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 marvellous 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 colourful 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.
I write this from a calm South China Sea, destination Hong Kong for 3 days and 2 nights of fun. We arrive on (our) Monday the 11th and everyone is anticipating this call with relish, it is one of the most beautiful and exciting of cities.
Jonathan Mercer is Amsterdam’s captain.