This is Captain Jonathan Mercer. He was the master of our vessel on our World Voyage last year - a truly remarkable man in my opinion and the opinions of others. He's not only an excellent navigator, but a genuinely nice human being - a true gentlemen in every respect. As he writes his blogs and makes them available, I'll do my best to share them with you here.
Dinner With Captain Mercer
Devil's Island, Fortaleza, & Belem Brazil
My apologies for not contributing for several days. Towards the end of one’s contract, there never seem to be enough hours in a day. What with social functions, endless paperwork, (reports in various guises) and the everyday responsibilities of commanding a cruise ship, time to sit and write to you seems to be at a premium.
I write from the Atlantic, we are enroute towards Castries, St. Lucia, where we arrive tomorrow, Saturday. Since writing to you, we have called at Fortaleza and Belem, Brazil, and Devil’s Island, French Guyana. We have been blessed with relatively nice weather, being near the equator we have seen increasing humidity, temperatures and rain, nevertheless, our guests seem to have enjoyed it all.
Fortaleza is Brazil’s 11th most populated city in Brazil and lies on its north-eastern coast. Like many ports we call at, it is mainly commercial; however they are building a new cruise-ship berth which will be completed by 2014. The challenge with this port is the swell; it can roll into the harbor and make docking, or more to the point, staying alongside, difficult. Our pilot informs me that we are the first cruise ship to make it for some time, others having to cancel because of the conditions. Even so, with the swell we ranged up and down on the dock and moorings lines had to be tended all day. I spent the day on board, too much to do and hence the photos come from my ‘roving reporter’, Karen.
Belem is ‘interesting’. It involves a 6-hour passage down the Para River, one of the tributaries of the mighty Amazon. There are 2 channels down the river; one involves taking a pilot at the river estuary and the other, 75 miles down-river. One cost twice as much as the other, so you guessed it, we took the 75-miles without pilot and at 1:30 in the morning we passed the sea-buoy and headed south down the channel. The river is muddy with swirling currents, strangely enough it is tidal all the way down and as luck would have it, the current is against us as we make our way. The channel is buoyed, however they are few and far between and we rely on our eyes and the electronic charts.
We arrive at the inner pilot station at 6:30 and embark him for the final 6 miles. He has his coffee and chats as we continue keeping the ‘conn’ to the anchorage. We are unable to make our way to Belem, the river is too shallow and we get as far as we can, off a town called Icoarici and it is here we anchor. Our guests disembark by shore tender, hired for the day, as our tenders do not fit at the pier. Another hot, muggy day and our guests experience the uniqueness of this city. Time to leave and I am informed that some guests have missed the last shuttle bus from town; enterprising as they are, they get a ride by police car back to the pier!
We depart and make our way back towards the open sea, the same arrangement, the pilot disembarks and we are free to navigate the channel ourselves, passing the sea-buoy just after midnight and heading for the Iles du Salut, of which Devil’s Island is one.
We arrive on a lovely, sunny morning, creeping in for the last ½ mile to the anchorage, as it is low water, the clearance under the keel is only 3 meters. Notorious as a penal colony, made famous by the book (and movie) “Papillon.” From 1852 until 1938, when France stopped sending prisoners, 80,000 were never seen again; the remoteness and treacherous waters made escape virtually impossible. The prison ruins are a fascinating but grim reminder of this beautiful island’s dark past. The cemetery contains graves of children, however there is no grave of the 80,000 who died, the dead were taken in row-boats and dumped in the surrounding waters. Now much of it is in ruins and it is hard to believe, as one walks around the island, with its lush vegetation, coconut palms, monkeys and peacocks, that such horrors existed.
And so dear readers, with this post, I bid the Amsterdam’s 2013 Grand World Voyage au revoir. I use this term instead of ‘adieu’ because I will return for 2014 and more adventures. It has been challenging and without doubt, rewarding. We have had our moments of excitement; we have been enthralled and amazed as only a cruise such as this should be.
I know this island well, one might say ‘intimately’, for not only did I call here on the ‘Mail’ run, but I also spent over a week here, after abandoning my ship, along with 83 others, we were brought back here by the tanker which sighted our lifeboats and rescued us. Having nothing but a rather dirty-white uniform to my name, the Americans on the base were kind enough to donate clothing, mine being a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of bright blue and white striped trousers, one could see me coming a mile away .
I was concerned about the conditions at the anchorage, as I knew from past experience that there can be quite large South Atlantic swells, the area offering little protection from them. Unfortunately, so it came to be; having anchored in the pristine water, the swell looked deceptively low, although we were moving, even at anchor. Sending our tender ashore, the crew had enormous difficulty getting alongside the relatively short and exposed dock, it wasn’t really designed for ships’ tenders, rather the small boats that the islanders use and seldom do they try to tie up, preferring to get close and having the occupants ‘jump’ off. It soon became apparent that this was not going to work, the safety of our guests is paramount and damage to our tenders is to be avoided, these conditions were a harbinger of both factors.
Reluctantly, I had to cancel our call and recover our tenders, waiting in the anchorage while the Island merchandise was sold on board and at 1 p.m. weighed anchor for a scenic cruise of the island, before setting courses for Brazil. My guests were disappointed of course, as was I, however the majority were very understanding, there are always those who do not quite see it from my perspective though.
Actually, we probably saw more of the island than had we made the call. There are no tours as such, a great deal of the island being ‘off limits’ because of the military bases there and additionally , there is little or no transport available. As it was, circumnavigating the coast, with its rugged cliffs and towering peaks afforded us a great view of areas we would otherwise not have seen; dolphins frolicking around us as we did so.
I write from the South Atlantic, heading just north of west towards the Brazilian coast, Fortaleza to be precise. We are nearing the equator and the heat is beginning to build and become oppressive, however the seas are ‘following’ and the sun is shining. We had a wonderful 140th Anniversary celebration, an enormous cake, a replica of HAL offices in Rotterdam and now the Hotel New York. Speeches, fun and games and dancing were the order of the day and a good time was had by all.
An island that I once called at regularly on the ‘Mail’ run, little seemed to have changed since my days of calling. Once again, an anchorage port and as we rounded the headlands on our approach, a ship was already there: the R.M.S. “St. Helena”, (the RMS being Royal Mail Ship). She replaced our Union-Castle ships when they were withdrawn from service.
Being a volcanic island, the sides steeply shelved into the abyss, so it was necessary to get in close, over the rocky bank, to be able to anchor. The weather was favorable for tendering and so, by 10 a.m. the first of our guests were making the short journey to the pier. Some had tours arranged, one of the main ones being to Longwood House, the building in which Napoleon Bonaparte had spent his last days after being exiled here by those pesky Brits. He was buried here, however his remains were exhumed and he now lies in his beloved France.
A walk along the sea-front, camera in hand and then through the gate of old town walls, built by the Brits as a defensive measure. A Main Street greets you, taking a step back in time, for the buildings have hardly changed since the 1800’s, only the names on hotels and stores mark the passage of time. The barracks, the prison amongst others, are still there to see. Times are changing further inland though, for I am told by a ‘bobby’ (aka policeman) that a huge airport project is underway, when finished it will be capable of I walk briefly through the town, taking photos for the blog amongst which is the steep steps, rising steeply to the look-out point, high above the town; many of the guests are brave (or fit) enough to climb, others take the easy route — a minibus.
