Captain’s Log: Ascension Island

I know this island well, one might say ‘intimately’, for not only did I call here on the ‘Mail’ run, but I also spent over a week here, after abandoning my ship, along with 83 others, we were brought back here by the tanker which sighted our lifeboats and rescued us. Having nothing but a rather dirty-white uniform to my name, the Americans on the base were kind enough to donate clothing, mine being a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of bright blue and white striped trousers, one could see me coming a mile away ;).

I was concerned about the conditions at the anchorage, as I knew from past experience that there can be quite large South Atlantic swells, the area offering little protection from them. Unfortunately, so it came to be; having anchored in the pristine water, the swell looked deceptively low, although we were moving, even at anchor. Sending our tender ashore, the crew had enormous difficulty getting alongside the relatively short and exposed dock, it wasn’t really designed for ships’ tenders, rather the small boats that the islanders use and seldom do they try to tie up, preferring to get close and having the occupants ‘jump’ off. It soon became apparent that this was not going to work, the safety of our guests is paramount and damage to our tenders is to be avoided, these conditions were a harbinger of both factors.

Reluctantly, I had to cancel our call and recover our tenders, waiting in the anchorage while the Island merchandise was sold on board and at 1 p.m. weighed anchor for a scenic cruise of the island, before setting courses for Brazil. My guests were disappointed of course, as was I, however the majority were very understanding, there are always those who do not quite see it from my perspective though.





Actually, we probably saw more of the island than had we made the call. There are no tours as such, a great deal of the island being ‘off limits’ because of the military bases there and additionally , there is little or no transport available. As it was, circumnavigating the coast, with its rugged cliffs and towering peaks afforded us a great view of areas we would otherwise not have seen; dolphins frolicking around us as we did so.

I write from the South Atlantic, heading just north of west towards the Brazilian coast, Fortaleza to be precise. We are nearing the equator and the heat is beginning to build and become oppressive, however the seas are ‘following’ and the sun is shining. We had a wonderful 140th Anniversary celebration, an enormous cake, a replica of HAL offices in Rotterdam and now the Hotel New York. Speeches, fun and games and dancing were the order of the day and a good time was had by all.

Jonathan Mercer is Amsterdam’s captain.


Join the Discussion


  1. Ascension Island Tourist Information Office September 11, 2013 at 5:58 am - Reply

    Dear Captain,

    You will be pleased to know that we are now much better prepared for visitors and able to offer a number of tours and excursions including an Island Tour, Georgetown Heritage Walk and Green Mountain Historic Tour. However we are keen to recieve feedback from visitors so as to develop and improve, should anyone wish to comment on their travels to Ascension, or indeed wish to arrange a holiday we would be very pleased to hear from you!

    The Ascension Island Tourist Information Office can be contacted on:

    We hope to welcome you back someday!

    kind regards
    The Ascension Island Tourist Information Office

  2. David Ogden June 19, 2013 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Dear Captain Mercer,

    Your story about Ascension Island is fascinating–and it brings back memories!! In September of 1979 I travelled by Military Airlift Command from Florida to Ascension Island to join a ship. I spent three days wandering around the island. Then, when the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg arrived, I went aboard as an almost-brand-new third mate.

    I remember well the anchorage, the swells, the schools of fish, the sharks, and the tenders that brought personnel and stores out to the ship from the dock at Georgetown. Ascension is a unique place!

    I have a framed photograph of Ascension Island that I took from the bridge wing of the Vandenberg. It is from the same vantage point as your photo of the island, and the two pictures are nearly identical.

    Thank you again, and smooth sailing,

    David Ogden
    Nashua, New Hampshire
    United States

  3. Al & Jenn Butler April 28, 2013 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Captain Mercer

    Thank you so much for your great blogs while travelling the world on the Amsterdam. They so well written and so informative about the working of the ship we will miss reading them .

    You take great care of the ship and you passengers, also even greater thanks for watching over the crew , we feel very comfortable that our daughter (your librarian ) is in very safe care with you .

    Maybe one day we’ll even get to cruise with you !

    Al & Jenn Butler
    Victoria BC

  4. […] Merchant Navy Nostalgia (scroll down to see pictures of the stricken Good Hope Castle) Captain’s Log: Ascension Island – by Captain Mercer Captain’s Log: How I became Master – by Captain Mercer […]

  5. John Beukema April 20, 2013 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    Not only is Captain Mercer a sensible sailor and a fine writer, but he’s apparently an excellent photographer, too. The shot of the dolphin is remarkable. Although I’m not on this cruise, I’m really enjoying his insights, which give me a much better understanding of the challenges involved in navigating the various ports at which HAL cruises call. It makes me much more appreciative of how well-handled HAL ships seem to be.

  6. Diane A. April 19, 2013 at 11:20 pm - Reply

    I bet everyone who cruises has a least one story of an “abandoned port call” . That is part of what makes cruising unpredictable , exciting, and full of stories. Mine was in 2000 in Monte Carlo. The rough seas made it necessary to move the ship ( the old Noordam) down coast about 15 miles. With most of us on shore, we watched in disbelief as the ship left without us !!! However, the rest of the day was simply amazing. HAL worked at record speed to get the necessary buses to take us to the new location. As we waited , the Windstar ( already in port) offered us orange juice as we sat basking in the glorious sunshine of Monte Carlo. Next we were treated to an extraordinary ride down the stunning coastal shore. It was a unexpected treat to say the least :) What started as a disappointing day quickly turned into a day of new adventures and great memories. I LOVE cruising Holland America because they always do the right thing by putting “Safety First” ! Thanks Captain Mercer for following in that great tradition ……..

  7. Jim Pfefferle April 19, 2013 at 9:51 pm - Reply


    I think you discovered the perfect way to tour Ascension.

    I visited there for a week on NASA business 20+ years ago. The highlight of my trip (after an overnight C-130 flight from Florida) was driving the government car up Green Mountain, then dodging the sheep and hiking to the peak.

    The other main off-duty activities for the “range-rats” were sea-fishing from shore, volcanic golfing (bring your own astroturf), and drinking too much beer.

    A very unique part of our planet.


  8. Jeffrey Kane April 19, 2013 at 9:40 pm - Reply

    I loved reading about your previous visit to the Island! Can just see you in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, You didn’t even try that on Bora Bora!!!!.
    As always, your decision to make sure that the crew and passengers safety comes first as definitely the right call. Reminds me of our call at Rarotonga…..
    Can hardly believe that the voyage is coming to an end in less than two weeks.But what a memorable world voyage this has been and reading your blog since we left you in Auckland has been wonderful.
    Give our best regards to all our friends on board the Amsterdam and I look forward to the continuation of your blog.

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