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Captain’s Log: Fortaleza, Belem, Devil’s Island and Farewell … for Now

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.

  • Jeffrey Kane

    Dear Captain Mercer:
    THANK YOU for a memorable reading experience on Grand World Voyage 2013…..Having spent the first 31 days with you on board your BLOG has completed my full world voyage for THIS YEAR!. Cannot wait to reboard the AMSTERDAM in Hong Kong next March 2014 and sailback to Ft Lauderdale with you….

    You are the BEST.Love to Karen and all our MS AMSTERDAM friends


  • Ted Dixon

    Dear Captain Mercer,

    I note that you will signing off from AMSTERDAM tomorrow 1st May on arrival at Fort Lauderdale and will be rejoing her for next years Grand Voyage. On behalf of my friend Ramsay Wight and I we wnat to thank you and your ship’s company for the wonderful voyage we had with you from Hong Kong to Cape Town. For Ramsay it was his first experience of cruising and for my part I had previously enjoyed 4 cruises with P&O but the one on AMSTERDAM was certainly a great pleasurable experience. What ever your plans and dreams are for Karen and yourself the coming months may they be realised.
    God bless and smooth sailing.

    Best regards

    Ramsay Wight and Ted Dixon (Stateroom 1893 HK/CPT)

  • Sharon Johnson

    Dear Captain Mercer,

    Thanks ever so much for taking the time out of your extremely busy day to take photos and write about the ports of call on this year’s “Grand Voyage Around the World”. Although I didn’t comment on each of your port reports, I read each and everyone. And I appreciated that you took the time to share the enjoyment of this years world cruise with those of us who aren’t aboard the elegant Amsterdam.


  • Anne Searing

    Captain Mercer,
    Every day I check the BLOG for more reports from you. It is sad that this cruise is ending but you have earned time off. Be well. We look forward to additional reports from you and your camera.

  • Jonathan

    Thank you all so much for your kind comments, it makes the time taken in submitting posts well worthwhile. I join the Amsterdam again, this time for an Alaskan itinerary, the Great Land, in July. I am seldom without my camera during these days, some of the most stunning scenery in the world. I look forward to ‘blogging’ again and see that Captain Jeroen has already beaten me to it with his Glacier Bay photos!
    Until next time, my best wishes to you all.

  • jacquelyn

    Thank You Captain Mercer for sharing your wonderful narration and amazing photos!! I found this blog rather late into your voyage but I have enjoyed each and every blog entry…very glad this was a successful and safe cruise for you all and I’ll be watching for the next ‘World Cruise’ blog from you! Thanks again.

  • Terri Breininger

    Thanks for taking us along for the ride. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog.

  • Dot E.

    Captain Mercer,

    Thank you for taking the time to do the blog on this year’s World Cruise. I enjoyed every minute of it and the pictures. I am so inspired by your blog and those of others that I now want to do one, but that can’t happen until I retire.

    Hope to meet you someday soon.


  • Katherine Dooley

    Thank you Captain Mercer for taking us along on your fabulous voyage. Enjoyed each and every post and we are hoping to be on board with you for 2014:-) Kathie and Tom Dooley

  • Linda R.

    Dear Captain Jonathan, my husband and I thank you for the wonderful, exciting (tender ride @ Easter Island!) and above all SAFE 115 days! We loved every minute of it; enjoyed your comments and idioms in your from the bridge announcements. We truly appreciate your effort getting us not only in and out of a myriad of interesting ports but keeping us safe each time. Getting in early to ports was an added bonus. Many an evening I sat in the library hunting for your latest blog and enjoying each word. Of course, it was nice to BE on the trip with you too!

    Thanks again and we hope to see you on the World in 2015!
    Linda and Dave

  • Danielle and Claude

    Dear Captain Mercer
    Your Swiss french speaking guests from suite 7040 thanks you for this wonderful third of a year spent with you. We will continue to follow you, with your blog so much appreciated, if not on one of your ships.

  • romeo bernal

    Captain Jonathan,
    I enjoyed reading your blog every ports we visited during the grand world voyage 2013.
    nice to be in amsterdam and looking forward to work again on my next contract.


  • Rosie & Randt Weiss

    Dear Captain,
    With so much to do and enjoy on the “Dam” ship I am just now reading and enjoying photos and posts from this very grand of Grand World Voyages 2013 with HAL. Many thanks to you, and the crew and staff – truly a trip of a life time! The trp was awesome every day! From the new ports and the many new friends we met. We will be pack in 2015…for now we fly to Paris, France June 18th to enjoy time spent in Europe. Your wife Karen is a delight and I enjoyed her bright smile and friendship while on board. If you are on the contenient – look us up!
    To travel and learning about this great world, best to you and yours,
    Rosie Weiss
    St. Louis, MO to Paris, France

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