16 September, 2005

The view from the bridge.

This is where the ship is actually steered from.

You can be assured that everything in this room works.

You can spend hours in this room just mesmerized by the view and the machinery.

Our position is constantly being charted by hand. As you can see, we're still not that far away from Japan.

Everything on the bridge is always kept very neat. There is no clutter here.

Our current GPS coordinates.

These emergency indicators are located all over the ship. They're designed to get you to an exit and a lifeboat quickly and efficiently.

This is the hallway on my deck that leads to an exit. It's customary to leave your shoes outside your door.

This is my deck. I'm Spare Officer 2.

And again, the view from the back.

The outer stairwell.

A look down at the piles of cargo. I'm told much of this is electronic equipment.

16 September, 2005

Day 62. Today I wound up missing both breakfast and lunch. I guess I had to catch up on sleep in a big way. I was aware of the phone ringing in the other room but I had no inclination to get up and answer it. I have to say that it's pretty damn comfortable sleeping on this freighter. Of course the ride has smoothed out considerably in the last day.

The view outside was about as predictable as you might expect. But I still never cease to marvel at the fact that I'm on a vessel that's somehow going to make it nearly 5000 miles in one shot over ten days. I don't know how these guys do it.

Unfortunately Ben took my advice to defrag the hard drive on his laptop and now the thing just blue screens whenever he tried to boot it. Neither of us have the right recovery disks and everything we've tried to get the thing to work has so far failed. Maybe someone else on the boat has a Windows XP disk and can help get this thing to boot. Fucking Windows strikes even on the high seas. I can imagine how frustrating it must be to lose your source of reading, music, and movies at the very beginning of such a long trip. I only hope my luck holds out.

I suggested to Ben that we visit the bridge at around 2:30 in the afternoon since the captain had said to drop by anytime. He wasn't there but the officers who were had no problem with us hanging around while they did their respective jobs. Our position in the sea had been drawn on a map just as it must have been for hundreds of years. Of course they also had lots of modern equipment: computers, radios, radar, telephones, all of which looked very rugged and ready to be used for any challenge that came up. But right now everything seemed to be going very smoothly. The view was hypnotic. Stacks of cargo with the front of the boat far off moving steadily east with nothing but sea in all directions. And yet we were still so close to Japan relatively speaking.

We could have stayed up there all day quite easily. We heard the phone ring and one of the guys told us the captain was looking for us in the officers' recreation room. Oh shit, we had totally forgotten about another reception he had told us about yesterday. Well, at least it looked like we had simply been confused about where to meet him and had gone to where we thought he would be. Yeah, that works.

We went down to the officers' recreation room and the captain was there with a bottle of champagne, peanuts, and some classical music playing on the stereo. He gave us a warm greeting and an official welcome to his ship. We spent more than an hour there just talking about what it was like to travel on the seas, what the different ports were like, which routes were the longest, etc.

We each got a little booklet with information on our ship and its entire crew plus another glossy one with information on the F. Laeisz Shipping Group, the owners of our ship. The Pudong Senator is one of nine 4,545 TEU container ships that were built in 1997 and 1998. It can hold 350 cargo containers, each one the size of an 18-wheeler. The company owns a bunch of other ships as well, including one that's even bigger than the ones in this fleet. Laeisz isn't the biggest of the freighter lines but our captain told us they didn't really want to be. He seemed quite proud of the company he worked for. He also told us an interesting story on their naming convention. Apparently the founder's daughter-in-law had the nickname of "poodle" due to her curly hair. The first ship was christened "Pudel" in her honor back in the 1850s. Ever since then it's been a tradition to name each ship with names beginning with "P." Not only that but there's a statue of a poodle back at their headquarters in Germany. Tradition is something taken quite seriously in the shipping world.

It was great just hanging out with the captain talking about all sorts of things. This is why it's so important to take an interest in everything that's been in the news, whether it's an upcoming election (which Germany is having on Sunday), history, or even football. People really like to talk about these things especially when they're so far away from home. The World Cup is being played in Germany next year and that's an incredibly big deal. It doesn't take long to learn the very basics and know enough to understand what someone else has to say on the subject. Little bits of communication like that really help to form bonds and we definitely formed one with this guy.

But the one thing which was really fascinating to talk to him about was the day the wall fell. Every German remembers where they were on that day. Our captain (who had been from East Germany) was on the ocean somewhere when he got the word that the East German government was in effect no more. The first thing he did was send his political officer home. All boats from East Germany had been required to travel with a political officer who ensured that no unauthorized contacts were made and that the interests of the government were being strictly followed. He remembered how unhappy the political officer was at this turn of events.

The time flew by and it was already time for dinner. The captain never shows up for dinner as he believes it slows him down. Instead he's always there for breakfast and lunch. I'm still quite taken with how quickly people have their meals without much talking and being very intent on getting back to whatever it was they were doing. It's also rather strange (although completely normal at sea ever since the Viking era apparently) to see how the officers are completely separate from the crew. We always eat in the officers' mess while the crew has their own room down the hall. It's a sort of hierarchy that everyone seems comfortable with but it's always weird to see that kind of separation. But they've all been very friendly to us, regardless of rank or position.

In the evening I started to mess with the antenna on my room's stereo system and managed to get it into a position where it could actually pick up medium wave stations from Japan. This was really good as I hadn't been able to pick up a damn thing before even when we were in port. Whoever set up this radio didn't set it up with the intention of actually receiving radio stations. Now I had a fighting chance of being able to pick up KFI from Los Angeles and hearing Phil Hendrie as we got closer to the States. Nothing would make the time go faster.

Ben and I grabbed a DVD of "Being John Malkovich" which I had never seen. I can't tell you how cool it is to be watching a movie while on a ship heading across the Pacific. This is so unlike the QM2 that it's almost hard to believe they both do the same thing. There I felt like I was in a huge floating hotel. And here I feel like I'm on a ship. And I've never felt like I was on a ship before. It takes a bit of getting used to but I can already understand why someone would want to make this their life. There's something very calming and inclusive about the entire endeavor.