- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

Page 7 of 211

30 October 2018; Nieuw Statendam building 31 days to go.

I mentioned the bad weather yesterday and it was even worse than expected. Water level reached the 4th. highest level ever seen in Venice (according to experts in the shipyard) and it resulted in a lot of damage and some very wet tourists. As in this case the water did not only come from above but also from below. The water came more than 1 foot over San Marco Square and that is not very nice.  In Marghera at the ship yard we did not have any problems. The land is higher here as Marghera and Mestre are located deeper into the Laguna and the dock at which the ship moors, which is also the surface level of the shipyard, is quite high. Yesterday afternoon we had the wind push the waves into the yard area but we still had several feet of height to spare. The ship will not even move in hurricane winds as the way she is moored is much more secure than normal. Courtesy of the fact that there is no crew, no engine power and nobody available to do anything. Even the tugboats have to come from far away. So the yard is not just using a regular mooring ropes configuration (which will stay once the ship has been handed over to us) but also heavy steel hawsers on which drums and mooring tackles can keep the wires tight at all times.

Safely docked against the weather. The white mooring ropes are the normal way the ship is kept alongside. All the steel wires are extra and there are at least six of them, on top of the 8 regular ropes.

Now the weekend is really over and the day of meetings (Monday) is out of the way, the tests and inspections for delivery continue. So the deck and engine officers are running all day long between ship and office to record their findings after another test of delivery has taken place. If something does not work, or what mostly happens…… not work as expected, then a quick report is written. The shipyard then follows up and a few days later there is another inspection. There is not much that goes wrong but with a big ship, a few items compared to the size is still a lot and it keeps everybody on their toes. (Anybody volunteering for testing 3000+ telephones ??) We have 400 fire screen doors on board and those are “always in the way” of those working in the area, so when one has been tested and found ok by the installer, it does not mean that it still closes perfectly when the official inspection happens a few days later. If it is just a small adjustment, then it can wait until all the yard workers are gone, if it is more major then it will be fixed now while there is still time.

The Sel de Mer Restaurant. All finished. Now waiting for the decoration (See the white wall) and the chairs, table linen and cutlery which are all owner supplied.

Hotel is active on another level as they have to get ready to load the ship with all that we need, I explained the process yesterday. Also they face the challenge of getting all the 900 crew on board and processed. We have currently about 150 crew already on site (bused every day to and from the hotels) but they all have to be changed from a “yard worker” into a crew member. Thus tomorrow we start with handing out crew ID cards and that means standing in line to have our mugshot taken. After the 10th. we are expecting about 150 crew joining each day, who will all need to be processed and then given, helmets, safety shoes and coveralls as long as yard work is going on.

Same for the main Galley. Most of the work has been done and the yard has now started installing the Owner supplied Ovens and other operational equipment. See  what is standing on the pallet, still ina  carton. It is a sort of oven for keeping food warm while waiting to be served.

Also the Fleet trainers arrived and they will be busy with training each crew member in his/her safety function. About 400 crew have sailed on the Koningsdam so they are familiar with the size and layout of the ship but as a vacation time tends to wipe everybody’s (safety) memory clean, we will start all over again. Plus we are facing at the moment a relentless flow of new regulations coming in as the nautical world keeps changing faster and faster. Auditors are now running the world and if something has happened anywhere, we can rest assured that in the near future an auditor will investigate if our procedures are so watertight that whatever happened, cannot happen with us.

The Main Dining room. The carpet is covered with wood as painting is still in full swing, but for the rest, already for the Dining room Manager to move in.

I have started in the same way as I did with the Koningsdam, reviewing the security implementation. While the Security Officer is busy with his CCTV and ensuring that the yard workers and the crew will follow the rules once the ship is ours, I am looking at the flow of activities for when, if all the crew are called to stations to help out with any security scare we might have.

The weather improved today and will continue to do so tomorrow. So we will be fine, but the Venetians will be busy pumping out cellars and removing the debris brought in by the floods. I hope it will work out for them as on Thursday, more rain is expected, although not all day long.

29 October 2018; Nieuw Statendam building 32 days to go.

Here I am at the shipyard and ready to help out with finishing the ship. I have been parked in a hotel just outside the town of Mestre and everyday there is a whole Armada of Buses and cars moving towards the ship in the morning and back again in the late afternoon. Mestre is the district town in this area, with Venice to the North and Marghera (where the ship yard is located to the South East)


Here she is. Almost ready to set sail across the Oceans. Tucked away behind her is the Carnival Panorama which is still in the building dock as she is still in the steel construction stage.

The group of officers who oversaw the construction from the beginning live in apartments in this area and the second wave including Yours Truly, stay in various hotels in the area. The rest of the crew will arrive after 10 November and they will go directly on board. It would be nearly impossible to accommodate all this crew in hotels as most of the hotels here also do a roaring trade with sightseer’s going to Venice. A golden tip for those who want to see Venice and not pay the heavy prices of the Hotels in Venice itself; book a hotel in downtown Mestre opposite the Station and take the bus or train into Venice. The train takes less than 10 minutes and they run at least every 30 minutes.

This is Mestre on a Sunday morning. Not much happening as they were all still in church or at the Marathon.

