Captain Albert Schoonderbeek And His Blog: The Caribbean With The Captain

Captain Albert Schoonderbeek

Ever wondered what it would be like mastering one of those big cruise ships? If so, follow Captain Albert Schoonderbeek during a 14-day Caribbean cruise on board Holland America Line’s Veendam. Captain Schoonderbeek keeps his thoughts away from such pleasantries as beaches, shopping and relaxing, and instead keeps an eye on the ship, the schedule and weather forecasts. Following are excerpts from the Captain’s own blog, logged each day he is on duty

November 25, Tampa — We are going on a 14-day cruise. This means heavy storing before departure, with several gangs of longshoremen working over three ships side breaks to deal with the luggage, provisions and spare parts. 17:00 hours is our departure time, but at 16.55 we were off the dock and going through Tampa Bay as fast as was safely possible. By 20.15 the pilot was off, and I could start cranking up the speed. Now we have to wait and see what the nights brings in regards to speed achieved: Our starboard propeller shaft has not been fixed yet. It started playing up during our last cruise.

November 26, At sea — Well our progress was not as good as I had hoped for. Although we are already doing better than the last cruise, we could not get the speed up to a full output on both propellers. I had to reschedule for St Thomas (instead of San Juan). We had a lot of headwind during the day, but on the aft decks it was very pleasant and most guests were out in the sun.

Noordam Upholstery ShopNovember 27, At sea — Today is our second regular sea day and again we were blessed with beautiful weather. Advice from the engine room is positive about progress being made with improving the output on the propellers — and thus the speed — but it will be a few days before it will make a significant difference. We have a fairly unknown group of people on board: the upholsterers. Guests do not realize how important these skilled craftsmen are, but they play a key role in the presentation of the interior of the ship. Apart from dry docks, which only take place every two years or so, most maintenance on a cruise ship has to be done while sailing. On a regular schedule, step by step, curtains, carpets, chairs and couches are renewed.

stabelizer-stern-view.jpgNovember 28, At sea — In the afternoon a North Atlantic wave field came toward us with heights of about 8 feet to 10 feet, with peaks up to 12 feet, and this made the ship start to pitch and that costs speed. The starboard shaft did not like it either and that meant that we had to reduce the output at times. It will depend on how long this wave field persists whether we are going to be delayed, and, if so, by how much. According to the weather chart, the wave field is not supposed to reach the coast of Puerto Rico and as we are coming close by there, I hope that I can take advantage of it. We’ll see.

November 29, St. Thomas — Well, the wave field extended until the Puerto Rican coast and we had to sail through the whole length of it. Mother Nature was not helping and the waves kept coming until about 6 in the morning. In the end we docked over three hours late at Crown Bay, St. Thomas. Good news for all of us was that there were three couriers standing on the dock with the last engine parts that we needed. An unexpected happening was that in the afternoon, while I was sitting in my office, the ship suddenly shook. On departure, the pilot told me there had been a 7.3 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Martinique. That tremor went through the whole East Caribbean and that is what I felt in the cabin. The ship was unaffected, though, as was the Virgin Islands.

November 30, Roseau, Dominica — The wind only died down in the early morning hours. Starboard shaft also needed another slow down, and thus we docked over an hour late in Dominica. I think this was the fastest docking I have ever done here. The pilot, who is as black as spades, got noticeably white around the nose when I lined the ship up for the dock. A piece of good news is that the Chief engineer during the course of the afternoon reported that we can now put a lot more power on the portside.

Electronic Chart Barbados

Departing Dominica was the regular sideways off the dock movement, and within five minutes we were on our way to Barbados. It is a nice and quiet overnight trip, and as the chief engineer reported good things from below all is well in the world. As I have been moaning for the last few days about the weather and with now the wind suddenly falling away, the weather chart shows what I mean.

December 1, Barbados — Bridgetown is busy on a Saturday. In the line up were the Emerald Princess, Star Clipper, Veendam, Seabourn Pride, an oil tanker, two Royal British Navy support ships and a French destroyer. Just after 7 a.m. we were docked at the sugar berth for a long day in port: I had postponed sailing time by two hours. We were very close to the passenger terminal, but the problem with the sugar berth is that the ship can only dock starboard side alongside.

