El Crucero de Caribe: The ABC Islands & More

July 23, 2018

 Pullmantur Cruise Lines' 'Monarch' berthed at Curacaó.


For my recent 70th birthday, my sweet spouse arranged a Caribbean Cruise for us, a 7 day Island Hopping venture that took us from Cartagena Colombia to four ports: The 3 ABC Islands, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacaó, And then to Colón Panama. It was entirely appropriate that I'd spend #70 at sea, since the older I get the more I'm 'at sea,' trying to comprehend this wacky world. Be that as it may, it was a week of (mostly) relaxing, watching the world go by, and visiting quaint & storied places we'd heard of but not seen. All in all a dandy way to recognize my three score years and ten. Enjoy the photos & commentary.


Departing Cartagena*Lifeboat Drill, where everyone's a dork * Ship layout.


 Pullmantur Lines' 'Monarch'


If you're going to take a boat, take a big boat. The Monarch is 75,000 tons, 268 meters (880 feet) long, capacity 2,750 passengers & nearly 800 crew. Pullmantur is a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean. (More tech specs later)

Ship ID Card, the key to everything 


Ever wonder how all those passengers are accounted for at each port? We did, until we saw these. The key cards have all your information, except stateroom number, in case of loss. Each time we left the ship we were checked out; each time checked back in. If a passenger is late to the dock, lo siento, the boat leaves with or without them. So don't lose the key card, or there will be trouble. In case you're wondering, no, the waves were not black; The Waves is a VIP section of the boat we signed up for. Hey, you're only 70 once, right?


 Port #1


 Port of Call, Curacaó.


Curacaó is a tiny island 45 kilometers (28 miles) off the coast of Venezuela, with a heavy Dutch influence & and an interesting history. Tourism is the big driver of the economy, of course. In 2017 cruise ships alone brought 700,000 visitors to Curacaó, and the numbers increase every year. Population is just over 180,000 folks of mostly black African descent, with a few others tossed into the mix, namely Javanese, Spanish, Ashkenazi Jews and others. The official language of Curacaó is a Creole/Dutch/Portugese mix called Papiamentu. Here's a sample: Welcome to Curacaó=bon bini na curacaó. Bottom left above is our Curacaóan friend Joaquin. Joaquin owns the Iguana Cafe directly on the waterway in the middle of Willemstad, the Capitol city. If you're ever in Curacaó, grab a table at the Iguana for a sumptuous, pier side lunch, and say hello to Joaquin. You might enjoy a cool taste of Curacaó for an aperitif as well. This signature blue alcohol is made from dried peel of the Laraha, kinda like an orange with an attitude. Curacaó also has a famous swinging footbridge, pictured above, video below. Built on several pontoons, the bridge pivots sideways to allow water traffic to pass. Folks crossing at the time are allowed, nay encouraged, to ride it out. This may be the best carnival attraction in Willemstad.

 Willemstad's Famous Swinging Footbridge.


 Port #2: Bonaire


 Ship photo taken from our snorkel boat. (Ship is the large blue structure!)


Bonaire is a sister island north of Venezuela, very small, population just 19,000 souls, 60% of whom are Dutch citizens. The official language, once again, is Papiamentu. 'Bon bini a Bonaire!' If there's nothing else to say about Bonaire, you gotta love a place where the airport is Flamingo International.


The Goleta (Schooner) 'Samur', & Docking at Bonaire


Bonaire is billed as a great place to dive & snorkel, so we booked an excursion, donned the snorkel gear and checked it out. Boarding the schooner 'Samur,' we launched toward the offshore island of Klein Bonaire, (Tiny Bonaire) a treeless, flat, uninhabited parcel of land surrounded by white, pristine beaches, and excellent near shore snorkeling. The Samur only looks likes 'The Guppy,' and that is not The Skipper and his little buddy. 

 Good, not great snorkeling


Since we lived (and snorkeled) on Kauai for a few years, we're a bit spoiled, but the snorkeling on Klein Bonaire was good, and the crew of the Samur knew what they were doing. We spent an hour scoping out the fish, the coral, and the pristine environment. Speaking of which, Bonaire has gained a reputation as a champion of environmental protection & conservation. The government established a national park protection system way back in 1962, and residents have since started many ecological protection measures. People can take most of their trash & garbage to a power plant that turns it into electricity. Dive Friends Bonaire helps keep the ocean clean. Wind turbines now provide 45% of Bonaire's electric power, and the goal is 100% renewable power very soon.