I come across a store selling Steak and Kidney pies and Cadbury’s chocolate, too difficult to resist and so very British and I walk back, hoping the chocolate won’t melt before I get it back to the ship.
Another port I had visited during my early years, in those days on cargo ships and loading bags of fishmeal, now I was here on a magnificent cruise ship; I wonder what thoughts would have been passing through my mind, had I seen the Amsterdam arriving during my days as a cadet.
A gale was forecast for us, as we made our way north, paralleling the west-coast of South Africa and Namibia. This one was a ‘south-easter’ and was to reach gale-force 8, with 5 meter swells. Sure enough, the prediction was correct and we found ourselves ‘surfing’ the massive swell with a 50-knot wind coming from astern of us, however our stabilizers coped admirably and the movement of the Amsterdam was quite reasonable under the circumstances.
Walvis Bay caters mainly for cargo ships and the port was full, with 15 or so ships waiting outside at the anchorage, waiting their turn to dock. We had another ‘tight’ docking; squeezing in between a cargo ship ahead of us and a trawler, one of many here because of the rich fishing grounds to seaward; the Benguela current providing the nutrition for marine life.
Walvis Bay lies on the edge of the Namib Desert, as does Swarkopmund, a town to the north, which many of our guests visit. Both places have a strong German influence, particularly Swarkopmund, as this was settled by the Germans long ago and there was a large influx of them after WW2. The tours cater for treks into the ‘badlands’, National parks of inhospitable desert country and the vast shifting sand dunes that line the coast; here quad-bikes are the norm and many tour them on these vehicles.
Our voyage towards this beautiful city paralleled the South African Coast and as we made our way south-west we passed some of the ports I used to call at during the days of my early career. I used to visit South Africa regularly, when I was a junior officer with the Union-Castle line and grew to love the country and its people. I knew the seas well and its idiosyncrasies, its currents and where not to go in the ‘south-westers’, gales which come roaring up the coast. Just off the 100 fathom line was not a place to be in these gales, for here, the Agulhas current, moving south down the coast, would collide with the gales and would result in enormous waves; ships had disappeared without trace in these conditions and many ships had limped in to harbor with decks smashed and, in one case, broken backs. Such was the case with a ‘Ben line’ ship that limped into Durban while I was an apprentice; she was fortunate to survive, for she, having encountered a rogue wave, had broken her back and looked more like a banana, both her bow and her stern low in the water, her amidships section higher.
I digress, for no such gales were in our vicinity and I concentrated on finding the Agulhas current, if I could we would get a ‘ride’ south and thus save fuel. We found it further to the east than I expected and sure enough, we were propelled along nicely and, at one point were making 20.5 knots with just 2 diesel-generators on line; a current of 6 knots in our favor. Such was the massive effect of the Agulhas, that we saved almost 200 metric tons of fuel by finding and riding it.
Dawn was breaking as rounded the Cape, the mountains silhouetted against the rising sun; we were rolling despite our stabilizers being out, this due to the ‘Cape rollers’, a large swell for which this area is renown. Turning into Table Bay, past Robben Island and in towards the pilot station, Table Mountain ahead of us and our decks packed with guests enjoying the breathtaking vista.
When I left you, we were heading south towards this port on the Natal coast of South Africa. I had last been here on a bulk-carrier, loading 100,000 tons of coal for Europe, now I was appearing on a luxury cruise liner, how times change. The good news is that we found that current, once we hit it, we started flying along and were able to reduce the number of diesel generators we needed. That was the good news; the bad news was that the ‘south-wester’ I mentioned came up the coast like a bat out of hell and the early morning found us in 35 to 40 knot winds and driving rain showers; unfortunate, because the direction of channel leading into the harbour resulted in this wind being on the beam as we went in. Hmmmnnn…
There were 20 or so ships at anchor outside, all waiting for a ‘slot’ to berth, all riding awkwardly in the rough sea and wind. I hove-to off the port while we assessed the situation and also waited for the pilot. Distances inside the harbour were checked and re-checked again, speed going in was crucial, speed would offset some of the wind’s effect, but being able to stop, once in, had to be taken into account too.
The pilot boards by helicopter here and soon it appeared out of the rain, it circled once and then the pilot brought it in, hovering over the foredeck, winched the pilot down and was gone in a thrice; neat work in such conditions.
While we had been waiting for him, I had decided that we could make the entrance channel and still have enough distance to slow down before the berth; additionally, the land would provide some lee too and so, once the pilot was on the bridge, I quickly increased speed and we made for the entrance. The channel is 300 meters wide, this made it easier because with the wind’s effect we were ‘crabbing’ in, the width gave us plenty of room to make the allowance.
Sure enough, the land to our south gave us some shelter and the wind came down to around 25-30 knots, much more manageable, but not ideal. Two tugs were leaving their berth and coming out to meet us in the basin and we made them fast on the port side, now increasing my options should I need them. Past a bulk carrier and in towards the berth and, as expected, all I had to do was balance the Amsterdam, letting the wind push us on and me using power to ensure it was not too fast…….40 minutes after entering, all fast and time for a coffee…
We had, for several days, been anticipating with relish the opportunity to visit a Game reserve near St. Lucia to the north. Many guests were going, too, however there was a waiting list for the tour and thus I had booked privately. Four of us set off, driving rain and wind towards the Hluhluwe iMfolozii Park; established in 1895, it holds within its boundaries a plethora of animals that one can only dream of and, importantly, in their natural habitat, free to roam wherever and whenever they cared to.
An hour’s drive and we arrived, transferring to a 4-wheel drive, open top van; it’s still windy even here, however the rain is a drizzle and not the downpour of the coast; it is cold too, something I hadn’t counted on. Nothing can curb our enthusiasm or dampen our spirits and we set off in search of anything on 4 legs and in particular, the ‘big ones’: lion, elephant, rhino, leopard. I was armed with my 300mm telephoto lens (and wished for a 600), we were not disappointed, I could not believe the game we saw — lions, a pride of them, just crossing the road in front of us, and elephant, 2 in fact, one a beautiful bull on the other side of a river and another, smack bang in the middle of the road, ambling along without a care in the world, with a traffic jam behind him and cars frantically reversing as ‘he’ approached towards them. I was in awe of the game we saw: rhino, wildebeest, Cape buffalo, zebra, giraffe….the list goes on. I will leave with memories of one of the most wonderful days that one can imagine.
Maputo lies on the East African coast and I last visited there during my ‘general cargo ship’ days of the 1970’s; then it was called Lourenco Marques and was under Portuguese administration. As a cadet, one could use bars of soap as currency; this came in handy because I only earned $15 or £10 per month. I advised the guests not to try it this call though!
Access to the port is complicated, for it lies 30 some miles from the open ocean and the navigable channel twists and turns between sandbanks. The channel has buoys, or at least it is meant to, however we found that some were out of position and others were unlit, as it was dark on arrival at 0430, it was matter of resorting to ‘electronic’ navigation, our charts and GPS. It is also shallow, so I had timed our arrival at the sea-buoy so that we could reduce speed, thus avoiding ‘squat’; I have mentioned this before, it is a hydraulic effect which results in a ship lower in the water because the water it is displacing cannot be replaced fast enough.