Otherwise one of the sugar conveyor towers will touch our overhanging Lido Restaurant. This is much to the annoyance of the chief officer, who desperately wants to dock portside alongside everywhere to do maintenance on the portside hull. In the preponderance of the ports we have to dock starboard alongside because of local circumstances, such as here in Barbados. If there is a choice, then the docking Sugar Elevator Barbadosside is decided for me by others. Who said that a captain was in command? I just have to do what I am told to.

Sailing away was very beautiful: no wind, and the Star Clipper had all its sailing masts lit up, the cargo terminal was one blaze of light and the skies were ablaze with stars.

December 2, St Georges, Grenada
— Major panic this morning among the local authorities. During the night one of the big channel buoys disappeared, and nobody knew where it went. These buoys are big: About 6 feet high, 3 feet in diameter, weighing over 1,000 pounds and connected with a chain to a large piece of concrete on the sea floor. So it was not a matter of a passing small boat pinching the buoy. They had been looking for the buoy but were planning to look again as they could not find it. I have now been coming to Grenada off and on since 1986 and you can see what a positive impact cruise tourism has on the local economy. More and more houses are renovated and a lot of new construction is going on as well. After swinging around off the berth, we set course on a South Westerly heading aiming for the East side of Isla de Margarita. Tomorrow we will be at anchor.

December 3, Isla de Margarita — We knew that we would anchor today: the Holiday Dream (Pullmantur) had the dock because it was the turnaround port for the ship and its guests. We were at anchor all day, and our guests were tendered ashore. As there was no wind at all, the ship sat almost on top of the anchor and swung lazily around on the ebb and flood tide. We were ‘anchor aweigh’ at 16:30 hours, and left El Guamache at 17:00 hours after all the guests were back and the tenders retrieved. Tomorrow we are in Bonaire and tonight we are going to run full out to be on time.

December 4, Kralendijk, Bonaire
— The distance between El Guamache and Kralendijk is a long one, so as soon as we left the anchorage, we went pedal to the metal. Keeping my fingers crossed and waiting to see if our newfound speed would hold out. An hour later we were doing over 19 knots and we were in business. Thus we arrived nicely on time at the pilot station. A lot of guests are confused about Bonaire, as they all think that because it is a small island, the moment you see it, is the moment that you are there. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Bonaire is shaped like a crooked banana, with Kralendijk located where the brand sticker can be found. Thus, if you come from the South as we did, you still have to sail another 40 minutes towards the north, slow down and then pick up the pilot. The call was quite long, as I extended the visit by two hours to give some missed time back from earlier in the cruise. We left Bonaire just before 8 p.m. and travelled at a sedate speed of 15 knots to our next port of call: Oranjestad, Aruba.

December 5, Oranjestad, Aruba — The calm weather, e.g. little-to-no wind, keeps persisting. Also on arrival Aruba this morning while it normally blows considerably here, today there was just a very light wind blowing. I did not mind at all, as the less wind, the easier the docking. That is one of the reasons why I always arrive very early. The wind tends to be much less before sunrise and that makes it easier as well. Aruba is a short stay, due to the fact that the distance to Grand Cayman is considerable. It takes an average speed of 19 knots to get there on time. So when everybody was back on board just after 14:30 hrs, we raced out of the port, got the pilot off while making the turn to the northwest and cranked the ship up. Within 30 minutes we were flying. Tomorrow we have a day at sea and the weather forecast is really good.

December 6, At sea — Today was meeting day. The ship was merrily on its way to Grand Cayman and making good speed for a timely arrival. That gave time to get a number of ‘end of the month’ things done. We have several monthly committee meetings, where representatives from the various departments on board come together. There are also weekly meetings, and, as everywhere else in a big organization, a large number of departmental meetings on a daily basis. If I would get a dollar for each time, that a meeting is taking place somewhere on the ship, I would drive a much bigger car. Tomorrow we are in Grand Cayman, and the weather forecast promises us a very nice day without a cold front in sight. Last cruise it was a sudden cold front that forced me to cancel the call at Grand Cayman, but now it looks very good.

