Dear Readers, back again on the lovely m.s. Amsterdam and our World Cruise. Not an auspicious start for me, personally, for within 2 days of commencing our epic voyage, I have been struck with what appears to be, flu. I am fortunate enough to have a great Bridge team and my ‘lack of enthusiasm’ was more than compensated for by their dedication; thankfully I appear to be on the mend and am able to put ‘pen to paper’.
Our voyage from Port Everglades was eventful, if only because of the weather. A dear friend of mine, speaking several years ago, once remarked that the Caribbean was always smooth and the winds light, were that I could speak to him now. Our voyage down the Old Bahama Channel, the stretch of water lying between Cuba and the south Bahama Banks was windy, however we were in relatively sheltered water. Once we rounded the eastern tip of Cuba and made courses towards Cartagena, Columbia, the wind and seas built and we had a bumpy ride across the Caribbean, it wasn’t until we reached our destination that we had any respite.
A relatively short call in Cartagena, this due to the fact that we had to make an 0500 arrival at the entrance to the canal, all hell to pay if we didn’t make it, as we are No 1 in the south-bound convoy, as a cruise ship we have preference.
We arrive at Cristobal breakwaters on time and proceed slowly southward, down the buoyed channel, the lights of which are more akin to an aircraft runway, making it so much easier to navigate. Pilots, boarding officers, agents and a plethora of others board as we steam down a 6 knots; checks to ensure we comply with PC regulations, documents are in order, officials depart and we are on our way. Next to board are the mooring gangs, the men who will work the wires, which are attached to the locomotives, which will manoeuvre us in the locks, stopping us (hopefully) from touching the lock walls.
The routine hasn’t changed much over the years, I (or my 2nd-in-command, Friso), con the ship past the outer wall and toward the lock face, the pilots, (we have 3, one either side of the Bridge and one in the stern), manage the locos, once they are hooked on. We take 6, 3 either side, and once all are fast, we can leave it to the pilots, who ease us into the lock with the power of the locos. Gatun, the first lock, goes well and we all get into the routine.
All the locks have live webcams and anyone in the world can watch our progress. I was thrilled to receive emails from Sam and Liz, as we passed through Miraflores locks, that they could see me waving, the wonders of modern technology…
Exactly 12 hours after we had entered at Cristobal, we disembarked the last of our pilots at Flamenco and thus proceeded south through the Pacific. If we were to do the same voyage before the Canal was built, we would have had to sail almost 10,000 miles, around the tip of South America to be in the same place. Different ocean, different weather; the Pacific is calm and the weather sunny; tomorrow is Manta, Ecuador.
Jonathan Mercer is Amsterdam’s captain.