It was a hot and humid day as we berthed and I chose to hitch a ride (for my photos) to the market. On the way we passed buildings of its colonial past, not least of which was the Railway station … and others which are now obviously seats of various departments of the government. The market was a colourful affair, the vendors polite and friendly. The wares were local, material, paintings, batik, wood carvings, handbags and all reasonably priced, like any market in the world, bartering was essential and it was obvious, as I walked around, that the guests were in full ‘haggling’ mood, they should be, after so much practice……..
…Time to depart and we retraced our steps of the morning, literally following the recorded tracks of the arrival, knowing that where we had been was ‘safe’ water and could therefore trust our judgment. By the time we had reached the sea-buoy again, because of the slow speed of the 30-mile transit, our speed required to Richard’s Bay was almost unobtainable. I had one ‘ace in the hole’ though, having sailed these waters for 15 years, I knew that if we could find the Mozambique current, (which changes to the Agulhas current further south), we could get a ‘sling-shot’ with it, for it runs at 4 knots at times. I had been watching the weather forecast too, for there was a nasty ‘south-wester’ coming up the coast of South Africa and I would like to be in Richards Bay before it hit. More later…………….
Landfall, after leaving the Seychelles and crossing 10⁰South latitude, the demarcation line for ‘pirate’ country we sight the northern tip of Madagascar in the early morning light. Our destination, Adoanay, formerly known by its French name Hell Ville, lies on the island of Nosy Be, on the north-west coast of Madagascar. It’s a ‘tricky’ transit of the shoals and reefs surrounding the island and, as in similar destinations, we have allowed ourselves sufficient time to make the final 15 miles at a sedate speed. The waters are blue and calm and as the sun rises, fishing dhows leave some of the villages on the island and make their way out for the morning’s fishing. These are of the classic ‘Arabian’ style, with 1 triangular sail and they are accompanied by dugout canoes with outriggers.
We round the southern end of the island and approach Adoanay itself. The charts we are using are not of the accuracy to which we are used to, in fact, one chart, originally produced in 1905 from French surveys is obviously inaccurate when compared to our electronic charts of more modern times and so it is on the electronic version we rely. Anchoring a ½ mile from the jetty we are immediately surrounded by dugout canoes, the occupants desperate to sell our guests all sorts of trinkets; wooden face masks, models of dhows, even bananas. It is taking a step back in time.
We could have hoped for a better tender-landing pier, instead having to use a ramp, which is also used to carry inter-island freight, (cattle, cars) and passengers. Grossly overloaded, with everyone carrying everything but the kitchen sink, they interrupt our tender operation continually. Most of our guests are leaving to go on a hunting tour...the elusive Lemur, which is found here in Madagascar and nowhere else. They were once on the African continent, however they were killed by monkeys; no monkeys on Madagascar, ergo lemurs survive.
It is hot, very hot and oppressively humid and my brief trip ashore, in uniform, was quite enough for me. My main purpose was to take photographs for our port file, we keep a record of everywhere we visit and photos are an important part of it. As we were anchored, I never feel completely at ease when ashore and have made a habit of not going for any period of time, there seems little point in doing so, worrying all day whether all is well with one’s command. So, I wander up the nearby street, just for a photo-opportunity, I am surrounded by well-meaning and insistent citizens, offering clothing, material and photos with chameleons, (they not having a camera makes me wonder how they would achieve this; were I to give them mine to take one of me…they can run faster than me…..)
I am concerned that with the heat and the apparent ‘rustic’ appearance of Hell Ville, my guests will be none-too-keen to stay, however I am proven wrong, (for the majority at least), they loved it, returned enthralled and, believe it or not, I think we stumbled upon another ‘bucket list’ port.
No lemur photographs from me, I’m afraid, however they were sighted (and cuddled) by the majority of our guests, and their pictures no doubt will be on the many blogs they post. On departure we retrace our tracks of the morning, we can record the tracks and thus follow them exactly outwards, this because we know that we came in safely, know the depths and it is prudent to take the same way out. There is an alternative, (shorter) route out, however I decide not to take it for obvious reasons. So, we are now off the western coast of Madagascar, heading south-west in the Mozambique channel for Maputo, Mozambique. I used to call there on cargo ships, in the 70’s, as a (young) 3rd officer and remember the 25 mile passage to the pilot station, weaving through the sandbanks that surround this port. I have that to look forward to…
Colombo & The Indian Ocean Crossing
Having put the vents of Phuket behind me, we made our way across the Indian Ocean towards a landfall off the southern tip of Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was once known. Our guests and crew enjoyed the sea-days after our somewhat hectic prior days and ports. We were, once again, blessed with calm seas and light winds for the 2-day crossing.
Colombo lies on the west coast of Sri Lanka and we make for a 0600 arrival off the pilot station. When we were here last year, a vast construction project was in progress, expanding the harbour to seaward and building a huge new terminal, the main purpose of which is to take the larger generation of container ships, which a slowly replacing the conventional size vessels. We expected to dock in the ‘Cruise’ terminal, however we had been told beforehand that this was not available. On arrival, it transpired that 2 Iranian warships were docked there; these 2 have been in the news recently, as there was much hullabaloo about Iran expanding its reach to the East and these ships had been as far as China and were now slowly on their way back.
We docked at the Unity Container pier on a hot and muggy morning, being greeted by the ubiquitous market stalls and an elephant no less, so I manage to get close to one, despite the Phuket taxi drivers……It was a Sunday, so although most of the main stores in Colombo were closed, the city was bustling with activity, particularly the markets, which were in abundance. Fresh produce abounded as were the taxis, in this case the ‘tuk-tuk’, my driver complaining bitterly that they cost $1,000 to produce in India, however when they reached Sri Lankan shores, they cost $4,000 due to the tax.
As I write, we are just about to cross the equator once more, the 3rd time we have done so this voyage.
Langkawi & Phuket
Having departed Singapore, we set courses through the Malacca Straits once more and dealt with all that it entails. The lanes are still busy and one has to have one’s wits about you as we negotiate them. We needed 14 kts to make Port Malai, on the island of Langkawi, which was an unfortunate speed, as most of the other vessels were making either slightly less speed, or a fraction more. This resulted in bunches of vessels, either overtaking us slowly, or we were overtaking others, again slowly. Occasionally, as we had some speed in-hand on our diesel-generator configuration, a short ‘burst’ of speed was needed, this to avoid being at known course alteration points at the same time as many other vessels.