December 7, Georgetown, Grand Cayman — It was a beautiful day, it was a gorgeous day and even better, we were alone. We were the only ship in port. No lines in the shops, no tourist jams in the main street. Having Stingray City all to yourself. It could not be better. The sun shone all day and there was a gentle breeze blowing to make it pleasant. That gentle breeze is also of extreme importance to me as it is needed to keep the ship in position. Georgetown is a strange place where if there is too much wind and or from the wrong the direction then you have to cancel. If there is not enough wind then you cannot anchor as the ship will drift onto the reefs. We left Grand Cayman on time and headed northwest in the direction of the west point of Cuba. Tampa is our final destination. It should be a good home run as the weather forecast looks very good.

December 8, At sea and going home — Tomorrow we are in Tampa and I will be going home for a four-month leave period. Normally my colleague and I are doing three on, three off, but due to the scheduling of the yearly captain’s conference, we have changed it this time to four on, four off and then two on, two off. In that way it also works out that I will be on board for Christmas 2008 after having had the previous two holiday periods off.

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  • A wonderful report! I loved hearing your ideas and concerns – and that thye lost a buoy – that was funny!

    HENDERSON, NV 89009
    [email protected]

    November 7’2010

    Our two-week Holland America cruise on the Zaandam from November 7th through November 21st was an unacceptable, unsanitary dirty shuttle from San Diego to the Hawaiian Islands and back.

    Please see below detailed letter and also attached documents plus property claim. Berkely Care Insurance needs proof of loss number etc. Please provide me the number.

    Our luggage was damage departing the ship (see photos.) Our camera and reading glasses were reported missing on board to the office. Some items that are missing may have been in a Holland Bag (missing) that was tagged. The chain that is missing and reported was last seen on our vanity in the cabin on the chrome dish.

    When we where unpacking our luggage and putting clothing away in closets and drawers we found the following:

    1.) Gold foil candy wrapper on the floor between the nightstand and bed on the left side;
    2.) Ballpoint pen clear/black stripes on the floor on the left side toward the head of the bed;
    3.) A yellow pill medicine in the top drawer of the nightstand on the right side;
    4.) A circular green/silver metal pill holder with medication on the floor at the foot of the bed on the left side;
    5.) Inside portion window over bed on right side two spots of crusty something that we wiped off;
    6.) Red brown sewage waste leaking from the toilet’s plumbing. The stateroom smelled of raw human waste.
    7.) No plastic toilet seat. There was the porcelain toilet and a plastic lid.
    8.) Yellow stains on the bed sheets see pictures

    We immediately called the Front Desk and complained about each of the above items and a head housekeeper / inspector came to our stateroom and we relinquished the candy wrapper, the pen and the medicine pills to him.

    Stateroom 2669
    November 22, 2010
    Page Two

    7.) No plastic toilet seat. There was the porcelain toilet and a plastic lid.

    Stateroom 2669
    November 22, 2010
    Page Three

    Throughout our entire shuttle to Hawaii we complained about our toilet.
    1.) The toilet would not flush properly and on several occasions someone had to come and make it flush;
    2.) Tess from the Front Office told me at one point that there was only 1 comment in the computer about the
    toilet. I responded that I was sorry that the staff is not inputting our complaints, but we have been calling
    every day. And I told her that I have been speaking with her every day about this problem.

    On Thursday, November 18th someone from Engineering or Housekeeping came to our stateroom and installed a toilet seat. It was actually nice to sit on a toilet seat instead of the cold porcelain toilet.

    Finally on Friday, November 19th (2 days before disembarking) Warren from Engineering came to our stateroom with an item that looked like a black football and said that this was an air flush pump. Warren said the reason why the toilet was not working and leaking was that it was defective. We told him that the previous engineer that came in told us that the waste leak was from a broken plumbing pipe in the wall.

    We complained to all parties that we could possibly think about calling regarding all of the sanitary issues.

    Question: Shouldn’t the housekeeper Daniel have noticed a toilet seat missing and attended to our concerns that we kept complaining about from this, the smells and to the unsanitary dirt? Or, shouldn’t Tess or someone from the Front Desk communicate with Daniel or Engineering to install a toilet seat sooner and tend to the sanitary health issues?

    Tess, Daniel our stateroom housekeeper and others from Housekeeping insisted we were lying and stated that there had been a plastic toilet seat on the toilet “since day 1.”

    We received a note card from Tess and a notification letter regarding the toilet and other issues. (See Attached.)

    This is a very unacceptable act for Holland staff to accuse us of lying.


