Let’s Play … Stump the Captain!

Day 12, South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand Cruise

Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022; At Sea, Pacific Ocean.

At least on the cruises longer than a week, Holland America usually schedules an “Ask the Captain” session in the main showroom, and it fills up early. It serves the purpose of providing a virtual tour of the bridge and the operations of the ship. Before 9/11/01, you could sign up for an actual tour of the bridge, but no more. Now we see it via a slide presentation, with the captain providing descriptions, and Capt. Wouter van Hoogdalem gave a great presentation. He is one of the more personable captains I have sailed with. We see him all around the ship being very comfortable with passenger questions and comments.

Captain at Lido Buffet

He (and so far on Holland America the captains are always “he”) also provided a bit of background about himself and stories of his adventures at sea. And then it was time for questions and answers.

Cruise Director Rachel Coffin and Captain Wouter van Hoogdalem

Today was the first time I have seen a question stump the captain, and it came from the only child I have seen on this cruise. She asked, “Why is the bridge called the bridge?”

Captain van Hoogdalem declared it a great question and said he didn’t know. He did add that it came from the Dutch word “brug.” (I think this is a bit like the Michael Constantine character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding who traced every word’s root to Greek.) Capt. van Hoogdalem then surmised that it bridged over the ship, and according to Google that’s pretty close. When ships had side paddlewheels, a bridge over the deck allowed the captain to easily move from side to side to inspect the paddlewheels and their housings.

A second passenger actually stumped the captain again, asking the purpose of the structures covered in wires at the base of one of the stacks. The captain couldn’t quite picture what the passenger was describing. While the captain waited to see the passenger’s smartphone photo, another member of the audience shouted out, “They are Christmas decorations!” And low and behold, the captain declared the answer correct and immediately rewarded a bottle of wine for the answer.

Otherwise, questions covered more routine areas. Because we have had two medical helicopter evacuations, the captain described the decision-making process of deciding to backtrack in order to facilitate meeting a helicopter. Of course, the seriousness of the medical issue is a prime concern. But so is the availability of sufficient fuel to get the rest of the passengers and crew safely on to a port where we can bunker fuel.

After someone asked about Capt. van Hoogdalem’s experiences during the start of the pandemic, he told us he actually was on leave and stayed home in the Netherlands because he had a good deal of leave built up, allowing other captains without much leave to continue working and drawing paychecks. During the shutdown, the Westerdam crew went to 90 from almost 800, he said. When it was time to put the Westerdam back into service, its normal speed had dropped from about 22 knots to 17, due to the large amount of marine life on the hull. The situation resulted in an unplanned drydock for power washing and repainting.

He explained that we would actually cross the equator and the International Date Line at the same time. While the equator is static, the dateline shifts due to political considerations. (So Samoa, which is quite close to American Samoa, is a day ahead. It chose to align with New Zealand because of their close business and political ties.)

Anyway, the captain said that at the specific point at which we cross the equator, the date line follows its same path. I think that is generally correct if not quite exact. But as we crossed them both during the dead of night, I didn’t get up to check.

Thus we skip Saturday, Oct. 15, and go straight to Sunday, Oct. 16. It’s a good thing so many of us are retired, as otherwise we would not like losing a Saturday.