Eventually, after some 14 hours, we ‘broke out’, reaching the northernmost end of the traffic lanes and started to head north, while most of the other vessels took westerly courses. All we had to contend with then were the multitude of fishing fleets and this continued all the way to Langkawi. This destination was unknown to us, we had not called there before. It is an island, or an archipelago of around 100 islands, situated on the west coast of Malaysia, close to the Thai border. Our destination, Porto Malai was on the largest. We were pleasantly surprised to find a well-constructed, modern cruise pier, very similar to those one would find in the Caribbean; this one had been built for its more regular clientele, Star cruises, which is one of the larger Asian cruise lines. The archipelago is, surprisingly, in the top 20 of world-wide destinations, with beautiful beaches, excellent diving and a plethora of other ‘things to do’. I took a quick ‘jaunt’ into the nearest town, however the main attractions were further afield and that is where our guests intended to go. The main purpose of my jaunt was to try and find some worthy photos for the blog, however I came up short, artistically at least. It was a very hot day though, with high humidity and stopping for a drink of milk, out of a freshly-prepared coconut was refreshingly pleasant.
Onwards then to Phuket, Thailand and as this was a mere 124 miles away, during the late evening, I decided to stop and drift, taking our azipods off line, thereby reducing the number of generators and saving fuel. Having put these back online at the opportune time, we arrived off Phuket at 6 a.m. I had been told that the turning basin, within the harbour, had silted up and could not be used to turn around. As a consequence I had to swing outside, to the south of the channel and then go astern all the way up the buoyed channel to the berth, this was achieved without incident and we docked on time.
A group of us were meant to be going on a crew tour, one kindly arranged by our HR officer and the local tour company. 10 of us eagerly awaited the trip, a visit to the countryside, a cooking demonstration for Thai curry and the piece de resistance, an elephant ride. At 11 a.m. we piled into the minibus, full of anticipation and then the ‘proverbial’ hit the fan; the local taxi drivers moved in on us. These people, (and I won’t write what I would like to call them), more or less run the port, they choose who goes where and when and how much to charge, they are, in a word, despicable characters. Because they have got away with this for so long, they and their ‘union’ are all-powerful, even the bureaucrats are powerless to curtail their antics. So, much screaming and yelling on their part, the target being the poor tour personnel who had only tried to help us. To cut a long story short, 30 minutes after getting into the minibus, we were out of it, tour cancelled. I was absolutely furious and told this gaggle of miscreants what I thought of them, I’m not sure if they understood, but it made me feel better.
Guests came back to the ship with stories about this heinous group dropping them off at malls and shops, which they never asked them to do; demanding more money and having to pay a bribe to get back into the dock perimeter. I summoned the agent, who in turn summoned the local administrator and I laid down my sentiments in no uncertain terms. Apologies were profuse of course, ‘we are trying to stop this, but it’s taking time’, etc……… Would that I had the wherewithal to just tell them where they could ‘put’ their port and never call again. I departed on this sour note, thinking that unfortunately the Amsterdam calls here again in 2014.
We are now crossing the Indian Ocean towards Colombo, Sri Lanka, the seas are calm and the sun shining, what more could we ask for?
Nha Trang & Singapore
Having departed Hong Kong, we set sail across the South China Sea towards Nha Trang. The haze/fog had cleared from the Chinese mainland, however the preponderance of fishing boats had to be negotiated again, not only off Hong Kong but Vietnam also, their coastal waters are relatively shallow and thus ideal fishing-grounds.
The port of Nha Trang lies a short bus ride from the city itself and a shuttle-bus took those guests who visited the city. I didn’t go ashore, or rather, into the city, as today we exercised in a full fire and boat drill. I did however venture off the gangway later and browsed the goods in the adjacent market stalls. Everything from knock-off watches (want a Rolex?) to suitcases, materials, shirts, hats…..too many to list here. Suitcases seemed to be a popular purchase; perhaps our guests need additional space after buying so many ‘goodies’ during our cruise thus far.
Departing the port, we sail under the cable-car which links the mainland to the holiday park of Vin Pearl. The authorities stop the gondolas and then tighten the cable, to ensure we have sufficient clearance, or ‘air draft’. Safely under, we disembark our pilot and set course towards the eastern end of the Malacca Straits, the busiest shipping lanes in the world and on which Singapore lies.
Again we go to ‘yellow’ manning; the abundance of vessels increasing enormously, all heading for the narrow inward-bound traffic lane, whilst multitudes of vessels, having transited the straits, are ‘scattering’ in various directions, depending where their destinations are. The 5 hours, from approaching the straits until our pilot embarkation, are busy for the bridge-team, masses of shipping are transiting and as they are so narrow, (due to depth restrictions), we are in close proximity to many vessels; we are mainly overtaking them, however occasionally, some poor soul has to try and cross the lane in order to get to one of the many sub-ports surrounding Singapore and we have to alter speed on several occasions. Crossing these lanes could be likened to someone trying to cross a busy motorway (highway) whilst pushing a cart and carrying shopping items.
Respite at last as we turn into the pilot boarding station and embark our pilot at 1230 and then proceed towards Cruise Bay in Singapore where we are docked by 1354. The Malaysian immigration officials have sailed with us and we are therefore cleared reasonably quickly. It is hot and muggy, 91F or 33C. In the evening, we go ashore and take in some of the ‘sights’, Clarke Quay, where we take a river-boat ride, the ‘flyer’, a massive Ferris wheel, the largest in the world and Marina Bay Sands Skypark, an astonishing hotel/resort which towers over Singapore, has 3 towers and is topped by, what appears to be, a ship. It is in fact bars, restaurants and pools. From here, they have a laser-light display every evening, quite spectacular.
We sail at 11 tonight, once more having to negotiate the Malacca straits, on our way to another Malaysian port, Malai, Langkawi, where we arrive on Wednesday.
We were scheduled to arrive at the pilot station at 0630 and when we departed Manila, I made allowance for the expected heavy shipping traffic in the vicinity of this busy harbor. As a consequence, we made good a speed of 20 kts, faster than needed, however this would give us time to slow down to a moderate speed when nearer the Chinese mainland. Additionally, fog was in the forecast and I did not want to go barreling through one of the busiest waterways in the world doing that speed. Approximately 60 miles from the pilot station, (which is actually in the harbor), we slowed down to 15 kts; it was just as well that it had been planned this way because, even that far out from the mainland, the density of fishing boats was enormous and looking at a radar screen it looked like a bad case of measles, spots everywhere.
The vast number of fishing boats never decreased, (made me wonder how come there were still fish around, with so many boats) and added into this was the cargo-ship traffic, container ships, tankers, all crossing our path as they made their way south-west or north-east. At our more sedate speed, collision avoidance became easier, having more time to assimilate and decide, was a necessity. We have varying modes of manning on the bridge and in the engine control room, depending on the expected situation, we always have 4 personnel on the bridge and then we supplement. Yellow and Red are when conditions warrant additional senior personnel and other items, such as closure of watertight doors. We had been on Yellow from 60 miles out and I was on the bridge at 3 in the morning, assisting the watch-keeping officers, at 15 miles out, we went on red and at this time the bridge and control room were manned with a full complement of senior, experienced officers.
The fog reduced the visibility and we navigated primarily by radar; into the Vessel Traffic System (VTS), which is akin to a motorway (or highway) on charts, inward ships stay on the right, there is a ‘median’ in the middle and outward ships stay on their right; the whole seaway is monitored by radar from ashore and we are constantly informed of any opposing ships which may present a challenge, however we are not ‘controlled’ by the shore station, merely monitored.