 One Happy Island Indeed


                 Not a bad motto *Go Bucks! You can buy anything here. *See what I mean? 


If I had to sum up Aruba in one word it would be 'Shopping.' The 'A' of the ABC Islands, Aruba population 102,000 'happy' souls offers lots of attractions for tourists, especially the many shops and tiendas nestled near the pier. If you can't find just the right fridge magnet here, it's not to be found. The boat docked at Aruba for a very short time, so we took a stroll through Oranjestad, the capitol, found our fridge magnet, and returned to the ship. Next stop, after a long overnight cruise, would be Colón Panama. In the meantime, yours truly opted for a tour of the inner workings of the ship. The crew obliged, and here's what I discovered.


 #1: The grid upper left shows the engines in operation. Of the four engines, numbers 1, 2, and 3 are providing propulsion, while #4 (to the far left) is idle. Picture #2: The control room chief, the fellow in the white overalls, is Kadich, from Ukraine, who explained the room in pretty good English. In #3, lower left picture, our tour guide points to the various decks and their connections to the control room. #4 electrical panel: The nerve center of the Monarch. The engines drive a total of 6 generators. The ship has its own water filtration system that purifies 100,000 liters (27,000 gallons) of seawater per day for use in showers, toilets, and other plumbing aspects of the operation. 


To elaborate on picture #1: The ship has four S.E.M.T Pielstick engines. French made marine diesels, each 9 cylinder engine develops 5,560 kW (7,500 hp), for a total of 30,000 hp. The graphic above shows the twin props turning at approximately 145 rpm, using 85% power from the three operating engines. Monarch's max speed is 22 knots (26 mph). The ship was built in 1990 by French maritime builders Chantiers d-Atlantique.


The ship is 75,000 tons, 268 meters (880 feet) long, 32 meters (105 feet at the beam, close to the Panama Canal's maximum of 110 feet). The captain told me his ship needs only 40 feet of water at dockside, and 50 feet under the hull while underway. Three separate radar systems scan ahead, behind, below, and to each side of the ship at all times. I asked if the computerized steering was connected to the engines, and Captain Branka said no, some ships have that feature, but continual adjustments to engine speed & output causes more wear & thus more maintenance to engines, so all adjustments are manual.


On the bridge, I had a chat with Captain Arkadiusz Branka, a 15 year veteran of Pullmantur, with three years at the helm of the Monarch. Captain Branka is Polish, and speaks four languages, Polish, Spanish, English & French. He lives aboard the Monarch for three months, then home in Gdansk for three. He filled in the blanks for me. Who steers the ship? As per the chart above, an automatic pilot does most of the navigation based on a computer program. In aviation, we called it a flight plan; at sea, it's a 'float plan.' There are a minimum of four crew on the bridge at any given time. Approaching a port, and docking there, always requires a harbor pilot, but some places have no need of one when departing. Branka's main responsibility is the logistics of the ship: passenger movements, securing supplies, crew staffing, dockage including attaching electrical power while in port, not always an easy thing. Branka said he loves his position, and has reached top of his profession. It was another item we had in common, and chatting with him made me miss my former career, though his vessel is, admittedly, a bit bigger than mine were. The other side of that is that the Monarch won't hover worth a damn. 


#1: Careful, joggers! When I was a jogger, I never once had to slow down. #2: Apparently 'Bunkering' is refueling. #3: The only language allowed to speak in the control room is English, so all you other languages, kindly shut up. #4: My personal favorite: 'Do not pass strong wind.' Heed this sign, or walk the plank!

 Back to Cartagena


Saturday morning the Monarch cruised back into Cartagena at 9, and we were off the ship, headed home to Medellin by 2 pm. It was a relaxing, (mostly) glitch free, entertaining, food-immersive, informative trip, and a dandy way to turn 70. Happy cruising, and thanks for reading the Medellin Retirement blog.




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