Posted by: orst86 | February 16, 2012

Last day

23 d 19.4′ N
83 d 32.9 W

Off the coast of Cuba.

Second at sea cruise day, we are about 350 miles out of Ft. Lauderdale. Suppose to arrive at 630am with first people leaving the ship at 730am. All people will be off the ship by 1030am so they can clean and turn it around for the next cruise. How they clean up a ship with 1900 people aboard and turn it around in about 3 hrs is beyond me. However I do know that the longer they stay in port not moving, the more money they lose.

Last day on my cruise. Master chef dinner. Some sort of big finale food send off. Told to bring camera. Probably going to bring out a whole roasted pig and slaughter it all up for entertainment. If you like food of all types and like to visit bar after bar after bar, this is the place to be. I counted no fewer than six different bars with different themes. And they stay open late of course. They really make their money on drinks.

Pretty much the best thing to do is lounge on deck. Today there is very little wind, no ocean waves and the ship is really smooth sailing. Overnight we went over deep water and are now in a more coastal area <2000 ft of water. I’ve only seen on very large cargo ship about five miles off, since then nothing.

We got to about 20 miles off the northern tip of Cuba, couldn’t see it much more than a dark line on the horizon though.

Also found out that this ship will be going in dry dock for retro fit some time this year. I guess it is showing it’s age some what. Oddly enough most of the ship smells like paint and varnish. This is because the crew is constantly scraping old varnish off the wood and rust off metal and painting. I’ve found crews all times of the day doing that sort of work. They are constantly working on something.

I guess the crew works on a ten month contract. Then they get two or three months off and get new contracts based on seniority and ratings of their work. They can request to go on cruises to different ports if they wish as well, as long as they do a good job. They live in the four decks below deck A, that is all in the hull under water with no portholes or windows. Would be interesting to see how their living conditions are, but, of course, those areas are off limits. The laundry is down there as well as the main engine room. Then there is also storage of food stock.

Speaking of food, last night was the dessert bar out by the main pool at 11pm. Every single dessert that they make was on display and you could eat until you burst if you wanted to, and some people did. You name it, they had some form of it on hand.

Well it’s been adventure for sure. Once I get back I’ll post more photos when I’m not running up Internet tabs at $0.55 per minute.

I’ll be home tomorrow. Hopefully my lovely wife and terrific kid will remember to come and collect me at the airport and NOT forget my winter jacket!!!


Posted by: orst86 | February 16, 2012

Day 10

17d 24.6′ N
82d 17.3′ W

Approx. 180 miles east of Nicaragua

First off, I guess I mis labeled the days. Missed 9 doubled up on day 8. I’m sure you can figure it out.

We are at sea, windy, these big ships are so tall and flat any little gust of wind effects the action on board. The ship does have stabilizers, which helps with the side to side rocking. We’ve been maneuvering all day long to avoid rain squalls. Thus far no rain has hit us.

We’re pushing along as fast as the ship can do, about 25mph. We’re going over some deep water. Last time I looked it was about 13,000 ft below us. That’s pretty dang deep. Kathy informs me that we’re in some of the warmest water (81F). No, I didn’t stick a toe in the water to find out….

Of course we are no where near sight of land, the photo is from along the side of the ship obviously. The water is a clear deep blue, same color as the gem stones that they are selling duty free on board. Sure, yep, I’ll take that $7000 ring, and I believe that you marked it down 70%. Whatever. They had an art auction on board as well. First item sold for $13,000, guess that is pocket change for some people. I just reviewed the paintings, didn’t like even one of them…no need for me to float a loan. And, of course, they *say* that they are giving us lucky people on board.

Some other people in our party of 12 got to go to an exclusive lunch with the captain. Oh boy. Sort of a frequent cruiser perk. Apparently you get free gifts like Dutch blue&white coasters or if you’ve done 100+ days of cruising you get this massive shiny gold medallion. Probably made of chocolate.

Pretty much the whole day was just moving from one event or class. Went to a towel folding not to fold the towels better for Kathy, rather it’s about making all those animals that one hears about all the time. Tonight we came in to the cell….I mean….cabin to find a monkey hanging there. A towel monkey not a real one. Duh.

Average age on board is running about 60. There are a handful of us young’ns aboard. Oddly enough I ran to a family of Oregon State Beavers. They still live in Corvallis also. The dad was wearing an OSU football t shirt, so I went up and asked whether he went to OSU or whether he found the shirt in a bargain bin. So I’ve met a couple of people.