As the shipyard was closed yesterday I took the opportunity to have a good look at Mestre. I have been to Venice many a time and if heading that way, I would be very tempted to go to a very good 2nd hand bookshop there and make a major investment in the local economy. The problem is I am not going home anymore until 19 December so I would have to fly all my purchases back from Fort Lauderdale. Thus I went to Mestre. Nice little district town with some old houses and a tower in the middle and a beautiful market on Saturday morning. On Sunday they had a marathon going from Mestre to Venice (They can run along the train and car track to Plaza Roma where all traffic halts). Our chief engineer participated in the half marathon, he did not win, but he made it home again.

For those who followed the Koningsdam getting ready in March 2016 (or want to re-read it in the archives) you will recall that that ship was way behind schedule. Not caused by Holland America but by organizational issues from the ship yard. Only when they moved one new building to another yard they were able to free up sufficient labor to get rolling. Still Holland America had to postpone delivery by three weeks and even then it was all hands on deck to make it a success. But Holland America people do like a challenge and so we did make it a success.

With the Nieuw Statendam it should be less of a rush as the ship is nicely on schedule. Work inside is consists of mainly finishing off, installing the last pieces and testing to see if everything works. Most public rooms are ready or nearly ready as far as paneling is concerned and the while the Koningsdam was still a horror show of wires, cables and ventilation pipes everywhere, all has been nearly removed on this ship.

This does not belong in a store room but is used in the galleys and the pantry’s.

Because of the advanced state of progress, the crew who have arrived are nearly all drawn in with getting the owner-supplied-contents on board. There is a system for that; all is received in the warehouse and signed off. Then it is brought on board and temporarily stored in the ships store and provision rooms. The Cold rooms are not cold yet, so every room can be used. From there it is separated and item by item is stored in Guest rooms. (Quite a few of them have been delivered already and are complete except chairs and bedding) As soon as the public and work areas are handed over, the materials for that specific area comes directly from the one specific cabin and can at once be stored where it belongs without having to be sorted again. A very good working system as it ensures that the Ware houses ashore have enough room to keep receiving more goods for the ship and it gives the crew enough time to separate everything on a timely basis.

One of the guest cabins being stuffed with parts for in the ship. We have cabins full of chairs, crockery, cutlery, linen etc.etc. All waiting to be re-directed to the correct location.

So things are looking good and the main focus point of everybody in the coming days is to get everything  that it’s  owner supplied installed and squared away; and then focus in the last 14 days is to get the ship cleaned, everybody trained, and completely ready for the shakedown cruise.

The Petty Officer  Mess ready and completed. Only the chairs have to be delivered.

The only thing that is wrong, badly wrong at the moment, is the weather. Since last night we have torrential rains interspersed by Strong winds due to a weather system lying over the center of Italy. On the west side of the country it is so bad that they closed the port of Civitavecchia today. I think two ships were supposed to come in today for a turn around, so there will be lot of unhappy campers. (Or happy campers as they get a day extra at sea if they not do have to go back to work or fly)

17 October 2018; Livorno, Italy.

Today we are in Livorno and for me this is a crazy port. It is a large and very modern port but then they have a medieval entrance which requires a 90o degree turn to get into the port. All the ships go via the south break water opening. There are two openings and I assume that in medieval times the idea was to enter via one entrance and to leave via the other. But the north entrance / exit has silted up and is now only useable for small craft.  Dredging does not seem to give a permanent solution as A. it will silt up again very quickly and B. if too much mud is taken away then the breakwater wall seems to collapse. So even the bigger ships, not built for this old 90 degree turn have to be squeezed in and that is not always possible. So port calls at Livorno are cancelled with a greater frequency than would have been the case if they had a more modern port entrance.

Livorno from the air. The black line shows the maneuver the Captain has to make to get to the dock. Also notice in the photo the sand/ mud banks around the breakwater on the lower left hand side.  On a windy day is happens that a swinging ship comes too far south and puts its nose into the mud. Soft mud, so no bump, no damage and with a kick astern all is well in the world again.

Because of all the squeezing and the swinging in the inner port and the amount of traffic, we docked half an hour later than scheduled. Not that it makes a difference for arrival in Civitavecchia as it is not far away so 30 minutes can easily be absorbed. But it is not ideal for the early morning tours as they will be knocked back as well a little bit. Still the weather was as forecast, over cast but with a nice temperature and hardly any wind, so I think the guests will have enjoyed themselves. Either in Livorno, Pisa, Florence or anywhere else in the interior as the company has a large number of tours going there. This is the area where the Italian Renaissance started and it is visible. When I walk around here I always get the impression that the Romans were not even finished building, before the Renaissance builders knocked them over the head to take their place.  So it is a wonderful area if you are into antiquities and history.

To the left the Aida Stella with the bulbous bow and to the right the Aida Prima with the new X-bow design. In the back the ferries to Sardinia and Corse.

In port with us today, a lot of ferries which sail to the nearby islands and two cruise ships, the Aida Stella and the Aida Prima. They belong to our sister company Aida cruises of Germany in the same way as we have a joint venture with Princess and Seabourn in the HAL Group, Aida is combined with Costa Cruises and they have a combined Operations headquarters in Rostock Germany. Aida’s product is totally different to ours as they cater for Germans  with a very casual style of operating. I would call it Buffet Style as the emphasize is (of course) also on food but a bit more easy going in the set up than with HAL.  What they have as a trade mark, is a full size brewery on board where they make their own German Beer while sailing.  I find that a great omission on the Hal ships…………….Maybe HAL should go that way as well as the Craft Beers that we sell on board (we have at least 12 brands going now) and we see increasing sales year by year and thus there should be a market for it.