So, on a cool and misty Wednesday morning, having successfully negotiated the shipping lanes, we embarked our pilot at 0629 at Lei Yue Mun and proceeded inwards through the narrow waterway, the Tathong channel; the island of Hong Kong on our port side and Kowloon on our starboard. There is a 2 knot tide pushing us in and the waterway is a bustle of assorted ships, tugs towing barges, ferries, workboats, junks, you name it, we got it. We pass the old airport at Kai Tak, soon to be a new cruise terminal, the first docking trial being this coming Saturday; I hope we can keep our traditional berth at the Ocean terminal, Kai Tak is miles from anywhere. Into Victoria Harbor and our berth beckons, downtown, in Tsim Sha Tsui. The berth itself is part of Harbor City shopping mall, 700 shops, full of the very best that the world has to offer. In we go, ‘crabbing’ sideways as the current pushes us in and by 8 a.m. we are alongside and just waiting for clearance, which comes a few minutes later.
One can ‘feel’ the excitement of this city, it pulses with energy, the skyline towers around you, soaring skyscrapers, ferries hither and thither, tugs, barges, tour boats, it just goes on and on. Our guests are off as soon as the jet-way goes in, some touring inland to mainland China, others meeting friends but most are off to see the ‘sights’. The haze burns off and we have 3 glorious days of sun, unlike last year, when it rained almost every day.
We take the opportunity to go to Lantau, one of the outlying islands and also where Hong Kong’s new airport has been built on reclaimed land. Having flown into the old Kai Tak airport, with the pilot weaving through the skyscrapers on final approach (and expecting to find the laundry from the washing lines, on the wings), the new airport must be a joy to them.
However is not the airport that we go to see, Lantau has much to offer. The ‘big’ Buddha, or (Tian Tan Buddha) at Ngong Ping and Po Lin monastery, Tai O fishing village and an enormous cable-car ride which stretches for miles. (Disneyland is there too, however I won’t mention that). We catch a ferry from the Hong Kong Central ferry pier (HK$14, or about $2 U.S.), it takes about 30 minutes to Mui O. One realizes, during this trip, how vast the Shipping enterprise is, there are ships at anchor everywhere, barges alongside, loading cargo for distant lands. The container ship berths are vast, mountains of containers full of goods to be exported, it stretches for miles.
We arrive at the ferry terminal and have to decide, bus or taxi? Taxi wins and we wind our way through the mountains to Po Lin. The Buddha dominates the skyline, it is 34 metres (112 ft) tall, weighs 250 tons. It reputedly can even be seen from as far away as Macau on a clear day.
We are on our way to Nha Trang, Vietnam, where we arrive on our Friday.
We entered Manila Bay at 0230 in the morning, passing dark and looming Corregidor on our starboard side and Bataan on our port. Both names resurrecting painful memories for many. Three-and-a-half hours later, having weaved our way through innumerable fishing boats, and anchored ships, we arrive at the pilot station, which is a short distance from the berth.
Today is a special day for our Filipino crew, we have 1,500 family visitors coming on board and as we approach pier 15, the sound of music and the sight of dancers greet us, the pier is crowded with bands, orchestras and people.
Once we are ‘parked’, I stroll ashore to say hello to the assembled throng, beaming smiles and happy faces greet me and their delight at seeing the Amsterdam here is obvious, their enthusiasm contagious. Into the terminal and there are hundreds of children, mums, dads, aunts, uncles assembling, having completed their visitors paperwork and security checks, they are desperate to board and see their loved ones. We have an ‘open’ bridge and later, I spend the morning in my cabin (my desk faces the open door and hence the corridor). To my delight, as they make their way to the bridge, little faces appear at my door, beaming with smiles, their eyes wide and bright, they all want to say ‘hello’ to the captain as they pass and I sit at my desk, delighted with the interruptions.
Apart from our ‘family’ visitors, we have some dignitaries invited to a special luncheon, commemorating our visit, celebrating Dutch involvement in the city of Manila and the soon to be 140th anniversary of HAL’s founding. Amongst our guests, to name but a few, are the ambassadors of the United States and Holland, the Secretary of State of the Philippines and the Mayor of Manila. Accompanying them are pillars of the Dutch community, representatives of HAL Seattle and UPL, our employment partners in the recruiting and care of our Filipino crew. They go to our Pinnacle restaurant, speeches are made, gifts exchanged and a marvelous lunch enjoyed.
I seize the opportunity for a quick ‘run’ ashore, having never been to Manila, the least I need is a few photos to remember it by. I visit beautiful parks, many of which have statues and pay homage to the man who, Filipinos regard as their ‘founder, Rizal. He was executed by the Spanish and a park, with statues, is dedicated to him, strangely enough, showing his execution.
I also visit the ‘old’ town, much of which was destroyed in 1942, when the Japanese invaded and again, in 1945, when Manila was retaken by the allies. I walk around Fort Santiago, built by the Spanish, used by both the U.S. and Japan during the Second World War. The fort bears scars of battle, everywhere, the walls are pock-marked with rifle and heavy-weapon fire and there are touching memorials, for this was used as a prison by the Japanese and hundreds died, either through starvation or execution, it is a deeply moving experience.
Back to the ship after the ‘lightning’ tour and preparation for departure. Some of guests needed to visit Corregidor and, because the first morning ferry to the island fortress was fully booked, they had to catch the second, late in the morning. This would not have given them enough time to tour and get back to the ship, as we had to vacate the berth for a ferry, (yes, another pesky ferry). Adding to the equation was the fact that, in the evening, there was an International firework display, in which the Italians and Dutch were facing off against each other. The solution, which took some planning, was to send one of our tenders to the Corregidor ferry terminal to bring our guests back, while we lay at anchor, watching the firework displays and so, ½ an hour before we departed the berth, our tender pottled off across the harbour.
Departure was as exciting as the arrival, a wonderful brass band and cheerleaders, resplendent in colorful uniforms, entertained our guests for almost 90 minutes from the quayside. Our guests packed our lower promenade deck and their balconies, clapping and applauding the show and as we left, hundreds of people were waving, balloons were floating around us and our whistles were working overtime, reverberating across Manila.
A 180⁰ swing in the harbour, an exit through the breakwaters and then a short jaunt to the chosen anchorage position, opposite the firework display site; drop the ‘pick’ get it set in the soft mud and all set. We had a ‘firework’ evening, the weather was warm and balmy, perfect for an evening on the open decks, drinking a cocktail, (the guests, not me) and eating under the stars. Our plan for the Corregidor guests went like clockwork, our team meeting them from the ferry and walking them to our tender and then back to the ship. The fireworks were spectacular, if somewhat delayed and we enjoyed 40 minutes of pyrotechnic heaven before weighing anchor and heading across Manila Bay once more.
Makassar & Puerto Princesa
A day at sea after Bali and an overcast one, it is the rainy season in this region and our day, as we transited the Java Sea, was interspersed with heavy showers and thunderstorms. We were heading for Ujang Pedang, on the island of Sulawesi, the port in question being Makassar. Thirty miles away from the coast, there are numerous islets and sandbanks and we basically have 1 route that we can take; the other channels are too narrow and too shallow for the Amsterdam. Added to this is the comforting notation that the recognised channel for us is ‘swept’ and when one consults the charts, the disconcerting notation of ‘former minefield’ covers the remainder of the area; ‘swept’ inferring that they are cleared from our intended path. This, presumably, refers to those days of the 1940’s when the Japanese occupied the area.
