Meet the Crew – My Interview with Captain Jeroen van Donselaar

First, an introduction for anyone that doesn’t know. Captain Jeroen van Donselaar was selected by Holland America Line as the Captain for the ms Eurodam when she launched back in July 2008. He was a contributor at times to the Eurodam News blog when it first started (this later evolved into the Holland America Blog) and is on a regular rotation as the Captain of the ms Eurodam.

I recently had a chance to submit questions to Captain van Donselaar, both my questions and some of yours. The following are those questions and answers:

Where were you born?
I was born in Kampen, The Netherlands in December 1965. This is in the North East of the Netherlands. My family is not originally form there but my father, a military officer, was stationed there. When I was 2 we moved to Germany and my family lived on a NATO guided missile base, during the height of the cold war, until 1973. I went to an international kindergarten on the base amongst Patriot and Nike rockets. Many of my classmates were American kids and this was my first exposure to American culture. When my father’s German assignment ended we moved to Maastricht, The Netherlands’ oldest and most cosmopolitan city. My parents still live there today.

When did you first know you wanted to work on/with ships?
I always enjoyed uniforms and travel. My dream was to become a pilot for our national carrier, KLM, however in the early 1980’s they were not taking any students for their flight school. Then in 1982 when I was about to finish High School my family went on a vacation to Sweden. This involved a 24 hour trip on a car ferry from Amsterdam to Gothenburg. Before arrival into Gothenburg I was able to make my way onto the navigation bridge where the Officer on duty explained various things to me. I was so enthralled by this that a year and a half later I found myself in Nautical College in Vlissingen, The Netherlands. The ferry I was on is still around; it currently sails in the Mediterranean between the Italian mainland and Sicily as ‘Moby Drea’. Captain Stephen Card who painted all the ship’s paintings for the Eurodam was kind enough to include this ferry, then called ‘Tor Scandinavia’, into the painting of the Eurodam which is on display in the forward staircase between deck 7 and deck 8. Whenever I pass by this painting I have to smile. This is my ‘secret’ personal mark on the Eurodam. After the inaugurals the PR department gave me a reproduction of the painting which I put on the wall of my office back home.

When did you start working for HAL, and have you worked for other cruise lines previously?
I started working for Holland America Line in 1986 as an apprentice Officer. I went through the ranks quickly; whenever a promotion was due a new ship would come out so I always got it. I was part of the original ‘old’ Westerdam/Homeric take over team in 1988 as Third Officer. I received my promotion to Second Officer in 1991 and Chief Officer in 1995. My first command was the ms Rotterdam in June of 2002. I have since been the Master of the Volendam, Zaandam, Oosterdam, Westerdam, and Zuiderdam and since June 2008 I am the permanent Master of the Eurodam.

Any special achievements, awards, acknowledgements or fun facts in life or while with HAL?
The highlight of my career was without a doubt being appointed the first Master of our biggest ship, the Eurodam. It was an honor to be there alongside Queen Beatrix, Micky Arison and Stein Kruse when she was dedicated in Rotterdam on July 1st 2008.

Tell me about your family and where you live.

I’m married to Pam. We live on Long Island on the South Shore. We enjoy spending time in the City as well as going out East, particularly the North Fork with its farm stands and vineyards. We have no kids. Pam goes to university in New York City. I enjoy doing projects in and around the house and I am a very frequent visitor of Lowe’s and Home Depot!

What is your favorite ship in the fleet?
Without a doubt the Eurodam. I love her contemporary design in all of the facilities.

What is your favorite port of call?
I have many favorite ports of call but in my top 5 I would count Willemstad, Curacao, Warnemunde in Germany and Stockholm in Sweden.

Name your dream 10-day itinerary if fuel and logistics were of no concern. (Meaning you can depart from Rome and be in Costa Rica the next day if you like, etc)
My perfect itinerary if fuel or distance were no concern….
Well, we would start off with a leisurely overnight in Amsterdam. It is always nice to do an overnight, wake up in the morning and not have to worry about docking!
From there we would cross the North Sea to Newcastle and have ourselves a nice Fish ‘n Chips in Saltburn!
I would then steer the ship overnight to Cape Town for a visit to the Vineyards of Stellenbosch.
Then we would probably cross the Atlantic for a dive on the reef off of the west coast of Grand Turk.
The next port would be a cosmopolitan and cultural one again; we would be docked two days alongside Circular Quay in Sydney.
After two days down under we would do a short overnight hop to Reykjavik in Iceland for a swim in the blue lagoon.
The cruise would then end with yet another overnight in Amsterdam!

What behind-the-scenes info can you tell us about that incredible photo of your wife ‘surfing’ on the Eurodam’s bulb?

The picture shoot of Pam on the bulbous bow was done while the ship was at anchor in Saguenay Fjord in Quebec September 2008. The water temperature was quite low so we stuck her in a cold water survival suit. (And I made her wear a lifejacket.) We put her on the bulb with the FRB, Fast Rescue Boat. This bulbous bow by the way is an empty structure that decreases the resistance of the hull when travelling at speed by optimizing the wave pattern around the ship. There is no equipment in there or anything. In case of emergency it can be ballasted to trim the bow down.

I also have a couple questions that were submitted by folks that visit the blog on a regular basis.