The Ttanic had a straight bow. And the unkown artist made a nice bow wave. You can see the chop along the hull, with a more modern bow that would not be there.

But the reason I mention these two ships is because they were docked nose to nose today and gave a clear indication of the changes in ships –bow – design. Ship architects have been tinkering with bow designs as long as there are engine powered ships. It went from a straight bow (until the 1920’s), to Maier Bow (late 920’s), then to the angled bow (1930 – 1970), then to Bulbous bow (1970 until now). Then the Axe bow was developed for the offshore and now we are entering the era of the X bow a sort of modification of the Axe bow. The later one has now been installed on the Aida Prima. All these efforts are made to reduce the friction of the ship (called drag) through the water and thus reduce the fuel costs. The Koningsdam still has a conventional bulbous bow and so will the Nieuw Statendam. What the third ship of the Pinnacle Class will have is anybody’s guess so we will see.

Our beautiful Statendam of 1957 had a rake bow.

This is my last blog for the coming week. I leave the Koningsdam tomorrow in Civitavecchia and then fly home until 26 October. Then I will be on board Nieuw Statendam from that date onwards until December 19. That period will include the finish of the newbuilding, the startup of all facilities, the shakedown cruise and then the maiden voyage. Pending connectivity there will be a blog everyday as usual.

16 October 2018; Monte Carlo, Monaco.

The ship supposedly docked at the pier was not a ship but a number of barges carrying out maintenance to this floating dock. (The Monte Carlo Pier is a floating pier, connected with a hinge system to the shore and with several strong anchors to the seabed) And of course those barges were today not at the pier but doing something important at anchor. But whatever the case might have been, no docking for us. So that gave the captain a headache with the swell. The wind had nicely been abating during the night and now the million dollar question was, has the swell has reduced enough to make tendering possible?

There was a plan B up the sleeve and that was diverting to Villefrance which is behind Monte Carlo in a sheltered bay and protected from the swell from nearly all directions. But that is 10 miles away from Monte Carlo and thus not ideal for the guests. Who then first have to go ashore by Tender and then by shuttle bus to Monte Carlo. But it is an option and still better than cancelling everything.

But the weather Gods were with us today; at day light the swell had subsided enough to be able to create a nice lee on the portside and as we were all alone, nothing stopped the Captain from parking the Koningsdam about 1000 feet away from the entrance and thus reducing the wobbly ride between ship and port entrance as much as possible. You are not allowed to anchor here but nowadays the newer cruise ships mostly drift and use the engines to keep position.

When a ship stays on the engines, it can stay in almost a standstill position. As long as it can handle the wind. But the direction of the swell does not always remain coming from the same angle, so the Navigator is constantly changing the heading of the ship and together with the arrival swing this morning to safely lower the tenders, gives this pattern on the Nautical Chart.

That only thing left is the other problem which Monte Carlo has, local boats. Monte Carlo is full of boys with toys (and no nautical brains), you cannot call them six pack navigators, maybe champagne navigators, who come spouting out around after 10 am on a sunny day. And what do boys with toys do once clear of the breakwater? they go full speed ahead and pull an enormous wake. With utter disregards for any other traffic in the area.  But the weather which is normally our enemy, came to our help: it rained all day. And those boys with toys are normally accompanied by skimpily dressed Ladies (the boys have to impress somebody with their toys) and those ladies are not coming out in rainy weather and thus the boys stay at home as well. Hence a bit of wobble / swell at the platform was the only thing we had to deal with. Compared with the challenges we were expecting, it was not that bad at all.

Another challenge is with tender operation is that everybody wants to get off at the same time. The tours sometimes go right after arrival, especially the full day tours, but those guests on afternoon tours or not on tour at all, take their time. First they go to breakfast and then around 09.00 everybody shows up at the same time. Expecting that flow, the ship had all its six tenders in operation and even a shore tender on standby to get the rush ashore. Two loading platforms at the ship and two docking places ashore; and all was well in the world. Then when guests come back, it depends on the weather whether we have a rush hour or not. If all the tours are coming back at the same time, then there will be a line but the length of the line really depends on the weather. Sunshine and we see a peak right at lunch time and a peak one an hour before departure. If it rains, it is more spread out. It seems that guests get fed up with the rainy weather ashore at different times.

The port of Monte Carlo. From the left to right: The cruise ship under refurbishment. The yacht harbor. The low white yacht is the Tina O. (formerly the Tina Onassis and now available for charter) to the right up the hill the Casino with the brown stone and green domes and under it the Hotel where the GP cars roar under as fast and as loud as they can.

Even for those staying on board, there was something to see with the ship floating right in front of Central Monte Carlo. Apart from French rain, the top of the casino was clearly visible as from the sea side it is not enclosed by apartment buildings. Then there is the Hotel of course, world famous because of the yearly Grand Prix when all the cars roar over the road under that hotel. And they do roar, when cruise ships are there during Grand Prix days, they try to anchor or drift as far away as possible. At our distance today, the noise would still well have been over the 90 decibel. GP drivers seem to have less of a problem with it as they wear helmets but also their engine noise is behind them; while the ships get the rebounce from the tunnel wall which then pushes the sound out over the sea.

