Captain Eric Barhorst Interview: The Commander of Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam

WHEREABOUTS ARE YOU FROM AND HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE CAREER AS A CRUISE SHIP CAPTAIN?

“I’m from the Netherlands from a province in the southwest of the Netherlands, in a town called Middelburg – close to the coast. From a young age I was into small boat sailing. We used to live close to the port of Antwerp in Belgium, so I’d see all these big ships pass by. When I was about 10 years old, I figured that’s what I wanted to do when I grow up. When I graduated from college I went to the Maritime Academy in the Netherlands, did my degree in marine engineering and navigation and then as part of that I did my cadetship with Holland America Line. Once I graduated from Academy, I started as a junior officer and have been here my whole working life”.

Captain Eric Barhorst Interview with Sail Away Magazine
Credit: Captain Eric Barhorst Interview with Sail Away Magazine

DO YOU FEEL THAT OVER THE YEARS THE ROLE AS CAPTAIN HAS CHANGED, DO YOU FEEL LIKE THERE IS NOW NEW DEMANDS AND EXPECTATIONS OF BEING A CRUISE SHIP CAPTAIN?

“Probably, I mean technology has evolved, so now there is always direct communication nowadays so always being available by e-mail and phone, conference calls etc. It’s certainly much easier to work away from home because of technology.”

SOME CAPTAIN’S ARE VERY FOCUSED ON SOCIAL MEDIA, DO YOU FEEL THAT THERE IS THAT EXPECTATION WITHIN HOLLAND AMERICA?

“Not so much an expectation, it does get promoted to use social media as a company that’s one of the promotional tools nowadays, but there’s no direct pressure for me to be on social media, but yes I try to be but there’s no pressure to do so from Holland America”.

WITH THE EXCEPTION OF MISSING FAMILY AND LOVED ONES AT HOME, WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS THE MOST CHALLENGING THING ABOUT BEING A CAPTAIN?

“The thing that is totally out of your control is events which can ultimately change a cruise – whether that be an impact on operations, cancelling or changing ports – because there is nothing you can do. People will be upset, but your hands are tied, so that’s the biggest challenge I would say”.

Holland America Line's Nieuw Statendam in Port of Dover - Sail Away Magazine
Credit: Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam in Port of Dover / Sail Away Magazine

IF YOU COULD DO ANY OTHER JOB OTHER THAN BEING A CAPTAIN IS THERE ANYTHING THAT SPRINGS TO MIND?

“I am content, but if it really didn’t matter, I’d probably go back to that small boat sailing I did as a child, to teach sailing to children somewhere where the sun shines – maybe in Croatia!”

IS THERE ANY JOB OR DUTY YOU MISS ABOUT BEING AN OFFICER?

“No not so much, I don’t miss staring out at the dark between the hours of 12 and 4 each morning. Manoeuvres are the fun part and I get to do them most days, so there isn’t anything that I would say that I miss about being an officer. Captain is better”.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PORT AND WHY?

“It’s difficult to pick one favourite port. A favourite itinerary is probably New Zealand just because of the variety the country offers – mountains, beaches everything. As a city to sail in and out of is probably Sydney Australia. Sailing by the Opera House at dawn is an incredible experience, especially when you’re in command of such a beautiful ship”.

Nieuw Statendam Bridge, Centre Console - Sail Away Magazine
Credit: Nieuw Statendam Bridge, Centre Console / Sail Away Magazine

DO YOU ENJOY A CHALLENGING PORT?

“Manoeuvring in port is probably about 15% of my job but that is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job. To manoeuvre the ship, the challenge of manoeuvring the ship in and out of challenging ports, and because of the dimension of the port, there’s a real sense of achievement as a team when you’ve made fast alongside for an arrival, or when you’ve disembarked your pilot and you’re in open seas after departure”.

KEEPING OUR OCEANS CLEAN AND SAFE IS VERY IMPORTANT, WHAT DO YOU DO AS CAPTAIN TO MAKE SURE OUR OCEANS ARE KEPT CLEAN AND SAFE?

“We take guests to these beautiful places, so it’s our responsibility to keep these places clean and tidy. We have international regulations to adhere to, and technology in place to help us do that. This ship is as clean and as efficient as possible, for example we have exhaust gas cleaning systems for the engines, a wastewater treatment plant and our fleet is now capable of shoreside power when alongside. As captain, I’m very mindful of fuel consumption so we look carefully at the speeds that we need to do, the itinerary’s where can we optimise the itineraries and provide feedback for future itineraries, and onboard we constantly promote environmental policies to the crew and guests, whether it be minimising the use of single-use plastics or making sure nothing is discarded over the ship’s side”.