I’m bummed out. I’d used my video glasses on the zip line, only to find it didn’t record anything. Dang. Would have made for a good video to watch. Only had a few other shots made with my camera. Just doesn’t give justice how high and fast you are moving. I’m hoping it is only because I don’t have access to reading an .avi file I cross my fingers on that one.

One more day at sea. Last report tomorrow night

Ted .

Posted by: orst86 | February 15, 2012

Day 9

9 d 59′ W
83 d 1.4′ N

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

Arrived to this working port only to find the cruise ship that was just behind us in the locks was now docked next to us. Turns out it’s a German cruise starting out of Buenos Aires Argentina. A smaller ship they had about 3 feet of clearance at the locks compared to our 1 foot clearance. Turns out they are on a 99 day Cruise!  Oh, I guess I was wrong.  Within minutes of us docking, painting crews were on the dock touching up both hulls.  Apparently it is not cool to have scuff marks from the canal on one’s hull.

Today I got to do something I’d never thought I’d get the chance to try nor have the guts to do….zip lining.
There were 12 cables some were 250 feet off the ground and 300-400 meters long. Super cool. Got to see spider monkey in the tree.  Probably was thinking what the heck the dang Yanqui was doing tied to a wire flying between trees…
It was eating some sort of flower. This was a popular excursion, with three bus loads full, about 75 people. We were the last group to get there.

I had this cool idea from the start to wear my video glasses and catch the entire thing on camera.  Yeah, right.  Damn things failed me.  Nothing, nada, blank, 0KB file.  Luckily I has also carrying my other camera and shot some stills along the way from the platforms.

This type of zipping is totally safe. Use two cables and dual locking rings on the pulley. The only issue for some was the fact that at times the platform was too small for the 10 people waiting to go. Traffic jam didn’t last long. If you ever get the chance you gotta try this.

We got to see wild banana trees, cocoa bean trees and lots of jungle flowers and even massive growths of bamboo. I guess those are not native, brought here by Chinese immigrants. Puerto Limon isn’t a touristy time, rather it’s a working dock. Bananas come out of here, 6 days to the US and 14 days to Europe., cut green they are bagged and gassed with ethylene gas to speed ripen them on the ships and packing containers.

Had our last formal in honor of valentines day. Oddly enough I tried on my Dad’s dress coat and it fit, so I didn’t stand out as I usually do with a coat on. I guess I as lucky that I figured that one out, as this ONE dinner, they didn’t let anyone in without a jacket!  Doesn’t matter anymore now that the last formal is over.

Tomorrow a sea day. Going to sleep in to 630 before getting up and doing miles on the deck.  Gotta get ready for the biathlon back home you know.

We are headed back to FL going around the north coast of Cuba. Two at sea days, no stops.



Posted by: orst86 | February 14, 2012

Day 8

9 d 10′ N
79 d 37′ W

Temp near 90F with lots of humidity. Come on what do you expect from a jungle?

We entered the locks at about 7am or so, the locks being the Gutan locks. There are three steps of about 20-27ft to get up to the 85 ft difference of the lake. All gravity fed, no pumps needed. And the ship had about a foot clearance on either side. The rail locomotives are two on each side and both pull the ship through the locks as well as make sure we are positioned centered in the channel. No scraping of the sides.  Wouldn’t want to ruin the hull paint job.

We saw the container ship next to us had probably less than six inches clearance on the sides.

Takes about an hour normally to get through, but they were doing some maintenance on a few of the gates so we’re going slow.

The photo is from when we were returning to sea level, there was another cruise ship following us through the locks.  Notice that ships a lot narrower, they had lots of space on the sides.

Some facts, the cost for a transit for our ship is a fee of $35,000 for for a transit spot, then $130 per person. Total cost,$350,000!
The most expensive was a fee of $475,000 for a cruise ship, the least amount paid was $0.36 for someone that swam the canal in the sixties. Every ship that goes through the canal uses 52 million gallons of water to raise and lower the ship.

The canal was first designed to be a sea level idea, by a Frenchman. They started worked 1880 . He failed because of the large amount to earth that needed moving to get through at the continental divide mostly because of the high rain fall causing so many land slides. 22-25,000 workers died while the French were working on the Canal. The US go into the mix after gold was found in CA and that prompted a search to shorten the travel time from coast to coast. The Corp of Engineers got to work and designed the lock system in place today. That had wanted to expand the locks but WW2 stopped the project. Currently the new locks are being built, they should be done in 2016.
The current locks can handle 965′ long and 106′ wide ships. The new five billion dollar locks will handle 1200′ long and 160′ wide ships.  It’s quite an earth moving project just to the east of the Gutan Locks.