Makassar is a ‘working’ port, cargo ships lie at anchor in the roads and we have to wait for a small car-carrier to depart before we can enter. We berth on what is presumably the ferry terminal on a stifling hot and muggy day. There is a cargo ship astern of us, unloading fishmeal and if any of you have had experience of such a product, you will know when I refer to it a ‘pungent.’ Fortunately, the prevailing wind blows most of the smell away from us, however the occasional ‘whiff’ comes our way and is sucked into the Amsterdam’s air-conditioning, reminding us that we are not far away.
If I were asked to describe Makassar, I would say it was “different”. The city is obviously not on the tourist path, no-one speaks English and the streets are littered with rubbish and potholes. Guests seemed to either go on a tour, or jump in a taxi and find one of the shopping areas. Departure for me (and I think the majority on board) cannot come fast enough and having let go our lines, we make a quick exit and retrace our courses through the swept channel to the open sea.
The 5th and 6th are days at sea, on our way towards Puerto Princessa, on the island of Palawan. We cross the equator on the 5th and thus have the opportunity to initiate those young souls into the rites of King Neptune’s domain. When I did so, in the mid-70’s, it was on a cargo ship with 12 fellow cadets and an officer cadre which deemed it suitable to shave ones head, cover us with putrid and foul-smelling substances, the origin of which one dared not enquire. It took several days and innumerable baths and showers to remove whatever ‘it’ was. The Amsterdam’s ceremony pales into insignificance when compared with that one, however great fun was had by all and that, as they say, is the crux of the matter. It took place around the lido pool; King Neptune himself, his wife and the Judge, (who read the ‘crimes’ that the initiates had carried out), surgeons and nurses were there to carry out the sentence, after the initiates had “kissed the fish”. The ship’s staff were present, they having to decide whether the initiates, once they had been on the surgeon’s table, could clean it all off by a plunge in the pool, or worse, stay out of the pool until the ‘sentencing’ was complete.
I am now writing from Puerto Princesa, in the Philippines and what a delightful surprise it is too. Coming into a sheltered bay, the ‘pilot’ boarded by a canoe with out-riggers, the maximum speed of which was 3 knots…….As we approached the berth, the pier was crowded with market stalls, dancers, singers and a whole host of others. A massive ‘boom box’ was issuing forth music and flags were being waved everywhere. Once the gangway was in, each disembarking guest was presented with a necklace of welcome.
Most of our guests have gone on a spectacular tour, The Puerto Princesa Subterranean National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. Our guests are privileged, as some of the caves which are not normally open to the public, have been opened for them. They will glide through the caves in canoes for 2 miles on the underground river; I am envious, however unable to go as it is over 2-hours drive away. Hopefully I will have some photos to show you at a later time.
Soon I have the mayor and dignitaries arriving, to present me the keys of the city, as this is our first call here. Later, we leave for Manila, where we have 1,700 family members coming to join their family on board for the day, we have lots of happy, smiling faces already.
Well, where to start? I left you as we departed Adelaide, the gateway port for Perth, Australia, heading north in the Indian Ocean towards Bali, Indonesia. Our President and CEO Stein Kruse, his wife Linda, Sally Andrews, our VP Public Relations, and Gerald Bernhoft, Director Mariner Society, joined us in Adelaide for our ‘Mariners Appreciation Days;’ they do this every year, for a few days during the World cruise. We have a vast number of guests on the World cruise who have sailed with us before, some of whom have over 2,000 days with us! Our days were filled with presentations, talks and dinners and I must have put on a couple of lbs/kgs in the process, it was a ‘food fest’ amongst others.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, Cyclone ‘Rusty’ was heading for north-west Australia, its position, initially, was not far from our intended route and coupled with that was Tropical depression N⁰18, to Rusty’s west and also forecast to move close to us. There was much poring over weather charts and interrogating of Australian Met pages on the web as we moved north.
The challenge with cyclones in this area is that their movement is totally unpredictable. Hurricanes in the Atlantic have, at least, some chance of prediction, however here, they can turn and twist in any direction, even reversing course and coming back to bite you. I’m pleased to say this was not the case on this occasion and ‘Rusty’ behaved impeccably (for us anyway, but not the residents of NW Australia, who experienced 100mph/160kph winds and had the equivalent of their annual rainfall, 9” or 220mm in a few days).
Similarly, N⁰18 fizzled out, presumably, having seen us coming and obviously wanting nothing to do with us. The seas of course were affected though and we encountered reasonably large swells and 30 knot winds as we paralleled the Australian west coast; that having been said, the sun shone and our hardy sailors (aka, guests) seemed unaffected.
We had 1,450 miles to steam from Adelaide to Bali and we averaged 17 knots. I have to say that the “Amsterdam” is an ideal ship on which to make these passages. She has wonderful sea-keeping qualities as her hull ‘form’ and finer bow, make short work of even the most stubborn seas.
Originally, our itinerary had us arriving at Tenah Ampo, Bali, here we were to anchor and tender guests ashore. Late last year, I became aware of an alternative port, 23 miles to the south-west of Tenah Ampo, this was Benoa. This port has been in existence for some time, however it has been mainly used by smaller cruise vessels, capable of negotiating the tortuous, shallow channel to the dock. The Indonesians, in an effort to attract larger vessels, had embarked on a programme of dredging and this was brought to my notice by a 2nd officer who was, at the time, on board the “Amsterdam” and had a home nearby. Further enquiry revealed that it was now possible for larger vessels to berth there, us included, although the narrow channel was still a challenge. Enquiries were made as to berth availability on the 2nd March, which was in the affirmative. Our corporate officers were still reluctant to commit until fate played her hand and the tender pier at Tenah Ampo was wrecked in strong winds, Benoa was a ‘go’.
We arrived off the port at 7 a.m. on (our) Saturday morning, only to find that a large, local ferry occupied our berth and wasn’t expected to sail for 2 hours. I seldom lose my temper, however that morning I was furious, although tried to maintain some decorum while ‘seething’ inside. To have had confirmation of a berth and then be told, on arrival, that is wasn’t available seemed the height of inefficiency, not only that, it was downright rude. Everyone was inconvenienced, my guests had tours arranged, over 700 family members of our Balinese crew were waiting on the pier to see their mums and dads and our call would be shortened by an hour or more…..
Anyway, the ferry eventually left and we entered, navigating the winding channel with a strong flood current behind us; I had intended to swing in the harbour and back towards the berth, this would have made departure easier, however to save time we went straight in, port side to. Gangways out, ship cleared and everyone able to enjoy the day.
An early wake-up call. The south side of the island was in complete darkness, except for the occasional light of a isolated house. We were passing 1 ½ miles off the rocky coastline, intending to round the south-west headland and turn to the north, arriving off our 1st-choice tendering spot off Hanga Roa, the main town, arriving there just after sunrise, so that we could see what we were doing. It was not an auspicious start to the morning, the wind, near the east side of the island had been 20-25 knots; now we were in the lee and it had died down, however as we rounded the west end, the wind again became apparent. Not only that, the long, rolling Pacific swell was rolling in.