Tomorrow we are in Livorno. Hence we are leaving around 10 pm. tonight as even with that time it is only a 10 knot run to the pilot station for early tomorrow morning. The weather is improving. We did lose the wind today, tomorrow we will lose the rain. It will be overcast but that is not too bad for looking at old buildings in Livorno or on tour to Pisa and Florence. The temperature will help as well. 66oF / 19oC, nice weather for a day of walking in narrow streets.

15 October 2018: Marseilles France.

Although the Mediterranean is known for its beautiful weather, it is also a very windy area. In the winter the winds can blow from the north (Generated by the landmass of Western and Eastern Europe) and in the winter from the south (generated by the Sahara). In autumn and Spring with the change of the seasons it can come from anywhere, depending on how the High Pressure Systems are moving and which part of the landmasses gets heated up the most. The Gulf of Lion (the area where Northern Spain curves into Southern France) is an area particularly prone to strong winds and they can come from anywhere, west, north, east or south. When as a captain you arrive with your ship and there is a day with no wind at all, then you really start to worry about why that is and how long it might last.

Today was no exception. During the night we had winds breezing up to 60 knots but luckily coming from the Easterly to South easterly direction. Not nice in particular but a good direction so you can keep up hope that the ship might get into port as it was not a Mistral wind direction. Then you have real issues to get in as the port entrance is perpendicular onto the Mistral Direction and once inside you are either glued to the dock or you blow off the dock. With easterly wind it is a bit better as that wind normally follows the weather forecast and does not play tricks on you. It is fairly reliable with increasing or decreasing and maintaining direction. Still it held all the same back so once approaching the pilot station we had a bit of a traffic jam.

Thus this morning we were quite lucky as the wind calmed down a little bit when the ship came close to the pilot station. Gusting around 20 knots, still not ideal but with the wind on the bow sailing in, you can do it. Swinging around at the berth just takes a bit more time as you have to go deeper and control your maneuver careful as the way the wind is hitting the hull keeps changing while you make the turn. So there is constant adjustment needed to thrusters and Azipods to ensure that the ship drifts as little as possible while making the turn. Although it was windy, the captain decided to swing on arrival as in the course of the day it was expected that the wind would increase again, and indeed by lunch time it was breezing up to 25 knots.

The stern ropes of the Koningsdam. The officer aft put the longest one on the bollard at the edge of the dock. But all the other ropes inland so they would run as horizontally as possible.

The Port of Marseilles has been working very hard with upgrading its cruise port facilities in the last 10 years. It started around 2001 when the old sheds and warehouses disappeared and the first new purpose built cruise dock arrived and in the following years the port area was more and more expanded. Now there are seven berths for cruise ships and today there were three in use. In port the Mein Schiff 5, the Marina and the good ship Koningsdam. For mooring the ships, especially those at the south side of the piers (e.g. where the Mistral pushes the ship off the dock) the bollards are placed more inland so the ship can give out long, almost horizontal, lines and so provide a good holding power. If lines are under an angle down to the dock, then they lose about 30% of their strength already as they are pressing down with an angle on rim of the gap in the hull (which is called a Panama Chock or a roller chock) when leading down to the bollard below. A windy port such as Oranjestad Aruba, where the ships have to push against the Trade Wind, has the same arrangement. The head, stern and breast lines lead straight from the ship to a bollard standing further inland, providing maximum holding power.

Although the Deck department will sing the praises about the port, for the Guests and Crew it is less good. Nice Terminal but very far away from downtown. Hence there are shuttle buses and taxi’s needed to get you to where you want to go. I do not find Marseilles really a port to walk around in (Although they have a small maritime museum at the Chambre de Commerce with very nice models) but the city tour is interesting so I always recommend this port for Tours. Here we have tours going to Avignon (once a papal city), to the Vineyards (Chateau Neuf du Pape) and tours to many of the medieval cities in the hinterland where time literally has stood still. (Hence the many Ruins). Then at certain times of the year lavender fields are in blossom and that is a sight not to be missed. This is between June and August and then tourism increases 3 to 5 fold. Somebody told me that in one year they had a traffic jam of over 200 buses with tourists in the Provence all on one road a sort of record for the area. Luckily they had something nice to look at. I wonder if the ships would have sailed on time that day.

This is not a very exciting picture for a cruise guest but the exit of the port is straight in line with the berth. Which means the captain can just give full ahead and make speed and race out of the port. Note: also on the bow the head and breast lines have been lead to bollards inland.

We will sail at 18.00 hrs. today and as the wind is straight on the stern we should blow out of the port without even drifting. Tomorrow we are in Monte Carlo and we will have to anchor as there is another ship alongside. I have been keeping an eye on the weather as with all this wind here in Marseilles; things can be very nasty as well in Monte Carlo. The good news is that the wind is going to die down the bad news is that it always takes longer for the swell to die down as well. If the weather forecast is correct, then the ship will have no problem in making a lee side for the tenders alongside but it might be a bit of a wobbly ride as soon as the tender clears the ships bow and before it is safely behind the breakwaters. (and vice versa). Time will tell and we will find out tomorrow.

14 October 2018; Barcelona, Spain.

Also for today the weather gurus had indicated that there might be rain during but as in previous ports not much happened in that direction. Local influences such as wind and mountain ranges kept the rain away and we all benefited from it. Sightseeing in the rain is less enjoyable than when it is dry. I personally prefer it to be overcast when I walk through a city as otherwise the sun will always be in your eyes when you want to look at something. The whole list of ships which I gave yesterday did indeed show up and they were nicely divided by size. The small ones were docked at the World Trade Center, where you can walk into town and the big boys were at the outer breakwater. From here it is a long walk to town and not a very safe one as the drivers in this area do not expect pedestrians to be around. The Port Authority has recognized that challenge and they run a shuttle bus service to the south side of the Rambles, the area around which Barcelona downtown is concentrated. For 4 Euro’s up and down and that is a price that does not make the local taxi driver very happy, so there were not many to be seen.