From friend and colleague Steve Garrod, webmaster of :
“Do you consider yourself more or less a Hollywood star since the inception of the Eurodam blog which has since evolved into the Holland America Line blog?”
“How do you feel in creating a legacy for the many guests who have learned from your posts and have wanted to come on board and meet you?”

Hi Steve! Well, it’s been a year and a half since the limelight of the inaugurals and the introduction of the ship in Europe and the US. It was an unforgettable experience for me, both personally as well as professionally and I am thankful for the opportunity the Company has given me; I would do it again in a heartbeat. A lot of the attention has ebbed away, especially since the blog became fleetwide. The Eurodam has become an integral and successful part of the HAL fleet and we wish our colleagues who will take out the Nieuw Amsterdam lots of success.
To date I still get stopped on board by guests who enjoyed reading our blog.

From Pam in California:
“I have seen people whine on message boards so many times about why a ship didn’t anchor, tender or dock in a port when “XYZ” cruise ship was able to. I’ve even heard the Captain referred to as a wimp for not attempting it. Perhaps you could give a short summary of the thinking that goes into a decision to skip a port.”
Very good question, Pam. There can be a plethora of reasons why a port call has to be cancelled. Although it is a big factor, many assume mistakenly that it is always weather related. A port may have to be cancelled because of strikes of the workers in the port or civil unrest which could make the port unsafe for our guests. I have had this happen several times.
But indeed most cancellations are weather related. It could be that due to wind and seas the ship has not been able to make enough speed, especially after a number of sea days, and that the actual arrival time is closer to the departure time vs. the scheduled arrival time and thus it makes little sense to go ahead with the call.

Some ports are more prone to weather cancellations than others. Most ports we can make in any kind of condition; there are those that see more cancellations than others. Grand Turk, for example, on our current itinerary sees about 1 out of 10 calls cancelled. The cruise pier there was built on a reef with barely two ship’s widths space of sufficient depth on either side of it. Due to the available water depth the pier had to be built in a Southeasterly orientation while the prevailing trade winds are East-northeasterly. The island provides little shelter so if there is some kind of a weather disturbance up in the North Atlantic with a trailing front it can sometimes happen that the wind speed is outside of the handling capabilities of the ship. For the Eurodam this is 24 knots of steady wind on the beam. Needless to say there are no tugboats available in Grand Turk.

You can rest assured that my colleagues and I will do the utmost to make each port call happen on time. There are those few cases though where it simply is not safe to attempt to berth or anchor and run tenders. These decisions are unfortunate but always taken with the safety of the ship, the guests, and the crew in mind. Usually when a port is cancelled due to the weather it is usually not just wind but rain and dark skies as well, and most shore excursions would be cancelled anyway, so it just might be a better option to spend the day on board at sea and enjoy the ship!

From Elsie in California:
“Which ports are the most visually impressive – for the approach and for the departure – and why?”
Elsie, from my vantage point that would be world ports like New York, Sydney, and Stockholm. The first two because of the excitement and the obvious sights of skyscrapers and history and the sense of connection with these big cities, the latter because of the long sail-in through the Stockholm archipelago – absolutely breathtaking!

And a few questions from some people asking to remain anonymous:

“What is one thing that all cruise enthusiasts should be sure to do/see before they die – either in terms of an excursion, port of call, or itinerary?”
See a Glacier in Alaska, a Fjord in Norway, and take up Scuba diving in warmer waters!

“Since you are always on ships and seeing the world, what do you and your wife do on your vacations?”
We used to be quite the globetrotters but this vacation we are just going to stay home. I enjoy doing home improvement projects myself and the list is never ending….

“What is the strangest or scariest thing you’ve ever seen onboard a ship”
I have been very fortunate not to have been involved in major emergencies. Of course minor emergencies do happen every now and again but I can honestly say I have not seen anything scary happen ‘on my watch’.

Of course we have funny things happen. Just the other day I was on my way to a party in the Neptune Lounge when I was stopped by this older lady who was standing in the doorway of her stateroom. She was holding a mug and proceeded to tell me she had gotten her coffee from the Lido a while ago and that she wanted to re-heat it in her microwave but that it did not work.
I was miffed of course because we do not have microwaves in our staterooms. Regardless she asked me to take a look at it and see if I could get the machine to work. Still miffed I entered her cabin where she opened one of the closets……the one with the room safe…….

“With two recent incidents where cruise ships have collided (both involving a Carnival and Royal Caribbean vessel) how common is it that 2 ships will ‘bump’ or ‘touch’ each other in a port, and what technologies are specifically onboard to help prevent these (like how cars have back-up cameras)?”
This is very uncommon, and I can say with certainty that my rule of thumb is if I think about using a tugboat I always get one.

To answer part two of the question, yes we have rear facing cameras and we also make use of radar to judge the clearance of the stern. Additionally there will be an Officer on the aft mooring deck who is in radio contact with the bridge and who will advise on clearing distances.

Captain van Donselaar’s last day on this contract aboard the ms Eurodam was December 19th and he is now hopefully making his way back up to Pam given all of the snow the East coast has been hit with lately. Although schedules can change, he is scheduled to be back aboard the ms Eurodam toward the very end of January.

As I do with all the sea-going staff I interview, I wish to thank the Captain for the time he has taken to answer mine and your questions. We wish you happy holidays from my little corner of the web!

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