Captain Edward G. van Zaane has been sailing with Holland America
Line for some 30 years. During that time, he has commanded the historic
Rotterdam (V), the previous Nieuw Amsterdam (III), the current
Amsterdam, and now HAL's newest ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam (IV). It
has been a period of substantial change in marine technology and in the
design of ships..
"The SS Rotterdam was a steam ship. It was built as an ocean liner to
go to New York from Rotterdam. So she was built for North Atlantic
weather, which was fantastic. If we encountered bad weather, there was
no problem, it was steady; you would not even feel it. The different
movements of the turbines - - no vibration, no nothing. It was a very,
very smooth ride."
"It maneuvered completely different because of the heavy draft
When we first started out we had no bow thruster and later we built in the
bow thruster. That made life much easier. Turning the ship was very
nicely done because she did not blow away like [modern] ships do. If [a
modern ship] catches the wind, they easily go one and a half knots
sideways. Ships of that time and age, they were just steady - - steady as
a rock in the ocean."
The Nieuw Amsterdam (III) (now sailing as the Thomson Spirit) was
built in 1983 as a cruise ship. Powered by diesel engines, she had a
traditional propulsion system with propeller shafts and rudders for
maneuvering. However, she also incorporated contemporary
technological developments including variable pitch propellers (the
angle of the propeller blades can be adjusted to change speed) and
Becker Rudders (the rudder has a flap so as to increase maneuverability).
"We just put everything in the stern at once and that was a little bit much
The Amsterdam, built in 2000, employed the new azipod propulsion
system in which the propellers are placed on the front of pods that are
mounted below the stern. The pods can turn in any direction which gives
the ship tremendous power and flexibility in maneuvering the stern. "I
liked the continuation to the azipods. It is fantastic to maneuver those
ships. We can go into very small spots. It is easy maneuvering out of
Fort Lauderdale, Operationally, it is very much under control. That is
the big, big advantage of sailing with this type of propulsion system."
The new Nieuw Amsterdam also has the azipod propulsion system.
"Ten years ago we knew less than we now know [about such systems].
You learn over the years how to better operate systems. There are
simulators, more training facilities and we talk to each other about
experiences. I think it is a big plus for the industry."
Captain van Zaane's current ship is also much bigger than his
previous commands - - some 25,000 gross tons larger than the
Amsterdam. "These ships are built nicely. If you feel how they operate
and how they sail, I think they are good sea ships. You saw that already
on the sea trials where we try the extremes. We were running at full
speed and [turned the wheel] hard over and it was not like we suddenly
have 25 degrees list or so. It was like nine degrees, which is fantastic."
"I am pleased with the way the ship handles. It has a good hull
Bringing a new ship to life
Captain van Zaane was the first captain of today's Nieuw Amsterdam.
As such, his responsibilities included overseeing the completion of the
vessel in the shipyard, participating in her sea trials and assembling and
training of the crew. However, bringing out a new ship involves more
than making sure that all of the equipment works to specification and that
there are enough people to man the ship.
"From a thing without a heart, we have to create something - - we
have to create the ship and the ship only gets that heart [through her]
people. If the people start to care about the other people who book the
voyages on her, [the ship goes] from a piece of steel basically to
something with a heart."
. "For us the whole focus is to make sure that our guests have the
best experience." To achieve this, it is essential that the officers, staff
and crew "get into the spirit of giving people the voyage of a lifetime."
In motivating the crew, "the most important aspect is communicating -
- by making clear to everybody what we expect; that we get our message
through. On a big ship communication is a very difficult. It is a big
community. In one way it is big but it is small as well because you have
a lot of stories going around. You have to nip them and say 'let's get it
straight' and get the true story out. It is pushing the right button and saying
this is the information, this is what we want to say."
"For example, if I make an announcement to the guests, I make it to
the crew so that every crew member hears the same message. If [the
guests] ask the bartender, he says exactly what I said and the guest
relations manager at the Front Office is doing the same thing."
"If we talk about service, we make sure that we communicate that
properly and talk about it at meetings. Not just send a piece of paper but
be there and talk about what you really think is necessary to make it
"You have to make sure that besides the communication, there is trust.
People are here for a long time. This is their lives. Their families are
away. If you bring out a message, the people [must be able to] rely upon
it. You back them up. This is the correct story. Those aspects are really
of great importance to run the ship."
Consistent with this approach, the management system on the Nieuw
Amsterdam is much less hierarchical than on ships in the past. "The
captain is more like a general manger, steering people, listening to
people. He is not sitting in an ivory tower"
"He works with teams. 'Teams' is sort of a holy word in our
operation - - to work together to accomplish something. Everybody is
realizing that as a team together we can accomplish more."
Returning to the Roots
The Holland America Line ships fly the flag of the Netherlands.
However, until recently most passengers were from the United States and
Canada with relatively few passengers from the ships' home country. But
all of that is changing reports Captain van Zaane who recently appeared
in an advertising campaign promoting Holland America cruises for
While passengers on North American cruises are still predominantly
North American, in Europe the passenger mix has been quite different of
late. "The Eurodam [in 2009] sailed with 2,000 Dutch guests. In the
Mediterranean, every voyage [during Nieuw Amsterdam's inaugural
season], had 50 percent American and 50 percent Europeans with every
voyage 300 Dutch. We have grown over there tremendously - - I think it
is 37 percent that we grew in our Dutch market."
Several factors have contributed to this change. First, in the
Netherlands, "what we have now is that people in their 50s and 60s have
money. They want to go travel. They have worked their whole lives or
worked a lot. The children are gone."
Second, not too long ago, Dutch people who were interested in
cruising on a Holland America ship usually had to endure a long flight to
North America to join the cruise. In 2010, "I think we have 16 sailings
from Rotterdam and I think five from Amsterdam. For the size of the
country it is quite a bit. In July, we have two special voyages from
Rotterdam to New York, historical voyages, fully booked, with a lot of
"That is only Holland. Do not forget that all our cruises in Venice for
example, are full of Dutch people because it is reachable by all kinds of
airlines from the cheap one to the expensive ones. We even had buses
going to Barcelona for people who don't want to fly. Buses full, coming
from Rotterdam all the way to Barcelona. Because of the Dutch attention,
we are putting an extra ship in Europe [in 2010]."
Third, Holland America is reaching out to the Dutch. "Before
everything was focused on North America. What we did was open a
marketing and sales office in Rotterdam behind our old headquarters
from 137 years ago. It is like a headquarters for Holland."
"It has grown tremendously." This is only appropriate considering
that the Dutch are a sea faring people and Holland America's history as
the Dutch passenger line. "It is our heritage and we are very much
focusing on our heritage. We are proud of it. It means something."
Above: Rotterdam (v)
AT THE HELM
A conversation with Captain
Edward G. van Zaane, Master
of the Nieuw Amsterdam
by Richard H. Wagner
Cruise ship interview - Holland America Line - Nieuw Amsterdam - Captain Edward G. van Zaane
Above: The Amstedam in New York
Below: The Nieuw Amsterdam.