I am spending my days hidden away in my cabin as I am working on a special project for the ship: the figuring out of enhanced procedures. And it is something very particular to the modern ships that are now being built.

Solas was introduced in 1914, due to the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. As accidents and incidents kept happening in the Shipping Industry, those 1914 Solas regulations kept evolving to make the ships safer and safer. So the latest 2016 version is not comparable to the 1912 issue at all. For the legislative authorities it is most of the time a catching up act as it takes a while to get the majority of the Seafaring Countries of the world on one line and then to have the new regulations incorporated in the local, Flag State, Laws.

What I am working on is called: Safe Return to Port. In 2010 a new Solas Rule came about stipulating that ships longer than 90 meters should be so designed that if one section of the ship became incapacitated, the ship would still be able to get to the nearest port, with other words: Safe Return To Port or SRTP. All the new and larger ships have this facility and as such also the Koningsdam. The shipyard made arrangements in the construction that if one main vertical zone would be completely gone, then the ship can still get to the nearest port (with a maximum of 1500 Nautical Miles) and while doing so there will be shelter for Guests and Crew displaced from this section of the ship. So if the stern would burn out then everybody would move forward and there would be at least one engine available to move the ship. If the bow would burn out, then everybody would move aft and there would be at least one engine available to move the ship.

Each Cruise ship is divided in to Main Vertical zone or MVZ’s. The longer the ship the more Vertical Zones. The Koningsdam has 7 but ships which are longer might easily have 8 or 9.

That is what we have place and the ship has been training, with table top exercises, to get familiar with the concept. On request of the ship I am now on board to see if I can speed up the procedures, to reduce the time between the occurrence and everybody being “happily” settled in another part of the ship. So I am creating a “Manual” from the perspective of the Captain. Set up in such a way that his decisions trickle through quickly and efficiently. One “manual” with a logical flow to follow. This instead of the 5 or 6 manuals that are legally required because of the STRP but are approaching it from 5 or 6 different angles. To give a simple example: When I read my car manual, my tire specs are on page 25 but my car tire pressure is mentioned on page 73. When I sit in my car and think about my tires I do want all my car tire information on one page. It does not make sense that it works that way but it happens when several independent groups work on the same challenge but from a different perspective.

Imagine the center of the ship being affected, then we can move the guests to bow or to the stern.  If the emergency would be somewhere else, we would change the re-allocation accordingly.

My hope is that by the end of the cruise, the Captain (after having read all the required manuals) can put them aside and then grab my booklet and go to page 7 which says Captain and then finds All the information he needs to know. All the actions he has to take, all the things he has to keep an eye on and has all the frameworks for announcements he has to make to let it all happen. That page 7 will then link in with checklists for the Heads of Department who can quickly get all their teams going and that should speed up the evolution. And we do it in the “Holland America Way” within the Emergency Routines the guests are used to and so that they do not lose their toilet or meal hours. (Although Lobster Thermidor might not be on the schedule)

The good ship Koningsdam will sail at 18.00 hrs. and head for our next port: Marseille in France. The weather calls for a Windy and Rainy day (in the afternoon) and for temperatures of around 70oF / 21oC. The wind is forecast to be from the South East so at least there will be no Mistral as that is a land wind coming from inside France from the North West. That wind can be as weak as 25 knots but also easily 60 knots. And then it is bye bye Marseille as the wind is then almost perpendicular on the harbor entrance and then they close the port.

13 October 2018; At Sea.

As was to be expected with three cruise ships in port, some our buses were delayed in returning from their tour and thus the ship patiently waited until everybody was safely back on board. That is of course one of the big advantageous of taking a ships operated tour; the ship will wait until you have returned. If you decide to organize something by yourself then it is important that you built in a good margin for delays as the ship will not wait. In my 38 year career with Holland America I have only seen or heard one occasion that the Captain (myself included) waited for an independent tour to return. Once when I was 2nd officer on the ss Rotterdam and an independent group on board had 8 buses out there, approx. 400 people. That was nearly half the ship and what do you do then? And once when I was Captain on the old Noordam and an independent tour had had an accident somewhere in the mountains of Jamaica and I thought it prudent to get them back on board to see the Doctor. And if they needed to go ashore for extensive medical attention then we could get them to a HAL recommended Hospital. With waiting I do not mean 5 or 10 minutes after sailing time, but a longer period which might affect the arrival time in the next port, or cost a lot of fuel to make up lost time. So normally we sail on time.

The island of Paloma. The town of Tarifa is to the left at the end of the causeway and the VTS Center is somewhere in one of buildings to the left of the Lighthouse.