At one time the Canal held several world records, including largest man made lake and earthen dam. However only one record stands,the one of the largest locks in the world.

The US used to run the canal as a break even business. But in 2000 panama took over the canal zone (ten miles of land on either side of Canal). Panama decided to change the fees and started charging to make money. So far in the last seven years, they have made over $360 million bucks between 2000 and 2007.

While the US was working on the project there were still 5600 people killed, bringing the total deaths to about 27,000 people died building it, many from land slides and many more from diseases. It was finally completed August 15 1914. Same time as the start of the Great War (also known as WW1)

The US also figured out that the mosquitoes were the vectors of malaria and yellow fever. (as a side, this was done by Walter Reed in 1900 while in Cuba, not Panama, but his work made the Canal building go much safer).  Matter of fact the French thought it was bad air and other bugs. In order to keep the bugs out of French hospitals they placed all four legs of the bed into pans of water to keep bugs from climbing up into the bed. Little did they realize that those pans of stagnant water were just breeding grounds for mosquitoes right there in the hospital.

After the ship left the Canal we docked in Colon. Not the nicest place. Too many armed machine gun toting military types wander around. We were only allowed to stay in the immediate area of the port.  Don’t know why I’d want to go any further.  Once we left the ship, there were only a few spots to look at things, all of them shops selling the same old same old.  Panama hats looked cool (literally).  $20 for a woven hat that rolls up, but retains it’s shape.  Didn’t buy one.  Someone back in MN would say that they didn’t have my size…but I just figured I’d never use it.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow our last port of call, Porto Limon in Costa Rica.

Posted by: orst86 | February 13, 2012

Day 7

11d 7.9’N
75 d 40.3′ W

About forty miles off the coast of Venezuela/Colombia.

Well we hit the one week mark. “only” a week to go. The bad thing is that during that most of this next week, it is traveling time, that is to say no stops.

Today was a on ship day, again, a day on the move. They have all sorts of things to do, too much on one hand. And of course they are trying to sell you all the fine jewels you cannot afford.  If you like casino’s, quilting, live shows, buying over priced items (duty free), getting drunk or just plain binge eating…these travel days are for you!

My favorite spot is at deck 10 the Internet lounge, observation deck or also called the Crow’s Nest. It’s inside out of the wind but has forward facing windows where you can see where we are going…blue blue ocean all around.

Tonight we gain an hour back to eastern time. On this trip we will change the clocks 4 times.  Like it matters.  Should just be ship time, sort of like Star Trek’s Star date….”Captain’s Log, Star date…..we’ve been overcome by food…”

We should arrive at the Panama Canal at about 530am, cue up, and then transit the the locks around 7-730am . If you want to and get this, you can watch on the canal web cam at Our ship is the Zuiderdam Holland America.  Unlike most cruise ships it has a dark blue hull rather than a white hull.

While we are steaming along, you can look overboard and see all sorts of flying fish as they pop out of the water I guess scared of the passing ship. Pretty cool. Some are tiny ones which look like little dragon flies, others are bigger.

Tomorrow, the canal….

Posted by: orst86 | February 12, 2012

Day 6

12d 8.97′ N
L86d 16.66′ W

Temp 85F

Curaçao pronounced cura-sow means heart in Portuguese.   Some think that it came from the word “healing” when sailors who landed here were cured from scurvy when they ate fruit.  The largest of the Lesser Dutch Antilles. Called lesser because they are out of the hurricane track.

The main city we docked in was Willemstad, sort of a cross between Rotterdam and Venice with waterways that cut through the city. They have this pontoon bridge that swings open when ships need to get to the interior harbor docks. The channel must be deep enough to handle some very big tanker ships that work their way to the Shell oil refinery. There is also a high bridge, which is really high. They have a habit of opening the pontoon bridge, but not closing it for a long time. So they also have a free ferry service. Of the three islands, this downtown is the newest. Still lots of jewelry stores.  Sort of interesting, with large shops, these guys don’t like to barter at all.

We docked at about 730am or so, my excursion didn’t leave until 1045. This is the sought after excursion to go and meet the dolphins at the Dolphin Academy. No, it is not a school for the dolphins rather a school for people to learn about them. Two different excursions, one is to wade with one, the other is to ride one. I chose the cheaper one, to meet and greet one. 48 people signed up for this trip, but they didn’t give us a bus, instead we got put eight to a van, little van I may add, and ride over the High bridge, feeling every speed bump along the way.

