March 21, 2020, Fremantle, Australia

We were lolling along at 12 knots toward Fremantle when all of a sudden Amsterdam picked up speed and started racing along at 22 knots.  Captain Mercer came on the horn saying that we were trying to make Fremantle on the 21st and not the 22nd.  With borders closing and airlines canceling flights they need to get us to port more quickly.  All of us who have reservations already should keep them (ours are for March 23 on Emirates) but they wanted to get in sooner to take advantage of a few more airline openings.  The rest of the day staff was busy booking, and in many cases, rebooking flights that had been canceled.  There was a certain amount of apprehension on the ship. 

That apprehension was heightened by an article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel that was critical of HAL.  The headline sets the tone.

Nightmare at sea:  Cruise line forces elderly tourists to get off halfway across the globe.

So now we had more reason to be apprehensive as friends and family, reading the article, tried to contact us to see if we were ok.  Given the bad internet and phone service some could not.  I wrote a letter to the Sun Sentinel that said, in part:

“While the cruise is not ending the way we wanted and there is a subset of disgruntled customers who feel abandoned, that is not the feeling of the whole ship, or, in my observation, even a majority of the passengers.

While we all, initially, wanted to have the ship take us back to Ft. Lauderdale, after explanation by the Captain many of us understand the situation HAL is in and the problems of carrying a shipload of elderly people across oceans with no place to land them if they were to have a stroke, heart attack or other disease that is unfortunately common among people of my age.

The comment “Once off the boat, they’ll be on their own to find ways to fly back home” is neither fair nor true.  The staff on the ship has been working tirelessly to get everyone who hasn’t gotten reservations themselves onto planes and out of Australia.  Anyone who needs help getting a reservation has it.  True, the process of getting reservations has not been as quick as we would like but getting 1200 passengers out of an airport that is NOT Australia’s international air hub doesn’t happen at the snap of a finger.”

Are there things I am critical of?  Of course.  Am I apprehensive about flying out on an airplane, through Seattle?  Sure.  But an incident yesterday illustrated Holland America’s prediciment.

In the afternoon we heard the four chimes and call for an emergency team to a stateroom.  Shortly after that we changed course.  The Captain came on and said that there was a medical emergency, he was heading toward Geraldton, Western Australia, where an Australian helicopter would meet us to medevac a critically ill patient.  We went forward and watched as the crew struggled to lower the flagstaff on the front deck.  Then the captain ordered every public room with a forward view evacuated and all the outside decks closed for the operation.  The captain was concerned that a flash could go off (It wad dusk) and disrupt the operation.  So, at dinner we watched through the spray splattered windows as the ship slowed and the Aussie Coastie circled the ship to get its bearings before making the pickup.

Then the Captain came to the dining room.  This was our last dinner as a full complement and we were there to toast the captain, who is retiring after this trip, captaining his ninth world cruise.  He has also spent years cruising Southeast Alaska.  This was supposed to be his victory lap.  It was to call at several of the ports that he visited as a young officer cadet, including Mombasa, his very first foreign port of call and Ascension.  He was a young officer then when his ship sank and he was in a lifeboat for several days. We were to visit St. Helena, where he worked on the mail boat o the island from the UK and Cape Town.  Instead his final cruise should be another chapter in his recently published memoir.  He’s had a rough voyage, having to negotiate getting us into ports, plead his case with the home office, and keep the restive part of the passenger complement calm.

He accepted the ovation and the toast but not before most of the crew, from every department, marched through the dining room to receive our applause.  Stewards, waiters, engine room crew, deck crew, security, bartenders, officers, chefs, busboys, all honored by the passengers and the captain. 

Captain Mercer receives his toast.

Then it was back to the bridge to speed us into Fremantle, later than he had hoped but still on time to disembark passengers with flights today and early tomorrow morning.

At last night’s mainstage show Dolly Smith, as always, sat in the front center.  Dolly is the “Queen of the Amsterdam.”  She has been cruising HAL since 1985 and she practically lives on this ship, getting off when the ship goes into drydock.  Everyone takes care of her.  One of the performers came down to sing to her and encourage her “chair dancing.”  She joked that she was going to hide out in the crew quarters.  That may or may not be a joke.  As a girl she and her sister stowed away on a ship to Hawaii.  At least that’s what she told me after I told a story about my grandfather running away to sea.


So now we’re docked.  I am sitting in a deckchair writing and watching the small boats go in and out of Freemantle harbor.  A police boat keeps cruising by. People with planes today and tomorrow morning were supposed to be getting off more than 2 hours ago but still no announcement.  Most of the planes are in the late evening (red eyes to Sydney, Melbourne or the Gulf) so there’s still time but this has raised the anxiety level.  Tomorrow it’s our turn to get off for a flight Monday.  I think I go will swim laps.

3 thoughts on “Waiting

  1. Hi Rich, The blogs have been great and I’m sorry to hear about the early end of the cruise but, in particular, the challenges you face in getting home. It does sound likely that the ship is still a safe environment but, as you say, you can’t blame HAL for taking their position. I hope your travel arrangements hold up but I think you made a good choice in Emirates. Hang i there and I look forward to your updates. You’ll return to a very quiet Washington State.

    Best, Matt

  2. Matt, The flight from Dubai to Perth is on the way so we should get that far. Emirates last flight to Seattle for a month is March 26 so we make it by a day. I hope Alaska does not shut down flights, the Governor is talking about it. If so I will need to find a good place in Washington to hunker down. I understand there is a lot of hotel space that is cheap so as long as we can get groceries we are fine. If we do make it to Sitka, and I suspect we will, our friends have already stocked the larder and left the car at the airport. Good luck to you and take care, There will be a few more blog posts to wrap this up with some thoughts.

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