Luckily the 30 minutes we stayed longer in Cadiz, sailing at 17.30 instead of 17.00 hrs. did not have much of an impact on the time between ports. Our next port is Barcelona and today is a day at sea and the ship can easily make it up. So we sailed down the coast of Spain, crossed over in front of the Gibraltar Straits to join the Eastbound Vessel Traffic Separation (VTS) lane at the African side and then followed the flow of ships back into the Mediterranean. And this all under the watchful eye of Tarifa Traffic. Located on the most southern tip of Spain. The more complicated or busier  VTS systems have a shore side monitoring center which ensures that all the ships are following the rules and for dangerous cargo ships that they also know what is being carried in case two ships are deciding to have a collision. These VTS centers are normally named after the town in which they are located and hence we have Tarifa Traffic, Dover Traffic (Dover Channel) and Tofino Traffic (Entrance Juan de Fuca Strait) and Vancouver Traffic when sailing the B.C Inside Passage. And there are a few hundred more, most of them operated by the local Coast Guard. (Note Tarifa is reason we now have the word Tariff in most languages. In the old days this was the port where they levied taxes on incoming goods.)

Most VTS’s are in narrows passage area’s such as the Dover Straits, Gibraltar Straits or Singapore Straits or where ships go in and out of a port. A more unusual one is the one we followed this morning. Around 08.00 hours we entered the VTS south of Almeria. This is a more unusual one as it is located so far out in the open sea. It was put in place as there were a high number of collisions between ships that bumped into each other while going around the corner at this S.E point of Spain. As the Spanish Authorities did not like that very much, they did two things:  A. moved all the traffic much further out to the open sea, B. installed a Vessel Control Center to keep an eye on the ships to ensure that they follow the new VTS system and do not try to cut the corner; but also that they do not do anything stupid while in the system. Both things still happen on occasion and then we hear some very upset Spanish voices on the VHF advising a sinner to correct his behavior. Sometimes such a ship does not react and then they are visited in the next port by Port State Control who will ask why and will also ask to see the chart or the navigation computer to ascertain what they were exactly doing on the bridge of that ship. Plus there might be a nasty fine as well.

In the olden days, ships would stay very close to the shore to save time and fuel, but if they could not always see each other then there would be a collision. Thus a VTS was established far out at sea, to protect the Spanish Coast but also the ships themselves.

It was indeed quite busy there with cargo ships going East West and/or North South and after we made the course change to North East in a safe way we headed up the coast towards Barcelona. Passing the island of Ibiza late this afternoon.

Tomorrow morning we should be at the pilot station at 07.00 hrs. and then be docked by 08.00 hrs. Barcelona has grown immensely as a cruise port. Going from using some spruced up cargo docks, to 3 dedicated (small) berths around the World Trade Center. Then was followed by a series of newly constructed cruise terminals which now stretch along the whole length of the inside southern breakwater. It will be a busy day in port with the Norwegian Epic, The Pacific Princess, the MSC Orchestra, the Koningsdam and the Symphony of the Seas are all expected. Also there will be six ferries present so it will be a busy day. For some unknown reason there is a ferry in port serving the Ibiza route which is listening to the very local name of “Bahama Mama”.

Weather for tomorrow: 23oC or 73oF, Gentle Breeze with a 60% chance of a local shower or thunder storm.

Note: for those who are interested, I just updated the Captains schedules for the coming year under the Tab on the right hand side of the blog, called Current Captains.

12 October 2018; Cadiz, Spain.

Cadiz is the only Atlantic port we will visit during this cruise and to do that we had to poke our nose outside the Pillars of Hercules, with other words sail through the Straits of Gibraltar. From Ceuta it is not that far as you curve around the rock of Gibraltar and you are basically there. Getting into Cadiz takes a bit more doing as the port is hidden on the inside of the Cadiz peninsula which always gave the ships a good shelter against swell and Wind. The protection against the swell is still there, the wind is another story. The cruise ships are now that high, that they tower well above the port and nicely catch the wind that blows over the houses, churches and containers. Arrival in Cadiz can be a very windy affair and can cause some uncomfortable moments if you have to swing in the port and/or have to dock against the wind. While sailing in, you sail through a river estuary, which goes from being a fairly narrow river to a very wide delta before it meets the Ocean. As a result there is an enormous muddy area on both sides of the buoyed channel. The buoys are needed to indicate where the deep water is and you have to hug the red side as the green buoys are not on the edge of shallow water but quite a ways onto the mud flats. Most likely caused by sediments which settled in the curve of the river on the slow flowing side.

The port of Cadiz. Blue indicates shallow water and when we sail in and out we hug the red buoyed side of the channel.

The main port where the cruise ships and ferries dock is U shaped and normally the top north corner is used as a cruise ship berth as they have a little terminal there and it is the closest gate to walking into town. But Cadiz is a popular cruise port; a. for the city itself, b. for the easy way of getting to Seville by bus as that much larger city is only an hour away. There are days when there are 6 or 7 cruise ships in port and then the port is really full. Today there was some space left but there were still the three of us. (Plus a small river cruiser: the Belle of Cadiz) At the cruise terminal/dock was the Ventura of P&O cruises as she was the biggest one; then there was us and we were farmed out to the South side container dock and at the side center berth was the Crystal Serenity basically because she fitted in there. When I was captain on the Prinsendam and the S class ships that was my standard dock in Cadiz, as the ships fitted in nicely alongside. Also for the guests it was not a bad location as this dock is on top of the other main Gate.

For us it was a little more complicated today, we were further out on the cargo dock and thus the local authorities had a shuttle bus running to the Gate as walking on a cargo dock is never a good idea unless there is no work being done on a Sunday. Fork and container lift drivers are all convinced that they have to break the record time while racing from one part of the dock to the other part of the dock and they do not tend to pay much attention to the surrounding world while on their record attempting runs.