We approached the anchorage to the west of Hanga Roa with the intention of sending tenders into a small boat-harbour, Hanga Piko, approximately ½ a mile south of the town. Daylight revealed that the sea-state, wind and swell were not as one would wish for. Ironically, the agent had been reporting calm seas and low swell for the previous 3 days, our arrival had changed all that. Easter Island is a ‘must do’ for World Cruise guests and while one can (reluctantly) cancel a call in the Caribbean, for example, matters have to be pretty drastic to cancel a call such as this, despite the conditions.
Our agent, ashore in Hanga Piko harbour, informs us that conditions are ‘workable’ inside and so, once safely anchored in the bay, ensuring the anchor is set into the sandy bottom and we have plenty of cable out to hold her against the wind, we begin our operations.
The tender process is slow, deliberately so as the boats, alongside our tender platform require constant adjustment to stay alongside and our guests need a helping-hand to board. The passage from the Amsterdam to the harbour is relatively short, however the transit requires skill and good judgement, the harbour has a reef either side of it, on which the swells are breaking; the tenders, each of which has a local ‘pilot’ on board to advise, have to match the speed of the swell and ‘surf’ in through the reef.
All goes well until early afternoon, when the swell begins to build and the entrance becomes rougher. I have to stop the inbound service, for my primary role is safety and I’m not taking any risks. Instead we concentrate on bringing our guests ‘home’, many of whom have seen the sights and now need some respite from the scorching heat and sun. The number in the tenders are reduced, making it easier for the tenders to negotiate the channel.
I stay until 6:30 p.m., giving those late-departing guests an hour extra time ashore. By the early evening, the long-expected rain is upon us, drenching the island (and the last of our guests) and having safely stowed our tenders, we set sail for Pitcairn Island, 1,120 miles to our west.
Our agent tells us that, at best, only 30% of calls to the island are successful, I suppose that our 100% record calls for some kudos, however both have been accomplished under challenging conditions, it would be nice to see the calm, windless water that they have in their postcards……….
Photo Taken From Tender With Guests Aboard
Once again, the weather has been kind to us and we enjoyed following winds and seas across the Tasman sea during our crossing from Picton to Sydney. The weather was changeable thoughout and our call in Sydney was no exception, bathed in sunshine one minute and then torrential downpours the next. It didn’t seem to curb the enthusiasm of our guests though, as this is one of the most delightful cities on our itinerary and they anticipate our call with relish.
Circular Quay, the primary and central berth, was occupied as we arrived; a large, white cruise ship, the name of which shall remain nameless, had berthed just before us and was involved in a turn-around of passengers. We were assigned a berth in Darling Harbour, (in fact it was the same berth on which we docked last year) and this involved passing under Sydney Harbour bridge, before turning ‘sharp left’, (in non-nautical terminology) and berthing port-side alongside. We had embarked our pilot slightly early, this due to the fact that the pilot boat was already on station, having embarked a pilot on that large, white cruise ship. Obviously tired of waiting and probably desperate for a decent cup of coffee at 5 in the morning, the pilot boarded well to the east of the intended position and promptly asked for a cappuccino.
It was dark as we approached the ‘Heads’, the rocky promontories which guard the entrance to the harbour, however I was optimistic that, with the sunrise due in 45 minutes, there would be sufficient light for our guests to be able to take some photographs of one of the most stunning harbours in the world. I, once again, had my camera on the bridge and took the opportunity to take The pilot explained to me that the best berth, Circular Quay, was used by cruise ships that could not sail under the bridge, due to their height. The “Oosterdam”, the ship that I took out of the builders yard and one of my favourites, has to wait occasionally for low water; if she went under the bridge, (or tried to), she may come out the other side with a car on her funnel, or with slightly shorter ones. Also, Circular Quay has a very strange arrangement with the retail outlets that line the pier, the harbour authority has to pay them for loss of business should a cruise ship be there, it must not be in the berth at certain times during the weekend and must depart before a certain time, all very peculiar for a port. I was also told that we will not be using Darling harbour next year, instead going across the harbour to White Bay, which fills me with foreboding as the distances to travel into the city are far further.
We pass Fort Dernison, which lies on a small, rocky outcrop, just to the west of the bridge. In 1788, a convict named Thomas Hill was sentenced to a week on bread and water in irons there, after which the island came to be known as Pinchgut. Once a 15 metre (49 ft) high sandstone rock, the island was flattened as prisoners under the command of Captain George Barney, the civil engineer for the colony, quarried it for sandstone to construct nearby Circular Quay. The fort was built later, as the defenses were deemed inadequate and whenever a hanging took place, the poor miscreant was strung on a gibbet as a warning to vessels arriving in Sydney. Fortunately, there was no such sight to welcome us and now it’s a tourist attraction.
Darling harbour is not without its attraction, just to the south of us and 10 minutes walk, are waterside restaurants and bars, ferry terminals and harbour cruise trips, it’s a bustling place at night and during weekends. Shuttle buses take our guests to the city centre and from there they can wander the city, the ‘Rocks’, a lovely area of bistros and market stalls, is not far away and is a popular destination. Many guests book an evening at the Opera house, whilst others use their time to travel further afield. Sydney is certainly not cheap, in terms of prices; it used to be the most expensive in the world, however, apparently, it is now ranked 5th or 6th.
On the 16th, the Seabourn Quest slipped into harbour and occupied the now vacant Circular Quay. The day was a mix of sun and rain, however we were fortunate that, on our time of departure, the rain held off and our decks were packed with guests as they enjoyed the sailaway through the harbour. Being a Saturday, the harbour was crowded with boats of all description and much whistle blowing was needed to ward off those sailors who thought they had right of way. Now we are on our way south, for Hobart, Tasmania, which is incidentally, the most southern latitude which we travel to.
Our passage from Sydney was uneventful. We were fortunate that the strong north-east winds were coming from astern and as a consequence we made good speed and little movement of the ‘Amsterdam’, sunny skies too. There is a weather front coming in and ahead of it, stronger winds and during the night they reached 40-45 kts. It was not until we turned to the west, to make our approach to Hobart, around the rocky headlands that surround it, that we felt the wind’s effect. We had anticipated it and had heeling water and ballast across on the starboard side, which would (and did) counteract the list to port that we would have experienced had we not done so. Turning into the (inaptly named) Stormy Bay, we made our way north towards the pilot station. Whilst we had lost the ‘open sea’ waves and swell, we still had 30-35 knots of wind as we made our way down the bay. I was hoping that the berth, tucked in behind a cargo shed and some of the buildings, would offer sufficient lee (or shelter) from the worst of it; adding to the equation was a 1 knot current against us, coming from the river ahead.