    Stateroom 2669
    November 22, 2010
    Page Four

    On November 10th at 1:00 am we were woken to a disturbance in the hallway. We looked and saw what appeared to be smoke coming in from under the door. We opened the door and there were two guys out there in gas masks and suits spraying. Consequently from opening the door I was covered in this fog as seen in pictures above. I asked both men what they are spraying and they did not tell me what was going on and they would not remove their masks. I called the Front Desk and asked them what was being sprayed as I was covered in this chemical. The Front Desk did not know. When we woke up in the morning we both had itches and bites. Bites and welts escalated the following days I got sick from the spray that was spayed on me severe headache for several days. I asked a Front Desk agent if we can get off the ship when we arrive in Hawaii and fly home and they said no.

    While we were in Hawaii, we heard from another passenger that 13 passengers did not return to the ship because of the terrible service, etc. Maybe the same issues as ours.

    Throughout this horrible shuttle to and from Hawaii we witnessed the spraying of chemicals and complete mask and suits in various public areas of the ship.

    On the morning of day 3 both of our bodies had red welts that were very itchy. We called the Front Office and spoke with Tess. Housekeeping came and inspected the sheets on the bed and inspected the sofa. He sprayed Lysol, but did not change the sheets. The person reported back to Tess that he did not find anything in the bed or sofa.

    Repetitively for the next two weeks we made several calls to the Front Desk about our itching and welts. Tess was in communication with us the entire time and suggested we go to the medical office and we did. We saw the nurse three times and the doctor once. We were given Benadryl pills and calamine lotion. The Front Desk previously had given us antibiotic ointment. We made so many calls to Tess at the Front Office trying to get her to rectify our issues. While I was in the medical office I saw to other crew members showing each other what appeared to be bug bites like ours I made note of there names at the time, they where motioned to leave the room when it was noticed that I was witnessing this.

    Saturday, November 20th there was some acknowledgement from the Front Desk and we were told that there have been no complaints made and Daniel our stateroom steward said that Warren has never been in our Stateroom and never came in with toilet parts to fix the toilet ?. (See attached letter dated November 13th that was placed on our bed.) Also two voice mails left from Joshua at the front desk noting that Warren had changed out an air flush valve on our toilet and it is in good working order now, but said he did not know anything about the toilet seat.

    This is how Holland America employees acknowledge issues ~ Deny Deny Deny!

    Stateroom 2669
    November 22, 2010
    Page Five

    Stateroom 2669
    November 22, 2010
    Page Six


    At the gift shop, I inquired to the price of Louis the XIII and was quoted $1,200.00 for a 750 ml bottle also quoted the same price by the service agent in the Pinnacle. Then when I was I ready to purchase the product the price went up to $1,450.00 by Kenny and also his associate. It was the product that was in the ship’s vault and per John and Kenny and was displayed to me by both of them in the case with its crystal stopper and COE enclosed #CL6166.

    I purchased the Louis XIII and was told by John and his associate that I can pick it up Saturday morning at 9:00 am the day before we land. He said that it will be gift wrapped and waiting for you. I said do not wrap it just leave it in its original box with the COE enclosed. I came back Saturday morning at about 9:00 am and it was gift wrapped. I asked the woman at the register to unwrap it and to my surprise it was not the same COE # as on the bottle. Also the box was not the same and the case was not the same. The case they gift wrapped was damaged and glued together. As well, the crystal stopper was removed.

    I went over to the Pinnacle and there was one on display in the lockup window case I told John that this is the case complete with the crystal stopper with the COE that you showed me earlier and I paid for it and I want what I paid for. Also your other associate told me it was $1,200.00 John said that he does not know what goes on in the gift shop with these guys and did not know what happened to the box or the bottle stopper and that the beverage person and the woman in his gift shop that quoted me the $1,200.00 price was on CRACK ?

    I told him I am not taking this Louis XIII it looks like the seal was tampered with and missing the COE and crystal stopper along with a broken case that was not the one that was displayed to me by John and his associates. I said this is a total fraud and bait and switch. The Manager (John) said: “I knew that the crystal stopper was missing.”

    We were on the Amsterdam a few years ago and it was a nice run ship. What has taken place here on the Zaandam is disgusting and horrendous. We seek is a total refund with no delay.


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