the Prinsendam (ex-Royal Viking sun, ex-Seabourn Sun) since 1986, so who better to be with for an issue such as this.

Normally as a captain you always pray for nice quiet weather for the guests but when you have to see how the ship reacts then the worst weather is the best. Luckily in the last week of March we had different weather each day and in each port. The sun shone in Barcelona, it blew in Monte Carlo, it rained and blew in Marseilles, it rained and blew in Livorno and it was nice again in Civitavecchia, Naples and Piraeus. So I saw all the options that were there for the ship to be in. The Prinsendam is a very good sea ship, she is just like a more mature lady; she likes to dance but slowly and that I can deal with that.

The Prinsendam finished a Grand Voyage today that took her all the way into the Black Sea and thus it was a very busy turn over in Fort Lauderdale. A large crew change, lots of stores, bunkering fuel and 1000 and one other small things to be dealt with. Small things that are normally done during shorter cruises, at the end of each cruise, but when cruises are 50 days or longer, many things accumulate until the end of that longer cruise. Thus a hectic day. However as we were not scheduled to sail until 9 pm., there was ample time to get it all done.

A handover between two captains who have been around for a while normally does not have take longer then 3 to 4 hours. End of term reports are discussed, outstanding issues from the previous cruise, urgent issues for the coming cruise and for the Prinsendam, where no cruise is the same as the other, also issues that might arise far in the future. By noon time it was all out of the way and my colleague was on his way to the airport for a well deserved vacation. He will be back on Aug 23rd. to relieve me.

Sail away was a very pleasant affair; with a gentle breeze blowing and Fort Lauderdale lit up against the skyline. We were docked in the port of Port Everglades but as it is surrounded by Fort Lauderdale, most people only talk about Fort Lauderdale. By 21.30 the pilot was off the ship and I lined the ship up in the NE direction of North West Providence channel in order to get to the North Atlantic. We are on our way to the Azores and the weather forecast looks very good. I hope to be able to sail Great Circle courses while on the Atlantic, to save time and fuel, but more about that tomorrow.

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