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Captain’s Log: Easter Island

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.

Entrance to Hanga Piko.

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.

A spectacular shot courtesy of Jorritt van den Burg, 2nd officer, while negotiating the entrance to Hanga Piko.

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……….

*Calls at Easter Island are weather permitting.

  • Joan Hopke

    I always enjoy Captain Mercer’s articles. He writes so that you feel you are actually there with him and his crew. Thanks for a job well done.

  • Brian Taus

    Unfortunately when the Captain stopped the inbound service a number of guests (~170) for whom Easter Island is a “must do” did not make to shore, I was one of them. When I met with the Customer Relations Officer to discuss what happened that day she informed me that Easter Island is a strong selling point for the World Cruise, with this I had to agree, as it was one of the main reasons I purchased this cruise. She also mentioned that they were unable to land their guests on Easter Island 3 out of the last 5 times. In our particular case we had booked an afternoon excursion with Holland America. Only too late did we learn that afternoon tours with Holland America have no priority over any other private tours. The inbound service was stopped before our tender ticket was called. Note tenders continued to run back and forth to the shore all afternoon. Very disheartening for those of us left on board. My recommendation for anyone booking a Holland America World Cruise with Easter Island on the itinerary, is to book a shore excursion for first thing in the morning.
    Brian Taus – currently on board the Amsterdam.

  • Peter Ward

    Captain Mercer, Congratulations on another safe Easter Island port call! We were fortunate to have sailed with you last year. Easter Island was indeed a highlight. The photos and your Log entry brought back memories of an incredible day. Thanks for sharing the experience.
    Best Regards,
    Peter Ward

  • Patty Coon

    So, another year of an iffy landing at Easter Island. It was touch and go last year on the other side of the island, annd I’m glad I was on one of the earliest shore excursions. It was the wait at the end of the day to return to the ship that was a little long and hot, but the crew did an excellent job getting everyone safely back on board with only minor mishaps. You are to be commended, Captain Mercer, for making a port call at all. Deja vu!

  • Mariann Sandvall Webb

    I was on the WC 2011. Easter Island is the best and I understand now, how fortunate we were to be able to step ashore.

  • Garth Liseth

    Congratulations again, Captain Mercer for making a landing at Rapa Nui. We were on last year’s Grand World Voyage (2012) and really enjoyed our time on the island that day. It is so very remote and mysterious and has provided lots of bragging rights at cocktail parties since. Apart from the substantial damage to Tender vessel #9 (pressed into service as a battering ram on shore) and the severe heat standing in tender queue on land, the day’s discoveries were worth it all. I don’t believe many passengers appreciate the lengths that you go to in attempting to make this landing. Having seen the primitive docking facilities first hand and your accompanying pictures in your article, it is indeed quite an achievement! We will be sailing on next year’s GWV 2014 and hopefully will get another chance to see this strange place. Let’s hope you can continue to bat 1000 into 2014!

  • Julie

    We regret that some of our guests on this Grand World Voyage were unable to visit Easter Island, and we certainly understand the disappointment caused in this situation. We must note, however, that the safety of our guests is always our highest priority. In this case, as Captain Mercer noted in his onboard speech upon departing Easter Island, inbound tender operations were stopped because of the deteriorating weather conditions. Unfortunately, the coxswains of the tenders reported that, due to an increase in swell, the tenders were becoming unmanageable when entering Hanga Piko harbour loaded with guests. The ‘corkscrew’ effect of the swell was making the tenders difficult to steer and the proximity of the reef too close for comfort. We did manage to land approximately 850 guests ashore before these difficulties arose, and of course empty tenders did continue to visit the island in order to bring those guests back to the ship safely. Again, we are very sorry for any disappointment but would like to assure our guests and our readers that this decision was made with our guests’ safety in mind. – Guest Relations Team, Holland America Line

  • Deirdre Conley

    I was sadly among the approximately 170 guests on the Amsterdam World Cruise 2013 who did not make it onshore at Easter Island due to the early suspension of tendering operations. For those guests who feel that Easter Island is a “must do” destination as I do, I recommend flying to and from Easter Island due to the current low success rate for ships to land guests onshore mentioned above of around 30% and the low probability of landing if you are not among the priority disembarkation guests with 4 and 5 star levels. If you do not get to go ashore at Easter Island this also means 10 sea days from Peru with no disembarkation ports until Tahiti.

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  • Mr. & Mrs. Dick Wood

    Hello Capt. Jonathan Mercer, we were with you on the 2012 World Cruise where the same thing happened on Easter Island. Memories, memories. How are Karen and Leslie? Is Leslie behaving herself? We miss her striped vehicles here at home. I finally found this and am enjoying reading your “Captain’s Log”. We are looking forward to joining you on the 2014 World Cruise.

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