We got into a pool that had a step at about waist high in the water, six to a group. There was one dolphin and one trainer assigned to each group. We got to pet (but not one the head) and the trainer talked all about the dolphins. They shed their skin every four or so days, they don’t replace broken or lost teeth, they have tiny little ear holes on the sides of their heads, but can hear incredibly clear. The one I worked with was a 250lb male , eight years old called Kayola. Quite smart. We also got to get kisses from them, give kisses to them and lift (or try to) lift them.  Photos were taken (for a fee..or rather a mint, but, hey, how often do the dolphins swim up to MN?)

They also had an aquarium at the same location. Had sea turtles and flamingos. Toward the end was a dolphin show where they did jumps and flips. I got back to town at about 2pm, giving me about 2 hrs time to wander around the town before the 430 sail time.

Now we are on our way for a two day trip to the Panama canal. Which means tomorrow is going to be a formal dinner.

Posted by: orst86 | February 11, 2012

Day 5

12 d 8.97′ N
68d 16.66′ W

Temp about 85F

Welcome to Bonaire. Took us just overnight from Aruba to get here. Just like Aruba this is basically a desert island as well, covered with lots of cacti.  By the way, Bonaire is the furthest east island of the ABC’s, so we actually sailed right by Curacao to get here.

Bonaire is another former Dutch colony, having used their own gilder as money up to a few years ago. Now they use the US dollar. The island is famous for a few things. Great diving and snorkeling, flamingos and sea salt, which, by the way is operated by Cargill on the south end of the island in massive salt evaporation flats. They have mounds to white salt that one can see from miles away.

The waters around the island are either coral reefs or snow white sand. Fish of every color size and shape can easily be seen just off the dock. Being that it is famous for the diving,I decided to do some snorkeling. Got on a rickety old school bus with “Chill Out” painted on the side. Took us to a secluded beach on the other side of the harbor (see photo you can see some snorklers in the water and our ship in the distance. There we could get to the reefs just by walking in from the beach.  Apparently that is one famous thing that makes Bonaire such a diving heaven, you need only walk off the beach, you don’t need a boat to get to wonderful diving areas.

And it was cool. The water was perfectly clear,the sand was startling white. Basically the entire island beach is a national park, so no taking and no touching. We were given the snorkel gear and told to stay in the sand area until the water depth was enough so that we would touch the coral. The water depth really changed fast.  Started at about 3 feet and then got to about 15 feet on the other side of the reef. If you wanted to go further out, the depth dropped off to 200 ft in a matter of a few feet. All within 50 feet of the beach. There were so many fish of all shapes and colors. I saw schools of fish just plugging along. Cuttlefish (Caribbean reef squid)  that would swim right up to inspect you, if you wiggled your fingers at them, they would then extend their arms and wave back at you. Too many to describe just have to say that it was a real unique experience.

I did get to some flamingos eating in the salt flats area. Of course their pink color comes from the tiny shrimp they eat.

The people here are really friendly. But they won’t let you move here for more than 90 days at a time. Every day after that you get fined $250.

Tomorrow we get to Curacao (pronounced cara sow). To another adventure. Just about 40 miles away, we are moving very slowly.

Posted by: orst86 | February 10, 2012

Day 4

12d 31.5′ N.
70 d 2.54’W

About 83F clear, slight breeze

On our way to get to the next port, Aruba, we went over some really deep water, like in excess of 12,000 ft. That’s a lot of water below us. The sea was sort of not friendly. It was a bit rough going,even on 5 deck where I am at, I could feel the slamming of the waves on the bow and feeling the rocking of the ship. Thanks to the patch I’m just plain dizzy.

We had our dress up dinner as I mentioned before. Yours truly stood out with only shirt and tie, but I have to say there were some pretty shabby looking coats out there. Main course was lobster Thermidor which is sort of a double baked lobster and then re stuffed into their shell. A hunk of sirloin was included as well. Next formal will be on our way to panama.

As we cruised up to Aruba we had lots of flying fish gliding out of our way. Tiny things, hardly as big as a sparrow. Some didn’t make because the gulls were watching for their jumps.

Aruba port Oranjestad is designed completely around the docked cruise ships. Nearly 90% of all the stores are jewelry stores. They have lots of gems,and, according to them, they are like 50%+ off compared to US retail. So I figured I’d take a quick look…yeah right, with all the discounts and secret passwords given, the cost was still over my limit.  Still…there *MAY* be a surprise in store for someone back home…

Took a bus tour around to see the rock gardens. Granite is the base rock here, the large peak near the main city is called the Haystack. Sorta looks like one. The beach side (north) has been completely built up with resort massive resort hotels.  When they put the resorts there, they figured it didn’t look “tropical” enough so they planted Palm trees.  Hence the fact it is called Palm beach now….

