All the photographs have now been uploaded. Enjoy!
Leaving the hotel at 07:30 a.m. was remarkable because instead of an aeroplane landing every minute there was silence. One could hear the birds and the wind adjacent to the runway!
Terminal 5 was quiet which enabled us to get away on time on a brand new A320-220 series aeroplane. One could almost smell the showroom finish! It was a little breezy on approach to Manchester and the motorways were empty but the closer we got to the ground the choppier it became and the captain slammed it down and burnt a lot of rubber. Was this his plan to make it look as if his aeroplane had been to lots of places.
There were taxis but the airport was deserted and we had to walk from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 to access any facilities. Since arriving home we have been warmed and pleased by the concern, care and attention and interest in following our adventure both at home and abroad.
We travelled a round trip of 20,415 miles with nearly 10,000 of them in isolation!!
We boarded one of 10 coaches just after 10:30 p.m. last night. Each coach was only half full. It appeared that every one of Fort Lauderdale’s Harley Davidson police motorcycles were in use, stopping traffic and running alongside our convoy to the airport to the foot of the aircraft’s steps.
We eventually got away on our Boeing 777-300 ER of 1990s vintage, complete with small overhead bins which were rectangular and clunky as well as the large central screens for movies. Nothing in the seat backs. A delayed departure meant that most of the flight was in daylight. Landing at Heathrow after 4:00 p.m. was amazing as from the Thames Barrier, passed Canary Wharf, the London Eye, Kensington and into West London the streets were silent and the capital was like a ghost town. Terminal 2 was similarly quiet but the taxi got us to the hotel for an overnight stay.
It has been another quiet day so much so that as we write after dinner at 6:30 p.m. it is silent on the ship. When the dinner tray arrived a peep along the corridor showed around 20 trays. At breakfast there were over 100. During the day, as silently as the virus arrived, passengers have left. One is informed in writing that you will receive the knock on the door at a certain time. That is when you go!
Apparently the flights are chartered, are parked on a remote part of the airport and planes are shuttling back and forth to various locations. The coaches that take us to the airport take us straight to the plane. We do not go into the terminal. We prepare to go to our plane around 10:30 p.m. and should be in London tomorrow afternoon.
At daybreak we were alongside the Zaandam, off Cuba. We had stopped to transfer oxygen and a nurse. Before breakfast were on our way again.
Little happened during the morning other than President Trump may be applying pressure on Florida, but no news yet.
After lunch was interesting. We sighted the island of Cuba, a ship and rain to our northeast.
In his daily news conference the President said something had to be done about the ships and the Canadians and British were sending teams out and Florida would handle the Americans. It is all in the logistics and protocols and the Captain does not expect anyone leaving until Friday.
This has been another day at sea. We are heading north across the Caribbean to the gap between the Cancun Peninsula (Mexico) and Cuba.
If this was our regular cruise around now we would have been calling in at a piece of the Netherlands off the coast of Venezuela, namely the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. The natural landscape is stark and very dry and is heavily wind eroded. In contrast the human landscape is very colourful with Dutch built gabled buildings along their waterfronts.
The Spanish discovered the islands in 1499 and according to the records they couldn’t make things work for them. The oranges they thought were too bitter and there was no gold. The Dutch West India Company seized the islands in the 17th century and never looked back. The oranges are still used to make the world famous liqueur.
Around 9 o’clock the Captain announced that we were going to Fort Lauderdale, arriving Thursday but that getting off may be another day. This was followed by glasses of sparkling wine outside each cabin and the Captain proposing a toast on the TV but he didn’t have any.
By 6:00 a.m. we left the Gatun lock system, where locomotives called mules use steel cables to keep the ships in the middle of the lock as there is very little room to spare.
Again, all was quiet until we left the Atlantic reception area and were hit by the Beaufort 6 winds and waves. That was the only time so far today we knew we were moving. We may be heading for Florida and even the British Consulate in Miami has been in touch, but it is too early to tell.
We had a small breakfast as we really haven’t moved much for 2 days!
By sunset we were heading northeast towards Cuba.