HOW OFTEN DOES THE SHIP CONNECT TO SHORE SIDE POWER?

“Whenever we can. We have shore power connections on both sides of the ship, so whenever we get the opportunity, we do connect. It is the infrastructure of the ports that you need to be there of course, and we slowly see more and more ports investing in that technology. All Holland America ships are shore connection ready. In Europe, Norway is quite ahead of the pack in that respect”.

Sail Away Magazine on the Bridge of Nieuw Statendam - Sail Away Magazine
Credit: Sail Away Magazine on the Bridge of Nieuw Statendam / Sail Away Magazine

DO YOU THINK THE CRUISE SHIPS ARE GETTING TOO BIG?

“No I think there is of course a huge variety in sizes of cruise ships, we only have to look at Carnival Corporation & PLC, we have different brands, and there is a ship out there for everyone. If you have a young family, you might enjoy the big resort-type ships that can offer all the activities on board, and then we also have the other end, where we have the expedition-size ships that can go to all these small places, the exotic destinations where big ships cannot go. So, I think there is a place for all sizes of ship, but as an industry we do need to be aware of the impact that we have on the communities we visit”.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN FORCED TO LEAVE PASSENGERS BEHIND?

“Yes. I’ve never had to leave late passengers behind, even if it has been tempting at times. I did have to leave 900 guests behind once. We were visiting Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Weather picked up fast, we were dragging anchor badly and we had to depart with 900 passengers still ashore. We returned the next morning once the weather had settled to tender passengers back to the ship. Those guests had to spend the night in people’s homes and school facilities on the island. It’s one of those kind of a special places to go, because we don’t go to it very often, but sea conditions can have a big impact on whether we can make it ashore or not”.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY MAKES HOLLAND AMERICA DIFFERENT TO OTHER CRUISE LINES?

“Probably the biggest differentiator is our team members on board. The level of service that we can provide because of our team, the medium size of the ship we operate, and the itineraries that we can do. By having this ship, in combination with the team on board we can offer something very special to passengers”.

Nieuw Statendam in Dover, UK - Sail Away Magazine
Credit: Nieuw Statendam in Dover, UK / Sail Away Magazine

HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR SHIP LOOKING SO SPOTLESSLY CLEAN?

“In the past the Holland America Line used to have the slogan, “the spotless fleet”, we still try and strive to be that, so maintenance is important, and I think the other differences is probably the size of the public spaces. There are quite a lot of intimate spaces rather than large venues which feature with other cruise lines. Our ships feel smaller ship even though we also have 2,500 guests aboard”.

DO YOU PREFER ARRIVALS ARE DEPARTURES FROM PORT?

“I don’t really have a preference. Departure is probably easier from a manoeuvring standpoint, because you’re going away from it, so there is less chance you will have any collisions or damage, but I enjoy the mentoring aspect of the team on the bridge, and for that departures can be very useful to have the more junior officers execute this and I can then play a more mentoring role”.

DO YOU GO ON CRUISE SHIPS FOR A HOLIDAY?

“I try to avoid cruise ships, although a few years back we did a very enjoyable cruise with some friends that wanted to go on a cruise. We did a cruise on a Seabourn ship and we had a great time, and we went to ports we would not normally go to with Holland America. The service was amazing and we had a great week, and I can see why people choose cruises for their holiday”.

Nieuw Statendam in Dover, UK - Sail Away Magazine
Credit: Nieuw Statendam in Dover, UK / Sail Away Magazine

ARE YOU A CAPTAIN THAT TENDS TO BLOW THE WHISTLE REGULARLY?

“I’m conscious about more and more places not enjoying the ship sounding their whistle all the time, and blasting them into a small town, so I try to minimise the use of the whistle to what is required. The exceptions are when you’re in port with another sister ship, where you have friends or colleagues to say goodbye to. And obviously we use it for COLREG’s purposes”.

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN BELOW DECK?

“I have seen a few episodes. I do hope my crew behave better when I’m not around”.

Captain Eric Barhorst Interview with Sail Away Magazine
Credit: Captain Eric Barhorst Interview with Sail Away Magazine

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