Most of our Guests were on tour either to Seville or to Cadiz and its surroundings but the few who remained on board were treated to a Boat drill show from the Ventura. All cruise ships have the same basic routine although the way we go about it might be different from company to company. Even for the ships inside the Carnival Corporation (of which Holland America and P&O Cruises are both a subsidiary) there are differences. Some caused by historical routines, some by legal circumstances, Dutch Flag State versus UK Flag State, and sometimes because somebody had a bright idea which the company implemented and what another company thought was not a bright idea at all. (You find that everywhere in the world, just compare the USA army, with the Russian Army or with the Chinese Army. They have guns, but all the guns are different and they all march different)

Boat drill, mother Goose with the little ducklings. As you can see about half are in a circular pattern, guarded by one tender and the rest has gone on exploration and has to be called back.

Today the Ventura held a General Boat drill or Abandon ship drill. Maritime Law or Solas law requires that every crew member will participate in at least one drill every month and that each life boat goes into the water at least every three months. How that is done is up to the Flag State and the individual company. Some company’s strictly follow the monthly / three monthly rule and some have a much higher frequency. As is the case with Holland America, were our boats normally are in the water about every 14 days. Most companies have a cycle of whereby the crew has one focused drill which involves them in detail and then a full ship drill when each has had their focused drill. So in 4 weeks, a lifeboat crew might be in the water with their boat twice in a month.

Lowering all the boats on one side at the same time requires a special routine so they do not bump into each other or land on top of each other when lowering. Once they are in the water, they are all supposed to sail in a semicircular parade until the Officer in charge calls them back one by one to come back under the falls and to be hoisted up again. That sailing in a circle does not always work. Most of the Lifeboat commanders are Hotel officers and Crew and their view on discipline does not always entail the same sort of circle as the Deck officer in charge had envisioned. Also the chance to go sightseeing with your own lifeboat in the port is a temptation that few lifeboat crews can withstand. Hence, and this is for all the ships regardless of company, we have a really lucky day if everybody sails nicely in the oblong circle and keeps doing that.

This evening we sail back into The Mediterranean and then head for Barcelona. As we have to go all the way around the south side of Spain, we will have a day at sea tomorrow while we hug the Spanish coast going eastwards.

11 October 2018; Ceuta, Spanish Morocco.

Today we stepped onto African soil although in a European setting. Ceuta is a fair distance from Cartagena and thus our arrival time for today was 13.00 hrs. with an equal late departure time of 23.00 hrs.  Thus this is the official evening call port which Holland America tries to include in each of its cruises, where possible and where feasible.  With Ceuta being Spanish, there is sufficient night life to sustain an evening call. Apart from that, the later departure gives the chance to run tours into Morocco and as the buses are sometimes stuck in border control for a while an early departure does not really work anyway.

Ceuta a small part of Spain on the African Continent. (Chart courtesy website called Rida-Chakour)

For the Navigators on the bridge, this is an interesting area. Thus far our courses took us away from the beaten path but this morning we entered the Vessel Traffic Separation Scheme which keeps the flows toward the Suez Canal and the flow of ships coming from the Canal separated. This VTS system is on the north side close to Spain and Ceuta is on the south side as it is part of Africa and attached to Morocco.  It was part of a much larger Spanish area which is now Morocco but several small bits still belong to Spain.

Ceuta is mainly sitting on a peninsula curve around a bay which was turned into a harbor. The pier sticking out in the middle of the port is the cruise terminal.

Ceuta is about 8.5 square miles in size (18.5 kilometers) and is not much more than a city perched on a peninsula. Quite strategic, being close to the Straits of Gibraltar. In the same way as the British still have Gibraltar, the Spanish have Ceuta. Politically a very complicated situation but as they both allow cruise ships for a visit, it works for us, and here we are.

Thus the Navigators had an an enjoyable time; zig zagging between the ships going East towards the Eastern Mediterranean. That brings them into contact with all sorts of ships including those where the watch keeping standards are …………… let say…………….. a little bit looser than with HAL. That means that we cannot expect or assume that the other ship will keep a good lookout and will take action when required to do so. Thus we follow the good rule: If you recognize an idiot, sail around it. This morning there was one out there who would have fallen under that rule but luckily he was far away. Every time he heard somebody on the VHF, he would answer with: “are you calling me ?” without identifying himself, so nobody got very far in finding out if he was indeed the ship they wanted to talk to or not.

For a ship the size of the Koningsdam, the port is quite small. By the time the bow comes to the dock, the stern is still between the breakwaters. There is a small cruise ship alongside. Our ship stuck out by over 30 meters behind the end of the pier.

Once you are through the flow of traffic, it is a matter of keeping a good eye out for the fast ferries (catamarans) racing in and out of Ceuta and then it is just sailing into the port under a slight angle and the cruise terminal is right there. A slight angle as the dock is a bit to the West but also angled so it lies in line with the predominant wind. Cruise terminal is a big word, it is a big pier with the Harbor Master Office at the end, but a small shed near the Gate that made up the complete cruise facility. In the olden days this pier was not use in use for cruise ships and we had to make a 90 turn to the west and then dock at the outer breakwater. That could be very nasty as there is often a lot of wind here and the old docks were 90o onto the ship so you could drift all over the place. The cruise ship dock has now been repaired and the wind is most of the time on the bow and the ship can dock without drifting.

the Koningsdam alongside a very nice and wide pier. The little hut where you see all the guests congregating was the only cruise dedicated building in sight.

