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Around the World with Captain Mercer: Belem, Brazil

Friday, Jan. 13, 2012

Belem, Brazil. It lies on the Para river and is one of the large, southerly tributaries of the mighty Amazon river. We entered the mouth of the delta as planned, at 2 a.m. Considering the length of the passage and its complexity, Friso, my 2nd in command and Chief Officer, took the first part of the channel and then I, having had some sleep, did the second.

There is a very strong current, in our case against us and although we were making rpm for around 19 knots, we were making, at best 17 and at worst, 15. The passage was exacerbated by the varying depths in the river and at stages, we had less than 5 meters under the keel. At these clearances, the “Amsterdam” becomes subject to ‘squat’. This is a hydraulic effect that occurs when the water being displaced by the ship’s passage of the bottom doesn’t have sufficient time or clearance to be replaced fast enough; as a consequence the hull sinks bodily and this morning it was up to 0.6 of a meter. One always had to bear this in mind and the easiest solution is to slow down, thereby giving the water more time to ‘rush in’ and replace the water being displaced. Just before the anchorage, we sailed over a bank which had 11 meters of water over it and consequently we took this very slowly, at 10 knots to be precise, to reduce ‘squat’.

Even though we are almost 70 miles from the sea, tides still have their effect here and at 10 a.m. this morning, the “Amsterdam” swung around on her anchor through 180 degrees as the tide changed and started to ‘flood’.

We are actually anchored at Icoraci, Belem lies approximately 7 miles to our south. The depth of water from the anchorage to Belem is far too shallow for us to navigate and this is as far south as we can get.

We have shore-tenders taking guests ashore, watching them as they ‘crab’ across the river to the tender landing-stage makes one realise how fast the current is running. The river, a muddy grey/brown colour, is moving fast, as the massive amount of water from inland rushes to the sea. We need 6 shackles, or 540 feet/170m of chain just to hold us against its force.

I took the first tender ashore, along with the first tour for our guests, to ‘recce’ the other end of our operations. It is bustling with locals boarding ferries for transport to some of the outlying islands in the river; they are carrying an assortment of goods: mattresses, pots and pans, vegetables, you name, they had it. Fishing boats are beached on the mud, some idle, others unloading vegetables for the nearby market, it’s a splash of colour and a hive of activity (and pretty damned hot in uniform, I can tell you 🙂

We have Brazilian public health on board, inspecting our routines and they will be with us for several hours, similar to U.S. Public Health, although the Brazilians have some different requiremnts, which makes it awkward for us.

We sail at 6 p.m. for the long passage back to the sea, only this time, the current will be with us, we should fly out of here like a cork from a bottle and save some fuel as well. We are bound for Recife, Brazil, where we arrive at 8 a.m on Monday.

Captain Mercer is at the helm of Amsterdam’s 112-day Grand World Voyage.

  • Maria Carmen de Munoz

    Thank you Captain, I’ll keep looking forward for the next one!

  • Larry Dieno

    Really appreciate the navigational insight Captain. Thank you!

  • Terri Breininger

    Captain Mercer,
    I am enjoying your blog and will follow it religiously. I sailed with you in the Mediterranean this past September and enjoyed meeting you at various times during the 24 day voyage beginning September 9 in Venice.

  • Jane Huber

    Really enjoying the blog my friend…..will look forward to your next one. Be safe. Bob and I are thinking of you.

  • Jill

    When we were there in March 2010 on the Veendam, the water was much higher, right up to the grass at the top of your last photo. There were trees floating in the fast current.
    I hope the Brazilian health authorities found everything to their liking. They spent a lot of time inspecting us, as you no doubt heard.

  • Kelly Koper

    Thanks for the “seaman” like blog Captain…as a blue water sailboater I relish it. Take good care of the Amsterdam, we will be on the Jan. 5, 2013 world cruise.

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