There’s an old adage that I learned when I was Captain of large ferries operating across the English Channel; “one has to get the approach to a berth correct before one can get the docking correct” and so I took my time, laying the ‘Amsterdam’ slightly off the wind from 2 miles out and using it (and the current) to put me where I wanted to be when it came to being near the dock. She ‘crabbed’ in nicely, all I had to do at this stage, was adjust the speed to ensure she didn’t ‘fall-off’ sideways too fast. 300 meters from the wharf and lifting the stern against the wind, now gusting 25 knots, but mainly around 20, pushing the bow towards the ‘concrete’ to counteract the stern’s movement……..Lovely, she went in on rails, almost doing it herself and there we were, tucked in behind the cargo shed, lots of mooring lines out and the sun shining. A hot day too, 34C, or 92F, and a UV index through the roof.
Adelaide & Kangaroo Island
No photos of Adelaide, I’m afraid. The port lies on an outlying promontory and Adelaide itself is a 45-minute bus, (or train) ride from the Amsterdam. Having transited the shallow and winding channel and then swinging in the turning basin, we berthed port-side to at the terminal. On the balcony of the building were a group of ladies and a small band, playing Australian songs, while the ladies danced in unison. They were representatives of the Tourist Board and later in the morning were at hand to help our guests.
I had to smile, the terminal had a ‘jetway’, similar to those you see at airports when you board an aircraft. Only this one was being moved by hand; although new, the designers had neglected to build-in a ‘slewing’ motor, so some poor man was busy pumping away on a long lever attached to a hydraulic pump! Once it was swung sufficiently, the up and down movement had been thought of by the designers, so it was promptly attached to the ship.
I had a plaque exchange while we were here, it is customary, when a ship arrives at a port for the first time, that a small token of appreciation, usually an engraved plaque, is given to the ship. In return, the ship will give gifts back, in our case a Royal Delft “Amsterdam” plate. This particular exchange was for Kangaroo Island, the next day’s call and is without doubt, the most informal exchange I have ever experienced.
There was a Kangaroo Island Visitor’s stand in the terminal, manned by one gentlemen who was involved with guests most of the time. I interrupted him and inquired as to where the exchange was and who would be conducting it, “that would be me, mate” (all Aussies call you ‘mate’), “o, great, where shall we exchange”? “Give me a mo’ and I’ll be with you, I’ll just answer these folks questions”, 1 minute later… “Great, let’s do it”…. “Welcome to Kangaroo Island and here’s a plaque to mark the occasion”.
In the meantime, some more guests arrived and were waiting at the stand, I turn and tell them we’ll be finished very shortly, my turn “thank you and here is a Royal Delft plate, please accept it with our grateful thanks”. He then went back to his stand to deal with the guests, if only they could all be like that!
I have come to the conclusion that this area of South Australia is permanently windy. We were fortunate that when we docked at 5:30 in the morning, the night’s winds of 40 knots had died down; however it wasn’t long before it kicked in again and while alongside it was a regular 25 knots. We did not sail until 11 p.m., once again the wind dropped, however as we negotiated the channel once more, again it came up. I am thinking that it must be a local anomaly, a combination of the heat over the land and sea-breezes.
It was a mere 60 miles from Adelaide to Penneshaw, on Kangaroo Island. It is a small, picturesque town with a population of around 1,500 and is on the north-east coast of the Dudley peninsular. The mainland is only 9 miles away and there’s a regular fast-ferry service to the mainland. The island is Australia’s 3rd largest, after Tasmania and Melville. It has sandy beaches and pounding surf and offers opportunities for nature lovers, the main purpose of our call; seals, sea lions, penguins and koalas and some kangaroos are still there, although their numbers have diminished. Everywhere we have traveled in Australia has concerns about fires; the country is tinder-dry, Hobart had one just after we departed and Kangaroo Island has had some this week.
We anchor ½ a mile from the small harbour and tender in. Once again, it’s windy, up to 30 knots, so I lay out our port anchor with 6 shackles, (540 feet or 165m) of chain into the soft sand. We then use a computerised system which will hold a specific heading, using our azipods. This allows us, once we chosen the correct heading, to put the wind and sea on the port side and therefore provides a lee, (or shelter) on our starboard side, where our tenders operate from platforms, to take our guests ashore and back.
We are about to sail for Albany, Western Australia, its history started with the whaling days and is now a commercial port. We have a 980 mile journey ahead of us for our arrival on (our) Sunday morning.
Albany, Perth, & On To Bali
After writing my last entry on departure from Kangaroo Island I have been somewhat busy, so apologies for the interval in writing. Far down in the Southern Ocean a huge storm was making its way east, although thousands of miles away, the 15m/50 feet swell resulting from it was making its presence felt off the southern coast of Australia. The Australian Basin, through which we were sailing on our way to Albany, was affected, swells of 3m or so were encountered on the first night and by the second day these had increased to 4-5m. These large, long monsters were coming from the west and travelling east, thus we were heading into them. Combined with this was a strong wind and as a result, we were pitching heavily. We were being slowed down too and therefore not making sufficient speed to make Albany on time. Trying to increase speed was not an option, there was a good chance that damage would result and so, I altered course towards the coast, where forecasts indicated that the swell was not as high. This had an effect almost immediately, as our speed increased and the swell now came at 30⁰ or so onto our port bow, reducing the pitching.
It meant that we would have to sail an additional 30 miles, however, rather this than the constant battering we were experiencing. That night, when 20 miles from the coast, we turned to parallel the Australian mainland and sure enough, the swell was substantially reduced. It was only on the early morning of our arrival at Albany that we had to endure the large swell once more, as we had moved out of the relative shelter of the Australian coast and started, once again, to head into that pesky swell again. It was not until we passed the headland that marks the entrance of the bay on which Albany lies that we could bring in one of our stabilisers.
Albany itself lies in a sheltered harbour between 2 rocky promontories. Albany is not very large, nor is the harbour. It’s main exports are grain (2.5 million tonnes a year) and wood-chips. The chips are from Eucalyptus trees and are used in the production of that glossy paper for magazines. During July and onwards, the surrounding waters and bays are full of Humpback and Right whales, who use the warmer waters for their breeding. No photographs I’m afraid as all I could see from the ship was silo-upon-silo of wheat containers and piles of wood-chips ( I didn’t think that would be at all interesting).
Out of Albany and once again into the swell, much up-and-down again until we at last reached the south-western tip of Australia and could turn to the north, towards Fremantle, which is the ‘gateway’ port for Perth, Australia. Lots of wind still, however it was pushing us along nicely instead. We arrived at the pilot station of Fremantle on the 25th, at 2:30 p.m. and passed through the breakwaters with 25 knots of wind, the port promised that there would be less when we were off the berth and thankfully, they were correct, 20 knots.
We berthed at their Cruise terminal, moored amongst cargo ships. Just across the adjoining road is a bus station and train station, so getting into Perth is relatively easy, although slow. We stay overnight and sail in an hour or so, at 4 p.m. heading for Bali. It is Cyclone season and one, ‘Rusty’, is about to make landfall near Broome in the north-west; another is forming, well away to the west. Present indication is that neither will affect us as we move northwards, however we are watching the weather maps and forecasts with far more than a passing interest. It looks as if we will encounter heavy rain on Friday, this resulting from interaction between ‘Rusty’ and a weather system north of Bali. More later…………….