First, the good news from Easter Island yesterday. We were able to anchor successfully and most people who were scheduled to go ashore made it off the ship. Because of our tour here last year, Cheryl and I elected to walk once we hit land (first time in several days) so we hiked at least 8 miles, though it felt like 20. Having just rained, the roads were water-soaked and with a reddish soil throughout the island and mostly clay roads, it was quite a messy stroll, but good exercise and very interesting. We stumbled upon some Moai we missed last year and once in town, we were able to visit many more small shops & roadside stands than last year. We were back on the ship by 3:30pm.
The area on Cheryl's left is where the 'tenders' landed with guests - between the rocks.
Now, the bad news…but the more interesting news.
We hit the southern-most tip of the island at 6:30am – still quite dark – you could see a handful of small lights glimmering in the distance – we were maybe 1 mile off shore. We decided to go out on the bow of the ship for a better view of our approach (our room is on the port side) but once out there, it was much too windy. We climbed some stairs we hadn’t seen before and ended up in a location not intended for passengers but figured what the heck, we were not bothering anyone and didn’t see any signs posted. It was a great vantage point – still windy, but not nearly as gusty. We hadn’t been there 5 minutes and we felt a mist, & before we could collect our thoughts & rationalize, it started raining…not one of our typical ‘Arizona’ rains which often evaporate before hitting the ground, but a tropical downpour that whipped at us for several minutes. We managed to find a little protection & shelter in another outside stairwell, but going back the way we came across the bow wasn’t an option. The storm eventually passed and in its wake, the sun was now starting to beam through the remaining angry clouds. The ship had slowed to only a few knots by then, looking for the proper point in the harbor to drop anchor for the day. After another 30 minutes or so, we could hear the grinding & clanking of the anchor chains as it began descending. Finally, we were affixed to the ocean floor. The swells were such at that point that the aft thrusters were left churning to help maintain overall stability, and the Captain then announced over the PA system that we’d officially arrived and we were just waiting for the local authorities to arrive (via dingy) to board the ship and give us clearance. We decided to head back to our stateroom, get properly dressed, and wait for our turn on a ‘tender boat’ to go ashore. We started down this outside stairwell we discovered earlier and who should be at the bottom waiting for us? It was the Captain himself – he looked somewhat surprised as he stood there smoking his cigarette – he obviously wasn’t expecting passengers outside the door to the bridge – we exchanged ‘good mornings’ and then he immediately recognized us from the trip last year. He didn’t come right out and reprimand us for venturing into areas of the ship reserved for officers, but he didn’t ask how the kids were doing either! We could tell from his expression, that we probably shouldn’t go there again. We wished each other a ‘good day’ and sheepishly returned to our cabin.
Dressed and ready to go. We were out on deck waiting for our turn to be announced. We went to deck #3 to watch the lifeboats or ‘shore tenders’ dropped into the water – there were a total of three positioned to take passengers ashore. Each boat can transport 120 guests. The first ‘tender’ that pulled alongside the gangway sucked a rope into the prop and twisted it so severely it had to be taken out of service immediately. The dreaded swells (typical of Easter Island) started intensifying about that time, and the second ‘tender’ pulled up. It took several minutes just to get the boat alongside, let alone stabilize it. Just when the crew thought it was stable, another violent swell escalated and the cleat on the boat holding the nylon rope ripped away from the structure and was hurtled through the air like a cannon ball – these cleats weigh about 50 lbs. (so we were told) and it finally landed away from the ship about 100 yards – INCREDIBLE! Had it gone the other direction and hit one of the many passengers lining the outside decks, the consequences would have been deadly. Another ‘tender’ pulled up and hit the ship with such forcefulness that the rubber side molding was ripped away. After several minutes, the Cruise Director announced that shore excursions and ‘tender operations’ would be delayed approximately 90 minutes – we were surprised they weren’t canceled entirely at that point. Two hours later, we watched another attempt as a ‘new tender’ was pulled alongside the ship – it was secured to the gangway, but as the swells escalated, the front rope holding the ‘tender’ slipped upward and in doing so, compressed against one of the windows with such force that the glass shattered. You can actually see the damaged window in one of the photos below.
It was nearly 11:30 before Cheryl and I were able to go ashore. The swells hadn’t subsided but in fact, were mounting as the day went on. The ‘tenders’ were bobbing in the ocean like toys in a bathtub and the trip to shore, although only a short distance, took an average of 20 minutes – actually longer, because it took just as much time to load passengers onboard – so nearly 45 minutes from the point you hit the gangway. In one of the photos taken from above the gangway, you can see several crew members assisting each passenger as they board the ‘tender’. While we were ashore, the Captain made the decision to suspend transporting any additional guests to the island – the swells were continuing to grow and there were now thunderstorms in the forecast. The ‘tender’ operations now concentrated on getting folks back to the ship safely, but only 45 per trip because they didn’t want to overload the boats given the height of the swells, many over 10’ by now, and the ‘tenders’ of course, are comparatively small boats. We were unaware of the suspended service until we ran into some friends who were on the last ‘tender’ of the day. They advised us to get back to the pier as quickly as possible and get in line for the trip back to the ship, which we did! The crew had set up a large tent, or holding area, with folding chairs, ice water, & cold towels. Each guest was given a number – we were fortunate – we were numbers 6 & 7 for the next ‘tender’. Our wait was only about 30 minutes. We ‘bobbed’ our way back to the ship in some pretty frightening swells, but without incident. What’s disheartening is the first-time visitors who were very much looking forward to going ashore – to come this far to see Easter Island and now to only be able to see it through binoculars is a tough pill to swallow. But as the Captain later announced, conditions were bad and only getting worse – he had no choice other than to cancel further operations. He obviously made the right call.
Cheryl and I showered, and then ran upstairs for a quick cheeseburger & fries – we were starving after our long walk. The rainstorms had arrived by then, and there were still passengers on shore trying to get back. We could see the ‘tenders’ in the ocean, circling in the swells and waiting for the rains to subside so they could proceed to shore. The other hazard I haven’t mentioned yet – our ‘landing area’ on shore required the ‘tenders’ to navigate through some very sharp, jagged rocks – you can see them in some of the photos here. The high swells, pointed rocks, and narrow harbor entrance posed quite a challenge for the ‘tender’ pilots.
Any time Holland America inconveniences guests, they are quick to react, respond, & apologize. While clearly there was nothing that could be done about the weather & sea conditions, everyone was still very remorseful and additionally, free champagne was offered for the entire evening at all functions, and for all guests. We were nearly 3 hours late leaving Easter Island, but everyone made it back and as far as we know, SAFELY. According to one of the Officers, damage to many ‘tenders’ was significant – they’re estimating $48K in total – replacement parts have been ordered and will be picked up in Tahiti, which is another 2,200 miles west of here.