The canal cuts across the very, very twisty Isthmus of Panama, but large scale maps do not show the twistiness very clearly. On a large scale map there would be more sea than land. Howard remembers buying an OS map of Spurn Point – more than two-thirds of it was water. It is a massive conduit to maritime trade, so much so a new canal running parallel to the original one was opened in 2016. This allows even bigger ships (Neo-Panamax) to transit. We saw a couple of these that had increasing heights of stacks of containers from bow to stern that had an aeroplane body shape.
The French engineer Ferdinand de Lessops began work on the Panama in 1881 following his success with the Suez Canal, the latter was dug across the desert at sea level. At Panama he clearly did not appreciate the difficult terrain – rainforests, high volcanic mountains, high humidity, high temperatures and lots of disease, because he proposed a sea level canal by moving the landscape away. He failed and the US took over in 1904 completing it in 1914. That original concrete was visible from our room in the locks. The route saves thousands of miles and thousands of dollars by avoiding rounding the Horn.
We awoke to see many more cargo ships in the canal reception area. Transfer of guests continued during the morning and was completed around 13:00. We waited for news which came through at 18:30. We were commencing transit. There are strict rules attached – no one on deck, lights on balconies off, curtains closed.
By 21:50 we were just short of the Pacific entrance. We have more than an hour to get to the first lock. We entered the canal after 10:00 and had passed through the double staircase locks at Miraflores. An illuminated arrow points to which lock the ship has to enter.
By the time we had used the Pedro Miguel it was around 11:15 p.m. We had now been elevated to the level of the Gatun Lake but first we had to cross the Atlantic-Pacific watershed by means of the narrow Culebra Cut. One did not know one was moving during the night.
Today turned out to be the longest day of the voyage! It started late Friday night when, after 10:00 p.m.we were informed that we had just made “The Cut” of the age of 70. We slept soundly knowing that we were likely to leave this ship. Breakfast was early, a sign that disembarkation were going to take place. But first we had to pass the medical test. These started at 9:00 a.m. Shortly after 10 there was a knock on the door. It was the medical unit. Temperature sensors to the forehead, can you walk unaided – you are go. We waited until the doctor had moved down the corridor then let out a little cheer!
With packing complete we had to wait for the Rotterdam room keys and baggage tags and most importantly the next knock on the door. Around 1:00 p.m. the Captain announced that things were going well with about 60 guests evacuated in an hour. This was slow because everything and everyone leaving the ship had to be thoroughly sanitised. When we receive the knock we will have to leave the room without touching anything except our suitcase. We continued to wait.
At 4:15 p.m. there was the knock. It was the steward delivering the room keys. “On the next knock please stand up and go”, said the steward. It seemed a long time before the next knock but it wasn’t. Off we went down the corridor keeping appropriate space between others and descended, one person per lift, to A Deck. Here our luggage was taken from us and we were sanitised along with the hand luggage. We checked out of the ship and on a signal walked down to the tender and were directed to our seats. It was pretty choppy alongside the ships but the journey was pretty spectacular with sun and spray. (Pity you can’t see the photographs!) We were sanitised again on arrival and within the hour were settled in.
The artwork in our room records an aspect of Dutch maritime history. All of the HollandAmerica ships have corridors full of similar images. Ours is a print of a port on the former Zuider Zee. Small towns such as these are now promontories sticking out into the inland sea as over more than 2 centuries land has been reclaimed. These small towns still function as ports and marinas. The ship on our picture is moored at the wooden jetty attached to the island by a wooden bridge. The island is protected by a barrier of big rocks. These were imported as there are no rocks like this in the region. The ship we see was a passenger and mail vessel that linked the communities along the shores of the inland sea.
We were at sea during the night and awoke to see the Gulf of Panama bathed in sunshine and teeming with bird life. A group of 4 pelicans flew alongside us and other seabirds grabbing the fish that our wake is churning up.
The Captain told us yesterday that around 10:00 a.m we would meet the Rotterdam again and wait for our slot to transit the canal.
However, from his initial tone of voice it did not sound as if everything was rosy. In the past few days there have been 4 deaths and 2 positive cases of COVID 19. The plan now is to move healthy people from the inside cabins first and over the weekend from the outside cabins but with priority to those over 70, provided they pass the health check. We are hopeful but compared to some of the guests we are spring chickens!
As we write the refuelling of the Rotterdam is not complete so that may push back the transfer until tomorrow. It is interesting to note that the reception area for the canal when we arrived was packed with ships. Now under darkness there is a handful.