Dear readers, 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 harbour 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 metres. 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.