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18 September, 2005

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The first Sunday started out stormy. By the time the second one had concluded, we had altered our course to avoid the storm.


Here's another view of my den looking towards the entrance. The two orange safety helmets are by the door. The bedroom and bathroom are to the right. Life preservers are in the bedroom.


This is what's on my ceiling. You can pull some rope out of here and presumably jump out your window with it.


This was in the book the captain gave us. I thought at first it was a memorial to someone who perished at sea until I looked closer and saw that it was for this very boat at this very time. It's actually a commemoration but the phrasing kind of threw me for a minute or two.


And tonight was the big night where we actually went back in time a day.


This is the room you get taken to if you get injured. Fortunately I've never seen that door opened. It's also right across from the mess hall.


My setup at dawn on the second Sunday. I have my satellite phone leaning against the window so I can receive an SMS fairly close to when it arrives. I get a signal most of the time in this position.


As you can see, we successfully moved out of the way of the storm.


If you look very carefully at the front view from my cabin you'll see another boat way off in the distance.


It took us more than an hour to catch up to it but we eventually passed it. This boat was an auto transporter and they tend to move slower.

18 September, 2005

Day 64. This is without a doubt going to be the longest day of my life. I even have Jack Bauer beat this time. You see, we're going to be passing the international dateline tonight which means that I get to live the same day twice. That's right, two Sundays in a row. A September 18 that will last either 46 or 47 hours depending on how many times we lose an hour heading east. It's very different from experiencing this on an airplane where you would simply turn your calendar back a day and get home around the same time you left. Here on the boat, the two days will be spent in the same environment and nothing will appear different at all. I'll just know that instead of being a day ahead of the States, I'll now be lagging way behind. It was nice while it lasted.

I woke up and checked the time on my useless GSM phone. Well, it wasn't exactly useless since it served to tell me what time it was back in New York. And that's quite useful when you have to be on the radio at a set time and you were constantly unclear as to which time zone you were currently in. It was almost 8:00 pm on Saturday which meant it was nearly noon on Sunday here. Shit. I knew I had missed breakfast but lunch was at 11:30 so that too was pretty much done. I didn't feel like jumping out of bed and running downstairs to catch the last few minutes. I could live with a little hunger anyway. I decided to just sleep longer.

But then I heard it again. The alarm! Great. I jumped into my clothes and headed outside my room. Again the fire doors were closed. I went to our "muster station" which was the officers' recreation room. Nobody there. I went down to the officers' mess where I expected to see people finishing lunch. Nobody there either. Not encouraging. I looked out the window to see if anyone was paddling away in one of those big orange lifeboats. No activity. I listened for any sort of a commotion and, hearing none, concluded that there was nothing to worry about. Nevertheless I gave Ben a call when I got back to my room and asked him if he was aware of any orders to abandon ship or anything. He wasn't and had in fact just woken up himself so he wasn't very aware of much. But he had made it to breakfast earlier. I told him that not only had I not done that but I had also just missed lunch. But according to Ben we had both made a mistake when we set our clocks ahead last night. Apparently that doesn't happen every night after all, a fact he learned when he showed up for breakfast an hour early at 6:30 in the morning. So I actually was right in time for lunch. How's that for strange luck?

I made it downstairs and there was the captain again, regular as clockwork. I asked him about the alarm and he explained that every Sunday they had a fire alarm test at 11:00 am. Since tomorrow would also be Sunday, I wondered aloud if we would have a second test. "Of course," he replied in complete seriousness. I shouldn't have expected anything else. On a boat like this, all of the rules are followed to the letter.

Apparently the weather has taken a turn for the worse so it looks like we'll have rain practically up to our destination. Which means I will have made it all the way back to the States and still not have seen a decent starry night. I couldn't believe it. I had no idea the entire earth was so damn cloudy as a rule.

Just about everyone will be getting shore leave when we arrive at Long Beach. The captain will be staying at a seaside community in Long Beach where the original Queen Mary is permanently docked and has been converted into a restaurant/hotel. If I have time I'd like to check that out since I rode across the Atlantic on her successor. It's pretty interesting though that after all of this time at sea, the captain would gravitate towards more boats and seaside activities. Again, I guess I shouldn't have expected anything else.

The captain had also found a Windows disk for Ben so there was a chance we could get his computer back up and running in the near future. I had decided that today would be laundry day for me so I set about getting that organized. There was a washer on my floor but no dryer. Ben's floor had both. But everything was in use so this wasn't going to be a very quick process.

The days really do seem to go by pretty quickly. Perhaps getting up late helps with that. It just seems like it's dark again before you know it. And on those days when I'm awake for more than one meal, each one appears to come pretty quickly after the last one. What was most important was that nobody got bored, especially those in charge of keeping the ship moving. And these guys all seem pretty alert and serious.

