As I have mentioned before, most ports we are tied up at a pier, but some, due to too many ships or lack of a pier big enough we use a tender process to get everyone ashore and back while the ship stays in the harbor. In Belem, Brazil, a tender ferry service was used but at most ports where we can’t get to the pier the ships lifeboats are used.There are fourteen large lifeboats carried on the ship and they are all suspended above deck 3. Four of them, two on each side are larger and are each powered by two engines. These four are the ones used as tenders when needed. When we arrive in a port and are positioned in the harbor, the tenders are lowered and prepared for use. These larger tenders hold about 150 people when in use as lifeboats, but only 90 or so when used as tenders. They run continuously while we are in port and operate like shuttles, constantly dropping off and picking up people. The only times there are lines, are upon first arrival and right before departure.While the ships advise you that you must be back on board at a certain time, with the unstated implication that they will leave without you, we have seen them hold the ship several times until passengers on tours could return. They actually have a system which allows them to know exactly how many, and who, are still on shore. They scan your key card each time you leave and return, comparing the picture that was taken when first you boarded. Several times I heard the tender officer advising the bridge of exactly how many were still to be re-boarded.
The tender operation on Easter Island was most unusual, and deserves some discussion. Since the south side was far too rough, we went up to the north side, with less wind, and positioned off the beach. I say positioned, because we did not anchor, all day. The ship was held in position by its engines, which unlike the old propeller on a shaft, are like big versions of the trolling motors used by fishermen. Essentially they are electric engines encased in pods which can swivel in any direction, allowing for amazing maneuverability. For tender boarding, we go down to the lowest deck on the ship, then down an exterior stairway to a platform where we step from the platform on to the tender. Sounds simple, and it is except for the movement of the ship and the tender in the waves and the age and condition of the passengers – remember on this cruise, as indeed on most Holland America Cruises, this is an older group – lots of canes and walkers. It is quite dangerous and the ship’s crew goes to extraordinary efforts to do it safely. Once loaded, we head in to shore and debark at what is called a tender pier on shore – usually a much safer operation, due the facilities and the absence of waves. At the beach on Easter Island, however, the crew had to “rig” a tender pier on shore by lashing a small platform to the carved lava rock “pier” and then lashing one of the tenders to the platform. As each tender came in, the passengers would be helped out of the tender, into and through the “permanent” tender, out to the platform, and then up to the lava rock. Since it was a beach area, and not a harbor, the waves moved the boats and platforms constantly. There were approximately 6 crew members helping with the debarkation. Amazingly, no major injuries, just a couple skinned knees. The only significant casualties were two of the tender boats, one of which was nearest the platform and had a hole ripped in the side – not so big that it couldn’t float, and probably carry 150 people, but far too significant for this fastidious bunch of sailors to tolerate. The crew began work repairing the boats immediately after they were brought on board, and then lowered one of them in Tahiti to continue repairs. On to Tahiti!