Holland America Lines Master Captain Frank van der Hoeven was surprised to see a familiar face on his ship, the Volendam, earlier this year in Singapore.
With many thousands of passengers the veteran officer had met over his 25-year career at sea, it was curious that he recalled this particular passenger’s face – but not her name. He was wondering where and how their paths might have crossed before 2017.
The mystery was solved during an Ask the Captain session in the Volendam’s Franz Halz Theater, which is named after a famous Dutch portrait painter.
A passenger from Germany asked Captain van der Hoeven about his favorite voyage – and also the worst voyage of his career. He replied: “My favorite voyage is anywhere and everywhere there’s pleasant weather and calm seas – because we try our best to give all our passengers a smooth and memorable cruise experience.”
After a few moments of thought, he also brought to mind his worst voyage.
“Hmmm…it was a trip around Cape Horn in South America, near the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), that was, without doubt, the worst. We knew we would encounter bad weather, but we did not have a forecast for a typhoon. The high waves and strong winds lasted for 36 hours non-stop, and seriously disrupted our cruise,” he said.
It was then that another passenger in the audience – the woman with the familiar face – raised her hand to tell him she had been on that dangerous voyage as well. Aha! The captain then recalled Village de la Vista resident, Ellen Cora, because she had worn a ‘White Star Lines/Titanic’ T-shirt on the stormy cruise.
”We took part in an onboard culinary program on board, “Making Pizza with the Captains,” Cora remembered, “and he jokingly asked me not to wear that shirt any more.”
Cora and Captain Frank, along with his wife, Alexandra, had plenty of opportunity to discuss the 2012 Southern hemisphere storm on the Veendam during their month-long 2017 Asia cruises. Cora did not hesitate to tell fellow passengers how safe she felt with van der Hoeven at the helm.
“If he could bring us safely through a storm like that – which tossed our mid-size ship around like a cork – I think he can handle just about anything the sea can dish out,” she said.
“Captain Frank van der Hoeven did not leave the bridge for the entire duration of the storm,” Cora and her roommate from Seattle, Susan Cotterell, remembered. “He gave us frequent updates and calmed worried passengers’ fears about what was happening, as the waves crashed over the bow as loud as bombs. Deck chairs were swept overboard. The ship’s dinnerware, glassware, plus all the wines and liquors in the bars and duty-free shop, were smashed.”
Food was sliding off the tables, and the tables themselves were sliding across the dining room floor and tipping over. After 24 hours the storm worsened, and passengers were asked to stay in their cabins, lying face down on their beds, to prevent injury. The ship sustained structural damage. The captain reluctantly announced there could be no dinner the second night, because he could not endanger the safety of his chefs or servers. Subsequent meals were served on paper plates, until new china could be brought on board.
Ellen and Susan, who fortunately are not prone to seasickness, listened to a naturalist named Benjamin lecturing about glaciers and penguins.
“Benjamin held on to his podium to remain standing, as the ship’s theater curtain swayed and finally crashed to the stage,” Cora continued. “Then the band’s instruments broke loose from their backstage mooring. The bass drum slid across the stage and down into the theater aisle. We all laughed so hard when, without missing a beat, the professor quipped: ‘Well, that gives new meaning to the term drum roll!'”
While many Villagers have followed a similar Holland America itinerary around South America’s Cape Horn, and to the Antarctic, with relatively calm seas, there’s always a strong chance of bad weather in that part of the world – because there isn’t much land at that south latitude to block high winds. Satellite communication in those remote areas can be spotty at best, so ships are not always up-to-the-minute on weather conditions. Convergence currents, when colder Antarctic water meets warmer water, often cause rough seas as well.
Captain Frank van der Hoeven was born in The Netherlands as the eldest son of a Royal Dutch Naval Aviation Officer. The whole family crossed the Atlantic on the Dutch liner Prins der Nederlanden when he was seven years old, to spend three years on the island of Curacao, in the Dutch Antilles. It was through that experience he became fascinated by the sea. His German-born wife says her husband is a very happy man.
“He’s very cool minded, with a great sense of humor, and a passion about sailing. He absolutely loves his work,” Alexandra shared.