This means that tonight the Captain will just go astern and sail backwards out of the harbor instead of swinging around; as backing out is the easiest maneuver. Especially with Azi-pods it does not make much of a difference whether you sail making headway or sail making sternway. For the guests it is an interesting port, especially as the Saharan influence has caused a certain disdain for rules and regulations that we take for granted. Our shore excursion booklet goes to great lengths to explain that visiting the local markets is a great experience but also that it might be a bit heavy on the Eyes and Nose when walking around. Plus there are always numerous “collectors” around who are very eager to add your photo camera to their already extensive collection. Carpets are cheap and of good quality here and there are always a few enthusiastic souls who buy a big one without realizing that they have to fly home with it as well.

We will be leaving Ceuta between 22.30 and 23.00 hrs. get back in the VTS for the western flow again and then sail for Cadiz in Spain. So we will be playing around in the North Atlantic Ocean for a while. Cadiz can be very cool under the influence of the North Atlantic Ocean but tomorrow it should be sunny with temperatures around 25oC or 77oF with very little wind. That will make it very nice on the ocean boulevard but a bit warm in the old town.


10 October 2018; Cartagena Spain.

The good ship Koningsdam docked at Cartagena as scheduled and could look forward to a nice day. There was some talk about a chance of thunderstorms but also that the temperature might go up to the mid 80’s which is not bad at all for Autumn in October. Although Spain is known for its summer / sunny weather it can be quite cold here during the winter time with only the noon time temperature being half reasonable. Early mornings and evening can still be very chilly in the periods between September and April. But today was a good day.

The dock in Cartagena. Photo taken from the starboard Bridge wing of the ms Noordam in 2001. They had just finished the new dock layout with dolphins and catwalks.

Cartagena tends to be a bit warmer and have less rain than the surrounding area as it is laying in a sort of Valley with high mountain or hill ranges on either side. The Romans already knew about that and established a large presence here. For cruise ships it was a bit of a hidden gem and Holland America added the port to the cruise schedules on a regular basis only after 2001. Yours truly was with the Noordam the first one to make a regular call here and to see if we could bring in larger numbers of guests. 1200 guests were a large number in those days. The Authorities had shown foresight and had put in a complete new cruise terminal by rebuilding and extending the old cargo & ferry dock. However their foresight did not go too far into the future as what accommodated two ships easily in 2001 was not enough a few years later and thus they extended the pier and now it can handle two mega liners without too much of a hassle.

A Photo from almost the same location. The year 2016 and seen from the portside bridge wing of the ms Rotterdam. Docked in front, the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. the catwalks have gone and the main pier has been extended.

It is a nice and sheltered harbor which only has to deal with nasty winds if they blow directly from the south. The other 3 points of the compass are quite well protected by the mountains. Swell is never much of a problem as the entrance to the harbor is protected by two piers which force the ships to do a zig-zag when coming in but as the in-rolling swell is not very good at zig-zagging, these piers serve their purpose very well. That makes the captains very happy on most occasions and the shore side does its best to make the guests happy at all times.

The port of Cartagena. Please note the mountain ranges enclosing the port as a horse shoe. The two breakwaters are overlapping and keep the swell out. The ship alongside is our old Westerdam (II) which left us in 2004 but still sails around quite happily until the current day.

Cartagena is one of my favorite ports, although I have not spent enough time there to fully appreciate all that it has to offer. Due to its sheltered harbor it was founded more than 200 years BC and after the Carthagians, came the Romans, then the Moors (read the Ottoman empire for the area that is now Turkey) and then it became Spain and it remained focused on its harbor. With a change of owners came war, decline and then time of prosperity again, so there is a lot to see in the area with ruins and artifacts from all these periods. Even the Art Noveau Period (my favorite art style) is present with numerous houses and apartment buildings from the 1920’s and 1930’s when Cartagena had a merchant boom due to the nearby mining industry. A lot of important history was also created during the period of the Spanish Civil war when the city was the last major stronghold in Spain to fall during the advance of General Franco.

The Roman Theater in Cartagena. I am always fascinated by the fact that the Romans managed to get their acoustics so well done that a voice from the stage could be heard – un-amplified – over the whole spectator area; while we are still messing around with amplifiers and microphones to get the same result. (Photo Courtesy: Spain tourist Info web)

For those not going on tour to look at antiquities, the old town is very nice and very south Spanish. It is NOT sitting directly on top of the port as there used to be an inner Sea here which dried out and was then built upon in the 20th century, so if you take the wrong turn you could miss the old watering and eating spots.  But there is enough to do for everybody as long as you have done your homework or listened to our EXC Guides. And if all else fails, there is a Big Red Bus with a sightseeing loop, to help you make up your mind to find out what you want to do during the day.

We stay in Cartagena until 18.00 hrs. and then after zig-zagging out of the port set course for Ceuta, Spanish Morocco. And that is a Spanish foothold on the North Coast of Africa. Again a port which only gained cruise ship prominence in early 2000’s. Less in favor by ship captains as it is open to the prevailing winds from most sides.

Those winds are not expected to be an issue tomorrow but there is a chance of 70% of rain in the morning petering off to a 30% chance of drizzle in the afternoon. Not that great for our guests but no doubt the locals will be very happy as they do not get that much of it.

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