A Midnight Rendezvous at Manzinillo

It is a tough existence here on the “beautiful, elegant” Holland America Westerdam. Weather has been as close to perfect as it can be since we left San Diego. Days are sunny and warm, with temperatures slowly increasing from 23 C to 31 C as we progress further southward. The sea has been clam with movement of the ship hardly even detectable.

Our 2,500 or so shipmates are mostly older folks, many of whom look quite frail, in fact, I’m not sure I have ever seen as large a collection of walkers, oxygen tanks, canes, wheelchairs and power chairs! I believe we are carrying enough inventory onboard to stock a relatively large Red Cross medical equipment store! I had always thought that the older passengers were mostly on the Alaska cruises but one of our lunch companions said that the Panama Canal Cruise was statistically where the older folks were found. He said that on a previous cruise, they had five in the fridge by the time they arrived back at the destination port.

Most folks are quite active with lots of people circling the third level exterior deck. You have to watch out or you can get run over by a power chair. I think it was a race. The gym is also quite busy, as are the two pools. Everybody is busy doing something.

2014-JKH-Puerto Vallarta

Our stop at Puerto Vallarta Mexico was precisely on schedule. It has been a few years since I have visited here and there are lots of new thing, like the new cruise ship facility, which is spotless, carefully manicured and beautifully landscaped. It looks like it can handle three ships at a time, but we were the only one at this time. Also, the six lane divided roadway into town replaces a narrow two lane thing that I recall. Downtown, the Malecon (beach side walkway) was widened and lengthened and the foot sized cracks were filled.

2014-JKH-Puerto Vallarta

Not being particularly interested in Puerto Vallarta, we booked a short tour that covered the old downtown, and the bay where the movie Night of the Iguana was filmed. Although I have been to PV several times, this was a first visit to the beautiful old Church of our Lady of Guadalupe. It is a city icon as it dominates Vallarta’s downtown skyline and is one of the favorite symbols and landmarks of the city. The building is a relatively new structure, with the foundations of an early church being placed in 1903, although it looks older. The town of Vallarta is not as old as it looks, either, being established in 1851.

We made a couple of obligatory shopping stops and were back at the ship in time for lunch. After a leisurely afternoon, we departed at five in the evening.

2014-JKH-Puerto Vallarta


Our next port of call is Huatulco, Mexico and we have a sea day before we arrive there on 15 October.

A few hours after our Puerto Vallarta departure, the captain announced that there was a medical emergency aboard and that they were implementing a medical evacuation that needed to occur at about 2:30 in the morning. The ship would be stopped just off the coast at Manzinillo and the patient would be picked up by a boat and delivered to the hospital at Manzinillo for treatment. The announcement was a warning that there was to be a stop in the middle of the night and they were going to use thrusters to keep the ship in place during the transfer. We were also told that the ship was going to proceed at full speed to our Manzinillo midnight rendezvous.

Something I had never thought about was clarified a few days later. The captain said that there is a whole department in Holland America’s Seattle office that plans and coördinates the handling of medical emergencies, such as we experienced. I guess they must be prepared for just about anything in this environment.

Now I have watched the progress of our trip on monitors around the ship like you see on the seat back of international flights, only larger. They even have it on channel 40 of the ship’s TV system. So far we have travelled at 17 to 18 knots. Full speed apparently means 22 knots. I asked a couple of junior officers how many kilometers per hour that would equate to and they think it is about 41 kilometers per hour. I told them it would be on their captain’s test so they reconsidered and confirmed the equivalency.

I hope the ailing patient had good insurance because I’m sure the fuel costs of this huge ship running at full speed will be billable to someone. Also, there was the hours of full speed operation required to catch up the lost time.

I find this an interesting situation as our ship has a scheduled time to go through the Panama Canal and cannot be late. If they are, they may be delayed up to a few days and lose their reservation fee which is somewhere around $35K. When you project that line of thinking to the extreme, it could throw the calendar for this ship out of whack for the rest of the season! The discussion among passengers on board seemed to question why the patient was delivered to Manzinillo by tender rather than having the ship returning to Puerto Vallarta.  I think the answer is obvious and financial. Other cruises are known to have skipped scheduled ports to catch up lost time to meet the Canal schedule. Seems like pretty basic risk management to me. (Project Management 101)

2014-JKH-San Diego

I have to say that I appreciated the heads up by the Captain about the little midnight operation, but the goings on didn’t even wake me!


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