We went  on the desert side of the island and saw the little bridge, the big bridge collapsed in 2005. This would be a mini sea arch actually.  Pretty cool place.  BTW, it costs $0.50 to use the bathroom there at the little store.

The island itself is only like 20 miles from Venezuela. There are about 100,000 people who live on the island. Number one industry is tourism. The island is a desert island which only gets about 18″ of rain a year. The undeveloped side (eastern) is bleak with nothing growing on it except the four types of cacti, pipe organ, rose, Christmas and prickly pear. There are also 3 different types of snakes. One is a harmless garden type,the second is the Aruba rattlesnake and lastly there is a large number of non native boa constrictors. Released as pets, they have gotten out of hand and are messing up the ecosystem so much they have a $100 bounty on dead ones. Now the Aruba rattlers are interesting. 90% of the time if they bite, they don’t inject venom. The rest of the time you don’t have a reaction until 48hrs later. I guess it’s that laid back Caribbean attitude in the sun…   We didn’t see any snakes, but saw lots of eerie green blue lizards and several large iguanas.

The island has or used to have the thriving aloe Vera plant business. Now think of this. Cut the leaf and it drips a brownish liquid which is an extreme laxative. The rest of the jelly interior is edible and touted to be a healthy food. Of course the jelly can be used for first aid on cuts and burns.  Sounds a lot like the puffer fish in Japan.  One little slip and you end up in the bathroom within minutes…I guess that would be better than dead from the puffer venom.

There is also the divi divi tree. The interesting thing is that no tree stands up right. They always grow tilted to the west, because the prevailing winds are from the north east. They say you can’t get lost because all you have to do is follow the trees west.  Of course, with the island only being about 4 miles wide…well…there are corn fields in Iowa wider than this island where you can get lost in.

At one point gold was mined here. Nothing left except ruins of the melter.  Probably all used up in the jewelry stores in town.

The lighthouse is the Californian light house built after the freighter California ran aground and sank. Today the light is automatic and the keepers house has been converted to, of all things, an Italian restaurant.  BTW, you can get fresh coconut drinks (cut coconuts with straws) at the lighthouse area.

Aruba is a mix of cultures, from south American, Dutch, and native. And their language reflects that, Dutch is first, followed by English then there is a native mix language that is also a splash of Spanish and Chinese as well.

Finally, one can rent a car, those cars have license plates with the letter V on them. The joke is that if you get lost driving around, do not follow a car with V (visitor) plates. Instead follow the A (Aruba) or TX (taxi) they will know where they are going. Of course the island barely 4 miles wide and about 12-15 miles long anyway.

Until next time…from Bonaire.

Posted by: orst86 | February 10, 2012

Aruba photos

Posted by: orst86 | February 10, 2012

Day 3

Approximately 18d 27.4 ‘N. 74d. 31.04’

This day is a day “at sea” meaning no docking the ship for excursions. The ship is moving along at about 23 mph. And we went right over a deep ocean trench. The ship maps showed about 7500 ft. I don’t think this is going to be the deepest we’ll go over, but it is deep here.

Our course took us right between Cuba and Haiti. We could’nt see Cuba but were only about 2-3 miles off the cliffs from the high point of Haiti . Saw lots of little fishing boats, which paddled drastically to get out of the way of the ship. Their nets, however, got nearly ran right over by the ship.

The attached photos were taken from the balcony of the stateroom. The mountains of Haiti are high enough to be cloud covered. I noticed what may not be evident in the photos are the great number of fires burning. And the lack of general trees of any great height, I’d guess that they cut them down for making charcoal, which is evident by the smoke.

I also took some photos of the little sail ships that they fish from and the rear prop wash .

The ship has these nacelle type pods for the rear screws which allows for 360 degree turning.  Instead of being pushed by the screws, we are actually being pulled by them.

We have our formal dinner tonight, suit, tie and jacket.  I also forgot to put up my photo of me in the surf from Half Moon Cay.   The ship in background is the Maasdam another Holland America ship which had left Ft. Lauderdale just a few minutes before us.

Our dining table is right at the very back of the ship, so we get a lot of the prop/shaft noise, and it is noisy. Feed was good so far, I don’t know what is being served. I think one item is lobster. The other must be a red meat.

Next stop is Aruba, arriving at 1pm tomorrow.   apparently the ABC islands are famous for the diving, the colorful houses and jewelery stores.. Any one want some cheap diamonds?

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