But it's amazing how much the little things mean. Sunday is ice cream day and tomorrow is also Sunday so we get ice cream two days in a row. For the record, I'm not the one who was that excited by this. Members of the crew mentioned it on a couple of occasions. I imagine if you spend enough time out here, those things really do start to matter.

I finally got my laundry into a machine and began to make progress on that front. Ben and I tracked down two films that were in English: a version of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story entitled "Mary Reilly" and "Deconstructing Harry," a Woody Allen film I had somehow missed, easily his best work in the past ten years. Since it was almost 2:00 am, we headed to the bridge thinking this was the time that the second Sunday would begin. It might be a fun spectacle to witness.

But unfortunately we didn't take into account the time change so we had missed the changeover. No big deal. The guy who was up there by himself was happy to talk to us about the ship, traveling, America, Germany, and anything else. So we spent some time up there while the ship moved on.

We found out that our course had been altered in order to avoid the storm that was now heading to our north. That might result in some changes in conditions and maybe we'd even see some other boats. It was really cool to just hang out up in the bridge. Hopefully we'll spend a lot more time up there.

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Day 65. The second Sunday has begun. And this time I really did sleep through lunch. I actually welcome the opportunity to just be alone for a little bit so I could do some writing and thinking.

I looked out the window and was surprised to see another ship on the horizon. Over the next hour or so we slowly caught up to it and eventually passed it. I don't know if anyone else was watching it as we went by but for me seeing another ship at sea is a pretty big deal. We're in the middle of the largest ocean on earth and any sign of life is a noteworthy event. You don't see birds or fish or even insects out here. I haven't seen a single plane go overhead. Every bit of life we've witnessed in recent days has been on our own ship. I guess when you do this enough you get used to that fact. But I'm a long way from having that happen so seeing the other boat was the highlight of my day.

The weather seems to have cleared up completely. It's still a bit cloudy but we've definitely moved away from the storm. I don't know if our deviation will add significantly to our trip. We're supposed to arrive Friday morning in Long Beach. That seems so far away, especially when you have a double day like today. But it's also pretty hard to believe I've been on this thing since Wednesday.

At some point in the next day or so I'm going to record another edition of "Off The Wall." This will either be the last or the next to last show from the road. I've been listening to some of the radio shows that were done since I left, most of which I haven't heard before. That really makes the time go by.

Even though we're no longer in a storm, the sky is still pretty cloudy. It's really mind boggling how I've come all this way and still haven't seen a starry sky. I'll probably finally see one when I arrive in my own back yard. Sounds like there's a moral in there somewhere.

If seeing the boat was the highlight of the day, what happened tonight may have eclipsed it. Ben and I were tuning the AM radio with our special lengthened antenna. I figured we were at the point where we would no longer be able to hear Japanese stations and would still be out of range of the American stations. Was I ever wrong. After a few minutes of tuning we heard the distinctive sound of English on the radio. The frequency was close to 810 (our European radio tunes in 9 kilohertz increments instead of 10 kilohertz which means most American frequencies are off by varying amounts). I remembered that 810 AM belonged to KGO in San Francisco! I never expected to hear something from home so far away. Not only were we hearing it but it was coming in fairly well.

We managed to pick up a handful of other stations from the west coast including at least one from Mexico. We seem to have just passed over the line where the Japanese stations become weaker and the American ones grow stronger. Of course, we won't be able to pick up anything in the daytime at this distance but night was a different story because of the way AM radio works. The signals are only going to get better from this point on.

In a way I'm glad now we don't have a shortwave. Those signals are designed to go around the world and there's never a point where you can't hear something from some part of the globe. But to pick up a distant local station on AM when you weren't expecting to hear anything... that there is no comparison for. I think this is the best way to become reacquainted with your country: slowly and gradually. I feel like someone from the really old days, looking forward to hearing the radio at night. What we pick up tomorrow night should be quite impressive.

No news on the German elections which took place today. We asked a couple of people on the ship. Everyone has a theory on how it's going to turn out but so far the news hasn't reached us. I'm not sure if it will even make much of a difference but it's always interesting to see how these elections affect those who are native to the country.

Now that the double day is done, I imagine time will seem to pick up again. This is the part of the trip I always wondered about, when I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It's not nearly as lonely as I thought it would have been. Having another passenger to talk to definitely is a big part of that. But the people on the ship itself also make it seem so much more hospitable than I had imagined. They're not here to entertain or anything and if you come onto a freighter you'd better be prepared for a lot of time to yourself. It's the overall mood they evoke which makes me feel like I'm a part of the community even though I'm not contributing a damn thing. I would think that if someone were to do this a number of times with the same people, they would wind up feeling quite close and able to work well even without having much in the way of conversation. I think they've all gotten to that point here. And just seeing how they interact with a minimum of words is really intriguing.